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"Break for the border," urges CALT director

6 March 2012

Su Bryant, director of the UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT), explores what ‘borderless learning’ could mean for UCL and asks whether our teaching community is ready to walk over the edge.

Professor Bert De Reyck talks to UCL students

"You can become a winner only if you are willing to walk over the edge," said Damon Runyon, the American newspaperman and writer.

UCL is world-renowned for its ability to "walk over the edge" in its research endeavour. It happens all the time here; researchers pacing the borders of the known and the unknown, people seeking out opportunities to investigate key problems both within and across the borders of academic disciplines and challenging constraints in the pursuit of new insights. The results are often game-changing and life-enhancing on a grand scale.

There is a gathering momentum around the strategic education agenda at UCL, as the leadership baton passes from Professor Michael Worton to our new Vice-Provost (Education), Professor Anthony Smith. All the building blocks are in place and we want to drive forward with vision and pace in order to consolidate and enhance our reputation as the provider of a world-class university education and excellent student experience.

As we all know, the education game is changing and the borders are shifting. Traditional views of a university and its role, boundaries, interfaces with other parts of the education sector and with the world of work are being challenged. The consideration of a range of significant factors, such as globalisation, internationalisation, the digital revolution and the digital divide, the rise of social media, the transnational nature of equalities issues, education for sustainable development, the student as consumer, and the increasing need for university graduates to have well-developed personal and professional skills gives rise to important questions about both the content of a university education and the methods of its delivery.

An internet search will reveal various sites talking about ‘borderless learning’, usually referring to online or blended learning. In CALT, we see the concept as having more dimensions, however. In terms of the education agenda, at UCL we have already acknowledged, paced and crossed some key borders. Education for Global Citizenship recognises and values both the diversity and the ‘connectedness’ of the world and articulates the attributes UCL’s graduates will need in order to meet their future intellectual, social and personal challenges.

We are building the kind of internationalised curriculum worthy of UCL’s status as ‘London’s global university’ and this year’s Provost’s Teaching Awards will recognise the department that has had the most impact in this area. The Provost’s Teaching Awards will also, again for the first time, recognise the achievements made by people working in teams or collaborating across the boundaries of discipline and/or staff group to achieve outstanding results in teaching and learning.

CALT’s forthcoming ‘Borderless Learning’ event, to be scheduled later this year, will examine in particular the extent to which we are using a combination of face-to-face and digital approaches to support both the academic and broader development of our students at UCL. We will be looking at practice that crosses technological, geographical, physical and notional borders, such as those between discipline/skills, face-to-face/online, national/transnational, university/employment, and staff/student. Further, similar events will follow and CALT’s Teaching Fellows are available to work with academics across UCL to ensure that learning and practice are surfaced and shared for the benefit of all and to collaborate on learning enhancement projects that will make a real difference.

Someone (anonymous) once said: "If you’re not living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space." For UCL, the key ‘edge’, the big one as far as borders are concerned, is clearly the border between research and teaching. Unlocking the potential of research-led/research-embedded learning and teaching will continue to be a key focus for all of us. We hope all our academics will come to feel excited about teaching and see the spin-off benefits for their own research: it is often said that if you really want to understand something, you should teach it!

Furthermore, we need to provide the opportunities for our students to develop those vital research skills themselves as early as possible in their university education. I hope CALT can tempt everyone at least to come to the ‘edge’ of their own research or teaching environment and join the conversation about this and all the other potential dimensions of borderless learning.

Borderless learning is turning into an expedition to discover what is already out there and what more could be achieved in teaching and learning at UCL when we challenge constraints and work at and across all the real or perceived borders we encounter – including those of staff/student or internal organisational structure. I hope many of you will see the potential benefits and want to join the expedition. But I wonder: are all of our colleagues at UCL willing to ‘walk over the edge’ as educators and explore the notion of borderless learning in order to enhance teaching, learning and the educational experience at UCL? I hope so.

I started with one American writer, so I’ll finish with an even more famous one, Mark Twain, who said: "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn't do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."

Su Bryant is the director of the UCL Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT). To find out more about the Centre, visit www.ucl.ac.uk/calt.

Page last modified on 06 mar 12 11:18


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