Posts by Florian

Linguist. 100% human.

Adjusting a module for online teaching amidst a pandemic


When I wrote my FHEA application back in late 2020, we had just started our first term teaching entirely online at UCL due to the coronavirus pandemic that took hold earlier in the year. While we did also deliver the last two weeks of the previous academic year online, that had to happen pretty much off the cuff as we’d had no additional time to make any significant changes or try out new things. However, it became clear pretty quickly that things wouldn’t change significantly for the year ahead and like all my colleagues I made use of my time during the summer to also think about possible ways in which I could adjust my modules for more effective online delivery, so today I’m sharing the third of my three FHEA case studies reflecting on the adjustments I made to an introduction to general linguistics I teach for students on the BSc in Psychology and Language Sciences.

Now of course when this was written, I was only about half way through my first term of teaching online. Nonetheless, the issues I had already encountered and discussed then remain important even after having delivered another term of online teaching and attempting to implement some of the further adjustments I discuss. As so often I found that things differ between cohorts and modules and I still don’t have a solution that I’m fully satisfied with for many of the issues that have come up. (Do let me know if you have any good ideas you think I might be able to try out!)

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Developing an effective learning environment in a highly diverse classroom


Last week I shared the first of my three case studies from my FHEA application, “From micro-management to effective supervision”. This week I want to share my second case study from that application, which discusses some of the challenges present in today’s highly diverse university classrooms and how I tried to address them. While the case study I’m sharing here focuses mainly on my experience as a module convenor with overall responsibility for the content, delivery, and assessment of a sequence of modules that were delivered to a mixed undergraduate and postgraduate cohort, similar challenges actually permeate most if not all areas of academic practice.

Personally, I first became interested in this topic during my first year as a teaching assistant, and I actually wrote one of my case studies for my Associate Fellowship application back in 2016 on facilitating active tutorial participation from conversion MA students with different academic and cultural backgrounds. Back then, I felt frustrated, because despite my best efforts at being engaging, encouraging, and supportive, there was a subset of students in all my tutorials whom I seemingly couldn’t get to fully participate, which I felt negatively affected both their own achievement on the module and the experience of the other tutorial participants.

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From micro-management to effective supervision


A little over a year ago I signed up for UCL’s Arena Two course, which consists of a series of lectures, events, and activities intended to facilitate the development of our didactic and pedagogical knowledge and abilities, with the final aim to apply for recognition as a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA) — a scheme meant to provide transferable professional recognition for teaching in higher education. After a bit of interruption to the end of that programme due to the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic last year, I finally managed to complete my FHEA application in November 2020 and was recognised as a Fellow in February this year.

I found the entire process really useful to me personally, though as so often it definitely is one of these things where you only get out as much as you’re willing to put in. What I found especially beneficial personally was the reflective element involved in peer discussion throughout the programme and in writing the three case studies for the fellowship application, which really helped me with both my confidence and professional development as a teacher, and a big part of that was not just sharing and reflecting upon my own practice, but seeing what other people were doing, where they felt they needed to improve, and what they were trying to do about it. This I found would often give me an impetus to think about parallels in my own practice and consequently influence how I approached or contextualised similar issues when I encountered them. In line with this, I thought it might be a nice idea to share my own three case studies here.

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So what’s the EU ever done for me us, like?

With only 10 days to go until we are due to vote on our future membership in the European Union, let me throw in my two pennies’ worth. Oh, am I allowed to say “we”? You see, like my friend Lena (read her blog about Brexit), I’m an EU immigrant, and since I haven’t naturalised yet (though I’m working on it), I’m not allowed to vote. But the thing is, I’ve established my life here, I’ve permanent residency (meaning the government can’t kick me out anymore), I will naturalise in the near future, and for all I know I will stay remain here. And even if only half of that were the case, the vote would still affect  me as much as anybody else in this country. So I reckon it’s fair enough I chime in; like it or not.

A note upfront. The below points are all rather extensive. If you are not interested in the background story, just read the last paragraph of each item in the list and you’ll get a good summary of what I intend to say. Also, they are not complete in any sense. They are just the five things that had the most direct impact on my own life, so this may be somewhat different (or not) to those factoid lists of EU membership benefits.

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Sufficient knowledge of the English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic language, not.

It is no secret that I have aspirations to naturalise as a British Citizen in the near future. I’ve lived in the UK for the past 8 years, and apart from my family back in Germany my life is pretty much based here. Also, I like it here, and I’d like to stay.

One of the things you have to do to get naturalised in the UK, apart from paying a rediculously extortionate fee, is to satisfy what is known as Sufficient Knowledge of Language and Life in the UK (KoLL). This requirement is based on the British Nationality Act 1981, which says that two of the requirements for naturalisation of an applicant are (i) “that he has a sufficient knowledge of the English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic language; and” (ii) “that he has sufficient knowledge about life in the United Kingdom”. It seems pretty clear from this that the law intends to give an equal status to English, Welsh and Scottish Gaelic, the last two being officially recognised as equal to English in one way or another in Wales and Scotland respectively.

For some time now I have planned to be the first person to satisfy the KoLL requirement through Welsh, something that I see as a personal challenge as well as a very important exercise in making practical use of the rights given to a language community and paying due respect to the other languages of the UK.

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The Hunt for English Isograms

A little over two years ago, while I was still an undergraduate student at Bangor University, David Crystal came around to give a talk based on his book By Hook or by Crook: A Journey in Search of English. One of the many adventures in language land he talked about was the hunt for isograms: words in which each grapheme occurs the same number of times. For instance isogram is a first-order isogram (or a 1-isogram), because each letter (i, s, o, g, r, a, m) occurs exactly once; deed is an example of a 2-isogram, since both d and e occur exactly two times. There are also a few examples of 3-isograms, such as deeded or geggee, but David was quite adamant that he did not know of any fourth-order isograms.

Naturally, this garnered my interest. It is certainly not a biggie to assume that order of isogram should be inversely related to frequency, i.e. 1-isograms will be quite common, 2-isograms somewhat uncommon, 3-isograms rare, and so forth; but a 4-isogram, while probably exceedingly rare, did not immediately strike me as something I would assume to not exist. So I went and googled isograms. A 4-isogram I did not find, but more questions I did.

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South, south, south: John O’ Groats to London, Part II.

So here I was, prepared with a sheet of cardboard which I had gathered in Thurso the day before and armed with a felt pen I got back in Inverness. In big capital letters I spelt out “SOUTH” on it and stood there by the side of the road next to the only junction around. I had all my hopes and expectations up: whoever was going to John O’ Groats or back, or, in fact, anywhere up here, had to pass by me.

Duncansby Stacks near Duncansby Head

But as time went on the only thing passing by seemd to be, well, time. After an hour or so and only two cars, who gave me nothing but a short gaze, I decided I might as well just start walking back on my own. And so I collected my rucksack and any left over enthusiasm from the ground and started walking down the A99, maybe I would have more luck once I reached the next village. I should be disappointed, all the -wicks and -gills and -towns on my map were nothing but small hamlets, collections of a few houses by the road, and so traffic didn’ increase much for the first hours of my walk. “What a great start for my days as a hitchhiker” I thought as I kept on letting my head drop only to effortfully push it up with every passing car in order to present my more or less painfully smiley face – it didn’t even matter if these were travelling in my direction, I just hoped that, whoever had a reason to come up here, might as well have one to come back down again. About hitchhiking I had been advised by several people who were highly experienced with this, that the utmost importance in hitching a ride should be given to looking positive and well scented – though for the latter I neither did nor do now have any idea as to how one should “look” the part. Anyhow, I kept myself busy wondering about the difference it could make out here if I was to be accompanied by a fridge1 – not much I suppose. Just as I was about to take a seat on the grass by the road and boost my energies with some bread it happened. A car, it stopped, right there next to me. I was being rescued from the uncertain seas of this black road2!

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North, north, south: John O’ Groats to London, Part I.

London-Land’s End-John O’ Groats-London: Done. I am home (home?), back in London after almost three months now. Still pretty worked up and not quite out of wonderland yet, the last days were dramatically slow progress and almost too fast to cope travel home at the same time. After leaving Inverness I made my way to Wick and from there took a bus to Thurso where I stayed in a actually very nice hostel – extremely quiet and peaceful, just as you would expect from a place so remote. Early in the morning then I set off for John O’ Groats: final stop.

John O’ Groats

I was just in time to witness the sunrise overlooking the harbour towards Orkney – what a spectacle. From the three or four houses around not a single soul was up, I was alone with the beauty of the moment and some nearby sheep. When I realised that it would probably stay this way until a bit later in the day I decided that now that I have come so far already I might actually make for the real north-eastern most point and head to nearby Duncansby Head. In doing so I thought I might after claim to have covered the longest cross-distance from two points in Britain and also hoped to get some nice impressions from the coastline, as I was walking on the shell covered beach.

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Edinburgh to John O’ Groats

I have indeed managed to get all the way up to John O’ Groats, but my way there was somewhat different from the route I had planned. After Newcastle I got up to Edinburgh on the good old National Express bus, but orientation there was a little more difficult. After managing to find my way from the drop off point to the railway station, I eventually managed to find the now-closed tourist information but was somehow still able to locate a few hostels near-by, in one of which I ended up staying. I hadn’t been aware of it, but it now was the time all the students came to Edinburgh so most beds were actually “reserved” for them.

The Scottish Parliament

Anyhow in the hostel I had the chance to chat with two guys staring out at the University of Edinburgh this September, one of which was going to study English and the other, an older guy from Lithuania, who was first doing a prep-year and then going to do some post-grad in something so strange I cannot even remember. They were speaking really good about their first days &c. and it all sounded like a good place. Being out and about the next two days was not so much to my liking though – forget what I said about Land’s End – Edinburgh High St is like a Scottish uber-Land’s End with the most commercialised castle to one side and the Scottish parliament and Holyrood Place to the other. Still, the castle was good (apart from the way they extract money from visitors) and I spent an afternoon in the Parliament’s gallery, listening to the several discussions, one of which, co-incidentally, was about the unhealthy balance and more healthy ways to further increase tourism in Scotland. Quite interesting, if not always a painful realisation for a liberalists heart, to see important decisions being made with an almost empty house and the low interest many politicians seem to have in matters personally not relevant to them. On the last day in Edinburgh I climbed Arthurs Chair, just outside Holyrood Place and the Parliament, which offers splendid views over all Edinburgh and let me realise that there must be much calmer parts to the city than what I had seen (Thanks to Nic for the hint!).

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Scotland, here I come!

Admittedly, it’s been a while since I wrote something last. I felt a bit depressed lately, which is not to describe a mental condition but rather the sensory feedback that my latest stops evoke in me. From Cardiff, where I spent a few days reading, seeing the castle with its imposing keep and the surrounding parkland I made my way to Aberystwyth. However I couldn’t find anything to sleep there for the night so had to move on farther north to Borth where I spent the night in the youth hostel. Borth was nice, I rented a film from a local shop for the night and hat a nice chat with a a girl around my age who had been “forced to see Wales” by her parents.

Cardiff Castle’s keep

The next day I walked down to Aberystwyth again, which was nice as I came over the hills by the cliff, seeing not only the cable car but also Aberystwyth open up below me. I spend the day at he museum and a scarcely visited pub and the next morning went to see the remains of the castle and some part of the uni there. After Aberystwyth, which was quite different from what I had ever expected (as seems usual with most places now..) but nonetheless very nice and rich in history and surrounded by a beautiful scenery, I caught the national express bus to Liverpool, then to Manchester, then to Leeds and finally to Newcastle, where I am now. Continue reading →