By Dr Miranda Mirosa
Faculty motivations for empowering their students are both altruistic and individualistic. Faculty are often driven by an innate desire and passion to see their students flourish during their time at university and consider empowering students with the knowledge and skills required for life post-study to be an essential determinant of student success. Faculty efforts to continually improve the quality of their students’ learning experiences are also recognised and rewarded through the emphasis on teaching performance in the promotion process.
There are many existing and potential opportunities to empower students. Institutional-wide mandated practices of having students evaluate courses and their teachers on a regular basis means that students at the University of Otago are empowered to have a voice in shaping their educational experiences at an individual course level. Additional institutional student feedback systems, such faculty meetings with class representatives and annual student and graduate opinion surveys, also ensure that students are empowered to provide feedback at a wider programme level. Aside from these more conventional forms of involving students in their learning, an increasing number of the faculty empower students by having them share their voice in-class via the use of educational technologies, such as real-time clickers, or by employing more discussion-based and interactive teaching methods. Some faculty have embraced engagement further by encouraging more active forms of collaboration between students and faculty such as allowing students to assist with the provision of the curriculum in some regard (for example having students teach their peers on a particular subject or allowing students flexibility in deciding their assessment topic). The cases provided in this booklet highlight a few such initiatives at the University. It appears that this sort of student staff collaboration is mainly within individual courses and is dependent on enthusiasm from individual faculty members to foster these sorts of collaborative relationships. It is uncommon at Otago to have students collaborate directly with faculty on curriculum redevelopment at a programme level, for example by sitting on departmental teaching and learning committees. A notable exception to this is that the university-wide Board of Undergraduate Studies does have representation from a student member nominated by the Executive of Student Association. Empowering students to become more active participants in curriculum design (as well as its implementation) are thus areas of opportunity.
Almost certainly faculty will agree that having empowered learners is a good thing. However, engaging with pedagogies of empowerment is not without it challenges. Heavy workloads mean there is often little time to explore new ways of teaching. Allowing students to demine their own goals and how they will accomplish these removes much of the control from faculty members which can be scary for those who are used to being in charge. Furthermore, trying new initiatives can also be risky as there is the potential that they are not successful and result in poor course evaluations. Then there are problems such as some students not wanting to take a more active (and often unfamiliar) role in their learning, and of having teaching facilities (big lecture halls) that are conducive to a more traditional information transmission approach.
The Matariki network provides a wonderful opportunity to further equip faculty with pedagogies of student empowerment. The abovementioned challenges faculty face at the University are not unique so it makes sense for partnering universities to share practices and ideas on how to overcome these barriers and in doing so, further engage a wider range of faculty with practices of student empowerment. A collaborative network-wide student-led course or programme would be amazing!
Reciprocal community and university (‘town and gown’) interactions appear to be incredibly beneficial for all concerned (students, their teachers, and community members). Faculty engage with the community in a range of teaching, research and service capacities and they engage for a variety of reasons. In terms of teaching, engaging with the community makes the learning more relevant and meaningful and keeps the curriculum updated with what is happening in the ‘real world’. Faculty can better equip their students for the workplace by providing opportunities for students to gain work experience as part of their studies.
Having students out in the community can also have positive spinoffs for faculty. It can increase their capacity to make an impact on issues they deem to be important (that is, they can get more done with the help of students than what they can accomplish alone). Fostering university-community relationships can lead to faculty being able to more readily secure research funding from the private, public and non-for profit sectors. It can open up data collection opportunities (e.g. allow the researcher access to communities of interest). Engagement can also present researchers with opportunities to make a more meaningful impact on the targeted end-users for their work (by facilitating the direct dissemination of their research results). In the service domain, faculty are able to provide their expertise to address community-based issues that they deem to be important. Their academic status means that their voice on particular societal issues is often deemed to be reputable and trustworthy by members of the public meaning their support is highly valued by the community/issue groups they work with.
The University of Otago has a reputation for being community-focussed. There is a special interest group of faculty in community-engaged learning and teaching (CELT) and there are currently a wide-ranging number of activities that faculty take part in. Successful examples of community engaged learning activities include ‘Science Wānanga’ (a two day/night learning experience to enhance the engagement and achievement of Māori in sciences and health sciences), ‘Schools Ambassador’, and ‘Hands-On Otago’ programmes. In terms of research, the national funding agencies have expressed an explicit interest in funding research that has tangible benefits to identifiable end-users. Resultantly, there has been a strong focus on applied research in recent years. Being able to demonstrate how research results will be of use to particular communities has meant that researchers have had to engage with communities of interest. Unique to New Zealand, there is a policy (Vision Mātauranga) designed to unlock the science and innovation potential of Māori knowledge, resources and people. This policy provides a framework that gives priority to research projects that are of particular relevance to Māori, or involve Māori, and thereby encourages researchers to engage with these specific culturally-based communities.
Community engagement needs to be meaningful to be productive, and meaningful engagement tends to require time and energy. Engagement also comes with risk. Risk of overburdening communities and of ruining established relationships (and academic reputations) if the engagement is not positive. However, despite these barriers, the benefits of faculty-community engagement are many and so it is perhaps not surprising that community engagement is becoming increasingly embedded in the University of Otago’s teaching, research and service culture. Testament to this, the University of Otago’s strategic direction 2020 document includes seven imperatives, one of them being strong external engagement. The University of Otago is a research intensive university and so key to faculty success is to find ways to generate synergy between their community engagement teaching and service activities so that this engagement supports, rather than competes with, research priorities. Given the other Matariki partners’ research intensive nature, tapping into colleagues creative ideas on how to generate these synergies is a key area of interest. Another key area of learning will be on how to build support for the institutionalisation of community engagement so that a larger number of the faculty want to be engaged and are rewarded for being so. Discovering differences in how community engagement is valued and practiced across universities in the network is something that will be of great value!
One of the graduate attributes that the University of Otago seeks to install in all of its students is ‘global perspective: appreciation of global perspectives in the chosen discipline(s) and the nature of global citizenship’ (Teaching and Learning Plan 2013-2020). It is the responsibility of faculty to embed this and the other attributes in the Otago Graduate Profile in curricula and co-curricular experiences. Recent research at this University has revealed that there are differing views on what constitutes graduates’ global perspectives (Shepard et al, 2016) and therefore in the way that this attribute is currently being fostered by faculty. The study showed that global perspective is framed within this institution simultaneously as containing both cooperative and competitive elements. Recommendations were made by the researchers that faculty should therefore reflect critically on the diversity of global perspectives and to clarify their intentions when fostering this graduate attribute.
The opportunities for fostering global citizenship in the curriculum are plentiful and include incorporating international perspectives, promoting understanding of global systems, and encouraging concepts like global self-awareness. The diverse international and multi-ethnic makeup of the students at the University means that ‘internationalisation at home’ (which involves faculty designing learning experiences that embrace the different worldviews and experiences of their students)can allow all Otago students to benefit from an international higher education, not just those who are able to go on a student exchanges.
In terms of research, academia and research communities are global in nature and so ‘working internationally’ (collaborating with colleagues from other countries, attending conferences away from home and disseminating study results in international journals) is the reality for research-active faculty.
For many faculty members, however, fostering global citizenship in their teaching and being internationally focussed in their research activities is driven by much more than just the university-led directives or by the necessity of personal research success. Many of the faculty feel passionately about a range of ethical, social, and environmental challenges in global systems and feel a strong sense of personal and social responsibility to use their knowledge, connections and positions to help tackle some of the ‘wicked’ problems of our global interconnected time.
There is enormous potential for Matariki Network members work collaboratively to address the world’s most pressing issues. Building faculty and student relationships across the network – department-to-department, programme-to-programme will be one way to do this. The appointment of “network ambassadors” to promote global citizenship across the network, or a “chair of global citizenship” that rotated around the network, are just two of many more exciting ideas of how global citizenship could potentially be further fostered by faculty!
Shephard, Kerry, Michael Bourk, Miranda Mirosa, and Pete Dulgar. “What global perspective does our university foster in our students?.” Environmental Education Research (2016).