Saturday Self-Knowledge

Today I finally paid my August rent for the Glasgow flat I’m yet to occupy, and now I’m ensconced at the Hatter, trying to gear up for curricular planning. The difficulty I’m experiencing clarified for me one reason I wanted to get to Scotland by now: having spent only scant time in the environment in which I’ll (Home Office willing) be working, I have a hard time doing the imaginative work of envisioning and planning the courses I’ll be teaching. It would help if I could sit down with colleagues and talk through similarities/differences relative to teaching in Glasgow, but it would make an even greater difference if I had a sense of the place and atmosphere within which to frame my course plans.
 
Of course, I can go ahead and make course plans regardless — that’s what I’ll do — but to the extent that there‘s something like craft in planning, it surely involves knowing the setting and audience of teaching, both of which are opaque to me in my current situation.

4 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Hi Akma
    I noticed you wondering about teaching and course design at Glasgow. My honours course has an open source web link which will at least give you an idea of what is called a ‘long thin’ honours course (ie it covers two semesters). You can find the outline here:
    http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/qee/vg/pmwiki.php/Main/BodyAndBelief
    (but I have just removed all last year’s lecture handouts, so it will only hint more at the running order than anything).

    Place and atmosphere – well I think the place is research intensive and the atmosphere friendly, collegial. There have been some tensions within the student body at times because it divides quite starkly between Religious Studies and theology students and candidates for the ministry. The university operates on an equality and diversity assumption that tries to acknowledge potential tensions between different ‘diversity’ groups, but sometimes the students find the paradoxes in their situation challenging! There’s a great range of scholars in the department from the Head who does pastoral theology and feminist theology, to a traditional ecclesiastical historian, to a Catholic moral ethicist, to a Muslim scholar popular with Radio 4 listeners and others. There’s more than a few intellectual high fliers and you should never be without an Episcopalian to chat with if you’re desperate. As the department as a tradition of study literature and the Bible and the Bible as literature – the general, but not exclusive, tone is liberal in terms of interpretative stances.

    There is of course a whole panoply of quality assurance around the course provision processes – and Theology is involved in shifting from an old three term system to the Faculty standard of two semesters. The Head of Department can help you with that as I am not too sure where they’re up to, but basically the amount of contact time you have with students will be related to a credit bearing system, eg 30 credits = 300 notional learning hours with 30 hours contact or some such equation.

    The students are a truly mixed group from intensely interested to bewildered to more interested in a social life. First and second year (Freshers, Sophomore) develop significantly – though the first few weeks of the first semester of first year they look completely out of their depth in the main.

    You are coming into a department which is placed in a bigger Faculty and sometimes you’ll get students from other Arts disciplines doing your subjects. Standards wise – student writing is a real mix of quality so you’d be likely to find that you mark right across the grade range.

    The University supports Moodle as its VLE (not visually beautiful but functional and the students have become much more familiar with it).

    If you have been appointed as a probationer it is possible you’ll be expected to do the New Lecturer and Teacher Programme. Most folk in the Arts resist this initially BUT it is a good way to meet other new lecturers from across the university and it will help you get a feel for the Scottish Higher Education sector and Glasgow’s place in it. Also, the UK has developed a slightly different approach to understanding student learning than the US (we’re more qualitative in approach) and you might find some of the stuff interesting. (It’s a completely redesigned course to the one others in Theology will have done – but I am biased about its usefulness because I work in the unit that provides it.

    Let me know if this is at all useful and if there are any other questions you’d like to ask?
    Kind regards
    Vicky

  2. I just want to say that it took me most of my first year at Fuller to get a feel for the place, and no doubt I still have a lot to learn.

    You’re probably a quicker study than I am, but I hope you’ll cut yourself some slack and realize that it will take time to figure the place out.

  3. Vicky, thank you so much for your generous help. I’ll bear all this in mind as I try to put together the elements of my courses — and then I’ll finish the job when I’m actually in situ, breathing the air and looking at the classroom and poking my head into the office to ask Meg and Christine specific questions. Assuming, of course, that Her Majesty’s Home Office ever permits me to join the staff.
     
    Chris, I don’t know which of us would be quicker to figure a place out, but it does certainly take time. And each institution defeats our assumptions and expectations in distinct ways that require patient observation. That makes my current predicament especially frustrating, since much as I learn from friends such as Vicky, I still am not observing.

  4. Sympathies, AKMA. One encouraging comment, though: there is something refreshing, about the experience of hitting the ground running. I began teaching my first course at Duke three weeks *after* the course had started! My complete ignorance of both Duke and of the American educational system in general meant that I had to ask my class repeatedly for advice, input, explanations, and it ended up being one of the most enjoyable teaching experiences I have had. They completely understood my predicament, and seemed to enjoy helping me out. So my guess is that you might enjoy the same kind of experience in Glasgow. They will know that everything is all new to you, and they’ll enjoy the cultural differences, and should enjoy helping you along the way.

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