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Precarious employment – reflection 1

Precarious employment 1. Unpicking the teaching plan.

Having retired I am starting work as an hourly paid visiting lecturer, a reversed career projectory as it is how most academics start their career, in some sort of precarious employment.  This is an interesting experience and I will be reflecting on it over the next couple of months.  I am already discovering the extent of the precarity with dropped offers of work etc and noticing the extra time it takes to plan and achieve things when you are not based in the institution combined with all the things that you don’t know and are frustratingly difficult to find.

My main task is of course getting my head around the teaching. I knew the person who ran the module before and some years ago was the external examiner, so have some knowledge of it, but predictably was over optimistic in thinking how much I could pick it up.

I have seen the phenomena so many times, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise – it’s the old ‘here’s the syllabus and PowerPoint for the first session’ scenario.  So, I don’t do enough preparation in advance thinking I can just pick it up.

In learning terms this is single loop learning, basically trial and error.  I imagine running through the programme, if anything doesn’t work, make an adjustment and settle for that.

But then I look at it and am struck by:

  • The things I wouldn’t normally do
  • Things I am not quite confident about
  • An unease about just filling ins someone else’s’ plan, teaching is personal expression

The dilemma that can take some of the precious preparation time is how long do I keep going making minor adjustments before I go for a more radical rethink.

The stereotype of traditional HE is that is the way it was done – academics who were focussed on research and didn’t have the time and interest in doing things differently would just do what had always been done, and that they had experienced as students and there is an element of truth in that.  It is also true that they were not encouraged to look beyond that or given the resources to do that.

Double loop learning happens when the context is introduced, and options opened.  The first way that can happen is by the introduction of choice – it could be done differently.  There is a concept of signature pedagogies (Gurung, Chick and Hayne, 2009) which describes the way in which academic communities have distinctive ways of teaching, and like any community they are defined by argument as much as consensus, so there are typical debates about how to teach the subject.  In English do students have to read a lot od books, or close read a smaller number, in computer science how much emphasis is on the coding process and when do students get introduced to application.  When I look at my syllabus I can identify where the person who designed it stood in those debates and I can choose a different path.

More fundamental choice is opened up when I go beyond that and look at their aims, what are they trying to achieve in what they are doing?  Goals opens up assumptions about learning theory, either explicit or implicit because if someone has a goal they have a model of the process.

Theories about learning fall into one of three categories or paradigms which can be identified by the key aspects of the gaols implied in a syllabus.  Is the focus on what the students should be able to do, practical tasks and processes, what they should understand or what they should experience?



Gurung, R. A. R., Chick, N. L. and Hayne, A. (eds) (2009) Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind. Stylus Publishing.



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