How did you become involved in education? What drew you to this subject area?
I don’t remember any teacher particularly inspiring me to teach when I was young although my teacher in, what would now be called, year 4 was a lovely woman and gave me the prize for ‘composition’, that is, for writing stories. My teacher in a new school, we moved after year 4, was a really good and kind teacher who did lots of art with us. These were both positive influences on me but the thing that drew me into teaching was having an older brother who introduced me, when I was about 11 or 12, to literature such as Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’ and a younger brother who had to suffer constant demands from me to ‘play school’ where, poor boy, he had to sit at a desk and ‘do work’ under my supervision. I suppose I displayed a bit of leadership potential in being made captain of sports teams, not because I was the best player but because I had ‘an old head on young shoulders’ to quote my PE teacher.
Anyway, it became obvious that teaching was a career to which I was suited so I applied for and got accepted on a four year Bachelor of Education course. It was during this time that I discovered that I had both a love for and ability to do Philosophy. After teaching in a few schools, I decided to apply for a Masters in Education full time at the University of Birmingham (in those days it was possible to be ‘seconded’ for a year to study). I was very lucky and flourished studying Philosophy of Education and Curriculum Studies. Despite later gaining a PhD, this Masters year was the perfect qualification for me to lead the Understanding Education module.
Can you tell us a little bit about the MA in Education and why it’s a good choice for someone considering an advanced degree?
I have taught on the MA in Education since its inception a few years ago and it has been one of the most rewarding pieces of work in which I have been involved. We receive lots of feedback from current students. The feedback is overwhelmingly positive and often relates to how it has challenged them and contributed to how they view their professional role. Students also comment on the structure of the module allowing an incremental development of their thinking. Many express positive comments about the variety of technical platforms used and the variety of types of activities, so, for example, it’s not all text based as we have plenty of other stimuli such as videos embedded into each module. A very important aspect the MA Education online is a belief in the value of collaborative learning. Students often comment positively about the benefits of this in terms of the interaction between students. As I write this, due to the Covid19 pandemic, many university courses are having to think about the benefits of on-line learning. I have no doubt that this flexible and rich way of learning is the way forward.
An online course can be a new experience for many potential students. Can you talk a little bit about what the experience is like and how Exeter supports its students?
Right from the start we have recognised that an online course can come with a number of concerns in the minds of the students such as ‘how will I organise my time?’, ‘will I be able to get my head around the technology’?’, ‘am I up to working at this level?’, ‘what if I get into difficulties, will I have personal support? ’. From teaching the Understanding Education module from its inception I can reassure everyone that the systems that have been set up work. Tutors engage regularly with their classes, offer additional readings and guidance, field personal problems, offer telephone or online support for individual queries. In addition, there is a suite of support services available including student support advisors, study skills support, and wellbeing services.
I think we do well to make students feel part of a community of fellow learners.
What advice, if any would you have for incoming students?
It’s probably seen as a cliché but a true one, I think, and it is ‘the more you put in, the more you get out’. From my experience of working on this course the students who actively engage week by week with their fellow students and tutors invariably do the best in their assignments.
I would also advise that if you want to get the most out of the course open yourself out to new ideas, don’t be too constrained by practical difficulties such as, ‘but would it work in my current education system?’. Take advantage of the modules that are designed to enable you to enhance your vision for education.