Reflections on the DISCs Project
MAYNOOTH UNIVERSITY | 10 September 2020
The DISCs project has been a welcoming and supportive space for me to critically consider the kind of educator that I am and to help me get closer to the kind of educator that I aspire to be. I’ve especially gained from the opportunity to meet and talk with and co-reflect with my DISCs colleagues in other disciplines and in other institutions about the role of the university and about possibilities for transformation and embedding social-justice education as well as how to navigate and dismantle obstacles and challenges.
However, to state the obvious, the COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted on my experience of the DISCs project and the last academic year. It became and remains even more urgent for me to try to enact the reading I’ve been doing about concepts and discourses of racism, power, colonialism, and privilege in my practice as the many inequities and systemic biases in higher education and society became exposed and intensified. The coronavirus continues to have both anticipated and unexpected impacts on student access, engagement, participation, and the mental health of students, staff and faculty. I’m especially trying to develop my practice around universal design and I’ve been reflecting about my unconscious biases and assumptions about the affordances of online and face-to-face teaching and learning as well as synchronous and asynchronous sessions. Since the sudden pivot to online delivery in March, I’ve discovered that often the lowest-tech option is better and insofar as it can be more inclusive in light of students’ mixed access to broadband, equipment, and technology. The requirements for professional courses, my Department’s emphasis on experiential, active learning, and the impossibility of students being able to undertake educational placements during lockdown, raised particular dilemmas for my discipline of teacher education and my own practice around what constitutes authentic assessment. There’s also the need to try to ensure, as far as possible, opportunities for cultivating a sense of belonging and community, especially for our incoming first-year undergraduate and postgraduate students. I’m writing this blog piece as I try to finalise my plans for the 2020/2021 academic year. In doing this, the challenge I am posing to myself is to try to better make my teaching accessible and open to students of all identities, backgrounds, and cultures. In particular, I intend to continue to read and reflect and make changes about how I can use the challenges and learnings in the past months to effect positive impacts in my teaching for the benefit of my students and the enrichment of our shared teaching and learning communities.