Teaching ‘old dogs’ new tricks

In welcoming the newest member of the Kinchin household, Jesse the puppy (see below), it is evident that one is always having to learn. I am having to learn lots about puppies rather quickly, and so is Jesse. Top of the list is learning not to poop on the kitchen floor. Jesse, not me!   I’ve mastered that one.

JESSIE

“JESSE”

The thing that is most striking about the puppy learning, is the level of trust. Even though the puppy has only known me a while and does not know why certain things are important, he seems to trust me to do the right thing.

This is also vital in faculty development. Without a level of trust, very little will change. Some colleagues find it very difficult to trust someone else – especially if that someone else is younger than them. Just like a student at the beginning of the degree programme, faculty do not always have the complete picture when we start to talk to them about ‘student-voice’, ‘flipped classrooms’ or ‘death by bullet point’ (see earlier posts). They have to trust the developer that relevance and applicability will become apparent once they start to delve into the ideas.

This was very evident when we set out on a longitudinal study of PhD supervision (Kandiko Howson and Kinchin, 2014). Some of the supervisors were quite sceptical at the outset of the project. After all, some of them has been supervising PhDs for years and so were quite experienced. But despite this experience, there was still plenty to discover about their supervisory role and the ways in which the students were engaging with their PhD studies. So all credit to them for allowing us to invade their ‘private space’ and to question them about what they were doing. By the end, those involved had learned things about the PhD supervisor role and about the ways in which students were (or were not) learning.

It would have been easier for those supervisors to say they were too busy, or that they weren’t interested, but that would have been a very disappointing result. But trust was key to this dialogue. In order to gain that trust, there has to be mutual respect and mutual understanding. This means academic developers spending time in the teaching departments as well as faculty spending time at professional development events so that each is awareness of the challenges faced by the other.

So whilst it is relatively easy to teach a ‘new dog’ some tricks, it is a little harder to teach ‘old dogs’ new tricks. But as the teaching environment continues to evolve, and expectations on teachers and students change over time, it is also important that we reach those ‘old dogs’, who will have some tricks of their own, with the result that faculty development has to be a dialogue and not a transmission. Indeed, some experienced colleagues have confided in me that they feel a bit ‘left out’ of the contemporary discourse, and that when they started teaching, no-one used the word pedagogy (see ‘P’ is for Pedagogy in an earlier post). Now their younger colleagues are talking about ‘pedagogy’ and ‘dialogic classrooms’ as a matter of course. Clearly there is plenty to talk about in the context of teaching and learning. And probably the best person to start that conversation with, is the colleague in your department who occupies the next office.  Topics like PhD supervision can certainly not be seen as attempts to ‘dumb down’, as some colleagues have suggested in the past.

References

Kandiko Howson, C.B. and Kinchin, I.M. (2014) Mapping the doctorate: A longitudinal study of PhD students and their supervisors. In: Shedletsky, L. and Beaudry, J.S. (Eds.) Cases on Teaching Critical Thinking through Visual Representation Strategies. (pp. 445 – 464) IGI Global.

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