By Dr Clemens Brechtelsbauer, Deputy Director of Undergraduate Studies in Chemical Engineering and Principal Teaching Fellow.
The purpose of the ‘Talking Teaching’ seminars is to share good practice across the college and make people think. For me, yesterday’s session on designing inclusive curricula and sharing professional skills certainly achieved that.
Elizabeth Hauke started with an intriguing question on what inclusivity actually is. Like many I subconsciously went for ‘not excluding anyone’ rather than ‘including everyone’. While the former can be addressed through curriculum design, the latter can really only be achieved during the teaching itself, which is a lot harder. Elizabeth gave the example of ‘learning contracts’ which set out a group’s rules that students and educators formally commit to – something borrowed from the corporate world of meeting and workshop management. In the chemical engineering department, we run a workshop session with first years to set out what they expect from lecturers, what lecturers expect from them, and what students expect from each other. We introduced this to make it clear that even in a high pressure / high achieving environment such as Imperial College, a normal work-life balance is very much what everyone is entitled to. While the events were always successful, I was wondering whether we could enhance their impact even further through agreeing a formal ‘learning contract’ with the students.
Sophie Rutschmann described a two day short course for MSc students on how to effectively read scientific articles. She found that students spend too much time with reading papers cover to cover – which is not the way a trained scientist reads them. I always thought that my approach of skim reading (abstract, figures, conclusion) then deciding whether it’s worth reading the rest was some sort of a ‘guilty pleasure’. It never occurred to me that this is actually a valuable technique that is not obvious at all and worth passing on to students. It made me realize that as academic teachers we have a lot more to offer to our students than just passing on subject specific expert knowledge.
I enjoyed the session and it gave me lots to mull over. The challenge I see is that all of these very useful activities are quite time consuming in comparison with a traditional seminar or a lecture. Although they are undoubtedly more effective, this comes at a cost. As we need to streamline already congested curricula it will require serious thought where to deploy these ‘heavy hitters’ so that the associated time cost is worth it.