In this post, which kicks off a short series reflecting on Postgraduate Taught (PGT) programmes at the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI)↗️, Kate Orton-Johnson, Director of Education in EFI, takes stock of EFI’s first year of delivering PGT courses, reflecting on the lessons learnt along the way. This post is part of the June-July Hot Topic series: Showcasing the Edinburgh Futures Institute ↗️.
As the academic year comes to a close, it is a fitting time to reflect on the delivery of the first tranche of Postgraduate Taught (PGT) programmes in the Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI). Our six taught Masters degrees: Creative Industries↗️; Data Inequality and Society↗️; Education Futures↗️; Future Governance↗️; Narrative futures: Art, Data, Society↗️; and Service Management and Design↗️ (introduced by EFI Education manager Mike Bruce in his earlier blog post↗️) bring together interdisciplinary approaches and a fusion model↗️ of delivery to create a transformative learning experience. In developing inclusive, future-facing teaching, EFI also employs an intensive teaching model of course delivery. The intensive model runs over a five-week period with pre-intensive asynchronous activities, a 2-day intensive teaching block and a post-intensive asynchronous follow up. This model speaks to the inclusivity aims of EFI, enabling learners flexibility to navigate their own learning pathways.
It has been a challenging and demanding year for colleagues and students in EFI and I have found myself repeatedly invoking the phrase “steep learning curve” as we engage in interdisciplinary ways of working, fusion modes of delivery and intensive models of teaching. This triple whammy of innovation has placed considerable demands on academic staff, students, and professional service colleagues as we try to bridge gaps and make connections between various fields of study in a complex web of university structures and processes.
As courses and programmes were being developed, we recognised that coordinating interdisciplinary teaching teams was challenging; effective interdisciplinary pedagogy demands pre-course collaboration and preparation. In delivery, we also experienced challenges with interdisciplinary cohorts requiring more scaffolding before/after and during course delivery as students come with more diverse needs than in fields where there is a shared understanding of a discipline. Delivery in fusion mode places additional demands on teaching teams with courses largely taught collaboratively by all members of the team rather than individual academics taking responsibility for individual lecture(s).
The intensive model of teaching has also posed its own set of challenges. Structurally, the intensive model is very complex to timetable, leaving little space for student group-work and extra-curricular activities, particularly for online and part-time students and those in different time zones. Pedagogically the intensive model makes it challenging for students to absorb and retain information, resulting in an unintentional binge and purge effect as students focus on one intensive before moving to another with little space for reflection, consolidation and assimilation.
But our learning curve has also had many positives. The interdisciplinarity at the heart of EFI has created a vibrant and rich intellectual environment, enabling a cross-pollination of ideas and perspectives. Our students have been curious, flexible and imaginative while teaching teams have creatively and effectively collaborated, designing exciting and engaging courses that work across fusion delivery modes. Students have embraced the highly focused and practical nature of the model and have told us that it removes what they describe as the ‘rigidity factor’ from their learning, while the collaborative teaching approach has been invaluable for understanding the tensions and complementarity of disciplinary backgrounds in an interdisciplinary context.
Looking forward there is work to be done in exploring how fusion can work effectively to connect students studying in-class and online. We need to develop methods that engage students in asynchronous group work while being inclusive of those not working in the same time zone. We need to foster a sense of EFI identity and community for students who are studying a broad range of courses through a range of spatial and temporal modes. Fusion cohort-building and networking is important, but we also need to recognise diverse needs; what online students may want or need to support them to have a rich experience at EFI may be quite different from their on-campus counterparts.
The learning curve has been steep but the journey of EFI has just begun. As we navigate the ever-changing educational landscape, we remain focused on issues of sustainability, social justice, and ethical practice, collaboratively seeking solutions to the wicked problems humanity faces↗️. We remain committed to working towards interdisciplinary excellence and innovation to create a space in which students can be prepared for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead.
Kate Orton-Johnson is Director of Education in Edinburgh Futures Institute↗️ (EFI). She is a senior lecturer in Sociology and her research interests relate to intersections between technology, culture and everyday life. She has a background in studying digital technologies in the context of Higher Education and is currently working on projects related to decentralised social media, digital detoxing and qualitative digital methods.