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"Truly interdisciplinary": postgrad supervisors discuss first Global Citizenship Programme
25 July 2013
June 2013 saw UCL's first ever Global Citizenship Programme, a two-week, post-exam course for first-year undergraduates. Supervision and guidance came from postgraduate students, three of whom share their experiences here.
Divided into two strands (‘The Danube’ and ‘People and the Sea’), the Global Citizenship Programme welcomed students from all disciplines and encouraged them to learn about complex topics from multiple perspectives, to understand the global context of the issues they were exploring and to learn new skills.
The Programme couldn’t have worked without the help of a dedicated team of postgraduate supervisors, who were each allocated a small group of participants to look after for the duration of the course. Here, two Danube supervisors and one from People and the Sea talk about what attracted them to the Programme and how they feel the fortnight went.
Phillip Koeker, supervising on the Danube strand, studying for a PhD in Political Science
"One of the main things that appealed to me about the Danube strand was its truly interdisciplinary approach: in my group there were students from Bio-medical Engineering, Philosophy, Politics and Natural Sciences. Many of the lectures were quite humanities-based and I think the science students found this difficult at first. However, after a couple of days, they’d got used to the different way of thinking.
"Most days, we had a one-hour lecture followed by an hour-long tutorial, then students had a language lesson and afterwards spent time working on their projects. There were some evening film screenings but attendance was optional. All of the groups had similar tasks: students shared work on a Google map and tagged different places, they wrote articles, created things in MyPortfolio, and produced posters. However, talking to the other supervisors after the tutorials, we often found that discussions had gone in completely different directions: during the session on travel writing, for example, my group ended up talking about the experience of being a foreigner in London (except for one student, all of my group were from overseas) – so the summer school also provided a forum for students to reflect on their own experiences in the context of the topics that we gave them.
"Prior to helping on the Global Citizenship Programme I had gained some teaching experience, having been a PGTA last year and having done the Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Association programme. This made it a lot easier to facilitate group discussion and to know how to encourage quieter students to speak up – for example, in my sessions I tried to draw on students’ own experiences and knowledge; it was very easy to show them how their experiences also related to what we were studying in the Danube region. However, I wasn’t an expert on the topics being taught, so I was often learning as I went along. This wasn’t a bad thing though – actually, I think some of the students really liked seeing that even their tutors were learning along the way."
Richard Morgan, supervising on the Danube strand, studying for a PhD in Russian History
"I didn’t know very much about the Danube region before this so I did quite a lot of preparation when I found out that I’d got the role. We also attended the lectures, which were held immediately before the seminars that we were taking, so we were drenched in all the relevant ideas and materials when we arrived. In the tutorials I tried to generate and facilitate discussion amongst the students. I was a bit more than just a wall to throw a tennis ball against, but I did see my role as being a wall that they could bounce ideas off. I was learning from the word go; I really enjoyed it.
"While I didn’t have any direct teaching experience, I had recently gone on a UCL Graduate School training course on small group tutorials. Certain things I’d learned on the course came in very handy, for example knowing that if you pose a question and there’s a silence, you shouldn’t break that silence as eventually one of the students will – they’ll find it too much to bear and just sitting there and waiting for someone to speak will push them to think harder.
"Like Philipp, I had students from all sorts of disciplines but I think the Danube almost became a discipline in itself. The students became united despite their backgrounds; the topic provided a strong enough thread to hold them together and they were all really bright. Their diverse nationalities also helped them to work more effectively – I had people from China, Singapore, India and the UK – and I think it also added to that overarching question in the back of all our minds about global citizenship.
"If I was an undergraduate, I would definitely apply to do the summer school next year. The course itself is very interesting but it also really marks you out if you put this sort of thing on your CV. The students got so into the project; they really enjoyed their time working together. There was a drinks reception and exhibition of everyone’s work at the end of the week and I could really see how proud they were of what they’d created. They made great friends too."
Rajee Sukumaran, supervising on the People and the Sea strand, studying for a Master’s in Social and Cultural Anthropology
"I’d done some personal tutoring for children aged six to 18 before and I thought the supervisor role looked really appealing, especially the idea of working with a bigger group of people closer to my own age. Also, I’ve mainly tutored people in English and sciences, so I thought it would be interesting to work on a course that incorporated so many different subject areas.
"On the People and the Sea strand, each of us was assigned a country with a unique outlook on the sea – I was given India. I didn’t know much about this subject at all, so the fortnight was fascinating for me. We had two-hour lectures in the mornings covering a range of disciplines, from Architecture to Anthropology. In the afternoons we worked on projects and helped students understand how the topics related to one another and how to think about them from interdisciplinary perspectives. We sometimes used role-play to teach, which proved to be a great way of helping first-years get their heads around thinking about things from different countries’ points of view.
"Part of the training that was given to the students during the fortnight was in how to use InDesign, which they put to use when designing posters for the end-of-course exhibition. We also held a UN Summit where they had to debate and negotiate resolutions; the organisers were pretty strict about upholding the rules of a proper UN Summit, so everyone had to dress and behave appropriately – it made it feel more authentic.
"I was so engaged with the project that I decided to make a documentary at the end, so on the final Friday I conducted a few interviews with the students which proved very interesting. A few said that if they’d been told how intense the fortnight would be at the start, they wouldn’t have done it, but they were really glad they’d stuck it out! Hopefully the video will prove useful to first-years considering doing the course next year; the atmosphere at the closing party was buzzing and this will help to convey that it really was worth the effort!"
Interviews by Ele Cooper
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