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Students can feel constrained by ways of communicating and learning that seem opaque and fixed because they are permeated with norms never made explicit, knowledge they do not share, or the language of others.

Janette Ryan and Rosemary Viete
Respectful interactions: learning with international students in the English-speaking academy.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Talking Pedagogy with Colleagues - A potential minefield

This week I presented a paper on International Pedagogies to my entire faculty at a staff conference. The conference title was "Engaging Students in the 21st Century". I spoke about the intersections of Quality in higher education, and learner-centred teaching theories and practice.

We only teach international students at our college, and this is a cohort of students with unique learning challenges. I talked about some of the recent research looking at the international student experience in Australia; about the need for educators to reflect on their "western" values and assumptions, and about negotiating the ever-changing terrain of ICT in education. I spoke as a student of all these areas of education - as I am undertaking a graduate qualification in tertiary teaching. Many higher education teachers in Australia, and elsewhere I assume, come to their roles with a PhD, but no teaching qualifications. Most of my colleagues are far more experienced than myself, and I was at pains to acknowledge my somewhat novice position. I only ever spoke through the lens of research.

The response was initially very positive, with some good questions from the audience, and some debate about some of the provocative things I discussed. I got good feedback from a handful of people in the lunch break, that my presentation was thought provoking and challenging.

For me the challenge will be to maintain some momentum. A few of us in one department (Literature) are keen to increase collaboration across the different discipline areas in the college. Others are less enthusiastic. My interest is to broaden participation by faculty in conversations around pedagogy, and in collaborative efforts to communicate and share the research interests, teaching approaches, and challenges we all face with this unique group of students. I am realistic enough to see this ideal as an uphill challenge.

No-one likes to have to examine their assumptions, or to reflect too deeply on what they are doing in the classroom. But I feel there is so much going on in the different discipline areas that I want to hear about. The challenge will be getting other teachers to overcome their reservations, and contribute with generosity and in a participatory spirit. There is never enough time, either.

Indeed, the kinds of reflective and collaborative things we should want to cultivate in our students, are exactly the same things educators need to do themselves. Ironically, the barriers to participation among both students and teachers, are identical.

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