As my marking has been returned and teaching has stopped for summer, I am turning my attention to one of the other many aspects of my job as an academic which is research. Some people suggest that you do a little bit of research every now and again and, although I do try and read the odd article/research paper, I prefer to have a good go at something so I can get into the ‘zone’. It is interesting how your mindset and thoughts actually start to change as your brain is released from other work related topics, tasks and problems and the time appears, within the working day, to engage with new problems and ideas. Using technology such as Evernote and Omnifocus, I can collate my ideas, books and articles which I have found during the teaching timetable for this moment in the year when I have to time to actually go back over them and start to both engage and interact with them. Tomorrow I will be sat in the library, which is virtually empty at the moment, to start to engage with those notes which I have saved. But what will I be focusing on? Well, to be honest – I can be honest with you can’t I? – I am having a bit of an identity crisis and can’t decide who I actually am…
If I had to choose and do my A-levels again -heaven forbid! – I would definitely make different choices. For one, I would have chosen mathematics since I enjoyed it so much at O-level and did really well. Taking chemistry was probably one of the choices that, although we shouldn’t, I probably do regret since I was not very good at it at all. Looking at the choices that students have today, I do wish that some of these had been around when I was still within school. Some form of computer science would definitely have been on my list of choices to take and this would have been coupled with psychology. Completing a module on neurophysiology at university as part of my biology degree, I have always been intrigued by the working of the brain and the human psyche. As I have started to be curious about things again, my thoughts have not turned, as you might have originally thought, to the use of technology but more to the idea of identity and how this impacts on both my own perception of myself as an academic and how I am perceived by others, including students and other tutors, doctors and professors. Since my own education has centred around biology and environmental science, I am in the position of being intrigued but really knowing nothing about the topic. It is a bit like being an administrator of four Minecraft servers and not knowing how to actually run them. However, one thing I have learnt that I do enjoy and, in fact, often crave is learning something new and challenging myself. I consider it almost like solving a problem, something which my mathematical brain cherishes!.
In the words of Julie Andrews, it is always good to start at the beginning which, as we all now know, is a very good place to start. So what follows are my thoughts about my own identity and how this relates to my current role/job as an tutor within academia. I apologise now if I say anything which readers might consider ‘a basic misconceptions’ or even laughable if you are a professor of psychology – but I wanted to log the starting point of my thoughts and this seemed the best place to do it. Hopefully, as my thinking changes, I will add and blog my progression. So, here goes!
Practice makes perfect? – I always think that I was very lucky to make the move from practice into academia. Initially I moved across on secondment which allowed me to demonstrate the ‘usefulness’ of my practical experience for teaching on a professional vocational programme. Looking at job descriptions for other universities at the moment, I would not even get through the short listing process due to my lack of PhD or publications. What I do bring to my teaching is over twenty years of teaching experience within the primary sector. Does this have an impact on how students and other academic perceive me as a person, tutor and also a researcher? Experience is one of those areas which can actually be interpreted in two ways. I always comment that just because you have had years of experience, it does not necessarily follow that it has been years of good experience or even developmental experience. However, limited experience could be considered by students that tutors are not actually able to do the job/role effectively. You only need to see the comments about the recently proposed new chief inspector of OFSTED, Amanda Spielman, and the comments relating to her lack of teaching experience to see this. Two years into teaching at university, I applied for an e-pedagogy teaching fellow position, to be refused due to my ‘lack of experience’ even though for me, in my naivety, I would not be doing anything differently after the next eighteen months than what I was currently doing. Teaching for me, is a specific set of skills which can be applied to many situations. I often find myself using my experience as a primary school practitioner within higher education. It is important that we develop an understanding of the theories associated with teaching a new age range, whether you want to label this has andragogy or even heutagogy, but essentially the skills are the same. So my initial thoughts are – does my experience impact on how students and tutors perceive me?
Lack of academic prowess! – I need to clarify this sub heading before continuing. I’m more than capable of marking assignments and understanding theories and concepts. What I am referring to is my lack of contribution to the world of education – whether this be primary education, teaching (either at a primary or higher education level) or even within a specific discipline, such as the use of technology. From my experiences within higher education, I almost get the feeling that experience does not count for that much, or is just one of the desirably criteria on the job application list. What appears to be rated more, are the contributions to research and academia. This appears to present a dilemma when I start to relate it to the discipline of primary teaching. I assume that students want to see that I have the practical skills to actually do the job, while institutions want me to prove that I have the publications, advanced qualifications and conference inputs. Another one of my regrets – I know- no regrets – was that I didn’t engage more with my continuing academic career while I was teaching. It would have been more beneficial to come into academia with both the practical experience and the PhD. That would be an impressive achievement! This is probably why there has been a shift in the focus of my research moving more to teaching within higher education since this is where I am currently gaining experience. If there was one strategy I really felt attuned with within research it would be practitioner research, since I feel that this would have the, and I know we shouldn’t use this word, impact. Considering myself as a tutor within academia, I am wondering whether my practical experience either within the primary sector or my limited experience teaching within higher education actually impacts at all on how other leading academics actually perceive me as a person and my ability to successfully do the job.
My nuances – I am currently writing a series of blog posts on my personal blog titled – “My weird life”. I was going to use the same terminology for this sub heading, although I decided to think of something a little more … well academic. I don’t know that many academics and those I do know work within the institution where I work. One thing which I have started to realise is that I’m not sure that I share the same ‘attributes’ of other academics. When I say this, I am not referring to a tweed jacket with leather elbow patches or even the ability to talk at length and depth on a range of topics, including references to a range of literature that any student would be proud to have in their reference list. What I am referring to are the ‘other activities’ I engage with, which I frequently link to my job. For starters I am write this blog every week, which I call a waffle – hardly an academic term! I also have a YouTube channel which I use to broadcast live show from every week. Coupled with these two activities I also have similar instances for my personal life which are shared quite openly with everyone. I play computer games and stream on Twitch and have my own radio station. I am also a prolific tweeter and yes, I admit it, I use Snapchat and Facebook to communicate with the students and the world! Again I hate using this word, but I don’t appear to fit into the ‘norm’ for academics. I had to make a decision when I moved to academia whether I was going to keep this side of my life personal or let it become apparent within my professional life. You can probably decide which I went for, but what has been the impact of that decision and has this influenced my own identity or my perceived identity within higher education.
I’ve found it difficult to write this waffle, not because of the personal nature of the topic but because of the lack of answers. Within each of the sections above I felt that I should be drawing them to a conclusion and actually stating how they impact on my identity as a tutor and what the implications of this might be. I suppose that not being able to do this is positive since this would mean that completing further research into this area will be, for me at least, beneficial.
If you have any articles or books which you think it would be beneficial for me to read or engage with or if you have any comments/thoughts about what I have written then I look forward to hearing them so please add them in the comments below or send them to me via Twitter(@iwilsonysj), Facebook, Google+ or email.
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