Does experience matter at all in L&T?

it doesn't matter, Jimi, it doesn't matter
it doesn’t matter, Jimi, it doesn’t matter

I got to have one of my periodic treats as an Associate Dean yesterday, when I sat in on presentations from colleagues taking the university’s Graduate Certificate in Learning & Teaching.

This is much like the courses run by other British universities, as part of a general shift in recent years to ensure that all teaching staff gain some formal training in what is a key part of their professional activity.

In our case, one of the activities is to work in a group to produce a description of a module/course, present it and then write an individual critique of it: since these proposals often get picked up for real by the university, and since the staff will have to do this for their own teaching, the activity maps well onto core competences and should feel relevant to them. This matters because often this kind of programme is seen as a distraction.

Any how, it’s fair to say that the two groups presenting yesterday got a good grilling on what they’d done. As one of my colleagues pointed out, this was because they’d done something that strong central ideas, albeit with queries about how it was presented: if they’d done something rubbish, he said, we’d have just muttered platitudes.

Of course, on the other side of the room it didn’t look like that and some frustration was voiced that we (‘the experts’/’people with lots of experience’) could only come up with all our points because of that experience, while they knew (comparatively) little.

I challenged that point of view then and I’ll challenge it again here now.

As I started off, I really like these sorts of debates, because I always learn something. Indeed, every time I attend a discussion about L&T I learn something (like last week). It’s the old truism that the more I learn, the more I realise that I don’t know about things and that there is more to learn than I realised in the first place.

Second of all, a brief moment’s reflection will remind you that old hands are not always the best educators. Indeed, my understanding as been pushed forward very much more by colleagues new to the field, coming in and questioning assumptions and not feeling bound by ‘how it’s always been done’. The contribution colleagues found most useful for me was something I saw demonstrated to me just a few weeks ago by someone barely out of their PhD.

If there is one thing that does matter in advancing one’s practice, then it’s giving a damn about it all. If you do that and you think about what you to achieve, then none of it’s too difficult to work out for yourself or in discussion with a colleague.

Case in point: yesterday, one of the groups presented a module for a degree subject about which I know nothing. However, because the object of the module was clear (contextualising that subject in a wider field of other disciplines), it was possible to have a good discussion about the ways to achieve that.

None of that was driven by experience, but rather by our intrinsic interest in producing something that works as well as possible. As long as one appreciates the importance of clarity of purpose and of aligning activity with intended outcomes, then the rest follows.

When one is starting out, it’s easy to feel daunted by it all. That’s true of many areas of life, not just L&T. But as with most other areas, one comes to appreciate that there is no one right way of doing things, only ways that you feel comfortable doing. The flip side of that is that you don’t need to be ‘experienced’, just confident that what you’re doing makes sense. If it makes sense to you, then you have the platform from which to make it make sense to others, greybeards and all.

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