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How useful can I be at this moment in history?

This question was posed by Maha Bali, Associate Professor at the American University in Cairo, during an online forum with university professionals on the topic of ‘belonging’ and student engagement. Her original words, according to my notes, were:

“How useful can I be to my students at this moment in history?”

Not ‘how can I exploit…’ or ‘how can I make the most of…’ or even ‘how can I survive this moment in history?’, all of which have been familiar refrains during the last year. Instead, Maha turns the onus back on us – as teachers, educators, facilitators, managers and leaders: how useful can I be to you?

Inspired by this topic, these three mind maps come from pre-reading, a student panel and Maha’s interactive session at a First and Further Year Experience (FFYE) Forum at the University of Technology, Sydney. For more on that event, catch Alisa Percy’s enjoyable recap, which includes one of the maps below. For a dip into each mind map, read on!

How useful can I be… as an online teacher?

First a mind map of the Forum pre-reading: Michelle Pacansky-Brock’s 8 key points on humanising online learning. The topic explores how to prioritise positive instructor-student relationships, how to connect students with engagement and rigour in learning, and offers an antidote to some of the emotional disruptions which can impact learning.

How useful can I be… as an educator?

The second mind map was created whilst listening to a panel of four students at the Forum, each sharing perspectives on what belonging means to them, especially in the classroom. They offered suggestions for ways that university teaching can improve the sense of belonging both in and out of the classroom, echoing several ideas from the pre-reading too.

How useful can I be… as a facilitator?

The final map is my favourite, and was inspired by the fabulous online facilitation skills of Maha Bali. Great facilitation makes for more relaxed, open and engaged participants, and ultimately better outcomes, whether you’re a student in class or professionals in a workshop. Maha walked the talk with us early in the morning from another continent, drawing us into a ‘spiral journal’ exercise and introducing the concept of ‘intentionally equitable hospitality’ as an educator.

There’s so much more to explore here. Start by looking at the OneHEĀ Equity Unbound website on building community online, and chase that down with more resources to make facilitation more equitable, rewarding and productive from Liberating Structures.

So how useful can I be to you, at this moment in history? Hopefully the ideas above are a decent start. Whatever else you need, give me a shout and let’s have a chat about it – I’d love to hear more.

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