Boundary pushing

Having last week dodged the bullet of trying to explain how Scottish independence would impact on our teaching, I feel obliged to push some different boundaries this week.

Pushing boundaries obviously comes with some risks too

That’s taking two very different directions right now.

On the one hand, my new Liberal Arts and Sciences degree looms large and I’m finalising my module/course on ‘Interdisciplinary Research’, to be taught through to Christmas. This requires me not only to learn about some fields that I know very little about, but also to think about ways not to fall into the ‘research methods is dull/difficult‘ trap. I’m going to talk more about that as the semester progresses, but I’m quite excited at some of the ideas I’ve got floating about.

To take one example, I’m going to take my students on a (very) mini field-trip: we might even get off the campus. This is something I did years ago in my module on terrorism: Guildford offered some great potential in this regard and it was an excellent way to help students engage with the relevant issues. My plan this time to do something similar, by getting them to apply what they have learnt into analysing and conceptualising the world around them.

The second new departure is my first webinar as an active participant. Later today, we’re running a session for our INOTLES project, with myself as one of the leads on a discussion on building student engagement.

My skills in such remote, synchronous learning environments is very limited: indeed, apart from a conference presentation to an event in Croatia, it’s practically non-existent. The lack of clear verbal and non-verbal cues makes for a difficult task, especially when I’m possibly the only native English-speaker among the 30 or so people due to participate.

However, it’s something that offers potential for interaction above and beyond that which is possible via purely written electronic communication, not least because the scope for serendipitous connections to be made is that much higher. As we found with our workshop in Brussels earlier in the summer, it is that which is really proving to be the big value-added on my side of the project.

As Chad notes, I’m very lucky to be in the position that I am, seeing what others do and having the latitude to try new things out relatively painlessly (students might disagree about the last point). But as I noted in my last post, I can also get stuck in ruts, so getting pushed into new things is still something that I benefit from.

As the new academic year draws close, that mix of trepidation and excitement helps to remind me of why I love teaching: because I don’t know what’s going to happen, I can know that it’s going to be an exciting ride.