HERDSA keynote – Kathy Takayama

Today marks the first session day of the HERDSA conference in Tasmania, and the first keynote presented by Kathy Takayama, Brown University.

I have to admit to being fairly excited by the title of this talk: learning to teach by learning to learn. Her start, focusing on an art work by Amalia Pica, Venn Diagram (under the spotlight), was used to illustrate and discuss the importance of transcending barriers in education and the importance of forming communities.

This was then used as the basis for a discussion of disciplinary learning, and the forming of integrative communities. Disciplinary learning is well established in building intrinsic motivation, and helping students see and experience the professional behaviours of their discipline. However, it can also put barriers in the way, stopping students from being open to learning from other disciplines. I think we can see this in some of the cultural barriers that are sometimes seen in engineering and computer science schools, but with the introduction of new engineering and computer science major streams that represent a blend of disciplines, such as architectural and sustainable engineering, and media based computer science or digital humanities discussion, I can see these barriers disappearing.

This confrontation of the cultural expectancies of a discipline is to be encouraged in my opinion – being constrained by the discipline culture that currently exists, that is the culture of your lecturers, or the lecturers of your lecturers, means that you constrain discipline evolution; you stop the inter discipline connections that can introduce new research areas or new areas where we can benefit our communities. In some sense, this is the basis underlying all of computer science.

Kathy uses several examples of cross discipline confrontation, such as history students being required to present their work through a poster presentation, and biology students developing a narrative to accompany their scientific work. These activities were both confronting for the students and liberating, as they were able to explore new ways of thinking to enhance their understanding of their own discipline.

I had to have a quiet chuckle, at one stage, as Kathy talked about the introduction of concerns about the academic validity of new techniques from other disciplines. I am regularly involved in discussions regarding the validity of qualitative research techniques within computer science or engineering education – simply because those that I am including in these discussions are unfamiliar with qualitative research processes, see them as foreign and confronting, and have an initial response of rejection. It is through our ongoing collaborations, within our disciplines but exploring these new techniques, and with colleagues from disciplines where qualitative research methods are part of their discipline culture, that we are best able to form a common understanding.

Kathy also talked about routine expertise and adaptive expertise (also here), the ability to integrate new techniques and cross boundaries and take their skills with them. I’ll have to read more about this area. At the moment, we are reading several papers in the area of self regulation and student motivation, and adaptive expertise appears to be closely related, in particular the works in teaching students adaptive expertise skills.

Kathy then went on to talk about the certificate training programmes in learning and teaching at Brown, that are generally undertaken by PhD students during their studies. These, of course, help our potential academics confront some of the boundaries from their discipline culture in relation to learning and teaching practice, both in terms of practice – the kinds of learning and teaching exercises that are standard and non-standard in different disciplines – but also through the language of the learning and teaching discipline itself. These four year long teaching certificates are very extensive, and focus not just on introductory classroom practice, which many of these certificates do focus on, but also address preparation for academic life, through a focus on adaptive expertise and the development of communities of practice in learning and teaching scholarship.

What is interesting about the structure of these programmes is that they look to not only develop learning and teaching expertise, but view the development of cross-disciplinary understanding, and an appreciation for discipline boundaries and experiences crossing those disciplines, as making our academics better academics, improving their skills in research and as academic leaders.

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