Myths and mismatches: Where from here?

This is the last part of a series of posts that was written as a response to – and a means of thinking through issues raised by – an e-course by Jo VanEvery and Julie Clarenbach called “Myths and Mismatches”. Here is the link to the original post, from January 17, 2011: “Myths & Mismatches”: Where from here?

The last series of blog posts left me all blogged out for a couple of weeks, but I thought I’d offer a follow-up post regarding my thoughts on the e-course by Jo and Julie, on career planning and professional development, and a few other things.

What I found helpful about the course was that it provided me something to respond to, and in the process I found myself thinking harder about my current decisions. And because I’m feeling “stuck” and unfocussed at the moment, this was a valuable exercise. I tried to imagine my self in a particular role, and asked: what would I look like doing this job? How is that going to happen? Where do my current actions take me in terms of that kind of goal? Fairly basic stuff, but I find writing it all down tends to help me with coherence and direction. And when I’m feeling lost, I like to focus on the tangible aims that make it easier to make decisions in the present–since they build towards something in the future.

Some of the things I’m doing at the moment in order to provide myself direction–in a few different aspects of (academic) career development:

Making a decision about an academic “subject area” in which I could work comfortably, i.e. as a member of a department or program or team. This sounds like a no-brainer, and for most people in a PhD program it hasn’t been an issue since at least the MA level. But because of the way my interests have developed, choosing an “area” has been a less than straightforward process (my degrees are in Communication Studies, Linguistics, and Education).

A related task is to work towards drawing my various projects into a well-articulated and coherent research “map” that works within that subject area. I have diverse interests, but diversity is only a strength if it’s grounded in something stable like a good knowledge base, along with a plan regarding how the various pieces fit together and reinforce each other. I know well enough how everything is related, but I need to work actively to make those connections clear to others. This is important no matter what line of work I end up following.

…Alongside the usual academic channels, I’ve been experimenting with using social media to meet new colleagues and develop professional relationships, to “network” and to share/publicise my own work, to develop opportunities for contributing to ongoing debates (such as writing articles for other blogs and web sites), and to keep up with news/issues in my fields. As a result, I’m thinking about blogging and other “public communication” as part of academics being “public intellectuals”, not just professors or employees of the university. I’d like my blog to be a way to share my ideas even as I’m developing them in other ways (e.g. through research).

While I won’t swap social media for more traditional fora such academic conferences, participation in the latter is restricted for me because of the expense (travel, accommodation, registration fees) and timing. Sources like Twitter are an ongoing means of conversing with others whose interests I share, engaging in long-term exchanges that keep me thinking and that open up the discussion to anyone who can use a hashtag.

I’m working on teaching through practice (even just with my small tutorial group this year) and through development of approaches and philosophies; and I’m thinking about pedagogy rather than “teaching”, about theory and overall strategy as well as classroom tactics and practices. I’m looking for ways to examples that “stick”.

And in the context of our wired classroom, where students can use laptops and Blackberries to “tune out” from course discussions, I’m trying to understand and take into account the issues involved – “student engagement” and technology in the classroom; consumerism and credentialism; cognitive development in learning; differences in learning “styles” – and translate that back into an approach that gets students interested enough to abandon Facebook in the middle of class (high hopes, I know).

I still see teaching and learning as being about relationships, communication, partnership, mutual responsibility, motivation, feedback, confidence, hard work, listening, and changing your approach when something doesn’t work. Most important to me is to create an environment wherein questions and discussion can happen. With all that in mind I’m considering things like course design (in the abstract) and how this relates to pedagogy, particularly in terms of how different aspects of the course (curriculum/readings, assignments, tutorials and TAs, lectures) all have to work together in a way that makes sense to students.

I think that’s all for today. I hope you enjoyed the series of “Myths & Mismatches” posts, and if you’re following my blog – thanks for joining me!

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