John Mitchinson, Scandinavian Studies
At the time of writing, John is finishing his PhD on Faroese language and culture (to be submitted in summer 2011), but he is already recognised in his department and faculty as an outstanding teacher.
Over the past four years, he has taught Swedish language, Scandinavian linguistics and Faroese language and culture – and has contributed seminars to team-taught courses such as Nordic landscapes and histories and cultures of the Nordic region. He has been responsible for the design and delivery of full courses, thus gaining extensive experience of teaching before even completing his PhD thesis.
What is special about his work is the seamless and competent blending of a variety of media (video, sound, objects, white board, comprehensive handouts) into the classroom experience. Above all, he is always focusing on the importance of encouraging the engagement of each and every student. He also has a genuinely democratic core, for instance giving the students a choice of what the last item on the agenda of a class would be.
His Head of Department, Claire Thomson, wrote that she was astonished when doing a peer observation to witness a class of students conversing in Faroese on the subject of music, after no more than a term’s learning from scratch.
Just this year, he has taken the lead on developing and delivering an innovative course in Faroese Language and Culture. His approach was to help students take ownership of the course, especially as they had asked for the course to be reinstated, so they incorporated elements such as a concluding (online) exhibition of Faroese artefacts organised by the students.
John is part of the ever-growing wave of UCL teachers interested in object-based learning techniques. He is also passionate about teaching languages ab initio effectively and inspiringly by incorporating learning about national and cultural identity as a key theme in teaching. With an ESCILTA grant, he went to the Faroe Islands to gather both physical and digital artefacts for use in teaching the course.
He starts each class with an introductory talk in Faroese on the chosen topic - in order to give the students the necessary vocabulary to investigate the theme further. Where possible, videos (mostly Faroese television programmes or specially recorded interviews) related to the topic are included. Object-based learning enhances the course, helping the students very quickly to read articles on a variety of topics and in a wide range of registers.