So long 2021

Thank goodness we have reached the end of 2021! I am taking a longer break than usual and looking forward to no Zoom meetings for a month.

The greatest accomplishment of the year was getting through 105+ days of lockdown and simultaneous schooling and working from home. The week that school returned on campus, I tweeted: I cannot overstate how much better my working week has been with my children back at school. I have managed complex tasks requiring concentration and uninterrupted thinking. Still catching up but the seven things on my list marked urgent are almost finished.

Despite the interruptions, there is much collective work to be proud of and I am fortunate to be part of an accomplished team (pictured below on Zoom). We made a fun video to celebrate the highlights of the year. These included: a Beginning to Teach professional development program, Spotlight on Practice interviews, iLearn (learning management system) drop-in clinic, Bite-sized Learning and Teaching podcast, supporting 23000 online exam sittings in second semester, and facilitating Zoom for Teaching workshops.

I am also proud of: the work of the Teaching and Leadership community of practice (I presented these slides summarising the CoP at the Council of Australasian University Leaders in Learning and Teaching (CAULLT) conference), co-leading the Contemporary Approaches to University Teaching MOOC with Marina Harvey, and publishing an autoethnographic journal article on parenting and promotion in Life Writing.

Outside of work, the pandemic made the world feel small. Walking in our local area helped.

A special shout-out to my father who facilitated weekly Zoom lessons for his grandchildren, individually crafted according to their interests: time, water, chess, The Great Depression, maps, left-handedness, food, money, computers, building a house, book publishing, inventions, family history, electricity, and colonisation among other topics.

Finally, no yearly wrap up would be complete without sharing some of my favourite books of the year: Yaa Gyasi’s Transcendent Kingdom (a novel about a Ghanian American PhD candidate’s family), Alice Pung’s One Hundred Days (a novel about a pregnant teenage Korean Australian detained by her mother), Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous (fictionalised account of gay Vietnamese American son writing to his mother), Sara Foster’s The Hush (dystopian fertility fiction), Lisa Fuller’s Ghost Bird (an Australian Aboriginal YA mystery novel by award winning Wuilli Wuilli author), and Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Face of War (oral history of Russian women in WW2).

So long 2021!

Edited to add: in my rush to farewell 2021, I forgot to share the news that the Slow Academic will have a new look next year thank you to the talented Fidel Fernando. I commissioned him to redesign the blog after the success of his artworks for the Over a Cuppa reflection series this year. Sadly he is leaving my team for a great opportunity at another university, but said farewell with this lovely image:

Tending to reflection

This is the 16th post in Over a Cuppa, a series which prompts you to reflect on learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche, original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

What a year! As it closes, I hope you have the opportunity for a reflective break in whatever form most nourishes you. I will be spending time with friends and family, visiting the beach, gardening, cooking, reading and ruminating. Thinking of the sensory immersion of the upcoming holidays – especially the beach – I can already feel my shoulders loosening.

While relaxing, I will be idly considering questions such as: What have been the most memorable experiences of 2021? What have I learnt? How have I spent my time and energy this year? Is this how I want to continue using these finite and precious resources? What am I  grateful for this year? What am I proud of accomplishing?  What would I like to do differently in the new year?

This is a different type of reflection from the learning and teaching prompts I have written about in previous posts. The aim of these posts has been to ask questions (what are your teaching intentions? What are your memories of learning? What makes your teaching shine?), build a reflection toolkit of readings and resources (lenses for reflection, go to resourcescircular reflection), and share ideas that develop reflective practice: put on your teaching cloak, make your learning visible to students, and use your senses.

I believe reflection during the holidays still fits within what Harvey, Coulson and McMaugh (2016) call the “ecology of reflection” which they describe as the “situational, contextual and complex … setting … for reflective practice.” They write: “Ecology is used in its broadest sense of an holistic, interconnected system such as those used in human ecology, social ecology and systems theory … which examine the bidirectional interrelationship between humans and environments.”

Hence the prompt for this post: tend your reflection garden. By this, I mean focus your reflective skills towards yourself. If you are fortunate enough to have a break, what activities will allow you to renew your energy? How can you recharge in order to continue the work of caring and connecting with students and guiding their learning? What keeps you in balance?

This will be the final post in Over a Cuppa, at least for now. In the process of writing these posts, I have read (or reread) several books, including Schön’s (1983) The Reflective Practitioner; hook’s (1994) Teaching to Transgress; Brookfield’s (2017) Becoming a critically reflective teacher; Carter’s (2020) Academic Identity and the Place of Stories, and, most recently, Ashwin et al’s (2020) Reflective Teaching in Higher Education. For each post, my colleague Fidel Fernando created an original digital artwork. Sadly (for us), he is leaving Macquarie University for an exciting opportunity at the University of Technology, Sydney.

There is still more reading and thinking to do about reflection, but this will take different forms. Over a cuppa will be replaced with a new series on the ABCs of pedagogy, designed to give teachers the language to describe their practice. This may be for the purposes of reflection, but can also encompass scholarship, career progression and recognition.

Harvey, M., Coulson, D., & McMaugh, A. (2016). Towards a theory of the Ecology of Reflection: Reflective practice for experiential learning in higher education. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 13(2). https://doi.org/10.14453/jutlp.v13i2.2

Blogging as a loose-fitting garment

Some good news this week with the publication of a collection Reimagining the Academy edited by Ali Black and Rachael Dwyer. I am looking forward to reading the whole, with its focus on kindness, connection and an ethics of care. The editors describe the focus of the book as “the building of a kinder values-driven academy” which sounds like a palate cleanser!

With Catherine Manathunga, I have a chapter on remaking academic garments. It was written in response to a call to reimagine academia “like [the pleasure of wearing] a loose-fitting garment—finding liberating and enabling ways to wear an academic life.” We describe the ways in which we have let out the seams of academic life, lifted its hems, changed its colour, its shape and texture.

We share some of the work of others which shows that bodies, clothing and makeup in academia are worthy of intellectual attention in relation to ethics, performance, power, and identity politics. See, for example, Thesis Whisperer, Tenure, She Wrote, The Professor Is In’s Makeup Monday, Stylish Academic, and Women, Wardrobes and Leadership.

And in scholarship, Fran Kelly (2018) thoughtfully articulates an ‘academic life, in textiles’, sharing four vignettes of garments that represent points of transition in her academic life—being a PhD candidate (a neo-Victorian skirt), becoming a mother (a brown apron), teaching (a long dress with sleeves, fitted waist and full skirt) and promotion to senior lecturer (a blue woven shirt with threads of black and white). In an autoethnographic account as a Ghanaian-Cameroonian-American Black woman, Krys Osei (2019) shares “freedom rooted in the act of allowing myself as a young Black girl to exist out loud and boldly. With the handy assistance of glitter, sequins, and rhinestones, I was able to be without the imminent threat of behavioural discipline that followed me at school” (p. 734). Finally, Briony Lipton (2020) links women academics’ professional dress to career progression, noting the gendered, classed, raced and heteronormative impact of dress as “aesthetic labour” (p. 2).  

In the chapter, I articulate some of reasons I started this blog. I started blogging once I had secure work, when I had time and space and energy to write. I had been an avid blog reader for many years, and was searching for a blog that explored difficult questions about slow academia in relation to the politics of higher education, university governance, academic roles and identities, and academic activism. Activism, particularly in relation to the operations of the higher education sector and the organisation itself, has been nourishing to me. Much of it is ordinary work: participating in scholarship, academic governance, teaching and union activities, what Gill (2009) calls “small-scale micro-negotiations of power in the academy” (p. 231).

Several years on, blogging has provided an opportunity to think through writing and reflect-in-action (Schön, 1987). Thomson and Kamler (2010) call it ‘writing along the way’—“writing that is intended to sort out what we think, why, and what the implications of a line of thought might be” (p. 149). Blogging is incredibly freeing for an academic writer, constrained by the conventions, requirements and expectations of research and publishing. (All too often, I have to delete a sentence to appease a reviewer; I’ve learnt to hold words loosely, and let them go without regret). In a blog post, words follow my whims, and I can write about dystopian fiction, porridge, trees, and family outings. The pleasures of writing the quotidian run deep. Most of all, blogging has provided a means to resist a particular style of academia: idealised academic superheroes, quantified measures of productivity, contagious anxiety, a finite game.

Calling myself a slow academic is a way of wearing academia like a loose-fitting garment.

This is evident my working from home set-up last week (how good are these comfy black and gold polka dot flats from Rollie!)