Posted in Learning, Studying, Teaching

What I do and the value of what I do: A long read

We are asked to introduce ourselves. Most people give their name, title and something about the work they do. It’s my turn and I say ‘Hi, I’m Sharon. I do stuff.’

People laugh and then the next person introduces himself, gives his title, says something about what he does, and that continues around the table.

But … what?

Why did I respond in that way? Why didn’t I give my title and say something about what I do? Particularly as the people around the table are my colleagues. Most of them – if not all of them – know my title and what I do.

Weird.

Even weirder, now that I think about it some more in the cold hard light of day. And when I say ‘cold’ I mean freezing. It’s so cold today I’m sitting inside with a woollen hat on, a buff (a scarf without ends) around my neck, a warm cardigan, while the heater dribbles out heat in the background.

I went to see Cornelia (not her real name) yesterday afternoon. Cornelia is my onc-psych (yes, apparently there is such a thing) and I told her about this because I thought it was interesting and it fitted in with other things we were talking about.

Cornelia challenged me to describe what I do and the value of what I do to an imaginary audience of Grade 5 kids. Or Prep kids. Or people who aren’t in the same industry as me.

So here I am. I’m sure she didn’t mean for me to do this on my blog, but as you’re my audience and might be good enough to give me your time and possibly some feedback, I thought I may as well describe what I do and the value of what I do to you – a real, rather than an imagined audience.

Or perhaps you are an imagined audience. I’ll imagine you’re out there, sitting in the warmth, scrolling through your emails, finding one from Musings on the Cold, and saying to yourself ‘what the heck. I may as well see what Sharon has to say today.’ And here you are.

Grab a cuppa, this is a seriously long read.

What do I do in my professional life and what is its value?

I’m a Senior Lecturer (Student Engagement) in the Faculty of Business and Law at Deakin University.

I work with academic staff (those who teach undergraduate and postgraduate students) to help further develop their teaching practice. I also work with those who work with academic staff to help them further develop the work they do in working with academic staff in further developing their teaching practice.

That sounds a little convoluted, even to me. Hopefully, it will become a bit more clear as (if) you read on.

Academics have three main parts to their role:

  1. Research (that includes writing grant applications, conducting research – writing ethics applications, designing surveys/questionnaires/interview schedules, gathering and analysing data, writing peer reviewed journal articles …)
  2. Service (engage in committees that make decisions about important initiatives, take on leaderships roles …)
  3. Teach (prepare unit guides, design the structure of an 11 week unit/subject so that it has a coherent thread, design assessment tasks, record lectures and podcasts and be animated and lively as you do it, align assessment with learning outcomes, develop learning resources to scaffold student learning, determine ways of engaging students and tapping into their personal motivations and interest for studying this subject, liaise with library staff about library resources, liaise with language and literacy advisers on the best way to support students’ academic development, liaise with the work integrated learning team to determine how to incorporate some employability education into the unit, ensure compliance with the Higher Education Standards Framework in terms of discipline knowledge and also how to teach and assess, present information, meet with those teaching into their units to ensure there’s consistency in the information provided to students and in the ways students are being taught, respond to student requests for extensions, comply with standards for online learning (accessibility, etc), respond to student requests for information that was in the Week 3 notes but that the student hadn’t accessed, respond to student queries about whether this particular nugget of information will be in the exam, wonder why many students don’t turn up to class, mark student assignments, give feedback to students saying the same thing over and over ‘your work could be strengthened if you accessed the materials and attended more regularly’, conduct moderation meetings to ensure all markers are marking consistently and are providing positive and constructive feedback, write a unit review at the end of the semester to justify the high fail rates, ensure there’s a spread of grades consistent with a bell curve even though we do criterion-referenced assessment to which bell curves don’t apply, read student evaluations that often say hurtful things of a personal nature (Sharon is fat, Sharon has no sense of humour, Sharon’s hair is ridiculous), respond to student enquiries within 48 hours, ensure the unit is inclusive of those from rural and regional areas, those from a low socio-economic demographic, those who have a disability, those who work, those who have children and elderly parents, those who don’t really want to be in this subject, this course, this university, this country but they have to because their parents’ expectations are high, engage students in active learning, teach them about teamwork and self management and critical thinking and problem solving and global citizenship as well as disciplinary-specific content knowledge, be familiar with a range of technologies, pretend you can do all this … and more …).

A ‘balanced’ workload is 40/40/20. That is, an academic will have 40% of their workload allocation devoted to research, 40% to teaching and 20% to service.

Many academics come to universities as experts in their field. They are expert accountants, or financial planners, or foreign exchange traders. They are keen to undertake research. Research builds your profile nationally and internationally. Research builds a university’s profile nationally and internationally. There are university rankings and all universities want to be at or close to the top. You get close to the top primarily through research, although teaching evaluations from students plus success and retention rates are also part of the equation. But research is important.

Most academics have a PhD and so come to the academy knowing how to do research. Once at the university, they often get onto research teams and are mentored and supported by more experienced others in how to write grant applications, how to write ethics applications, how to write journal articles, how to get published (or they mentor and support those who are newer to academia). They publish in teams and so an academic might have their name on a dozen papers, along with a dozen other academics, all of whom contributed in some way to the research, although not necessarily to the writing of the paper. It’s very important to have your name on the paper. It’s how you and the university builds a national and international profile.

Photo by Jilbert Ebrahimi on Unsplash

Not many academics come to universities knowing how to teach. They’ve been in school, they’ve spent time in universities as students, but just as going to the dentist regularly doesn’t mean you know how to dentist, being a student doesn’t mean you know how to teach. Teaching is often something that is done individually. A unit chair will do much of the work I mentioned in point 3 above. On their own. Often with limited time, particularly in the initial stages of unit design and development.

Many academics come to teaching with the idea that teaching is about telling students what they need to know and then testing them on that at the end of the trimester to see how much they’ve ‘learnt’. Not many academics build their national or international profile through teaching. Not many universities get to the top of the league tables through teaching.

Teaching is often evaluated on the basis of what students have to say and when what they have to say is unhelpful (Sharon is fat. Sharon has no sense of humour. Sharon’s hair is ridiculous) then it’s difficult to know how to improve. Teaching tends not to be a team activity. There’s little mentoring and support from more experienced others. Research into your own teaching is called ‘scholarship of teaching and learning’ rather than research and isn’t valued as highly as ‘real’ research, even though there are grant applications to write, ethics applications to develop, data to be gathered and analysed, writing of a journal article that will be peer reviewed … it’s just like research but it’s called scholarship and so doesn’t count as much.

So for the academic who comes to university primarily to engage in research, teaching can be an uncomfortable space. An often unsupported space.

Photo by Edwin Andrade on Unsplash

Universities provide support for the technological aspects of teaching: how to record a lecture (as in, which buttons to push) but not so many resources on how to record a lecture (as in, how to engage students in the ways you present information, the structure of the lecture, ways to be your authentic self in front of the camera); how to develop a rubric (as in, which buttons to click to ensure it’s in the right place within the learning management system and that the numbers add up accurately) but there are fewer people employed to support academics in how to develop a rubric (as in, how do you develop criteria that align with the learning outcomes, what language do you use to differentiate between someone’s capacity to communicate at a Distinction level rather than a High Distinction level; how to assess quality rather than quantity – how well the references were used to suppport the writer’s argument or analysis rather than how many were used).

I am a teacher. I’ve been a qualified teacher since 1997. I’ve spent over 22 years in classrooms of one sort or another and/or supporting those who teach. I started out teaching English and Drama to senior secondary students. English teaching (and preparing to be an English teacher) meant that I learnt about language and purpose and audience and structure and communicating in writing as well as verbally. It taught me about nuances in language and about the formalities of language – about register and tone and semiotics and syntax. And about deliberate communicative structures and when it’s okay to break rules and why apostrophes are important.

Drama teaching (and preparing to be a Drama teacher) taught me about embodied learning, about authentic learning, about experiential learning, about giving feedback, about being in the moment, about jumping in and doing rather than sitting back and thinking, about experiences and ways of communicating them through real and imagined events, about emotionality and how to make a scream with your body rather than your voice, and about experimentation and trying things out, about flexible and creative thinking, about the importance of reflection to the learning process, and the importance of breath and movement and of voice – of using it and supporting it.

Photo by João Silas on Unsplash

And for many years I worked in radio. Working in radio taught me about time – time management, time use, how to fill it, how to structure it. It taught me about audience – communicating with the audience, listening to the audience, speaking to one person rather than to many, imagining your listener and speaking directly to that person. It taught me about structure, how to use music to carry the program through an hour of ups and downs, of melodies and rhythms; how to use pace, when to speed up and when to slow down; how to edit an interview and to structure it to make it flow; how to present information, how to ask open questions, how to encourage people to tell their story, how to build relationships quickly, how to use humour to add light and shade to an interview (Sharon has no sense of humour), how a smile warms up your voice. It also taught me the importance of preparation, whether that’s preparing for a music program, a talk program, a panel interview, an interview with a member of parliament, for talkback with Peter Cundall, for dealing with technical issues in a dignified way on air and ensuring your microphone is off before you fall to pieces.

For many years I was a teacher educator, teaching those preparing to become primary and secondary school teachers. Teaching and learning, assessment and planning, curriculum and pedagogy were what I taught – they were my disciplines. I was teaching people about teaching – asking them endless questions about the role of schools in society, the role of teachers, the reason we teach what we teach in schools. I encouraged students to think about who they were as teachers, why they were teaching, why they were teaching in the way they were teaching, encouraging them to think about how they use their time, how they structure it in the classroom, how they plan for learning, how they know that learning has happened. I was also teaching about self-management – about planning, monitoring and evaluating your own learning, critical thinking, communicating to diverse audiences, working as a member of a team, ethical practice. In addition, I taught Drama and Literacy and encouraged students to keep their teaching real and authentic and embodied and experiential. I developed as a teacher-educator over time, just as, years before, I had developed as a teacher over time.

And so now I know something about teaching and learning and engagement and assessment. About how to structure the presentation of information, how to communicate with an audience you’re not in front of, how to ask questions that elicit responses that go beyond yes/no answers. I know about unit design for oncampus and online teaching and learning; I know what strategies will encourage active learning; I can use language effectively in the development of rubrics; I know how to design a unit to encourage intellectual engagement as well as professional and academic engagement. I have written articles and conference papers about teaching and learning, I have developed my knowledge and understanding and practice from a myriad of authors who engage in the scholarship of teaching and learning. I attend conferences and listen to how others enact their teaching and how they encourage students to engage in learning. My ideas about teaching are built on experience and reflection and scholarship and research and reading and interacting with others. And, if I’m honest, my ideas about teaching are also built on my experience as an educational leader.

And so, I do more than ‘stuff’. I work with academic staff (those involved in teaching) to further develop their teaching practice. I encourage them to reconsider the ‘teaching as telling’ approach; to think about teaching as an embodied, experiential, authentic endeavour that leads to students being more effective communicators and critical thinkers and team members and problem solvers.

And I work with those others in the team (colleagues employed as learning designers or educational technologists or educational developers or project managers) who also work with academic staff, to further my colleagues’ understanding of teaching and learning and how best to work with academics in helping them further develop their practice.

As well as the many failures I’ve had, I’ve also had some successes. My office is littered with Teaching Merit Certificates from my years at the University of Tasmania. Last year I was awarded Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. HEA Fellowship ‘demonstrates a personal and institutional commitment to professionalism in learning and teaching in higher education’. Senior Fellows need to provide evidence of a sustained record of effectiveness in relation to teaching and learning, and so it was an honour to be successful in my application.

Most recently, I was part of a team awarded an Australian Award for University Teaching (AAUT) ‘Citation for Outstanding Contribution to Student Learning’. Only 30 were awarded across Australia and again, I felt very honoured to have been part of a successful team.

Here I am with fellow team member, Assoc. Prof Victor Fang and Vice-Chancellor of Deakin University Professor Jane den Hollander AO at the AAUT awards presentation earlier this month.

So perhaps I need to acknowledge that I do know stuff, and that it’s quite valuable stuff to know, and that I can add value to others’ practice and ultimately to the student experience.


I tend to think I lost the Prep audience some time ago, and possibly the Grade 5 audience too.

But what about you? Did you make it this far?

If so, do you consider what I do to have value?

Any comments are most welcome, apart from the ‘Sharon’s hair is ridiculous’ type 🙂

 

Posted in Life

Way better than never …

Life’s funny … and not always ‘funny haha’.

But funny, nonetheless.

In June 2014, I moved from Tasmania to Melbourne to live with my husband who’d moved here 5 months before. That move meant I stopped being a pre-service teacher educator.

I admit to falling into a bit of a hole. It took me some time to get used to the idea that I wouldn’t teach at university again.

And then, in 2015, I taught at university again – for one semester. And when semester ended I again stopped being a pre-service teacher educator.

I admit to falling into a bit of a hole. It took me some time to get used to the idea that I wouldn’t teach at university again.

And then earlier this year a former colleague from the University of Tasmania asked if I’d like to teach at university again.

I would. I did. It was great. One semester of interacting with students – students who were keen to learn, who were mature in their attitudes and capacity to think for themselves; some of these students I’d taught when they were in their first year of university. They remembered me, as I did them. It was great to reconnect, and interestingly, they thought so too.

And then the same colleague asked if I’d be interested in teaching the post-grad version of the unit in second semester.

I would. I did. It was great. Another semester of interacting with students – challenging their ideas about teaching, gently encouraging them out of their comfort zones, helping them see that they are more than deliverers of content, more than transmitters of what they know, and that students are more (much more) than empty vessels waiting to be filled.

I had marking to do, and I did it, and now I’m finished and the relief I feel is real and very (very) sweet.

So, am I a pre-service teacher educator? It appears the answer is ‘sometimes’ … and that’s way better than never!

Posted in Learning, Life, Writing

2016 Writing Challenge: Day #2

Looking up

The topic for today is to dig through the couch cushions, your purse, or your car and look at the year printed on the first coin you find, then share what you were doing that year.

The first coin I laid my hands on was from 1993. It makes me wonder how many pockets it’s been in in the intervening years, and what it’s been used to buy, but that’s getting off-track, and I need to focus on the task at hand.

In 1993, which was twenty-three years ago (in case you were trying to do the calculation) I was in my first year of university. It was an exhilarating time, scary to be sure, but exhilarating. I turned 31 that year, and had had many years of wanting to use my brain and here I was, finally doing it.

I’d been volunteering (full-time) at a community radio station the year before I started university, doing everything from gathering and reading the news (in the time before the internet), updating the music database, creating music playlists for 16 hours of programs (each day), recording and editing sponsorship announcements, interviewing ‘celebrities’ (some of them were even real celebrities: Jeanne Little springs to mind), producing and presenting a talk show in the after lunch timeslot, organising the Schools Out program, and a host of other duties. I loved every minute of it, except the part where the station manager told me that her prayer group were praying for me because I was living in a ‘sinful relationship’. But everything else was fabulous. It was real work, I was learning heaps, and surprisingly I was good at it all.

I was enjoying this work, even though it didn’t pay the bills, and not thinking of venturing into other things. But then an opportunity came knocking, and a deep-seated desire for learning reared its head, and you can’t ignore deep-seated desires now, can you?

The opportunity was in the form of a brochure which appeared on the front counter at the radio station. It was from the University of Tasmania and was promoting a teaching degree in English, Speech and Drama.

I had no ambition to be a teacher, but the English and Drama bits appealed to me (a lot).

I applied, went through the interview process, and was accepted. I can gloss over those moments now, but at the time each of those steps was fraught with self-doubt, what if …, how do you…, but …; agonising over whether I could/should, considering what the practicalities meant (one practicality was having to move to Launceston. I lived a two-hour drive away and it wasn’t possible to travel every day.) There were other, more important, considerations, but this isn’t the place to air them. Suffice to say that throughout the process I was feeling all sorts of trepidation but when the acceptance letter came through, excitement took over. For a time, and then, when the reality struck, trepidation made a return.

I enrolled, bought a house, moved to Launceston mid-February, found a wonderful woman to look after my three-year old daughter, Emma, and in the final week of February started university.

First day, Monday morning, 9am, Drama in the Auditorium. The class was relatively small, less than 20 students, many of whom knew each other, all of whom had studied Drama in college, all of whom were 17 or 18 years old. I sat on the edge of stage wondering what on earth I’d gotten myself into. I was struck by how much I was behind, before we’d even started. I had been in a theatre group in my teens, but that was around the time these young people were born. I’d completed senior secondary education, but that was 10 years before (we don’t have time for that story now) … I felt overwhelmed by my lack of experience, my lack of knowledge, my advanced age, my newness to Launceston, even by my lack of work experience. These young people had had more jobs in their 17 or 18 years than I’d had in my 31.

But they were generous and because we had all of our classes together, we got to know each other quickly. I don’t know if that was helped by having to get up close and personal in many of our classes. In Voice and Speech we spent time in the early weeks massaging each other, in Movement we had to choreograph, rehearse and present dance pieces together which sometimes meant rolling over each other on the floor (or eating cheezels off each other’s fingers), in Theatre we had to pair up to run seminars, which meant hours of working closely together, in Drama we had to devise performances and rehearse which again meant working closely with others. We were at uni a lot! We had 24 contact hours that first year and many (many) more spent in rehearsals of one sort or another.

The age difference wasn’t ever an issue; in fact it was an advantage. The others soon learnt that I knew when assignments were due, that I could bake biscuits, that I was reliable when it came time to rehearse, that I wasn’t scared of the lecturers, that I was prepared to negotiate on their behalf, that I would accompany them to meetings when they were worried about those meetings being at the lecturer’s house after dinner (that’s just creepy, Sharon/no it isn’t Ashley, he won’t hurt you), and that I had done the readings. I was worth getting to know!

That first year I studied Voice and Speech, Movement, Theatre, Drama, Tech Theatre, English Literature, and an Education subject. I spent my time outside of class in rehearsals, preparing for seminars and presentations, being an assistant stage manager for the third years, on a two-week placement learning what it was like to be a teacher, sourcing or making costumes and props, creating lighting plans, learning lines, learning how to use the library and how to write academically, reading, talking about plays and poetry and monologues, rolling my pelvis to release my breath, learning how to use my organs of articulation more effectively … learning, always learning.

It was the start of a learning journey that hasn’t stopped.

Do you have memories of 1993? Was it a big, risky, scary year for you too? Please feel free to share your memories in the comments section below.

Posted in Learning, Life, Teaching, Writing

I got back on the horse …

Metaphorically speaking, that is; there was no harm to a literal horse in my ‘getting back on’.

Okay, I’ll be clear. I know some of you don’t work well with metaphors, so I’ll be like, ‘literally’ all over this blog.

I haven’t taught on-campus (as in students in the same room as me) since semester 1, 2014.

Yes, that was two years ago. And yesterday I did it again.

And you know what? It felt good.

I was prepared, planned, organised, ready … I had even practiced smiling (although when I practiced in front of the mirror I scared myself, so I determined to only smile when absolutely necessary).

The students were lovely; responsive and mature in their attitude, willing to share their ideas and discuss meaty concepts.

After 18 months in the professional wilderness, of trying to determine who I am professionally, it felt good to be able to think of myself as a teacher again. To act as a teacher again; to be a teacher.

And the best thing? I get to do it all again next week.

Oh, and one other thing … by the end of class my face hurt.

I think I overdid the smiling.

 

 

 

Posted in Learning, Life, Writing

Random observations and thoughts

A pirate sits in his car, texting with his eye patch up, while the news blares from his radio.

A silver and a pink balloon float above a fencepost at a house around the corner.

A car does a U-turn outside the house, crunches against the curb and comes to a complete stop. It seems perplexed.

***

My dress is ready. I’m on my way to the dressmaker now. I’d been walking past the Red Cross shop a few days ago and felt compelled to go in. There it was. A grey wool dress with a touch of black satin at the neckline and cuffs. Simple. Elegant. Beautiful.

Size small.

I tried it on anyway.

Max Mara, the girl with the German accent told me.

It needed a little re-stitching.

It’s ready now. I try it on.

It’s beautiful.

***

I sit in the downstairs section of the library. I’d ignored the signs saying staff and students only. I am neither a staff member nor a student of this particular institution but I figure that if I look confident no one will notice me.

I find a table in the group learning section. I don’t have a group. I sit at the table alone, surrounded by groups of students, with my laptop open, marking.

Conversations swirl around me. Ideas, concepts, understandings, clarifications, possibilities. Multiple languages. Multiple disciplines. Maths. Graphic design. Nutrition. Engineering. A glass wall covered in formula. Portfolios scattered across tables. Laughter. Swearing. Questions. Comprehension. Propositions.

Intellectual and social and professional engagement.

I wonder about the spaces we create for online students to engage in these rigorous conversations.

Tim says: I’m going to the city with my camera.

I let other thoughts go. They are puzzles for another time.

Now is the time for wandering.

 

 

Posted in Learning, Studying, Writing

Being …

This year I took on a new identity … not, I hasten to add, in a witness protection kind of way. Nothing that dramatic! … but a new identity nonetheless.

I could say that I took on a new role … but with new roles comes new identities. We can choose to define ourselves by our new roles/identities, and thus think about ourselves differently. Being an academic means particular things. Being an under-graduate student means almost the polar opposite. We may choose to act in ways that are consistent with our new role and that might lead to inconsistencies in how we portray ourselves to the world. Will I be student today, or teacher? What does it mean to be a student in an online environment where I don’t get to spend time with my teacher or my peers; when I don’t get to hear their voices or even see what they look like? It’s a disconcerting experience. On the other hand, what does it mean to be a teacher in an online environment where I don’t get to spend time with my students, when I don’t get to hear their voices or see what they look like? Experiencing that as an online student heightens my awareness of that ‘disconcerting experience’ as a teacher of online students. 

In addition to thinking about myself in a different way and considering if I will act differently to signify this new role/identity, others see me in that new role and make different kinds of connections with me, or think about me in particular ways and so have their own view of who I am (which might not bear any relation to who I am when inhabiting a different identity/role).

My university tutors do not see me as a colleague; as someone who, like them, teaches in an online environment. They see me as a student – a distant one, it has to be said: one who doesn’t appear to be very engaged, who forgets to read her unit outline, who leaves assignments till the last minute, who doesn’t follow the requirements of the task as closely as she should, who doesn’t engage in conversations online, who hasn’t made connections with other students in the online environment.

For those of you in the know, why didn’t you tell me it would be like this? 🙂 If only you’d told me to read the unit outline carefully and repeatedly, or that I’d need at least 10 hours per week per unit to do full justice to the work I needed to do, or that learning to use new software is time-consuming and requires a great deal of independent learning and commitment and energy, or that coming home from work and having to study till late is exhausting, or that trying to find information when it’s in ten different places in the online environment is one of the most frustrating parts of the whole experience (it really isn’t all that difficult to put all the information required for weekly activities in the one place), or that reading all the other students’ posts can be mind-numbing and take up all the time I’d set aside for study (and seriously, do 18 year olds really like talk in that like annoying way where they like say a lot without like saying anything at all, you know, sort of, I guess, do you get me? Despite my student status I am still a teacher and despair over the abominable use of language on public discussion boards).

Not that it’s all bad of course. In one subject (Writing Professionally – actually I don’t know if that’s the name of the subject because for some reason I haven’t looked at the unit outline properly to even know what the unit is called), the tutor gives general feedback on our ‘writing watches’ (which are assessed) and on two occasions has encouraged other students to read my work for its ‘quality and depth’ (you have no idea how embarrassed I feel writing that). We had to do three ‘writing watches’ across the course of the semester – responding in a systemically functionally linguistic way to something we’d read. I chose to respond to:

1. an article in a photography magazine

2. an essay by Richard Flanagan which appeared in The Monthly (the article was on David Walsh and MONA which I’d just been to, so it seemed fitting)

3. a blog post titled The oddest English spellings, part 20: The letter “y” from the Oxford University Press’s blog. It was interesting. Seriously!

These writing watches were practice for our exam. Yes, you heard that right – exam. I had to sit an exam.

Why didn’t someone tell me how stressful that is?! That you spend days and nights thinking about what the questions might be, what the text choices might be, what you know (or rather, don’t know) about systemic functional linguistics and how you’re going to write “pages” on it in two hours?

But I did it and wrote (typed) five pages of blather about an advertisement for Income Protection titled Confessions of a financial adviser. An interesting way to spend a day, particularly when you’re at home and the phone keeps ringing just as you think you have the modality worked out!

We also had to do weekly ‘word watches’ (which were assessed). We had to find two unfamiliar words each week and write about them: what they mean, where we’d read/heard them, their derivation, and we had to use the words in a sentence.

At first I found this difficult. I don’t want to sound like a pompous git (unlike some people I know), but in the everyday, normal, regular reading I do I don’t come across too many words which I don’t know. So I determined to try harder.

Here are my words (you, clever reader, are quite possibly aware of their meanings and already sprinkle them through your everyday conversations. I, on the other hand, did not).

  • Eupraxis (thank you David M)
  • Conation (actually, I did know what that meant because I’d written about it in a journal article published last year, but until I wrote about it I didn’t know what it meant)
  • Heuristic
  • Prevaricate (actually I wavered on this quite a bit)
  • Mendicant (it had been in the news – Tasmania is a mendicant state apparently)
  • Noetic (nothing to do with Christmas)
  • Rendering (a word from my Graphic Design unit)
  • Misandry (its opposite had been much in the news)
  • Chirographic
  • Contumacious (if my mother had known this word when I was a child I’m sure I would have heard it a lot!)
  • Whovian (my sister is a mad one of these)
  • Gonzo (I’d been to MONA and learnt this word while wandering the subterranean halls. Tim already knew it. He’d read Hunter S. Thompson apparently)
  • Metaredound (don’t ask me)
  • Analogous (I actually had heard this word, but I wanted to use it in a way I hadn’t used it before and that was in relation to colour: analogous harmony)
  • Indigent (thanks Germaine)
  • Calumniated (and again)
  • Emic
  • Etic (yes, they are related)
  • Eschatology
  • Ratiocination (I had to listen to this a number of times to get the pronunciation right. Thanks YouTube!)
  • Contingent (used in a way I didn’t understand – of all people, by my husband, in a journal article we wrote some time ago. I hadn’t told him I didn’t understand the way he used it as I didn’t want to look stupid!)
  • Hegemony (with a soft ‘j’ sound for the ‘g’)
  • Picayune
  • Ludology (nothing to do with Ludo as it turns out … although …)

So there you have it. New words to pepper through my dinner-time conversations. Feel free to use any of them, particularly in ways that are inventive and thus deeply satisfying.

I am a student and I am learning things. That’s what students do isn’t it? Isn’t that the purpose of being a student? It’s why I decided to be a student: to learn something/s. And even though I’ve said ‘the message’ countless times, it’s always different when you’re on the receiving end of it. The message is: learning can be hard. And it isn’t always fun.

But it is satisfying.

Being a student not only challenges my own identity (I have to flip between student and teacher on a regular basis and I am very conscious of not being a teacher in my student role – which is partly why I don’t engage on the discussion boards: I don’t yet have the student language down pat. I’m too caught up using teacher language and saying teacher things and I don’t want to do that as a student).

Being a student also challenges how others see me.

Some people, on first hearing that I am a university student again, thought (and said) “are you mad?” and other equally dis/en/couraging words. My new role was something they wanted to reject – it was ludicrous, or unnecessary (especially at your age), or just plain silly. I have a PhD, why would I want to be an under-grad again? That’s something young people do. I should do some serious study, not a bachelor degree in an area I potentially know a little bit about. Why, for instance, am I doing Professional Writing (that’s its official title – I thought I’d better check) when I have had a number of journal articles, book chapters and conference papers published?

I guess I feel that I can always learn more – and I did. Heaps in fact, and that’ll help my writing when next I write something for publication. 

On hearing that I am a student again, other people saw me differently. They made a different kind of connection with me. Some, because of their own identity as ‘student’ (or perhaps, student-in-the-not-too-distant past) applauded my decision – I was now one of them, a member of a community of adults who are (or were) university students. For those whom I’ve taught – who have been my own students – the connection is even closer. Their teacher/lecturer/colleague is now in the same position they recall so clearly and thus our connection is strengthened. There’s a shared understanding … and as I give advice quite freely about being a student, I also imagine there’s a little bit of mirth around my stumbling attempts at student-hood.

But I have finished the semester, completed teaching and learning surveys (and been very honest – in a professional way – as all students should be), and am eagerly awaiting my final results.

I have also determined to be a better student next semester. I have already created folders for my two new subjects (one is Production Planning; the other is Visual Storytelling), downloaded the information from the course and unit handbook, looked up information about textbooks (I don’t have to buy any), and worked out what I do when I procrastinate (I work … yes, on my study days!).

Being a student: challenging, stressful, but ultimately satisfying.

What’s your experience?

Posted in Learning, Studying, Writing

Postcards … an assignment

Last week was a big one for me.

I submitted my first assignment. The task was to develop a series of four promotional postcards for the town/city in which we live. We had to “photograph places or things that you find interesting”, while the postcards “are aimed to appeal to a youth/young 18-24 demographic, so please create postcards that you believe would appeal to this audience”.

Quandary #1: I’m not 18-24 – how do I know what appeals to that audience?

Solution: I asked my students. They all said “the beach”.

Quandary #2: The beach in Burnie is almost always deserted and taking a photo of an empty beach possibly wouldn’t make an appealing image for an 18-24 year old.

Solution: Go to the beach when surf lifesavers are training.

Quandary #3: Surf lifesaving championships had been held in another part of the state the weekend before, and only a small handful of people came to train on the only day I could make it to the beach.

Solution: Take a photo anyway!

Below is what I came up with. The water doesn’t look very inviting (that’s possibly my projection: I think it’s always too cold to swim in Tasmanian waters), and that could be a mark against me, but I’m willing to take that chance.

We had to include text of some sort and I wanted to keep it simple on the front and leave the explaining to the back of the postcard.

Beach Postcard

As mentioned, we not only had to design the front of the promotional postcard, we also had to design the back. Betty, our tutor, had indicated that the cards were not to be ‘touristy’ and so I decided against having a place for a stamp and a message. I wanted to use the back to contextualise the front. Here’s what I came up with:

Beach-back

Continuing with the beach and ‘come and play’ theme I also photographed the marine creatures that feature on the beach foreshore. These creatures have added extra life to the newly renovated beachfront.

Octopus

Octopus-back

While we were to take a thematic approach and ensure the four postcards were a ‘series’ I decided to have two themes. The second them is ‘make it in Burnie’. Burnie has taken on an identity as the ‘City of Makers’, and I wanted to capture this in my postcards.

Burnie is famous for making paper (although if you know Burnie you’ll be amazed at the absence of a pulp and paper mill), but it also makes other things. There’s a big Caterpillar factory (or a number of them) in the city, but also smaller companies making big machines for export to the rest of the world. Haulmax is one of those companies and while it isn’t technically in Burnie, it’s close enough to be captured within the instruction to take photographs of “your environment and/or its surroundings”. I figured that East Wynyard is a surrounding of Burnie!

Haulmax Postcard

Haulmax-back

I couldn’t discount the importance of paper to Burnie’s history and identity, so on the day before the assignment was due (I’d been in Sydney for the week before, which is why I had to leave it to the last minute!) I visited the Makers’ Workshop to see if I could find some paper.

It’s all handmade now, of course, and the papier mâché sculptures that Pam Thorne makes are amazing, but I couldn’t capture any of them in a way I liked, and, wanting to keep the images simple, I simply did this:

Postcard-paper

I thought I’d get into trouble for moving different piles of paper from their allocated shelves, but if anyone saw me they didn’t take any notice. I put them all back in their right places!

Here’s the back:

Postcard-paper-back

So, my first assignment submitted – on the day before it was due no less!

Feeling pretty happy with myself I re-read the task description.

It said “students must upload regular updates of their design/s. These regular updates are very important – they demonstrate the on-going development of your work prior to final submission. Be advised that if you simply upload work the day before it’s due (without posting any earlier entries or consulting with your lecturer) this will affect your final mark.

Whoops!

Oh well. Even if I don’t get a good mark, I still learnt a lot.

Posted in Writing

Writing Challenge (Day Four)

Tim starts reading and says you’re a dag. And smiles.

He finishes reading and says you’re so clever. And I smile.

Daggily clever? Cleverly daggy? Daggy and clever?

Voice.

When I ask students to write a reflection or a statement of philosophy about teaching, I want to hear their voice.  I dealt with a student this week who had found someone else’s philosophy statement on a blog and pasted it into her assignment. It wasn’t her voice. It was an easy pick-up. It happens way too often. I’m happily reading along and suddenly it is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife pops into the middle of the sentence. My ears prick up. Hang on, I say inside my head, that’s not Student A, that’s Jane Austen.

I keep reading and lo and behold it seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days and I recognise the very distinct voice of Stevens. It seems strange that his voice would appear in the midst of a student assignment on the fundamentals of communication in the classroom. I pause, I puzzle, I shake my head to clear it, only to read on and discover that I remain transfixed by Stevens’ voice.

Stevens’ voice comes about through long sentences and parenthetical comments: An expedition, I should say, which I will undertake alone, in the comfort of Mr Farraday’s Ford; an expedition which, as I foresee it, will take me through much of the finest countryside of England to the West Country, and may keep me away from Darlington Hall for as much as five or six days. It’s a voice that takes me instantly into the complexity of the character and slows me down. I move to the couch to be more comfortable because this is one of my favourite books, but I read on only to discover that many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendia was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. I am transported into the magically real world Gabriel Garcia Marquez paints in One hundred years of solitude.

I am confused. Student A (let’s call her Anna and in that way flesh her out a little) is writing about communication in the classroom, but her voice is lost in the other voices that keep intruding on her paper. I would go so far as to say that Anna has not found or established her own voice yet. She has let herself be distracted by other readings, others’ thoughts, others’ voices. She has not done her own thinking (which, let’s face it, is difficult); rather she has relied on my mother is, like, a totally confirmed A-list [expletive riddled passage deleted] *** hole cretin [expletive riddled passage deleted] ***head of the highest order. Fact. In fact, I, of this moment, officially declare my entire doubt of the fact that she is in fact my actual real mother.

My head is spinning, I flick backwards and forwards through Anna’s paper wondering where that voice came from. There’s no acknowledgement of her source, but it really doesn’t sound like Anna.  I do a Google search and find that it is the voice of Dora from Dawn French’s A tiny bit marvellous. Possibly not the best source Anna could find for her paper, but I suppose that all happy families are alike but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.

Tolstoy? Wow. 

Voice. Use your own. I know, believe me I know, it can be hard to develop your own, but your audience wants to hear First the colours. Then the humans. 

No, Marcus Zusack, now is not the time to intrude. I’m trying to establish my voice. A distinct voice. A voice that emerges from the snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks … excuse me, Donna Tartt, please don’t do that. I’m trying to write in my own voice. A voice that is uniquely mine, a voice that is worth being heard, that emerges from this is Albion Gidley Singer at the pen, a man with a weakness for a good fact.

Kate Grenville, seriously, this is so not the time. I cannot finish on someone else’s words. I have to finish with my own because the war had ended as wars sometimes do, unexpectedly.

****

Tomorrow, the conclusion.

Posted in Writing

Writing challenge (Day Three)

It was 10:38pm. At night. A cold night with the wind howling and the rain splashing the windows. Somewhat violently, if my memory serves me correctly.

The phone rang.

This is unexpected.

It rang again.

Hello?

[ ….]

Seriously? Do people really still do that? 

After I hung up I stood there for a moment, shaking my head.  Apparently, they do.

This is 2012 and kids still ring strangers and ask is Mr Wall in? Perhaps Mrs Wall is there?  No?  No walls? 

Structure.

Houses have it; phone calls have it; thankfully, the chair I’m sitting on has one. We can’t avoid structure. Even abstract concepts like love have a structure. It might not have the same structure each time or be the same structure for everyone, but there’s a structure.

The glance; the flit of the eyes; the smile … 

The conversation; the I can’t stop thinking about him/her; the humming around the house (and on the bus and at the shop); the weight loss; the hunger; the disappointment; the grief; the anger …

The presentation; the I must speak with that (very cute) young man; the constantly being impressed with his thinking, but he’s so young; the happy realisation that within the young man’s exterior there beats the heart of an old man; the living happily ever after.

Structure. Everything has structure.

Even writing. Particularly writing. More particularly, academic writing. Let’s take a book chapter as an example.

Editors provide an outline of what is to be included. Much like the task description of a university assignment. Editors also provide a style guide, just like the ones provided to university students. While there isn’t a marking guide, editors send the completed (draft) chapter to reviewers (markers) who review (mark) the chapter and write comments (feedback) all over it. Who pick it to pieces. Who write quite unhelpful, often contradictory, feedback: the literature review does not capture the writing of (insert name of reviewer 1 here); the literature review is extensive. The lack of a theoretical framework is a weakness of the chapter; the theoretical framework is clearly articulated.

The draft chapter is returned (generally within a year of submission), the authors cry a little at the hurtful feedback provided by reviewer 1, and then re-work the chapter.

Sharon, interjects Tim, you’re supposed to be writing about structure. Oh yes.

Hmmm …

Some structures are not good.

Many people view a dictatorship as a poor structure for a civil society.

Some building structures aren’t well thought-through … I’ve seen many student assignments that have all the pieces, but they’re simply in the wrong place.

When a structure works well, the chapter/assignment/blog post is a delight to read. It works. It makes sense. You can feel confident that when you walk out the door you’ll step onto a floor at roughly the same level, rather than plummet to an untidy injury.

It’s a door Jim, but not as we know it

This post was supposed to be about writing to a structure and why I find that so challenging.

The truth is, and this might come as a surprise to some of you, I don’t think in a structured way. When I first sat down to write this post the computer was having conniptions, and so while it sorted itself out I started writing by hand. I had an idea that I didn’t want floating away to the dark recesses of my mind, and so to capture it I wrote it down. My first sentence was: Structure is a fundamental aspect of academic writing.

Dull.

I drew a line under that and wrote another first sentence: Structure is important … and that’s as far as I got because I bored myself to sleep.

Then I wrote: Imagine if the chair you’re sitting in had no stru …

Snooze.

But that brought to mind the story of the walls … the late night phone call. By the way, they hadn’t enough nous to hide their number, so did they get a shock the next night!!

I create as I go (well, create is a strong word), but I refine and edit and delete and include and structure as I go. And that’s fine for this kind of writing (where I’m perhaps amusing or entertaining or just being a bit silly) but that’s not okay for writing chapters – or university assignments for that matter.

Why not? 

Good question, Jill/Amanda/Wendy/Glynis/Mandy/Alison/every student I’ve ever taught!

So there you have it. A seemingly unstructured post on the importance of structure.

*****

Tomorrow’s challenge is my voice as an academic.