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Internationalising the curriculum

This post is a transcript of my speech at the Westminster Higher Education Forum Keynote Seminar:  Innovation in curriculum design – internationalisation, employability and inclusivity, December 7, 2016

(5 min read)

My Lord, ladies and gentlemen, respected colleagues,

Twenty years ago as a student at university I experienced two types of curriculum: one stemming from a traditional textbook and a sage-on-the-stage, and the other based on praxis which was completely bespoke and co-developed. Perhaps I was lucky that this was not an uncommon feature of studying music performance.

Then in 1999 the Boyer Commission produced an Academic Bill of Rights. Its preamble states that a college or university should provide ‘maximal opportunities for intellectual and creative development’ of its students (p.12). The first right is that students should have ‘opportunities to learn through enquiry rather than simple transmission of knowledge’ (p.12). These are both essential.

Since that Bill of Rights, enquiry that crosses intellectual and physical borders has become an everyday reality at our fingertips, and Internationalising the curriculum is one way to expand our student’s experience, encourage and develop connection, and prepare our future graduates to successfully meet the demands of a continually developing workforce.

I will outline how I do this in my own practice as Teaching Fellow at the University of Chichester, and present various methods and tools that can be embedded within your own curriculum, no matter what the discipline.

Definitions of employability have expanded from the outdated view that simply developing the required skills or knowledge is enough, to now include an array of wider, and less discipline-specific qualities: from organisational and management skills to self-beliefs.

The ‘USEM’ model of employability: (Knight and York, 2004) includes

  • Understanding
  • Skills
  • Efficacy beliefs
  • Metacognition

And it reinforces the importance of enabling student experience and engagement with applied processes. It reframes knowledge as understanding and recognises an element of deeper learning. Metacognitive processes underpin many aspects of strategic and self-regulated learning, and without efficacy beliefs these could not be combined into successful self-management, academic achievement, or eventually into effective employee performance. (see Brigstock, 2009; CES, 2009; Pegg, Waldock, Hendy-Isaac, & Lawton 2012)

The Institute of the Future, a California think-tank, recently published an article containing this infographic about emerging ‘new’ types of jobs, born out of our on-demand economy. These resonated with me, as in music, graduates seldom have a singular fixed professional destination.

I use internationalisation in a way that amplifies individual creative development and intellectual enquiry, addressing:

  • Gaps between institutional life and the working world
  • How students transfer their knowledge…into something relevant to their professional lives
  • How to develop employability and entrepreneurial thinking

These are derived from benchmarking goals in the Polifonia Handbook: Combining a research orientation with professional relevance, published in 2014.

I embed teaching methods within the curriculum that foster international interaction between and across disciplines, such as using technology to connect to other learners and teachers. I believe it is essential to engage with students, peers, industry partners, and the wider community across the globe. Specifically in my teaching I use:

  • screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-09-07-41Public outreach and engage students via Twitter,

    because it is a platform well populated by professionals, and allows students to engage either as themselves or with a pseudonym of their choice.

Connecting Classes began with Jonathan Worth and his use of the hashtag as an educational tool for his photography class #Phonar. With this methodology, short videos or audio are shared online and people are invited to use a specific tag for discussions. Students Tweet their notes, comments, and questions, and often draw other professionals into large-scale group discussions. This provides students with a rich resource for further research.

  • I also use webinars and hangouts featuring student-led discussion with international practitioners.

An excellent example of this practice established for the educational community is Virtually Connecting, which brings keynote speakers from international conferences into contact with other teachers and students across the world through live, online hangouts. Maha Bali co-founded Virtually Connecting. She lives in Egypt and recognised the need to connect and the practical limitations of travel and cost that affect educators and learners.

Virtually Connecting sessions include people ‘on-site’ as well as a virtual room full of guests- teachers, students, people from across the world. This real-time interaction and engagement with professionals across disciplines is invaluable for all involved.

  • And finally an example of a change to the curriculum itself is my International Experience Module.

This development was driven by students. They wanted to go beyond technological connections, and formalise these interactions, making them face-to-face. Students led the first iteration of these trans-continental experiences, and that trip served as a proof of concept and model for the module that now runs as part of the undergraduate Music with Instrumental or Vocal Teaching Degree.

Students are responsible for the details from planning the logistics of travel to the content of what happens with partners when abroad. Moving away from a textbook based curriculum, they now have to consider, plan for, and anticipate aspects of inclusivity, communication, and cultural sensitivities they might encounter in practical settings. My current group includes a blind student, others with dietary allergies, and of course, musicians from different stylistic backgrounds. There is a host of planning and management skills on top of the musical preparation required, and the students relish it.

Stepping outside the classroom provides immersion and means that:

  1. Students have ownership of their learning and actions
  2. Learning is integrated into life, where theoretical knowledge is applied and tested through experience
  3. Students actively reflect and practice real-time accountability as they learn.

Although when my students travel with me to America, English is a common language, there are distinct cultural differences when traveling to any other country, and effective relationships and communication take forethought and sometimes situations required careful navigation. Embracing differences of those beyond your ‘home’ community can facilitate promotion and reflection on civic agency, another important quality for us and our students to develop.

Not every programme can be expected to include a full international experience module, but there are certainly elements of both cross-discipline and cross-cultural communication that can be embedded into any curriculum, whether through a project like Connecting Classes, using hashtags on Twitter, or through other bespoke online projects.

Connection, communication, and learning all encompass far more than theoretical subject-knowledge. Within music, sound, and playing the instrument is a small part of teaching and professional interaction. Music requires confidence – self-efficacy beliefs, communication, everyday organisation, management, and interpersonal skills. By building and applying transferable skills alongside the discipline-specific skills, students are more prepared to step out and carve a niche in their future professional world. What better way to do that than as an active participant in various international fora? It does mean that we the teachers need to do significant networking, learning, and groundwork in order to fully participate and keep abreast of the changing landscape. It is worth the effort.

The world is a constantly developing place and even those we perceive as most distant to us are actually closer neighbours than we know.

screen-shot-2016-12-06-at-09-15-39

Musiquality at RAISE15

Many thanks to Fiona Harvey for live streaming our presentation at the RAISE (Researching, Advancing, and Inspiring Student Engagement) conference in Nottingham. My co-presenters Pete – a current final year student, and Jess – who just graduated, and I were very pleased to be invited to share a bit of our story. You can watch here:

(Fiona says the best bit starts at 17:55 – that’s where we perform some music!)

We would love to share our story, and what we did with you too. If you think we can spread quality and connection through music to you, your students, or your community – please get in touch.