Over the last four years, I have been working increasingly with universities on the development, delivery and evaluation of community heritage projects.
Two key contracts have emerged for me as a result: evaluation of the social outcomes of the University of Birmingham’s ‘Mingana MSS in the Community’ project, and development of the University of Worcester’s WW1 Home Front public engagement project, WW1 in the Vale.
It’s intriguing work – marrying the exacting demands of the experienced and confident academic with the enthusiasm but inexperience of, often self-taught, community researchers. The key is to find the common points of interest and to build from them. The confidence of both parties can be easily bruised, particularly when messages get mangled, so it’s important to keep the lines of communication as clear and direct as possible and to return to those common points and rebuild if necessary.
But oh! It’s distracting at times!
So often, I want so much to know more about the subject matter and get hands-on with the research, when in fact, my contracted role is more that of a mediator or coordinator. It’s even harder for the evaluation jobs, where I need to remain professionally detached to an extent so that I can report on what occurs, rather than how I might feel about it, or whether I too would like to get stuck into the activity.
Anyway, after all this Uni talk, this summer, I suppose I got my academic break – I have now been appointed as a Sessional Lecturer for the University of Worcester’s Institute of Humanities & Creative Arts.
After years of working with adult learners in community and heritage settings – either providing volunteer/staff training, or leading workshops with community partners, and older people – working with undergraduates is proving to be fascinating, stimulating and very rewarding.
Once I got over the feeling of being, like, REALLY old (my cultural reference points fall on stony ground!), I find that their technical savvy and thirst for information is pushing my own teaching methods in new directions. I am able to use a lot more digital material, largely because the teaching environment is set up to cope with it, and I find that the students are responsive to a wider range of active learning styles. It’s good stuff and great fun. I look forward to the next lecture!