Classically Inclined

November 2, 2022

Walking supervisions: first thoughts

Filed under: Teaching — lizgloyn @ 3:31 pm

One of the teaching goals I set for myself this year was to try group walking supervisions. That came from a desire to bring together my dissertation students (who I have in a bumper crop this year), to get up from behind my desk, and to give  walking pedagogy a go. I said in my original plans that I would try to do at least one a term; at this point, I’m thinking I’ll go for one each half-term, not least as students might be unable to attend one for life!reasons and it’s better to have more opportunities than fewer. I ran my first one last week, so this seemed like a good opportunity to share some thoughts.

Confession one: despite many Noble Intentions, I didn’t do any more reading than I had when I came up with this as a Good Idea, and there had been precious little of that. So I may be missing some of the important elements of how you should structure a walking supervision, what the logistics should be an so on. Instead, I picked a walk on campus and told students to meet in the foyer of the building where my office is, and decided to see how it worked.

In preparation, I did talk to all of my dissertation supervisees to see if they would find doing the walk physically inaccessible, but nobody flagged that as an issue. I’ll need to think what I do if somebody does, but that’s next year’s problem. I also hadn’t thought up a wet weather plan, but again, I got away with that one (just). Confession two: I did not walk the walk in advance. I assumed the map would be sufficient. Dear reader, it was not sufficient. We got lost and eventually worked out that we had been supposed to go up a raaaather steep hill which did not look particularly safe with the ground starting to get a bit more muddy. I’m not sure this really mattered – it added to the sense of shared adventure, at least – but ‘do try the route out first’ does sound like a useful tip to pass on.

Another handy tip is that I should have told the students to meet me at my office rather than the foyer – we went back to my office anyway for people to drop bags and things, so they could walk unencumbered and pick things up when we finished the circuit. As usual, the actual doing of a Pedagogical Thing points out the screamingly obvious in a way that just… thinking about it probably doesn’t. I had about half of my group show up, and the others had all let me know they weren’t available, which I think is a pretty decent hit rate.

I am obviously not going to share much of the detail of what my students discussed, since that would be not terribly ethical, but some themes and topics emerged quite naturally from the discussion. I started by asking them each to share what their dissertation was on (since they might not have talked to others about it), and then used that as a springboard for how their project had changed already and general conversation about the experience. What I hadn’t expected was that we’d spend so long talking about the nuts and bolts of writing – about strategy, planning, organising material, getting over blocks, accepting that perfectly polished prose doesn’t leap from your pen at the first go, all that kind of basic ‘so, writing, then’ stuff that sometimes gets separated out or lost in the way that we manage assessments. The best bit, for me, was the fact the students were able to swap tips with each other rather than just having me go ‘have you tried this way’ – writing is such an individual process that having lots of different suggestions is probably the most helpful thing. I also got the sense that having a chance to talk about it contextualised the experience; even if no-one had exactly the same relationship with their project, it still established that everyone was in a similar position, and that they weren’t alone in doing it.

Finally, do you know what? It was a nice sunny afternoon. Campus was beautiful. There was non-thesis-related chat about interesting things. I saw a deer, up the steeeep hill, although wasn’t quite quick enough to point it out to my students. It was good to get out into the fresh air. The leaves were turning into sharp colours. We saw one of the campus cats, and a sculpture I haven’t really looked at before. That all made it worth doing together as well. Now I just have to keep my fingers crossed that the next one isn’t rained off.

Photo of a tree trunk in a forest. A curved window is carved into the trunk. Two eagles are carved sitting on the sill.
A sculpture in the Royal Holloway woodland.

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