Teaching in Pakistan

Recently Janet Strivens and I visited the University of Health Sciences in Lahore, Pakistan for two weeks as part of a British Council funded INSPIRE project. INSPIRE stands for International Strategic Partnerships in Research and Education.  These are 3 year partnerships set up to develop closer multi-level links between Pakistan and UK universities. They  require the involvement of different activities and different departments.

Our project’s overall aim is to ‘enhance learning and teaching in medical education in the Punjab’.  Just a bit of background, UHS is a ‘hub’ university and administers the examinations for medical education throughout the Punjab, that’s 30 affiliated Medical and Dental institutions, both public and private, in Pakistan’s most influential province, population 80m.  So the potential for impact is significant!
The challenge is to make sustainable, locally owned improvements that last beyond the duration of the project.  We’re working on systemic enhancements, one of the most tangible being an introductory teaching programme for all new medical educators that will be delivered locally by qualified staff and at an international standard.  With staff from throughout the Punjab we’ve been agreeing on programme content with critical thinking, active learning and using technology getting plenty of interest.  Paul Duvall also came and taught for one week and has posted his E-learning experiences at elearning@liverpool.

Links between the universities are strengthening in other areas.  We have just reached agreement for 10 PhD students per year, for the next five years, to come to Liverpool to study.  They will come primarily to the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences in areas most likely to contribute to health improvement in Pakistan and that are aligned to UoL’s strategic research areas. In addition, staff from UHS have visited the university to discuss our experiences and systems in Knowledge Exchange and innovations in Medical Education. It’s an example of a teaching based project contributing to several of the University’s strategic goals and making a valued contribution in an important region for the university’s international reach.

As part of the visit Janet and I went to four regional universities to run seminars.  This took us from the south near to a desert area, to the industrial heartland and finally to a more mountainous region.  Wherever we went we were very warmly welcomed and treated to the renowned Pakistani hospitality, which involves plenty of official ceremonies, photographs and excellent food.

We managed to make local and national press. Clearly Pakistan attracts negative headlines in the world press but we were kept very secure and not able to go out and about.  Nevertheless we got a sense of a fascinating and complex country. We are learning how to adapt our UK systems and experiences to a new context, as it is essential not to attempt to just transplant our ‘ways of doing things’.  This means getting to grips with Pakistani traditions and practices in medical education, understanding how staff are rewarded and motivated and working out how the university system operates.  Only then can we usefully discuss how we can adapt our programmes to local needs, build in sustainablilty and local ownership, whilst ensuring international standards.  Not surprisingly this involves lots of meetings, lots of listening and plenty of tea :).

It’s been a  brilliant experience for us and it would be great to hear from others with comparable experiences.

Ian Willis

See University news item. recent visit of UHS Vice Chancellor

Supervising Doctoral Students – threshold moments

We have all experienced those times in our research when we simply cannot move on, we are stuck! It could be in formulating a research question, finding ways to cope with and interpret data, finding a ‘lens’ through which to look at our project, even putting pen to paper. Sometimes you feel like a rabbit in the headlights, frozen in the face of the challenges rushing towards you.  We know all about it as researchers, and we know that our research students must go through it. The question here is, are there ways to characterise these barriers to progression?  And if so, can we use this as supervisors to help students find strategies to overcome these barriers to progress?

On 6th December a small group of us attended a seminar given by Dr Terfot Ngwana from Bishop Grossteste University. Terfot is a social scientist currently teaching on the University of Liverpool on-line professional doctorate in Higher Education. We discussed the various models that describe approaches to student supervision, which Terfot characterised as bureaurocratic, didactic and collaborative. Although at times we need to adopt all three, the most productive is the last of these. The supervisor here is the designer of the intellectual learning experience, structuring the learning with and between individual research students, promoting social skills, challenging and being challenged by students and allowing the student’s role in the relationship to shift as they develop.

So what about the sticking points? Based on his own experience of supervision Terfot made links with the work of Meyer and Land (2005) and their theories on threshold concepts which he described as critical moments of irreversible conceptual transformation. We can describe these as ‘Aha! moments’, or times when  ‘the penny drops’. That is, when a real ontological shift takes place in the thinking and understanding of how a specific discipline is structured.  This is the point when our discussions took off, we began to share our own experiences of such moments, and the often painful times when the penny simply would not drop, when the way forward wasn’t clear.

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Head of French Awarded National Teaching Fellowship

A National Teaching Fellowship has been awarded to Dr Robert Blackwood, Head of French in the School of Cultures, Languages and Area Studies. He received the award at a celebratory dinner in London on the 5th October 2011. The award was made for his innovative work on the teaching of linguistics, for using web-based social networking to support students in their year abroad, and for his contributions to the national discussion on personal development planning with the British Council.

This prestigious award comes from the Higher Education Academy, as part of its programme of work to raise the status of learning and teaching and to celebrate individuals who make a significant impact in higher education. Teaching Fellowship award winners were chosen from around 200 nominations submitted by higher education institutions across England and Northern Ireland. Dr Blackwood receives £10,000 to support further professional development in higher education.

In introducing sociolinguistics to the curriculum, Dr Blackwood has taught students about the diverse ways in which the French language is used by its speakers, especially in terms of their gender, ethnicity, geographic origins, and age. He encourages undergraduates to draw on their own experiences of language use during their Year Abroad in order to place students at the centre of their own learning experience. He oversaw the development of an on-line private social network which provides the ideal space for year-abroad supervision in the form of both academic and pastoral support, working closely with colleagues from the eLearning Unit in the Centre for Lifelong Learning.

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