Q&A with Dr Jonathan Doney, Lecturer in Education
How did you become involved in education? What drew you to this subject area?
Two things, which both happened during my last years of schooling, really sparked my interest in education.
Firstly, as part of my educational programme, I spent a day each week for a year at a local primary school, helping particularly with maths and science lessons. This developed into a strong interest in outdoor and informal education, which I took forward working for the Forestry Commission and the National Trust and in other roles that included this sort of teaching.
With this experience I have also done quite a bit of adult training and education, including computer programming and agricultural practices.
Secondly, the controversial Education Reform Act (1988) was going through parliament as my schooling ended; keeping track of the debates and discussions fascinated me, and really catalysed my interest in governmental involvement in education, and in the process of educational policy development. I wanted to understand better why things are the way they are in education.
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?
Learning is a lifelong endeavour; there is always more to find out and explore. When I finished my training as a teacher, I followed an MA in Education course, which really helped me to develop both my teaching and my understanding of how education works (in so many ways).
Our MA has a strong emphasis on reflection and critical engagement, learning from your own practice, the practice of others, and from the literature about education, teaching and learning. Through such engagement and reflection, your understanding of what it is to teach and learn will be changed, and this will affect your practice, especially if you are involved in education.
I understand there is an area you specialise in. Can you talk a bit more about that?
As I said, one of the key catalysts for my interest in education was the development of policy. I am very fortunate to have spent the last seven years as a researcher in educational policy development, focusing especially on the legal frameworks around school level education.
I enjoy the challenge of learning about new ideas, attempting to understand the ideological commitments behind them, and thinking about how new policy ideas might affect things in the classroom, lecture hall, and educational leadership arenas.
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?
Firstly, it is nothing to cause alarm. If you are used to reading the newspaper online, interacting with friends through social media, and watching films or binging box sets online, then you will feel right at home with our online teaching.
For the most part, each week has its own learning objective with a variety of activities which are broken down for you. You might watch a short video clip (typically no more than five minutes), then read a few pages from a paper. You’ll answer questions, interact with other students and tutors through online forums, complete quizzes and take part in surveys. Sometimes you’ll work in groups with other students too.
It is definitely not watching a two-hour lecture, then ploughing through very long books. There is guidance to help you plan your workload. Overall, it can fit around your other commitments in whatever way you want it to. Obviously, as an online course, you don’t meet up with your fellow students, but we work hard at Exeter to ensure that there is collaboration and engagement in debate, and many classes set up their own social media groups to keep in touch as they progress from module to module.
What advice, if any would you have for incoming students?
Overall, I think there are four things:
Be realistic. Being involved in study requires time, energy, and space to think. But the rewards are worth it.
Be committed. By committing to be fully involved in the programme, you will get the most out of it.
Be prepared. There will be challenges, both practically and mentally. You may ask yourself questions like, “When will I have time?” and tell yourself, “Thinking is hard work!”
Be disciplined. Set aside time each week (even each day) to work on your course, and then stick to your plan.