Adele Chynoweth FHEA has always been a teacher, if not by name, then by nature. Formative years spent taking care of younger family members laid the foundations for a career comprising roles as a theatre director, curator, high school teacher, policy developer, and most recently, a Lecturer within the Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies at the ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences.
“I haven’t always been in the classroom but I feel that the teaching and educating role is there in everything you do. It’s not necessarily about being the teacher, but understanding the importance of learning – the best teachers are the learners,” she said.
As the convenor of a course characterised by field trips, student immersion, and transporting students beyond the confinement of a university setting, the curveball thrown at Adele by Covid-19 was a daunting one. The necessity to convert her course to suit the requirements of remote learning presented a substantial test of not only her skills, but also her self-conception.
“Because I identify as being a teacher so strongly, it was a crisis of identity because I thought that these circumstances would not allow me to be the teacher I wanted to be. I was concerned that I would be seen as less of a teacher because I wouldn’t be able to give students the opportunities that were the most pedagogically beneficial.”
“When I teach, I am not just focussed on the students, I am focussed on those outside the classroom who may be affected by what they [the students] learn. How do I reflect that digitally? How can I bring the community engagement in?”
The community engagement was achieved through guest lecturers, who helped achieve the learning outcome of meshing her students with wider society. Guests included an ex-prison inmate, a member of the Human Rights Museums Network dialling in from South America, and a speaker with experience in hosting exhibitions within marginalised communities.
On a more local front, Adele created a list of spaces within Canberra that students were encouraged to visit on their own. A structured response mechanism was set up, to facilitate post-site visitation reports by her students. Class activities also included a series of readings for students to choose from, which were followed by a set of questions for them to consider, and report their responses to.
In what perhaps loomed as the biggest challenge, adaptations were needed for a student exhibition, typically forming a major component of Adele’s course. Plans were made for students to develop their own digital exhibitions, which many approached by producing a design description of an exhibition, or laying out their proposed design on paper. Activities were workshopped online to help students come up with alternative exhibition design ideas, with a wealth of student resilience and creativity coming to the fore.
“You think you have all these obstacles, but the students just get stuck in,” she said.
“It reminded me of how students will rise to the occasion. I was reminded of how many of them own the responsibility to contribute to this learning environment, even if it is changed.”
“Also, I suppose it is a very practical point, but I learned that I didn’t need to totally inhabit the digital space 100% of the time. There will always be creative ways to fulfil learning outcomes, despite restrictions such as a pandemic, and pedagogy is not always reliant on the methodologies we thought.”
While Adele was pleased with the way she was able to convert her own course to fit into the new world order, she hopes that the teaching landscape isn’t changed irrevocably post-Covid. While the benefits, and lessons, to come out of this year are tangible, she strongly believes that teaching is a tandem exercise between educator and student, with the success, or otherwise, dependent on the attitude of both parties. In 2020, it seems, the right balance has been found.
“They came to the party, they really rolled with it, and the success Iies with them,” she said.
“I never as a teacher want to exploit that goodwill. Pedagogy is never fixed, there are always ways to work with it.”
Adele Chynoweth is a Lecturer within the Centre for Heritage and Museum Studies, Research School of Humanities and the Arts, ANU College of Arts and Social Sciences
Kristie Broadhead is the Team Leader of Promoting Excellence in the Education Communities and Environments (ECE) – one of the three teams within the ANU Centre for Learning & Teaching (CLT)