When it comes to teaching, most of us are still learning (Ambrose 2010).
In my pursuit of developing and delivering excellence in research and teaching, I have accepted the sobering truth that “our teaching must constantly adapt to changing parameters” (Ambrose 2010). There is no space for being static, for compromise or for isolation. As an active Educational Coach I continuously reflect on and review my own practice.
I endorse and promote the idea of “Teaching-led research”
Through my teaching and interaction with students, I identify research opportunities that allow us to respond to our teaching environments and to develop excellence and relevance in pedagogy. This strategy also allows me to act on another principle that informs my praxis, that
the purpose of the public university is the cultivation of “artfulness”
Aranye Fradenburg (2013) defines “artfulness” as the art of making knowledge and urges us to research the use of “play, experimentation and intersubjective exchange to foster forms of artfulness” that allow us to respond to our environment more critically, and to creatively imagine future possibilities.
I believe that one way to bring about innovation is through constructive engagement with our students in artfulness—together we “make knowledge” and we discover new possibilities for research that emerge from our mutual concerns about the past, present and the future.
-- I presented a paper on Liberal Education at the Global Dialogue on Liberal Arts & Sciences, hosted by the Harvard-China Fund; an invitation only conference held in Shanghai (May 2015).
-- I am on the steeering group of the Warwick International Higher Education Academy (WIHEA), launched in April 2015 by the Pro-Vice Chancellor for Education, Professor Christina Hughes
--I am a Commissioner on the 5th Chancellor's Commision on Higher Education
-- I serve as the Academic lead on the teaching strand for the Warwick in California Project
-- Recent publication on Pedagogy: A Framework for Practitioners, "Coaching for Research Supervision" (published in October 2016)
-- Impact Activities: Designed and developed 4 Certificates of Professional Development for Undergraduate students
- Certificate of Coaching Practice
- Certificate of Digital Humanities
- Certificate of Communication Across Cultures
- Certificate of Sustainability Audit
A key principle of my educational mission is to inspire a commitment to learning by simplifying, demystifying and personalising the learning experience. I believe that students should be guided as they wrestle with the heavy chains of set ideas and stock systems, toward freeing themselves from those shackles by conceiving their individual path in life. As one of my students commented: “Cathia makes things make sense”.
All “things”, including those most obscure, complex, and convoluted, make sense when they are explained in simple, though not simplistic, terms. I encourage my students to delve into complexity, to grapple with theories that challenge them intellectually, to seek to find a truth that makes sense to them within the corpus of world literatures and philosophies. In this respect, my thinking ties in with Barnett’s (2000) concept of “supercomplexity” in Higher Education and McKenzie’s (2000) call for “self-reflexiveness”, allowing for a more personal dimension for learning to unfold.
Students respond positively to this approach:
The module has opened my eyes to a world that I knew little about;
Such a good module. Unlike anything I have studied before in helping me to think about literature more generally;
Drawing on the scholarship around “student as producer” (Neary 2005), I incorporate into all my modules an element of creative critique that allows students to become authors in their own right, granting them confidence and agency to reflect on how they address and re-think their environments and communities. For the past 5 years, I have implemented an innovative model of teaching theory that allows students to put it into practice by engaging with their community through case-studies, interviews, public engagement questionnaires etc… in order to translate and interpret abstract constructs into “real”, palpable issues. Over the course of the module, students publish their reflections online in the e-Book of Commonplace which allows them to reflect on their developing sense of the discipline and the academy and to become generators / producers of theories. My students comment on this experience as one that allows them to re-think the way in which they critique narratives and also demonstrates the transformational learning that I have inspired:
I have now rejected the broad structural arcs of more ‘essayistic’ writing and chosen instead to present my insights in kaleidoscopic fragments. My hope is that the unique formal possibilities of common placing will, in this way, coalesce with the content of my thematic analysis, for these novels already resist the kind of stability that a linear structure might imply.
It’s really rewarding to talk about unexplained, un-canonised texts. It’s raised a huge number of questions.
These comments attest to the transformative effect that the practice of commonplacing has on their understanding of how literature functions, but they also show the extent to which it has been a liberating and positively destabilising experience.
In order to facilitate the implementation of the aforementioned initiatives, I create a learning culture that is based on the principles of non-directive coaching, responsive to students’ needs and shaped by the most recent theories on technology-enhanced learning (de Freitas 2012; Goodyear 2010).
I have developed a unique Framework for Research Supervision that combines: research methods training, discipline-based mentoring and coaching, as three necessary, chronological phases of supervision. This “tripartite approach” has resulted in unprecedented success among my students whose dissertation are consistently commended by external examiners for the lucidity of the prose, the quality and originality of the projects;
When students’ intellect and their senses are stimulated and their minds are brimming with original ideas, they become demanding, curious, and creative. To feed their thirst for research and in-depth knowledge, I developed “Functional and Performative Online Spaces (FPOS)” where students can access original high quality resources developed especially for them, such as: author interviews, documentary films, or critical papers. These FPOS also contain timelines, supplementary reading and archival material. FPOS require student interaction; they function as triggers for critical thinking and allow students to explore the texts outside formal teaching times, without direction or supervision. The FPOS are visited by students, as well as accessed by external visitors and international researchers.
As students become producers of ideas, and evolve into researchers and creative thinkers, the challenge of how to assess them adequately becomes urgent. Recently, I was successfully nominated by the Student Union for the Fabulous Feedback Award, in recognition of my efforts to improve feedback across the university.
her feedback was precise, deep and thought-provoking; it helped me greatly because I knew what I had to do for my next piece of assessment”; [Student Nominator]
Cathia’s feedback is clear and delivered like a gift; I always feel that I have received something valuable that I need to remember and hold on to”; [Student Nominator]
I have been influenced by a number of scholarly theories on Feedback and Assessment (Ambrose 2000; Andrade 2009; Boud 2013) and my main contribution to the debate is my insistence on breaking down the feedback process into: pre- and post-assessment. Post-assessment feedback can only achieve limited impact on the students’ learning, while its emotional impact can be detrimental in the long-term. Pre-assessment feedback is, to my mind, more valuable as a learning tool because the stakes are high and the student still feels in control of the outcome. With careful coaching, the student is able to realise the most appropriate way forward and avoid “obvious” traps. The former explains the mark awarded, the latter enables revelations of options and opportunities.
This approach to feedback has resulted in a dramatic change in students’ attitudes towards assignments. When asked to comment on its impact, they remarked:
It has forced me to become more organised and disciplined in managing my time;
I like it; it establishes a positive and empowering relationship between me and my tutor because in a coaching session my own engagement dictates the extent of success I achieve