Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Between Schools and Universities

Before last August’s workshop, I’d always taken ‘schools outreach’ to mean what happens when academics worked with school pupils. In the past I’ve spoken about the value of an English degree at university open days, led taster sessions on Derek Walcott’s Omeros for Year 11s at an access event, and taught short courses with talented pupils in Hounslow – these activities were what I thought of as outreach.

Adrian Barlow speaking at the workshop
The workshop taught me that outreach activities don’t necessarily need to involve students directly: there can just as much value in having academics and teachers help each other out. Adrian Barlow, President of the English Association, reminded us that students, teachers and academics all belong to the same ‘community of English’ (see from 42:40 in his presentation), and asked us to think about what teachers want from academics, and what academics might do for teachers.

Several participants at the workshop mentioned ways that greater engagement between schools and universities would be valuable. Nicola Thomas, a PhD student at Nottingham, spoke about how much people in her situation would appreciate teaching advice from trained professionals when leading their first seminars and marking their first undergraduate essays. I know from experience how handy such advice can be, as my own university teaching is still informed by the basic grounding in Bloom's Taxonomy that I once received courtesy of The Brilliant Club.

More co-operation would help to narrow the gap between A-Level and University English that Gary Snapper spoke about. And Nicolas Cole’s presentation sparked a debate about whether some residential courses at Oxford would offer greater benefit over time if they were organized for teachers rather than their students.

I also had conversations with teachers who weren’t able to spend as much time as they wanted to find good resources to stretch their strongest students and so help them achieve the grades they deserved. What these teachers required – knowledge of the latest research on texts, access to new scholarship, and the time to sift through material to locate and summarize key extracts from criticism – is exactly what most postgraduates and early career researchers can offer.

Channels for communication between teachers and academics already exist, such as the Oxford Early Career Academic Outreach Network (also represented at the workshop) and the Prince's Teaching Institute. As a result of the workshop I’ve created a new path for cooperation in connection to the separate BARSEA-funded initiative that I’m running, the Early Modern Boundaries Project.

This project offers a new platform for early modernists to discuss research queries among targeted groups of other researchers. It works like a customizable mailing list that allows academics to start discussions among other members who have relevant interests. To learn more, see: www.earlymodernboundaries.com

Academics with interests in the literature, history or culture of the early modern period (15th to 18th centuries) are invited to join the network, and to tick the box ‘English Outreach’ when completing the registration form if interested in collaborating with English teachers: 

Teachers are warmly invited to ask our academic volunteers for advice and resources. You might ask us to provide a short extract from a recent article on Othello and race, along with a brief summary and questions arising from it; or to photocopy some primary sources for teaching contexts for Renaissance love poetry; to suggest a female author to read alongside Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer; or to request a school visit for someone to talk about William Blake’s poetry. We encourage any teacher (whether or not present in August) to email requests to earlymodernboundaries@gmail.com or ask via our Twitter account @emboundaries.We’ll then put your question to our early modern ‘English Outreach’ community, share the responses we receive and/or put you in touch directly with an academic.

This coming together of the two BARSEA projects is intended to pursue the agenda that ‘Academics in the Classroom’ established by generating new opportunities for teachers and academics to share their skills. Do get involved – we’d love to hear from you.

Peter Auger
Queen Mary University of London

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