Thinking, connecting, and reflecting
Bring a group of Geographers and Educationalists together to talk about pedagogy on a chilly Wednesday morning in early January, and one might not expect rousing enthusiasm. And yet, the energies and ideas that coalesced at this teaching workshop on 10th January surpassed possibly even organiser John McKendrick’s expectations! This RGS-IBG sponsored workshop welcomed academic (teaching) staff, early career researchers and postgraduates – both within the field and beyond – to a day-long event encompassing various presentations, discussions, Q&A; and, happily, a field trip.
John (Glasgow Caledonian University) welcomed the group with a round of Bingo that played to our eclectic interests (and eccentricities!), neatly foregrounding the point that we carry these differences through our teaching practice. Addressing the teaching of children and youth geographies in the UK and Ireland specifically, John discussed recent statistical analyses that presents geographies of children and youth as increasingly ‘on the map’ in HE institutions. Once a niche sub-discipline, John stressed that growing interdisciplinary visibility warrants in depth and nuanced attention to both teaching and learning and assessment at HE level.
With this in mind, Joe Hall (Brighton University) then introduced us to a design model for a children’s geographies module. Several innovations were noted, not least the move from standard lecture formats towards role-play to motivate questioning and discussion between undergraduates and lecturers (e.g. what makes ‘good’ and ‘bad’ ethics in research with children and youth?)
Sympathetic to the demands and strictures of HE timetabling, Matt Finn (University of Exeter) next asked us to think about opportunities for ‘mainstreaming’ specific children’s geographies sessions within undergraduate Geography modules more broadly; an approach that might arguably lend itself to a more inclusive HE curriculum. Sophie Hadfield-Hill echoed this sentiment where she explained the efforts of colleagues at University of Birmingham to embed non/more-than-representational theory and methodologies throughout their teaching of children and youth geographies.
The ensuing ‘breakout’ session proved a productive time for reflection, as we scurried to various corners of the room to share and conceive of novel teaching approaches that might be usefully deployed by our colleagues. Discussions around the use of TV and film, picture books and children’s literature to elucidate key concepts proved fascinating. Playing with mediums for/of (re)presentation was a popular discussion point, too. Colleagues suggested that students might make use of more visual techniques and strategies to explore and critique stereotypes of youth and tropes of childhood. Indeed, with the increasing trend from formal to horizontal assessments, and with focus on student-centred learning, creative approaches such as these yield much scope.
Tara Woodyer’s presentation was an apt and insightful follow up, as she explained the creative (re)thinking of the use of student blogs in teaching and assessment of children’s geographies at the University of Portsmouth. Contemporary job markets demand much of students, explained Tara, not least in terms of digital literacy. Experimenting with different modes of assessment and approaches to communication, this innovative model not only foregrounds student-centred learning, but also an interactive and motivated approach to knowledge (co)-production, exchange, and shaping of ideas. Check out the following examples of students’ blogging:
Relational approaches to teaching primary Geography with the UK and Ireland were the focus for both Susan Pike (Dublin City University), and Helen Clarke and Sharon Witt (University of Winchester). Following a ‘Common Worlds’ approach that emphasises enchantment, playfulness and paying attention with the world, both presentations affirmed the centrality of practical wisdoms, positive enquiry, and hopeful geographies. Follow @Attention2Place to find out more about Helen and Sharon’s work, and discover the wealth of insight offered by post human perspectives on teaching and learning about childhood.
Lunch was followed up by a comparative take on supervising children’s geographies dissertations, with Sarah Mills (Loughborough University) and Sophie Hadfield-Hill (University of Birmingham). The opportunities and (ethical) challenges posed by dissertation topics created much debate: How might we manage the expectations and experiences of undergraduate researchers? And how can we navigate stringent ethical clearance and protocols to best support our students and their research participants? Sarah and Sophie suggested differently nuanced ways to approach these issues, and, given the wealth of excellent undergraduate dissertation subjects produced to date, foregrounded the significance of sustained research at undergraduate level in carrying the sub-discipline forwards.
To close a day of much discussion, debate and reflection, it was apt that we went for a walk. Or, more specifically, a fieldtrip to Hyde Park. Guided by John’s directions and prompts – a model of active learning – we journeyed in pairs and small groups, chatting, thinking, listening, and observing as we went, contemplating the park and city more broadly as a springboard for questioning. We debated what constitutes ‘children’s spaces’, considered factors that shape children’s use of space (limited or otherwise), and were encouraged to interrogate ways in which children’s lives are shaped by their environments. Arriving back in time for tea (it should be noted that no-one was lost en-route!), it was agreed that today may be a first of many such opportunities to come: to make time and space for collaboration with colleagues beyond our own departments; to enliven, and continue to move the teaching of children and youth geographies forwards.
By Amy Mulvenna and Rachel Searcey
Amy Mulvenna (SEED, University of Manchester) & Rachel Searcey (Human Geography, Loughborough University), Postgraduate Representatives of GCYFRG