Teaching Overseas: A Cultural Challenge

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Fascinating insight into teaching practice from Dr Jennifer Hill, a lecturer who had a six-month tour of Iraq with the Royal Engineers as a Territorial Army officer:

But Dr Hill’s time in Iraq was not just about serving Queen and country. Working with a completely different set of students made her a better teacher, she believes.

“We were there doing post-war reconstruction and helping to get their infrastructure back on track,” she said. “I was in charge of a group educating and training local artisans, who were learning under a system with no formal framework of qualifications.

“These electricians and carpenters had a certain level of technical knowledge, but they could not apply it beyond their basic training.”

Saddam’s regime, she said, “had completely squashed their ability to think for themselves and problem-solve.

“We encouraged them to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses – to make their own decisions and think more creatively.

“It made me think about how I taught my students in Bristol, and consider whether I spent too much time thinking about the cognitive and academic demands of a course, rather than how students were interacting with each other or approaching materials.”

Also a great advocate for PGCLTHE:

Dr Hill is an unapologetic advocate for compulsory teacher training for young academics. She took a postgraduate certificate in teaching and learning at her own university seven years ago and highly recommends the experience.

“The course validated many of my teaching activities, clarified the theoretical foundations on which they were based and prompted me to consider how I could improve my practice, especially how to engage students more actively in their learning.”

Increased use of podcasts, video clips and other new-media materials is another way that teaching can be improved, she said.

“I teach a lot of bio-geography about forests and deserts, and it’s often difficult to convey what a place is actually like.

“I film a lot of stuff on location and students love it, but you have to make sure it’s engaging with them in a useful way. When I first did it, students were not coming together or learning from each other.”

She also cautioned against allowing students to think that their lecturers will spoon-feed them with all the materials they need.

“You need to anchor them in the subject and challenge them to find out more. I now set quizzes about the materials and generally help to move them in the right direction.”

She finishes:

“Every university should encourage and support teaching to the same extent that it does research.”

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