25 Years of OU – 2016: Being a student

Man with piece of paper

One of the benefits of working at the OU is that you are eligible for a staff fee waiver to study OU courses. When I first joined I studied one module in Shakespeare, but since then I had always found reasons to postpone further study: I had a young child, or a big project, or was focusing on something else. Around 2014 the personal stars aligned – my daughter was now older, I was single and work was well established, so I studied over the next four years or so.

I completed a Masters in History, and then, because MAMA are good initials to have after your name, I did another in Art History. I have mined both of these areas heavily for metaphors on this blog (and an upcoming book on metaphors of ed tech).

But as I blogged at the time, perhaps as important as the topics themselves was the experience of being a student. This is particularly the case studying in an area you are unfamiliar with (I hadn’t studied either of these topics at undergrad level). It reminds you of the frustrations and vulnerability of being a student. The fear of being exposed as being stupid or feeling like you don’t belong. The resentment of the bloke (it’s always a bloke) who responds to every forum post with 1000 word essay containing at least 20 words you’ve never encountered before.

Institutions often focus on improving relevant skills in staff development, but actually getting lost in unknown territory is its own reward for understanding students and developing your teaching approach. Don’t build on expertise you already have, but instead start from near ignorance again. It’s enlightening.

Covid 19 bit – although it might not be as easy on many campus based institutions to study as a conventional student (timetabling for one presents an issue compared with asynchronous study), there would be a lot to be gained in experiencing the online provision from a student’s perspective. I genuinely think that intrusive exam proctoring for instance would be less readily adopted if staff had to experience it. All the things you think are obvious as an educator are barriers when you’re on the other side and appreciating that even simple things like making plans available, and the location of resources or assessment requirements obvious make a big difference.

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