What’s your university story?

This is the 6th post in a regular feature Over a cuppa: prompts to reflect on learning and teaching to prompt you to reflect on your learning and teaching during the time it takes to make and drink a cuppa. Cross-posted from Teche, original artwork by Fidel Fernando.

Did you start an undergraduate degree straight from school, complete in minimum time and go on to further study? Or was your pathway more rocky? If so, you’re in good company. Your classroom has students who are first in family, underachieved at school, have had interrupted education, manage learning difficulties, are studying part-time, and a myriad of other factors that make up a university story. Your story shapes your implicit understandings, and questioning these is Schön’s (1983) definition of reflection.

Another way of framing this question comes from sociologist Pierre Bourdieu: what is your educational capital? Rowlands (2018) defines it as the “various inherited and acquired resources that students bring to bear upon their education” (p 1824). Are you aware of a gap between your education capital and that of your students, or between students in your classroom?

I have previously shared this checklist on white privilege by Peggy McIntosh (1989) which focuses on race, but can be adapted for class, gender, sexuality, ability, religion, age, employment, indeed any social, cultural or symbolic capital.

Here are some of those statements applied to privilege in the university:

  • I will be given curricular materials written by and representing people like me
  • I feel welcome in this institution/ discipline/ department/ classroom
  • I can be pretty sure of finding people who would be willing to talk with me and advise me about my next steps professionally
  • My chief worries at university do not concern others’ attitude towards me
  • I can go home from most meetings of organizations/ groups/ teams I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.

Take some time to reflect on your responses, your university story and your educational capital. Enjoy your cuppa!

Rowlands, J. (2018) Deepening understandings of Bourdieu’s academic and intellectual capital through a study of academic voice within academic governance. Studies in Higher Education, 43(11), 1823-1836.

Schön, D. A. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

An attentive walk

I was very taken with the methodology of the ‘attentive walk’ that Fran Kelly took in her article Hurry up please, it’s time!’ A psychogeography of a decommissioned university campus. I included some detail in my previous post: “Although I had walked the same paths before, this time I walked with intention and attention, taking photographs and making notes of objects and places and the effects of processes of time.”

Here is some more detail about the methodology in a quote Fran provides from MacFarlane (2005):

Record the experiences as you go, in whatever medium you favour: film, photograph, manuscript, tape. Catch the textual run-off of the streets: the graffiti, the branded litter, the snatches of conversation. Catch the sign. Log the data stream. Be alert to the happenstance of metaphors, watch for visual rhymes, coincidences, analogies, family resemblances, the changing moods of the street.

Fran is walking through a decommisioned university campus, which adds pathos to her noticings. She refers to it as ‘critical nostalgia’: “This moment in time—on the cusp of the faculty’s transfer and the site’s disestablishment—is opportune to critically reflect on this place and its ideas, practices and work of teaching that have shaped and infused its material form.”

The focus of my own critical nostalgia—which has “a political aim to insist on the humanity of places”—was to explore the university through my children’s eyes. My children are growing up (now 14 and 7), but I have worked at this university campus for throughout their lives in many different roles. We lived close by for many years. My mother brought my daughter for breastfeeding in the breaks between lectures. My children attended childcare on campus and had swimming lessons at the pool. On the weekends, we used the campus grounds, filled with interesting plants and sculptures, for walking, scooter riding and kite flying.

Like Fran, I am aware of the imprint of time on the university space. Many parts of the campus that my children enjoyed no longer exist—hills have been flattened to make way for new buildings, holes under buildings that housed feral kittens have been patched, trees have been lopped, and sculptures relocated. There are new spaces to explore. I took this walk alone, but had my children’s voices and histories in mind.

My son asks whether this is a machine for teleporting:

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My daughter attempts to use this staircase every time we pass:

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There is a large stick on the ground:

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This reads like an instruction:

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We all love a street library (note the feminist dystopian fictionLouise Erdich’s Future Home of the Living God):

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Along the way I bumped into several colleagues, and stopped for brief hellos. I plan future attentive walks, on and off campus, alone and in the company of others.

Imagining research futures

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The Higher Education Scholars have been at it again.

We are a group of higher education researchers based in and around Sydney who meet regularly. I’ve blogged about us before: A reminder to play, Staying in place, Yarning circle, and The spirit of research. To recap: 30 odd people, predominantly women, a mix of professional (non-academic) staff, academics and academic developers, established scholars and doctoral candidates. The initial group was brought together by Tai Peseta as a way of examining research in the field of higher education. We span half a dozen universities, and meet three times a year, with institutions taking turns to host and provide lunch. You can read a bit about our meetings here.

This time we met at the University of Technology with the theme: Re-imagining a field: what should a new research centre for Higher Education do?

The first activity was an ice-breaker led by me: a research version of snakes and ladders. What enables your research (ladders)? What impedes you (snakes)?

We read:

We asked: What do these papers tell us about the kind of field higher education is? · What do these papers tell us about the kind of field we are writing into and shaping as HE researchers? Craft a question you want to take up with Clegg and Harland.

My question to Sue Clegg, had she been in the room, was to ask her thoughts on what a feminist view of the field of HE research might look like. And here are some of the books I am reading (or re-reading) to think about that question:

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We examined the practices of higher education research centres around the world, and had a go at designing our own. My team, led by Marina Harvey, created Reflection for Learning in Higher Education.

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A research centre whose work evidences the value of critical reflection for learning, leadership and practice for students, staff and the community.

Imagine a university where: health professionals train to be reflective practitioners; work and study retreats happen on campus; assessment of student reflection is evidence-based; and managers engage in contemplative practice to guide their leadership.

Now we just need find that $134 million in funding…