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A conversation about learning and teaching at Oxford Brookes University
Rising to the challenge
Professor Anne Marie Kilday, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student and Staff Experience), Oxford Brookes University
Professor Anne Marie Kilday, Pro Vice-Chancellor (Student and Staff Experience) has invited us to engage with her in conversation about learning and teaching. When she accepted the post, the anecdote she tells is that the Vice Chancellor gave her one challenge: to put Brookes back on the map for teaching excellence. As PVC, an easy fluency with academic purpose and experience of putting it into action is a base line. But what are her underpinning beliefs about learning and teaching?
Professor Anne-Marie Kilday was educated at the University of St Andrews before completing her DPhil in History at the University of Strathclyde. Her work has been supported by grants and fellowships from the British Academy, the Wellcome Trust and the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC).
She has been teaching at Oxford Brookes since 2001. Professor Kilday is now the Pro Vice-Chancellor Student and Staff Experience after being Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences for six years.
Professor Kilday's research focuses on the history of violent crime and its punishment in Britain and America since 1600. The subject of crime is examined through a range of different contexts and perspectives in order to come to a fuller understanding of its importance over time and place. Her most recent book-length publication was published with Routledge in 2018 and is entitled Crime in Scotland 1660-1960: The Violent North?
Professor Kilday's specialist teaching includes modules such as Bloody Histories: Crime and Violence in the West; Jack the Ripper and the Victorian Underworld; Crime and Punishment Through the Ages; and, In Cold Blood: Violence in the Modern Era. In these courses, the subject of crime is examined through a range of different contexts and perspectives in order to come to a fuller understanding of its importance over time and place.
Anne-Marie is a member of the British Society of Criminology, Social History Society, SSHA Criminal Justice / Legal History Network and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She is also a founding member of SOLON, editor of the Bloomsbury book series on the history of crime, deviance and punishment and on the editorial board of the journal Crime, History and Societies.
Learning, risk and difficulty: Teaching in unprecedented times
Emeritus Professor of Higher Education and Emeritus Fellow of University College at Durham University
The continuing interplay of globalisation, digitalisation, economic liberalism and information transfer at light speed is unprecedented (Giddens 2014). The ensuing uncertainty, risk, ‘supercomplexity’ and difficulty experienced within such environments present challenges for educators as they seek to produce graduates capable of making informed judgments and reasoned evaluations as the basis of well founded decisions. One reaction, by certain groups of students, has been to call for safe spaces, trigger warnings and de-platforming as ways of mitigating such challenges. Lecturers, similarly, have felt pressures to become risk-averse in their teaching, a phenomenon identified as ‘pedagogic frailty’ (Kinchin 2016). On the other hand, politicians and policymakers have recently renewed calls for a guaranteeing of intellectual difficulty in higher education programmes.
Appiah (2016) has referred to such environments as ‘a dance with ambiguities’. Barnett speaks of ‘super-complexity’. In preparing to face such challenges, students, it will be argued, need to encounter a certain strangeness, and knowledge that is uncomfortable, challenging and troublesome. It would seem irrational to approach such complexity through curricula emphasising only greater linearity and certainty. This session will present Shulman’s (2005) notion of ‘pedagogies of uncertainty’ as a more fruitful way to address the aetiology of pedagogic frailty. As an example it will consider a particular framework of learning which explicitly places encounters with difficulty, and the need for resilience, at its centre. The ‘Threshold Concepts’ framework (Land et al 2016), advocates that whatever the discipline, specific concepts or practices act like a portal, opening up new conceptual terrain and previously inaccessible ways of thinking and practising. These conceptual gateways are points where students encounter ‘troublesome knowledge’ (knowledge which cannot be readily assimilated or accommodated without a shift in one’s frame of meaning). Students are obliged to let go of customary ways of seeing, which is necessarily unsettling. This provokes a state of ‘liminality’ – a space of transformation from an earlier understanding towards that which is required. This can be discomfiting, and clearly does not sit easily with economic liberalist notions of students as consumers, or with notions of safe space. Rather, such work entails an ontological and often affective shift in the learner, leading to change in their subjectivity. As Shulman maintains ‘without a certain amount of anxiety and risk, there's a limit to how much learning occurs. One must have something at stake. No emotional investment, no intellectual or formational yield’. The session will consider the implications of such an approach for our current practice.
Ray Land is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education and Emeritus Fellow of University College at Durham University. He has published widely in educational research, including works on academic development, learning technology and quality enhancement. He is best known for the educational theory of Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge, which he established with Prof Jan Meyer. He has acted as consultant for the OECD, the European Commission and the British Council and recently conducted projects in Europe, Latin America and India. He has presented his research in over fifty countries across six continents. He is a Fellow of the Academy of Social Sciences, Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is currently also a Gambrinus Fellow of the Technical University of Dortmund, Germany.