It’s a cold and frosty start to the new academic term but it’s always lovely to meet students again. This term I’m down as the convenor and tutor for an undergraduate unit called Education, Schooling & Diversity for the BSc Childhood Studies, and I’m literally about to leave the office for the first tutorial. If I was a student again this is the kind of unit I would want to study – 24 lectures, delivered by 10 member of staffs, group projects, visits to Bristol’s learning centres, and a critical assignment pulling it all together in the end. Given that this is a first year unit I suspect that students will be new to special and inclusive educational theory, and I’m looking forward to getting stuck into teaching over the coming weeks.
Picture: Brandon Hill, Bristol.
Today was my last seminar for the BSc unit Education & Society. I was a tutor for the unit, which consisted of leading a seminar group for 10 weeks and giving an interactive lecture in the middle. I’ve not taught undergraduates before and have been impressed at the level of debate in seminars! Each week two students present key readings which we then critique as a group. The readings are typically anchored in sociology of education and revolve around issues of social justice, which we found to be a controversial concept! I’ll miss the gang, but look forward to marking exam papers and assignments after Christmas to see how debates have fed into assessed work.
Next semester I’ll be teaching a year 1 unit (Education, Schooling, & Diversity) so it will be interesting to see how the newer students get on. Watch this space!
I recently gave a couple of presentations on interpretivist research for the Introduction to Educational Inquiry Research Awareness Day. The idea was to provide a philosophical and methodological contrast to postivist research (presented by Dr Sarah Meadows). There was doubt in the department that such an old school binary existed at the GSoE but Sarah and I managed to resurrect an intellectual conflict that had been dormant for a while! It was good fun, though a bit surreal as our M-Level cohort was so big I had to present the same material twice (running down 5 flights of stairs between presentations).
The essential message was that interpretivism is a complex beast which is tricky to define. Positivism is more clear cut, but text books sometimes present interpretivist philosophy as literally the epistemological and ontological opposite of positivism when, in fact, interpretivism is a broad term which can be used to refer to a collection of philosophies, some of which may compliment positivism. (For example, core phenomenology is a normative project.) Still, wrestling with these ideas allows us to get away from a tedious qualitative/quantitative divide abstracted from philosophical thinking which is a benefit in and of itself. I hope the students agreed!
(Pictured: GSoE’s home in Berkeley Square, Bristol)
We are midway through the MSc unit Controversial Issues in Special & Inclusive Education. 12 hours of input in four seminars! This year’s group is fantastic – international, engaged, experienced, and critical. I’ve been a bit cheeky and redesigned the unit around some personal interests in the field of SEN. Each week students tackle big questions and major themes, which so far consist of:
- Are all children ‘people’? (drawing on bioethics and personhood debates)
- Are all children ‘educable’? (drawing on psychological theory from the PMLD field)
- Are all children ‘researchable’? (drawing on research philosophy from disability studies)
- Are all children ‘includable’? (drawing on international debates about inclusive education in the Global North & South)
The sessions finish at 7.30pm which is tough-going, but the depth of discussions about such significant topics keeps me awake and keen for more. (Literally – I find it difficult to sleep when I get home because my head is buzzing with thoughts about the discussions). Next week we have guest doctoral researchers presenting their work which should be fab!
(Pictured: Inside of Wills Memorial, University of Bristol)
Earlier today I ran a session on research ethics for the EdD/PhD unit Understanding Educational Research. Being a member of the GSoE Research Ethics Committee I was asked to cover the formal research ethics application process. I also talked about a range of philosophical approaches to ethics – deonotology, consequentialism, situationism, virtue ethics, and relational ethics. Exploring these topics with 35 doctoral students was great fun. The level of debate about sensitive and controversial ethical issues was outstanding, and the students challenged both myself and each other for the best part of 2 hours. Textbooks in the field of social science ethics sometimes present the different approaches as oppositional. However, I was keen to explore how educational researchers can think around these philosophies in complimentary ways. Whilst deontological approaches help mandate obligations (e.g. Mental Capacity Act), consequentialism helps us appreciate the need for forward planning and anticipation during application processes. Situationism allows us to appreciate ethics on a case-by-case basis, whilst virtue ethics suggests that we reflect about who we are as researchers and how we can strive to develop our ethical mindfulness. Finally, relational ethics or the ethics of care helps us deepen our understanding of the meaning of an ethical relationship. These ideas have been flying around my head for a while, but the seminar provided a great space for drawing together the approaches and debating them with keen early career researchers. Great stuff!
Within the next couple of weeks the university will be welcoming new and returning students. I often find this time of year exciting – there’s a buzz about the place as students arrive and the campus feels festive.
This term I’m teaching two units. The first – Controversial Issues in Special & Inclusive – is a fantastic MSc unit that Helen Knowler ran for many years before I was lucky enough to take the reigns. It’s currently being redesigned to include some hot topics including controversial research, alternative forms of education, challenges to the Global North’s concepts of inclusion, and the function of ‘personhood’ in educational discourse. The unit offers a safe space for students to discuss big themes and develop critical insights into some rather sensitive topics. It should be fun!
In addition, I’m also a tutor on the undergraduate unit Education and Society. The unit is led by Dr Debbie Watson and is part of the BSc Childhood Studies programme based at the School for Policy Studies. The aim of the unit is to explore the role of education and the social impact of different education systems and policies. I’ll be delivering material on disability and inclusion, whilst also leading a seminar group.
Roll on Teaching Week 1!
(Pictured: Wills Memorial Building, from the perspective of Berkeley Square.)
Last term I was course tutor on a core unit for taught masters students at Bristol’s Graduate School of Education. The unit – Introduction to Educational Inquiry (‘IEI’) – is a pre-dissertation research training course that covers research philosophy and design, data collection and analysis (quantitative/qualitative), ethics, and dissemination. Students work in groups to undertake projects, the findings of which are presented at the end-of-term IEI conference. Assignments are then submitted involving reflection on the research process. The unit is notorious for being an intense introduction to research but it gives students a strong grounding in the theory and practice of educational inquiry before they plan their dissertations.
I’ve taught research methods before and helped run research workshops for MSc/PhD students, but this is the first time that I’ve taught a full unit on the topic. I was blessed to have a wonderful group who were more than happy to challenge both me and each other throughout the 10 week course. Having a diverse student body in terms of culture, education, and professional backgrounds made for a wonderful experience. We had mathematicians, scientists and psychologists entrenched in post-positivism debating with teachers, philosophers, and feminists who identified more with interpretivist traditions. Seminars became fertile spaces for debating epistemology, ethics and a whole plethora of issues that some established academics shy away from! The volume of A-grade students was impressive, and it was lovely to get a round of applause in my final lecture.
Because of fieldwork commitments in the new academic year I may not be teaching IEI in the Autumn. Instead, I’ll be leading a unit called Controversial Issues in Special and Inclusive Education – another fantastic space for debating hot topics. Roll on October 2016!
(Pictured: Berkeley Square, home to Bristol’s GSoE.)