In this post, Jenny Lennon, a tutor on the ‘Our Changing World’ course, shares her experiences of teaching a non-traditional course….
Having taught a number of undergraduate courses, I must say that Our Changing World is unlike any other class I’ve had the pleasure of leading. This course represents a unique approach to education, challenging traditional teaching. The following post will be reflecting on what I have learned whilst teaching it.
The course design of Our Changing World brings together students from many different disciplines within the University, highlighting the importance of interdisciplinary discussion. Moreover, these students are from different year groups, giving first year students a chance to gain early insight into what the larger academic community here at the University is like, and also the chance to learn from their more senior peers.
First and foremost, what appealed me as a potential tutor for this course was its structure. The public lecture series covered a broad range of topics including immunity, gender, and the politics of identity. This variety gave students the opportunity to develop an awareness of global issues that they may not typically learn about in their degrees. Big picture ideas like these can often go overlooked in traditional courses, especially as students begin to narrow their area of study. I think courses such as Our Changing World, which encourage students to take a step back once in a while, embodies a more holistic and refreshing take on typical curriculum design.
Perhaps the most rewarding and valuable facet of this course were the Facilitated Group Discussions (or FGD’s). Taking place after the lecture, these discussions gave the students the opportunity to reflect on and discuss the topic that week. As a tutor, this gave me the freedom to decide how I wanted the FGD’s to take place. As the weeks went on, it was incredible to see the group grow in confidence and further develop their critical thinking skills, which are so crucial both in university and beyond. The opportunity to hone these skills so early on in one’s academic career is simply fantastic in my opinion.
However, the students weren’t the only ones learning each week. During this time, my approach in planning each session adapted to better suit the students as individuals, and I further learned how essential it is to have an awareness of each of them. I saw first hand the importance of building confidence in each student so that they felt comfortable stating their opinions, and even defend them when confronted. As a result, it was very rewarding to see students openly share their views with confidence and respect, resulting in very thought-provoking discussion.
As a teaching setting, the FGD’s worked very well in that they were entirely student-focused, with each member of the group getting the opportunity to chair a session and lead the discussion. In addition to discussing the wide variety of topics and their global significance, the students in Our Changing World were exposed to several concepts designed to help them to develop evidence-informed arguments in future courses they undertake. Thankfully, I was given the flexibility to introduce these concepts however I pleased. For example, ‘Evidence or Opinion?’ was a topic we explored through debate and a smartphone-based research activity. This flexibility proved to be crucial as it allowed sessions to be tailored to suit the needs of an individual group.
During my time as an Our Changing World tutor, I further developed what successful teaching means to me. Personally, flexibility and adaptiveness are essential to quality education. By catering to broad perspectives, one can easily inspire the confidence necessary to succeed in an individual student. The experience that I have gained from teaching on this course was invaluable, and I’m keen to use what I learned in future teaching opportunities. Above all, I have thoroughly enjoyed being part of the Our Changing World course this academic year, and would highly recommend others to get involved next year to further broaden their own horizons!