he inspirational thinking in the opening Keynote was provided by Professor Peter Felton who focused on the importance of building relationships between staff and students. The message was not only as an antidote to the stresses and strains on both students and staff but also as a way of supporting Higher Education to continue to succeed in its present form. Human relationships, he suggests should be the heart of what we do and part of every aspect of our organisations to include not only front line academic staff but also the person who manages access to the car park. On slide he presented research from Mayhew et al (2016) stating their conclusions that, “Student-faculty and student-student interactions at university are the most significant factors contributing to students learning, motivation, identity, development, well-being, graduation rates and post-graduation career and civic outcomes”. Not a new idea but shocking all the same.

Peter emphasised the idea of implementing a “relentless welcome” to students which should extend way beyond the traditional idea of induction. This idea resonates with me as a tutor a teacher and as a student. We all like to feel we belong and often this doesn’t come instantly at the start of any new group membership but over time and with effort. This one presentation alone has made me reconsider the effort I put in to ensure we create multiple opportunities to make our students feel welcome in ‘their’ university.

Transition to Higher education is something which gains much attention. John Weldon from the University of Victoria, Australia presented a paper which outlined a disruptive approach to re-designing the first year experience “one block at a time”. The basic premise was to restructure, at pace, the structure of the first year units of learning. The initiative transformed their semesters from parallel units running for 12 week into sequential four week blocks. Some of the drivers for change of this new and distinctive approach were given as improving, recruitment, student satisfaction, engagement, retention and success. The new format allowed for the planning of more regular and incremental assessment across the four, (see figure 2) McKlusky. et,al (2019)

McCluskey, T., Weldon, J. and Smallridge, A. (2019) “Re-building the first year experience, one block at a time”, Student Success, 10(1), pp. 1-15. https://doi.org/10.5204/ssj.v10i1.1148

The theoretical basis for the change references Fung (2017) which positions students as, ‘outward looking critical investigators’ and ultimate aim of the Block Model approach was to increase student learning, especially for those students at most risk of attrition. Initial results claim to be addressing these issues favourably. Intensive modes of teaching seem completely outside of our current mode and method of teaching, not forgetting timetabling, however, there is something in this approach which suggests it could be a structure which becomes more common.

Student Presentation – Co-Design

As if that were not enough from Victoria University, I attended another session, this time presented by their students.

In one of the slickest presentations I saw in the three days of the conference the students quickly took us through a project which utilised ‘Students as Staff’ to develop the learning materials for the Block Model. The process they presented which was used to develop the units for the block model approach were given as Scan, Design, Develop, Deliver and Review (see paper for more detail). The process involved collaboration within design teams comprised of academic staff, learning designers, library staff, project officers and students-as-staff (SAS). This amazing example of a co-design and collaborative module design process is described as important to ‘acknowledge students concerns’ by including student perspectives within the process. Including the students within the process is cited by the team as resulting in increased student success, increased engagement and has also provided a greater understanding and perspective of the student learning experience amongst staff.

My Presentation on collaborative work with students

Dan Trowsdale HERDSA 2019 – Student model of a learning design.

My own showcase presentation was also focused on collaboratively working with students. As part of my Excellence and Innovation Fellowship project work at the Leeds Institute of Teaching Excellence, I have been exploring co-design principles with students as partners to see if their input to learning design can be represented as a a visual 3D model. This approach has been influenced by my creative and object based specialism, product design. Workshops have used the Lego Serious Play method and as part of the project have been trained as a certified Lego Serious Play facilitator. Results of early workshops suggest that this is a fantastic way to capture the reflective thoughts of students and to reveal their preferred ways of learning. Further workshops during the year hope to develop this approach and if you are interested, reports on the findings will be published later in the year publicised via my twitter account.

Recognising Māori culture

Throughout the conference I was particularly struck by the efforts that the organisers of this conference and the presenters were to emphasise bi-culturalism, based on the partnership established between Māori people and the Crown by the Treaty of Waitangi in New Zealand.

Noticably Māori ways of starting a meeting or lecture were visible for all during the keynote presentations, people were welcomed in Māori and in English. Some sessions started with a song in Māori to start the session. It struck me how westernised my cultural approaches are teaching and how I blindly accept these as a ‘normal’ way of behaving.

Two impressive keynote presentations addressed the issue of recognising Māori ideas, culture, history and traditions within teaching curricula and the conceptual frameworks informing research.

1) The first passionate and powerful presentation was from Associate Professor Melinda Webber Webber – Ngāti Whakaue, Ngāti Kahu, Ngāti Hau from the Faculty of Education and Social Work, The University of Auckland. Professor Webber started with a welcoming song in Māori tradition. My mind was opened. The focus of the presentation was seeking to address issues of education as a colonised experience and to encourage faculty and staff to ensure their teaching serves and meets the academic and socio-cultural aspirations of Māori population. The presentation supported institution level coherent approaches to amplifying Māori ways of “knowing, being and doing” in higher education. The emotion and sentiment of the presentation was mentioned by several to me after the presentation as being very inspiring. I shared this level of inspiration. Although there appears to be some in the system who resist change in this area, there appeared to be a great deal of commitment from both cultures in New Zealand to make this work. As reflective practitioners we recognise that there is often a great deal to gain from questioning the way in which we teach and what we teach. Different ways of doing things (even if they are very old ways of doing things) can deliver results. This takes me on to the second presentation on a similar theme.

2) Titled, “I ngā rā o mua: Challenges, changes and opportunities of indigenising university teaching and research” this presentation focussed on the importance of finding ways to blend Indigenous knowledge into teaching curricula and the conceptual frameworks informing research. The presentation was given by Associate Professor Meegan Hall – Ngāti Ranginui, Assistant Vice-Chancellor (Mātauranga Māori), Victoria University of Wellington. Two examples of incorporating Māori history and cultural traditions were included. Firstly a historical battle from Māori was used as an analogy for present day issues with cyber security. This simple change appears at first thought not to be a big deal. However student feedback from Māori students indicated that because it recognised Māori history and was included within an up to date example this was very much welcomed and made the learning experience feel so much more inclusive. The second was more surprising. Dr Karyn Paringatai (Te Tumu: School of Māori, Pacific and Indigenous Studies) looked to the past for Māori learning examples. One pre European Māori tradition to quickly absorb and retain information was learning in the dark. Requesting a room with no projector and no windows (can you imagine what timetabling would say!) Dr Paringatai turned off the lights and found that learning improved. Listening skills and pronunciation improved, inhibitions were lost and songs which took weeks to learn now took only hours. Confidence and higher grades were also an outcome. My tip – watch this space for some fantastic new ways of thinking and teaching.

Concluding Thoughts

To conclude the conference five students were asked to prepare 5 minute keynotes providing a student perspective. These were all excellent. One presentation stood out to me. Emily Bennet, third year undergraduate from the University of Western Australia, presented the notion of breaking the “Fourth wall”. This is a term taken from film and theatre related to connecting with the audience, or perhaps more accurately becoming aware of the audience, or directly referencing the audience. Such as an actor turning to camera and rolling eyes as if the audience was ‘live’ and taking part of the performance/film. So in lecturer’s terms breaking the “fourth wall” would consist of making the audience part of the presentation, connecting with them directly and building a relationship. A nice way to reference the thinking presented in the opening keynote from Professor Peter Felton.

If learning and teaching is to be a fantastic experience for students, and staff for that matter, it is about building relationships.


People Mentioned:

  • Professor Peter Felton
  • John Weldon
  • Associate Professor Melinda Webber
  • Associate Professor Meegan Hall
  • Dr Karyn Paringatai
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