Friday, May 22, 2009

Aspiring Academics - Part Two (QAA and Curriculum Design)

At "Aspiring Academics," Dr. David Mossley (the Higher Education Academy Subject Centre for Philosophical and Religious Studies manager) gave a workshop on curriculum design. It was actually the first time I had heard of things such as the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA), which was established in 1997 to as an independent assessment of HE standards. The website has downloadable subject-specific "benchmark" statements which set out the expectations at each level of degree (click here to download subject-specific statements for undergraduate, and here for Masters level). They set out what any student at any level should be able to do in their discipline. The programme specifications for university courses have to reference these documents, in providing details of intended learning outcomes and the means by which these outcomes are achieved and demonstrated. Also relevant for course design is the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (FHEQ), which ensures a consistent use of qualification titles that correspond to qualification levels.

David (who works in philosophy) talked about the different ways in which teaching could be linked to research interests; namely, directly and, you guessed it, indirectly. Direct linkage between research and teaching generally comes in the form of relevant content: teaching what you research (i.e. a course of your own design), teaching in the field in which you research, and using your research to directly inform another field. Indirect linkages tend to be drawn through the particular delivery of your teaching: teaching that draws on your research (e.g. using a particular view of autonomy or agency to inform a philosophy of education and actual practice) and teaching that is informed by a more general approach to philosophy, derived from your research.

He also spoke about teaching portfolios. I have a CV (see blog sidebar to left) which I regularly update with my teaching experience, but teaching portfolios are more detailed, including a statement of your teaching philosophy. It coversthe levels of ontology (what is education?), epistemology (how do we know about education?) and ethics (what is the value of education? what is its value in society? why is it a "good"?)

We then moved on to thinking about whether we could design a course around our (current) research interests (the workshop delegates were early career researchers and finishing PhD students). In terms of creating a course that directly links to our research, he asked us to think about what about our research would be appropriate to teach undergraduates, for example, at their level? what criteria could be used to determine how our research fits the needs of an undergraduate audience? and, does it fit with departmental, institutional or national frameworks? He also reminded us that we may need to explore equality legislation and access issues.

My list of courses to offer in an ideal world included:
  • Progressive Christianity
  • Christianity and Culture
  • Christianity and Postmodern Thought
  • Deconstructive Theology
Courses to which I could easily adapt my knowledge included:

  • Contintental Philosophy of Religion
  • Sociology of Religion and Spirituality
  • Religion and the Internet
  • Religion and Gender
  • Research Methodologies
In relation to indirectly using our research, David asked us to think through the following questions. In terms of education and teaching practice,

  • What does your research tell you about: the world and beings in it, the contested nature of knowledge, agency and persons, value (ethics, culture, diversity)?
  • What implications can you draw from your research for how teaching should be done?

Some useful online resources in this area from the Subject Centre include,"The Qualifications Framework" by George Macdonald Ross and "Linking Teaching and Research" by Danielle Lamb.

The last session of the day ("Career Planning," Rebecca O'Loughlin) basically acted as a round-up of what had gone before. It concluded that the way to maximize academic capital was through publications, teaching and networking. In terms of publications, a strong publishing record is important, but what this means differs across disciplines. For example, Jonathon Wolff (Department of Philosophy, UCL) said journal articles were the way forward in philosophy, rather than monographs. For Mathew Guest (Department of Theology and Religion, Durham) the reverse was true. You can add to your own teaching experience before a permanent position through lecturing, tutoring and doing associated adiministration (e.g. managing modules, designing curriculum, developing curriculum, and working on departmental or module websites). Networking is, as always, important. Becoming part of your academic community (through conferences, discussion lists, etc.) will aid in building a network of contacts who can be a source of feedback on research and let you know about job opportunities, etc. Importantly, departments look for candidates who can integrate their published research with the institution's teaching and the current trends in the discipline.

The powerpoint presentations for Mathew's talk on funding (see my blog post here), and on curriculum design and teaching portfolios can be downloaded from the Subject Centre website, here.

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