HERSDA Keynote: “Cultivating Connections Throughout the Academe: Learning to Teach by Learning to Learn” Dr Kathy Takayama.

A very interesting keynote today and I took a lot of notes. Anyone who has read my SIGCSE blogs knows that I’m prone to being verbose so I hope that this is useful if wordy. (Any mistakes are, of course, mine.)

Dr Takayama started talk with an art image: “Venn diagrams (under the spotlight)” by Amalia Pica. She stressed how the Venn Diagram was simple, versatile, intearction, connection, commonality, and it also transcends boundaries – the overlap of two colours produces a new colour. We can also consider this as an absence of difference (sharing) or new knowledge (creation). However the background of the artwork was based in the artist’s experience of the suppression of group theory and Venn diagrams in Argentina – as both of these were seen to encourage subversive forms of group activity and critical theory. Dr Takayama then followed this thread into ideas of inclusion and exclusion. What are the group dynamics from our structures? How do we group students and acaemdics into exclusive and inclusive domains? What does this mean for our future?
How does this limit learning?
She then talked about our future professoriate – those students who will go on to join us in the professorial ranks. She broke this into three aspects: Disciplinary Identity, Dispositions for engagement and Integrative communities. Our disciplinary identity reflects our acculturation to disciplinary practices and habits of mind, where our dispositions identify who we find ourselves in the learning – rather than focusing on what to learn.
“In the face of today’s hyper-accelerated ultra-competitive global society, the preservation of opportunities for self-development and autonmous reflection is a value we underestimate at our peril.” (Richard Wolin)
When we discuss the emergence of disciplinary identity, we are talking about expert thinking – the scholarly habits of a discipline that allow someone to identify themselves as a member of the discipline. What do we do that allows us to say “I am a microbiologist” or “I am an engineer”?
The development of expertise is through iterative authentic experiences, truly appropriate activities carried out inside the disciple, where we have discipline-centred practices, including signature pedagogies (Schulman). The signature pedagogies of a discipline have four features. They must  be pervasive, routine, habitual and deeply engaging
Dr Takayama then discussed, at some length, a study in placing students into unfamiliar territory, where they were required to take scholarly habits from another discipline. In this case, Dr Takayama (a microbiologist) exchanged scholarly habits with students of David Reichart – Historian. Academics confirm to standard practices of their disciplines and students acculturate quickly. Takayama and Reichart sought to take pedagogies from other areas to take students into new thinking processes.
Students from the History course were required to use a science poster basis (research poster) to present their work, instead of a traditional report. The word “Poster” was reacted to badly – students thought that was a cheapening of their effort for a year’s work. Students had to think outside of the norms and discovered new aspects of communication, voice and interpretation in the unusual territory. This also added a challenge component and allowed a multi-dimensional exploration of area.
The microbiology students had to document their research in a completely blank book and were allowed to create a narrative in that blank book. This was at odds with usual structure for Science: accurate, reproducible, adhere to convention, no narrative, no first person, dates, signatures. While accuracy and reproducibly were still enforced, students were encouraged to explore much more widely in their blank book.
Student work started to resemble commonplace books (loci communes) – a compiled work with annotations and narrative from the compiler. The new student books contain personalisation, reflection, narrative, collage, moments of exhilaration and discovery – but they maintained fidelity and scientific accuracy.
This then led to the core idea from the work: (An) engagement with the unfamiliar as a means for further development of expertise.
Students’ understandings are deeply tied to existing and established practices – to the point that students feared that outside conventions would render their work invalid. Working in unfamiliar territory allows the students to refine their understanding of their discipline and push the boundaries, as well as their own understanding. Lecturers had to take risks as well, to get this realisation.
In our traditional dispositions for engagement, we have had a tendency to create a learning culture that is less interested in the unfamiliar and we have implicitly driven a focus on understanding a discipline vs developing an understanding of oneself. The nature of learning as situated in institutional cultures is something that we can see from the inside but the student perspective is vital as we want to know what the students think that we look like. From the students’ perspectives, they see learning in terms of specialisation, globalisation, technology and collaboration. This is a critical forum through which students made sense of their own place in relation to the  discipline.
Students identified two over-arching goals:
  • Routine Expertise: The Habits of mind and skills associated with efficiency and performance in familiar  domains, and
  • Adaptive Expertise (after Bransford): applying knowledge effectively to novel situations or unique problems
Students discover themselves in the material – finding connection and allowing deep eqnuiry into their own nature. (Students’ awareness of themselves in the course or the curriculum (Barbazat, Amherst))
Looking from our perspective, based on what our students want and how they succeed, Barnett (U London) identified dispositions for learning as Venturing Forward
  • A will to learn
  • A will to encounter the unfamiliar
  • A will to engage
  • A preparedness to listen
  • A willingness to be changed
  • A determination to keep going.
 Dr Takayama then went on to talk about developing a strong learning and teaching community through courses such as Brown’s Certification program, which has any benefits in enhancing the perception of value and practices in learning and teaching, as well as overall enhancement of the new post-graduates. One of the core points identified was that many of the PhD students who are produced will go on to teach in liberal arts colleges, institutions with an undergraduate teaching focus and two-year colleges. If we don’t teach them how to teach then they will be woefully underprepared for the future that lies before them – just being good at research doesn’t translate into skill at teaching, hence it must be fostered and well-organised certification programs are a good way to do this.
I hope to comment more on the cert program shortly, but  a very interesting talk with lots of ideas for me to take home and to think about.

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