Thursday, 8 December 2016

Academics in the Classroom: Reflections on the Workshop

In the now-distant heat of mid August, a group of 19 secondary English teachers and a corresponding number of early career academics gathered in Hertford College, Oxford for two days of stimulating discussion and debate, the focus of which was outreach. Funded by the British Academy Rising Star Engagement Awards and led by Dr Catherine Redford, the Academics in the Classroom workshop aimed to foster links across the sectors and explore ways in which expertise can be shared.

The first keynote speech was by Professor Emma Smith, who drew on her experience of
working with secondary students. She explored some of the ways in which academics can use their expertise to enrich students' (and their teachers') understanding of context. While her speech spoke to early career academics and how they might approach outreach sessions to students, what became apparent in subsequent discussions was that teachers really value the expertise and subject knowledge that academics can provide.

Gary Snapper speaking at the workshop
Other sessions included training by Dr Velda Elliott from the Department for Education in Oxford, whose dynamic session on Active Pedagogies encouraged participation and performance. Gary Snapper detailed research conducted on transition from sixth form to university level study and lively roundtable discussions demonstrated the range of educational programmes and projects including the British Library, the Globe Theatre and the Brontë Parsonage Museum, as well as the ways in which blogs and technology can be used as outreach tools. Dr Eleanor Parker’s A Clerk of Oxford blog and Dr Andrea Macrae and Dr Marcello Giovanelli’s Integrating English project and their blog The Definite Article demonstrated the ways in which technology can support and develop teachers' expertise.

Roundtable discussions that included both academics and teachers highlighted the very different ways in which ‘outreach’ is interpreted by different people in different institutions. It often seemed to be used synonymously with widening participation for universities and enrichment for schools, but as dialogue continued important questions were raised about the purposes of and audience for outreach. As the sessions went on, though, what was apparent by the end was that outreach should not be exclusive to the most able and that for it to reach the widest possible audience, closer collaboration between academics and teachers is vital. There seemed to be a call for reciprocity in such partnerships where teachers can offer pedagogical expertise to early career academics with little training or experience of teaching and the academic community in their turn can support the subject knowledge of English teachers who are constantly having to update and develop their subject to keep up with changing specifications.

Delegates take part in an 'Active Pedagogies' session
English Association president Adrian Barlow’s keynote speech at the end of the two days highlighted another important aspect of this reciprocity between the secondary education community and further education as he brought into sharp focus the shortage of qualified English teachers. He called for university departments to recognise their role in developing graduates equipped with the subject demands of English teaching today.

The Academics in the Classroom website has links to video recordings of the workshop's various sessions as well as a bank of digital resources and useful articles. The website is designed to enable those interested in English outreach to pool their knowledge and make contact with other interested parties, and invites contact from projects or resources that are useful or worth promoting. A special edition of 'Issues in English' dedicated to English outreach and arising from the project will be published by the English Association.

Jane Campion
The English Association

This article was originally published in the English Association Newsletter (Autumn/Winter 2016: No. 213) and is reproduced with the kind permission of the English Association.

Find out more about the English Association here.