Reflections on Storyville: exploring narratives of teaching and learning

This last week I spent two days at the Higher Education Academy’s Arts & Humanities Conference, Storyville: exploring narratives of teaching and learning in a rather damp and murky Brighton.

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I was presenting a paper with my colleague, Kate Borthwick on a research study that we carried out recently which looked at language teacher professional development. Below are a few highlights of sessions I attended:

1              The tall tales we tell about teaching (Vicky Gunn, University of Glasgow)

Vicky used her background as a medievalist to examine how collective memories about teaching and learning are made. For me, most interesting was how Vicky encouraged us to think about how we bring our memories to our teaching. She also talked about some recent research with humanities academics who have reported themselves to be very suspicious of the HE buzzword concepts of entrepreneurialism, work-related learning and global citizenship.

2              Write here Write now (Jac Cattaneo, Northbrook College and University of Chichester)

This workshop introduced a project which set out to encourage Art, Design and Media Studies students to engage with academic writing through the use of creative writing practices. After the preliminaries, Jac got us all writing using a series of visual prompts – in one example we drew a map to represent a childhood place of personal significance and another one of a place in the here and now. We were then asked to do a piece of free writing and to link the two maps. This was a really enjoyable and thought-provoking session. I could imagine using some of the ideas here in professional development workshops for teachers.

3              Narratives of the future self: a narrative method for researching language learners’ self-concepts (Angela Goddard & Alistair Henry, West University, Sweden)

Angela and Alistair reported on a language learning motivation study in Sweden. This was of particular interest to me as motivation is my main research area. They used a narrative approach to investigate students’ L2 identities at key transition points in an English-mediated university programme (using the concepts of possible and future selves). This is a longitudinal study so they will have more to report as it develops.

4              The OpenLIVES OER oral history experience: rebalancing methodologies, values and identities in Arts & Humanities in HE (Antonio Martinez-Arboleda, University of Leeds)

The OpenLIVES Project collected the oral histories of people who left Spain during the Civil War. Antonio described how the materials gathered during OpenLIVES were developed into a student module at the University of Leeds and how the skills developed by the students during the module form part of an ‘empowerability’ rather than ‘employability’ agenda. All the OpenLIVES materials are openly available in the Humbox

5              Student-led peer mentoring (Gabriele Neher, University of Nottingham)

Gabriele described an initiative at Nottingham where students are invited to apply (through a formal application process) to become mentors to new students. It’s an opt-in scheme for mentees and project activities involve extensive use of social media. The scheme has helped to bridge the transition gap for incoming students.

Other useful presentations included Students as partners: sharing stories (Jenny Lewin, University of Worcester), Academic staff perceptions of I.T. in the Humanities (Pritpal Sembi, University of Wolverhampton) and Pioneers on the frontiers of learning? A narrative inquiry approach to new pedagogical practices using technology in Arts and Humanities learning and teaching (Rosemary Stott, Ravensbourne, Sarah Cousins, University of Bedfordshire & Dounia Bissar, University of Essex)

Overall, an enjoyable couple of days although I would have liked to have seen a greater languages presence on the conference programme.

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Reflections on the Language Futures Conference and the Welsh multilingual Spelling Bee final

I attended the first day of the LLAS Higher Education Language Futures Conference in Edinburgh recently. It was a really inspiring day with so much interesting input about what is going on in languages in HE and, as always, it was great to meet up with old friends.

I chaired a couple of sessions – firstly Liz Andersen and Nick Johnston from the Routes into Languages North East team talked about the development of the student language ambassador module at Newcastle University and then Sarah Schechter and Mary Brittain from Routes into Languages East and East Midlands presented findings from a sustainability audit, which covered a range of themes, including the contribution of Routes into Languages to the student experience and employability in languages and the role of Routes in widening participation and fair access (the full sustainability report is available here –  www.routesintolanguages.ac.u/impact). The second session I chaired involved Fiona Graham from the European Commission who drew attention to the role of, and demand for, translators in the Commission. Fiona was followed by Anne Marie Graham who reported on research she has been doing for Routes into Languages examining public service interpreting and translating provision in English HE. She also presented a new website, which will be a repository and community of practice for teaching and learning materials in PSIT – http://www.psit.org.uk/.

Afternoon plenary sessions included Ros Mitchell from Southampton University who spoke about residence abroad for languages students in a globalised world – she was referring to an ongoing research study, which looks as though it has fascinating findings about linguistic progress and the use of the target language in different settings. The day’s proceedings finished with a really informative presentation on language policy in Scotland by Sarah Breslin, Director of Scottish CILT. The languages picture in Scotland is looking optimistic at the moment with the new 2+1 policy for primary schools.

All good stuff – I was only sorry not to be able to stay for the second day. Conference presentations will appear here soon: http://www.llas.ac.uk/events/archive/6404

Onto the Wales national final of the languages Spelling Bee…

Last week I set off on a long train journey to Aberystwyth with my colleague, Claire Wilkins for the Welsh Spelling Bee final. As it was graduation week at Aberystwyth Uni, we couldn’t get accommodation there so ended up staying in Welshpool, which was lovely and very scenic. We continued by train to Aberystwyth the next day and had a conversation with a teacher who was taking one of her pupils to the Spelling Bee! The venue for the final was the superb National Library of Wales. The event kicked off with the 4 year 7 finalists in Spanish, followed by Welsh second language, French and finally German. Performances were really impressive – the standard of spelling was very high throughout. Afterwards I did a bit of sightseeing in Aberystwyth …..

I was then joined by my husband and we spent the weekend walking in the very beautiful Elan Valley….

My top 10 points from the UCL Conference today on Transition to University

This was a really interesting and well-organised conference. These are my own perceptions (in no particular order) based on the sessions I attended.

1 Universities are providing a wide range of induction and support programmes to new students in order to bridge perceived skills gaps. Judging by today’s sessions, peer-mentoring and peer-assisted support schemes are becoming increasingly popular.

2 Many students (second and third years) become mentors for altruistic reasons because they want to help other students.

3 Being mentored by peers can help new students to feel a sense of belonging.

4 It is difficult to evaluate the impact of peer-mentoring programmes.

5 Many new students do not necessarily want a peer mentor even if their universities provide them.

6 The availability of resources to support transition needs to be made very explicit to new students. They often lack awareness of what is on offer.

7 New students particularly like discipline-specific information to support transition into their courses. Evaluation surveys indicate that they are less interested in generic information and less likely to make use of it.

8 Mentoring schemes that are initiated, designed and delivered by students themselves are good for getting students to participate and for completing the feedback loop.

9 Student expectations of university and of the transition into degree programmes are likely to rise significantly with increased fees.

10 Universities will need to work very hard to respond to student expectations in the new fees regime.

For more information on the papers and workshops, see the conference website at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/transition/transition-conference-2011