by Kirsten Forkert and Jacqueline Taylor
We attended the Higher Education Academy’s Arts and Humanities conference in Brighton where we gave a joint presentation on the PGCert in Research Practice, which we both teach along with Oliver Carter – as we wanted to share the methodologies we have developed and receive feedback on them. The overall focus of the presentations was on multi-modal teaching that emphasised student-led and active learning with students as producers of knowledge (something we’ve been doing on the PgCert). We noticed that many of the presentations were about undergraduate teaching, and our presentation was the only one which dealt with postgraduate researchers. This highlights doctoral supervision and teaching as underexplored areas in terms of pedagogy – for various reasons, we are used to thinking of pedagogy as something for undergraduates. However, the issues that many presentations discussed are applicable to many of the challenges we faced in the PGCert – although this was a surprise to others at the conference.
One of the highlights of the conference included Kirsten Hardie’s presentation on design history, which explored the use of objects as pedagogical tools, and a focus on multidisciplinarity, playfulness, curiosity, risk-taking, and being provocative. She used the phrase “teaching with your mouth shut“ – which we found challenging in the context of teaching postgraduate researchers. Simon Piasecki and Kris Darby’s presentation on performance studies and the self, entitled “Selfish” offered some useful insights in terms thinking about positionality, autobiography, inscription of the self in the world and in relation to historical discourses, as well as working with writing as a process of discovery to enhance students’ understanding of the relation between theory and practice. We felt this was useful given that these are all questions that we are asking our postgraduate researchers to consider, in order to encourage self-reflexivity. One of the provocations they give students is “what’s your problem?”, which is about identifying the problems and questions they are trying to explore. Interdisciplinarity was also an important theme in their presentation, which was based in theatre but drew on psychogeography and anthropology.
Gina Wisker from East Midlands WritingPAD explored the use of visual and multisensory approaches (the term “tactile academia” was used) to explore the activity of theorising, particularly for those who feel intimidated by the terminology or academic texts, and the importance of seeing how theory and practice inform each other, and encouraging students to develop their own relationship to language to overcome anxieties about writing and the ‘academic’. We raised the point in the discussion that some of these anxieties were faced by postgraduate researchers, particularly those who were new to academia or had spent a long time away from it, and who found the bureaucratic nature of academia and doctoral research intimidating and alienating. Others in the audience were a bit surprised by this, but this perhaps reveals some common preconceptions about postgraduate researchers in the Arts & Humanities and what their needs are.
Joe Woodhouse highlighted the possibilities afforded by facilitating students to be co-constructors of knowledge. This echoed other talks which recognised students as producers rather than consumers of knowledge, in particular Mark Addis (also from BCU) who presented on the use of “thought experiments” in his teaching to challenge ingrained thinking, and moving from ‘knowing that’ to ‘knowing how’ to encourage students to handle ideas on a conceptual level. This resonates with the pedagogic strategies we have been adopting on the PGCert in thinking of doctoral education as teaching and learning rather than simply training.