Dr Karen Walshe, Director of Education
How did you become involved in education? What drew you to this subject area?
Like many others who are drawn to education, I was inspired by one of my teachers. She taught Religious Education (RE) in the secondary school I attended in Dublin, Ireland and instilled in me a love of theological, philosophical and religious ideas. Inspired by her, I went on to train to become a secondary school teacher of Religious Education and English. I wanted to be for others, the kind of inspirational teacher she had been for me. I can still remember the almost physical feeling of my mind expanding as I studied Theology, Philosophy, Religious Education, Religious Studies, English Literature and Education during my four years of training. Being able to immerse myself in the subjects that I loved enabled me to flourish.
Years later, having taught and led RE and English in secondary schools in the southwest of England for a number of years, I was hungry for learning and so I enrolled on a three-year, part-time taught Masters programme in the History of Art and Design. It was hard work managing full-time teaching with part-time studying, but the joy I got from learning (along with the compulsory trips to the art galleries in Paris) made it all worthwhile.
After 10 years of teaching in school and having gained an MA, I decided to pursue a career in Higher Education and complete my doctorate. Instead of teaching children and young people in schools, I now have the equally important privilege of training postgraduates to become teachers on our Initial Teacher Education programme, and of working with an amazing bunch of inspirational teachers and educators on the MA Education online programme, eager to develop their understanding and open to being challenged by alternative perspectives.
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?
As Director of the MA Education online programme I receive lots of feedback from current students. Above all, they tell me how much they love the programme and how, even within the first few weeks of study, it has changed and shaped their thinking and their practice. That says as much about the kind of students who enrol on the programme as it does about the programme itself.
At the heart of the MA Education online is a belief in the value of collaborative learning. So, when students tell me how much they enjoy the programme and how much it has impacted on their understanding, they are talking not just about a particular module’s content, tasks and resources, but about the quality of the interaction between students. Teachers and educators from all over the world complete this programme and they bring with them a wealth of experience and a rich diversity of perspectives. The MA Education online programme, which sets out to explore big, current and global questions in the field of education, is an ideal choice for anyone interested in furthering their studies in this ever-changing yet perennial facet of human endeavour.
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?
We recognise that an online course can be a new experience for many potential students and for some students, the MA Education online programme marks their first return to formal education after many years. This means that students come to the programme with a number of concerns such as:
- Will I be able to work at masters level?
- Will I feel isolated as an online learner?
- How much contact will I have with other students and with my tutors?
- How will I manage to fit in studying for a part-time masters degree with my other commitments and responsibilities?
We are very aware of those concerns and work hard to ensure that students on this online programme feel part of a community of learners. Tutors actively engage with the taught content and collaborative tasks on the virtual learning environment and are readily available to support individual students as needed. In addition, there is a suite of support services available including student support advisors, study skills support and wellbeing services.
What advice, if any, would you have for incoming students?
I think that the best advice I can give to incoming students is the more you put in, the more you get out. Give yourself permission to think differently about aspects of education that may have become almost second nature to you. Allow your understanding and your practice to be changed by your interactions with others and by your critical engagement with the taught modules. And bring your experiences to the table so that others can learn from you.