Editorial - Enabling a community of learners, despite economic challenges

Last modified by Nexus Administrator on 01/10/2010

I feel really fortunate to have a job where my role involves acting as a catalyst for the personal and professional development of academic staff. I particularly enjoy helping new lectures to fully realise their potential as powerful educators and reflective teachers, whilst helping them to understand how theirs can be a profoundly important and emancipatory profession.  Of course, professional development does not occur in a vacuum, but instead like any other facet of contemporary life, is impacted by a host of social, political and economic forces. The current economic situation, whilst undoubtedly providing new challenges and the need to become more efficient, has also precipitated an increasing realisation of the incredible value of continuing professional development in creating a resilient, skilled, self-motivated and flexible community of academic educators, which in turn, produces an employable student body, able to compete successfully in the knowledge-economy of the contemporary globalised world. The papers contained within this inaugural edition of Aberystwyth University’s Journal of Academic Practice reflect key themes in HEIs, such as internationalisation and bilingualism, the student voice, employability, student support and technology enhanced learning.

The theme of this edition is enabling a community of learners. Each paper demonstrates a teacher who is keenly tuned into how to create and enable communities to form within their areas of teaching:

For instance, Sills-Jones paper examines the subtitles of meaning that can often get ‘lost in translation’ when teaching and learning in a bilingual community environment. His innovative work shows that instead of ignoring these differences, they can be used as an aid to deepen understanding amongst bilingual students, through awakening their ‘double consciousness’. This paper will be of great interest not only to those who teach bilingually in a Welsh medium environment, but also to anyone who teaches international students, showing how their double consciousness should be seen not simply as a barrier to learning, but rather as an advantage, enabling them to see complex ideas, theories, concepts and terms from more than one ‘world view’. We cannot afford to be blind to these issues as we more into an era of internationalisation in education and indeed we should be mindful of the benefits that multiple subjectivities can bring to a learning environment.

Similarly, Baldwin’s paper plays and experiments with different registers of meaning, through the creation of his audio-visual database. His paper shows the ways in which pedagogy and art can and do inform one another reciprocally. His paper shows the ways in which pedagogic debates sit at the heart of technology.  As Baldwin suggests, ‘today we are saturated by information technology and there is of course, a place for it in our learning environments.  The challenge for the tutor is to exploit technology in such a way that the learning experience is enhanced. We must be careful that when incorporating information technology it is not used to the detriment of the learner, leaving them isolated as a consequence. In other words, that we do not create a world of virtual learners, disconnected from real engagement’. As we see in the media reports of the social isolation that can be engendered by social networking sites, Baldwin is right to highlight the very real need to continue to make students part of an intimate community of practice, even in these challenging economic times (perhaps even more so). Indeed, how we best balance access for all and intimate engagement are precisely the kinds of questions we will need to grapple with as a the widening participation agenda and increasing staff-student ratios meet many of the innovative initiatives coming out of projects like Gwella (see http://www.aber.ac.uk/en/is/elearning/gwella/).

McCarthy’s refreshing short reflection on the student experience is a welcome reminder of the many social and cultural forces acting on and through students as they come to university. Indeed supporting the student experience and giving a platform to the student voice continues to be a priority theme in HEIs, and certainly in Aberystwyth University, as evidenced by the recent, successful event at AU: Supporting the Student Experience Symposium: A Welsh Perspective. McCarthy’s account shows that learning does indeed involve not only a conceptual, but also an ontological shift as what they learn becomes part of who they are and how they see the world. This has been likened by some pedagogic theorists to the luminal states that adolescents inhabit as they move from childhood to adulthood. We must make ‘holding spaces’ for this process of learning to take place.

Emeseh’s paper shows the value in using variation and practice to make teaching student-centred. Her work with role play in the form of a simulated negotiation exercise to debate the resolve an ongoing environmental challenge using the environmental law principles and regulatory mechanisms they students learnt on the module, proved particularly useful for those who learn best through activity and action. Emeseh’s paper shows how being keyed into the learning styles of students can pay dividends in encouraging a deeper approach to learning, whilst simultaneously developing employability.

Biehl's paper also examines the value of learning through doing, in the form of improvisational theatre in management education. she shows how student enthusiasm and engagement can be engaged, whilst providing simultaneous development in important social and management skills. Her paper suggests that this kind of learning involves careful planning, to ensure an atmosphere of appreciative enquiry is firmly in place so that students are enabled to learn spontaneously and freely, in a supportive and structured space.

Finally, Liz Jones’ paper highlights the challenge of creating communities of learning amongst non traditional, mature students in isolated geographical communities. She says, ‘it is… clear that both the creative writing courses and the process of compiling and launching Views From a High Place has helped to build and reinforce social contacts and friendships within these isolated rural communities’.

Indeed, inclusive academic communities of learning, if practiced mindfully, conscientiously and diligently, can be a bulwark against some of the neo-liberal global forces that seek to undermine the social cohesion, whilst remaining financially responsible. This first edition of AUJAP signals a call to fight for, and work to reinforce the academic communities we all hold so dear.

I very much hope you will enjoy reading the first edition for the journal.

Dr. Jo Maddern

Learning and teaching development coordinator

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Created by Nexus Administrator on 30/09/2010
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