Golden nuggets

OK, not that complicated…

My university starts later than most: this week is induction for new students and we only begin teaching next Monday. With that in mind, maybe it’s a good time to think about the advice that we give those joining us.

In contrast to US institutions, we ‘own’ our students from the off: they’re on a defined programme of study from day one and the department provides not only teaching, but also pastoral care. That means we get lots of opportunities to socialise our students from the get-go and induction is a key part of this.

Notwithstanding the doubts I have about dumping a big pile of information on these young innocents in their first days – telling people that there is a very long list of vital points to remember isn’t a good pedagogic strategy – it’s the system we have and each summer we talk a lot about how we might run things more effectively.

The upshot this year has been that we’ve tried to cram less in and instead focus more on setting the tone, rather than dip-feeding them. Hence Monday morning’s meeting – the very first we had – was more of a debate than a lecture, putting students front and centre and underlining how it will be their actions and reflection that will drive their learning.

Of course, we also had the usual round of introductions of staff and – since I was first up – I thought I’d give them one piece of advice. Partly that was because I knew it would bounce colleagues coming after me to do the same (which they mostly did), partly to show that we might be useful sources of information and partly because it was the best chance I’ve have to share.

So, of course, you now want to know what I offered them. Nothing more than “get lost”.

Our campus is horribly difficult to navigate – as those of you who’ve visited will know – so this week is the ideal time to find your way around. Just wandering about, getting lost, is great for this, because it helps you discover the many nooks and crannies we have, plus all the short-cuts, and if you’re the person who knows their way around then you’ll find it easier to get talking to other (lost) people, which is nice for getting to feel comfortable.

Interestingly, and without coordination, all the other nuggets of advice my colleagues gave were in the same vein: embrace the opportunities available, be an active participant and so on. Nothing about Politics per se, everything about your personal attitude.

I found this very instructive, because it reminds me once more that university is so much more than an academic learning experience: it’s about one’s general social development. If you’re not willing to open up to new ideas socially and personally, then you’re not going to do that academically. As we like to say to our students: we won’t teach you what to think, but we will teach you to think about what you think.

Since you’ve all gone back already, I’d love to hear what you tell your students and whether it works or not.