Leadership and role-play: A few thoughts on the LLAS Head of Departments’ event.

September 15, 2011

Our first event of the ‘new LLAS’, Thriving in the New World of Higher Education: a workshop for heads of department and leaders in languages, linguistics and area studies took place yesterday. We had an overview on the state of Modern Languages in the UK from Jim Coleman (Open University and Chair of UCML) and Pam Moores talked about the resources developed as part of Shaping the Future, a project set up in response to Michael Worton’s report into Modern Languages in English universities. Our Director Mike Kelly had some good tips on managing relationships with senior managers in the university, and on the importance of understanding your university’s mission and making sure you know who you should go to for what.


My own contribution was in the form of role-play exercise in which participants ‘played’ a Head of Languages meeting her/his Dean to discuss either a faculty reorganisation or a curriculum change programme. I enjoy role-play as a way of learning, but I realise that not everyone does. However, it seemed that most people enjoyed the exercise and benefitted putting themselves in the position of another person. Some of our HoD’s are very good actors it seems.

As the author of the role-play scenarios, it was interesting to observe the numerous directions in which a situation can play out. The briefs for each role included a section entitled ‘What is on your mind’. It was interesting to see the ways in which people used or did not use this information to their advantage (some of the items were put in as deliberate distractions, e.g. your feelings about other people). I will write more about using role-play in this context at a later date.

For me the key lesson from this event is on the importance of working relationships. In these uncertain times for higher education, how we manage our relationships is more important than ever.


“We are learning slowly as we teach over the years”: Teaching the Green Humanities

May 27, 2011

“We are learning slowly as we teach over the years” is the last thing I wrote in my notebook at the “Teaching the Green Humanities” workshop on Wednesday. I can’t remember exactly who said it or even whether I wrote it down exactly as it was expressed, but it was said during the final panel with the workshop speakers. The second last thing I wrote down was “Slowness as virtue”. Six years after taking on the Education for Sustainable Development brief for LLAS I am still learning and still learning very slowly.

I’m not able to do justice to the ground which was covered during the event, but a few things will stick in my mind.  Arran Stibbe’s reminder (or was it a revelation) that “more sustainable” planet is still unsustainable will stick with me. I need to ponder Greg Garrard’s suggestion that the philosophy of ecology might be a good potential bridge between humanities and the sciences—sometimes it really does “just depend” and the ‘unlaw like’ nature of philosophy may allow this possibility (I hope I’m not mis-representing Greg here in any way). Jessica Frye’s discussion of engaging EFL students (mainly scientists and engineers in her case) through reading eco-poetry demonstrates the potential to teach about environmental issues in a context where many would not think it possible.

Still learning, very slowly.

Teaching in China: False assumptions

May 10, 2011

I don’t have any experience of teaching in a Chinese university, but I found this article particularly interesting.

Laura J. Getty, “False assumptions: the challenges and politics of teaching in China,” Teaching in Higher Education 16, no. 3 (2011): 347-353. Available here

It also reminded me of this piece written for our website: Inside-out: Student criticism of “foreign experts” in universities in the P.R.C. Available here.

Words I don’t like 1: Training

April 27, 2011

There are quite a few words I don’t like when talking about educational development. ‘Training’ is among these words. Why do lecturers ‘teach’, but educational developers ‘train’? Why is somebody who teaches students a lecturer or a teacher, but anyone who teaches lecturers is deemed to be training rather than teaching?

The difference may seem insignificant to some but I passionately believe that higher education is a valid and legitimate field of study and there is no difference between those who teach and research about higher education and the things that go on in universities and those who teach and research about sociology, physics and nursing. This is why I like to see educational developers have job titles which indicate this (Lecturer/ Senior Lecturer. Professor etc.)

The higher education classroom: a private space? 2

January 13, 2011

I enjoyed Tuesday’s session on the classroom as a private space. One of the key mantras of talking about education is that “it varies by discipline”, something which those of us who work for subject centres constantly remind each other, but are nevertheless apt to forget. In medicine, I learnt, is quite common to have to have a number of teachers with different medical and non-medical specialisms in the classroom together, so teaching is widely observed by peers as well as students. However, I enjoyed Laurie Taylor’s take on teaching observations:

Targett also denounced the HEA suggestion that university teachers should have their teaching observed “more than once”. He believed that this proposal not only constituted an “invasion of privacy” but might also prove “seriously inhibiting” to the several hundred totally untrained and seriously underpaid postgraduate students who currently carried out the bulk of the university’s teaching functions.

(Times Higher Education, 6th January)