Barriers and opportunities: responding to the changing world of learning and teaching

Posted in: learning and teaching

Andy Pitchford, Head of Learning and Teaching

It took me a while to convince my colleague about the merits of my career shift from lecturing to the Centre for Learning & Teaching. “Why”, she asked, piercing me with her quizzical gaze, “why on earth would you give up teaching and research to do a pointless, faceless, bureaucratic job like that?”

The answer, which I think she is beginning to understand, is that I love learning. I quite like it when it happens to me, but I get a real sense of excitement and fulfilment when I see others become fully immersed in a learning project: when their motivation is intrinsic, when they experience what the psychologists call ‘flow’ when they are fully engaged in their work.

The problem is that there are all kinds of barriers to this kind of learning experience. We exist in an age of instrumental education, where students have been conditioned to learn to the test and to compete rather than collaborate. It’s often hard for us, as teachers, to resist that trend. We are burdened by increasing expectations, diminishing time and fast-paced workplaces, and it’s wearing us out. Some of us may even be running on empty. So it can be difficult to keep an educational purpose in mind; it may be easier to simply go through the motions.

But my experiences during my time here have shown me that it is worth persisting. I have witnessed many wonderful learning episodes - of engineers happily lost in their final-year projects; of management students making genuine contributions to local enterprises; of natural and social scientists applying their knowledge in new and demanding settings. Genuine, transformational learning happens at Bath, and it’s worth protecting, sharing and promoting.

I know that colleagues across the Centre for Learning & Teaching feel the same. We have wide ranging experience of learning and teaching across many disciplines and institutions. We also have lots of enthusiasm, probably because we regularly see examples of these great learning experiences. But it’s not our job to tell colleagues how to teach, to imagine that we have all of the answers, or even that others should adopt our pedagogical preferences. Our purpose is, rather, to find ways to collaborate, share with others and build confidence. Ultimately, we exist to support and encourage colleagues, not to lead or restrict them.

In the coming year, the Centre will think more about how to form effective partnerships with academics, students and other professional service departments. We want to use our expertise to help others respond to the changing world beyond our campus walls, and to build on their enthusiasm. But we can’t do this on our own - we need the help of those who work with students on a daily basis, and who have a clear idea of how teaching and learning is changing - what is working and what is not. We need to know how we can genuinely make Bath a more inclusive and welcoming environment, and support the wellbeing of all stakeholders; how we can use technology to genuinely improve the educational experience, and how we can build on Bath’s many teaching successes.  We look forward to working with you in the coming academic year.

Posted in: learning and teaching


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