The other thing that happened this week was graduation ceremonies. For reasons better left unexplored I managed to end up attending completely the wrong ceremony (i.e. not the one containing English graduates), so I found myself in with all the lawyers. Having no individual connection to any of the students at all left me free just to sit back and enjoy the proceedings in general, and in particular the honorary doctorate for Constance Briscoe, one of the UK’s very few black judges. The brief mention of Briscoe’s difficult childhood makes her ascent to the higher echelons of a notoriously elitist profession certainly notable. Briscoe has also courted controversy, writing two memoirs — Ugly and Beyond Ugly. They have been regarded by some as very much feeding the frenzy for ‘misery memoirs’, but had I been one of the legal students graduating last Wednesday, I would have found her presence at my graduation ceremony inspiring.
Wolverhampton-born Kevin Rowland, front-man of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, was due to be the honorary award at the ceremony I managed to miss. Unfortunately he was apparently ill and therefore wasn’t there. I had high hopes of a headline such as “Spontaneous 80s Dungaree Disco Breaks Out at Local Graduation” in the Express and Star… This may now have to wait until next year. Previous honorary degrees I recall include actress and author Meera Syal, and there is also very funny two-part clip of Frank Skinner receiving his award on Youtube.
To be honest I can’t remember any of my lecturers being at my various degree ceremonies. Some of them possibly were there for my BA English at Birmingham, but I certainly don’t recall anyone being at my MA or PhD ceremonies. It is, to perpetuate a cliché, a day for the students and their supporters, but in my experience at Wolverhampton it is also true that academic staff do take pride and pleasure in seeing students they have worked with and seen develop over three years getting their degrees. So I’m sorry I missed the ceremony I was meant to be at, but I still enjoyed the general ambience of happiness and celebration that was around all week. It is — and always will be — an achievement to gain a degree.
Finally, finally Online Discussion in English Studies: A Good Practice Guide to Design, Moderation and Assessment (English Subject Centre Report No. 21) is out! It’s been a long time in the making but this Guide to using discussion forums in English Studies (and beyond) has been a collaborative venture between many colleagues, both at the University of Wolverhampton and beyond. Its genesis is in e-learning-related projects carried out by myself, Ben Colbert and Frank Wilson at Wolverhampton, with Hilary Weeks as our research assistant between approximately 2004-06. Out of these came an English Subject Centre project, which included a day conference, several seminars to colleagues and finally this Guide. Wolverhampton colleagues Candi Miller and Jackie Pieterick came on board relatively late in the day to add a chapter on using discussion forums in Creative Writing, and Christina Lee (Nottingham), Matt Green (Nottingham), Stacy Gillis (Newcastle), Heather Beck (Manchester Metropolitan), and Michael Symmons Roberts (Manchester Metropolitan) all added case studies from their various different teaching contexts. Brett Lucas, the English Subject Centre’s Learning Technologist, has been a terrific support from start to finish as well, and has put a lot of work into getting the Guide looking as good as it does.
I’m personally very proud of this work, by which I mean both my contributions to it, but also the Guide as a whole. I’ve had reason to be reminded recently of the ways in which pedagogically-focussed work can be regarded as ‘in tension’ with subject-based research, and the genuine difficulties there can be for academics who wish to do both. Someone somewhere sometime will try and force you to choose between them. When I started my career as an academic I was as dismissive as some no doubt still are of pedagogical research versus the clearly ‘more important’ subject-based research. This changed for me when I undertook a Post-Graduate Certificate in Higher Education at Wolverhampton — the kind of teaching qualification that new lecturers now have to do. I tried the resist the cynicism I saw in some of my colleagues who were undertaking the PGCHE and genuinely welcomed the opportunity it gave me to reflect on my teaching in a focussed way, underpinned by reading and research. In the Technology-Supported Learning module I went from being the student at the back of the class with her arms folded — all body language saying “this is nothing to do with me” — to someone enthusiastic about what using discussion forums in my Victorian classes might mean. Everything I have done with e-learning since came from this. At no point did I stop thinking about myself as an English Lecturer (or researcher), and I remain very firmly committed to my subject as the focus for the pedagogical thinking I do, but the Good Practice Guide has broader appeal beyond the discipline of English too. There’s no doubt to me that my bits of the Guide are what I would call ‘subject-based research’ too, but whether future REF panels will agree remains to be seen.
This blog started in 2009 about an academic year in the life of me, Rosie Miles, who teaches English at the University of Wolverhampton in the UK. The aim is to give a ‘hands on’ account of being an e-tutor on the courses I teach that have an integrated online component, using our Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) WOLF (the Wolverhampton Online Learning Framework).
The modules which I have used to develop online activities both concern the Victorians: one is a module on the ‘high’ Victorian period, and the other on the Fin de Siècle. My blog aims to describe the various activities and other related issues about being an -e-tutor. I sometimes also stray off topic into other poetry and literature interests.
In 2011 I was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship, in part for the online work I have done in English Studies. I was also an E-Learning Consultant for the HEA English Subject Centre for several years until its closure in July 2011 and visited HE English Departments around the UK demoing some of the activities I describe in my blog. If you are in an HE English Department and would like to see more of what I describe here then please invite me. R.Miles@wlv.ac.uk