I’m attending the Annual Conference of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) at the BT Convention Centre at Liverpool. Primarily a North American based society, this is the first time their annual conference has been held in the UK, so a good opportunity to meet US colleagues who don’t seem to travel to the UK for other conferences, such as HEA and SRHE (as I wrote about in a 2009 paper of mine). It will be good to see what I can take back to the University of Wales in my role as Chair of the Learning and Teaching Committee there, as the conference title is Global theories and local approaches: institutional, disciplinary and cultural variations, a theme that is very relevant to the University and its global provision.
Due to commitments back in Wales, I arrived last night half way through the conference and, after breakfast this morning, was lucky enough to walk from the hotel to the venue with Haydn Blackey and Alice Lau, colleagues from the Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at the University of Glamorgan who showed me the way through the rain!
First up for the day was a keynote from Janette Ryan (Monash University) and Jude Carroll (Oxford Brookes University), but Jude gave the presentation, in the absence of Janette, entitled Learning across cultures: opening our minds as well as our doors (pencast). The project was about teaching international students and funded by the HEA and the Prime Ministers Initiative that examined teaching through the lens of culture. This includes looking at differences in academic cultures and comparison of learning approaches (e.g. Confucian versus Western), learning from flows of people and ideas across academic cultural traditions: transcultural rather than cross-cultural. I think she advocated reversing the ‘lens’ to become more self-aware about approaches and suggested one only becomes aware of difference when differences are personally experienced.
‘West is best’ was quoted in the context that Chinese students are judged by western standards rather than any attempt made to appreciate the learning approach; a surface approach can result in deep learning and that the deficit model (i.e. lacking Western academic skills) should be replaced by a surplus model of students in that, for example, Chinese students are highly cooperative, diligent, hard working, and have a high regard for education. “Difference is not deficit”.
Following on, I would argue that the current UK movement of designing inclusive currcicula, which is principally aimed at disabled students, should also apply to international (and all) students, so that it becomes irrelevant to distinguish students as being international as much as it is inappropriate to do the same for those with a disability.
Regarding plagiarism, which is a common issue affecting Chinese students (indeed, I have sat on an unfair practice panel which solely looked at plagiarism cases involving Chinese students), Carroll argues we should ‘move beyond the Western fetish of citation’. This is a controversial statement, but nevertheless the non-negotiable ‘rules of the game’ need to be taught - “telling is not teaching”.
The keynote was a good start to the day and, after coffee, I then went to see Haydn Blackey (University of Glamorgan) present Redesigning learning: how technology enhanced learning has impacted on Welsh medium education, which reported on an initiative to create online provision across institutions as part of the Gwella project through a website called Y Porth. He argues that this cross-institutional collaboration to provide courses in the medium of Welsh would not happen for courses in the English language because of competitive forces, but it left the audience wondering if the same could be achieved for minority subjects, such as some STEM subjects?
Susan Warner (Cedarville University) then followed with What do students think they are learning? The research looked at online study. When the students were asked to compare online learning with face-to-face, 55% said the course requirements were about the same, but 35% thought there were more, and in terms of effort 42% said that it required similar amounts of effort, but 47% said that online learning required more effort. Overall satisfaction was high, but Susan appeared disappointed that course management was only rated as average and that they have now established 24/7 online support for students, but a question from the audience asked why the concern if the average result equated to ‘satisfactory’? Some interesting insights here for online course development.
The session I went to after coffee was on Internationalisation, which kicked off with Rajesh Dhimar (Sheffield Hallam University) talking about Scoping internationalisation in learning, teaching and assessment: a review of practice – what does it mean for staff? He reviewed the literature and the national frameworks (e.g. HEA Framework for Internationalisation 2009-2011), and listed the challenges i.e. mobility, curriculum flexibility, inclusivity and affordability, employer engagement, and collaboration and partnership. He then outlined what was happening at his institution, which comprises 14% international students, where an institutional internationalisation strategy cascades down to Faculty strategy and Faculty-based Heads of Internationalisation, with assistance from a Partnership Support Unit. He concluded with a number of recommendations including a clear institutional lead, celebrate (and disseminate) good practice, interventions for learning and teaching and assessment, and professional development for staff. Much of what he said chimed with Jude Carroll’s earlier keynote.
This was followed by Exploring the teaching and learning significance of the international classroom – faculty narratives and institutional culture presented by Torgny Roxå (Lund University) and Joanna Renc-Roe (Central European University). They collected narratives and rumours about internationalisation and how they ‘travel’ (disseminate) through academic cultures. They used a model that comprised reflection (from unreflected to to reflected) and quality (from isolated/individual to scholarly), so that for example an unchallenged rumour would be unreflected and isolated, whereas something that led to publication would be reflected and scholarly. They concluded that 1) all internationalisation is local in terms of the ‘international classroom’, 2) individuals can transform narratives to scholarship, 3) cultural artefacts can enhance cultural learning (after Shein, 2004), and 4) low quality rumours appear to ‘travel’ better than scholarly narratives.
The final session of the day I went to started with Sandra Jones (RMIT) whom I had met at HERDSA in Darwin in 2009 as part of Newport CELT ExPedR09 visit, and who subsequently visited Newport in October last year to give a seminar. She talked about Distributed leadership to enhance student learning that looked at leadership from the formal level of the Senior Management right down to lecturers. She reported that her project arrived at a Change Management Model called the PACED Distributed Leadership Model; PACED from participative, accredited, collaborative, engaged, and devolved leadership.
This was followed by Jo Jones, Ruth Gaffney-Rhys and Edward Jones (University of Wales, Newport) who presented All’s fair in love, war and student evaluation of teaching effectiveness: exploratory case studies from two UK universities. They reviewed the background to the institutions studied (Newport and Bath) and then explored the legal issues, such a defamation and breach of implied duty of trust and confidence, particularly if student evaluations are used to judge a lecturers performance and competence, who may have recourse to legal action if the results of student evaluations are used to prevent promotion or anything else that involves financial gain. Alternatively, positive evaluations can also lead to good lecturers being given more lecturing, which could become a workload or health and safety issue. Careful institutional guidelines are required for the use of evaluations, not just in quality assurance, if not in place already.
The final presentation was by Marjolein Torenbeek (University of Gronigen) on First year tutoring, adjustment and achievement, which examined the transition to University, which is often a stressful experience. To help facilitate adjustment students should be introduced to the local area, receive study skills support, join learning groups, receive mentoring and tutoring. Also, social support is very important. The research developed a Student Adaptation to College Questionnaire that confirmed social support is important, but that there was no relationship between adjustment and academic achievement as has been previously report. A final finding was that female students benefitted more from tutoring than male students.
The day finished with the conference dinner and an achievement award presented to a ‘speechless’ Lewis Elton for his contributions to Higher Education research.