Alternative Dissertation (my new favourite module)

If you have read my blog before or follow me on twitter, you will know that my work-related pride and joy is my specialist module SOCI349 Crime Justice and the Sex Industry. You can read more about this module here and I keep a resource list here.

In September 2021 I launched a new optional third-year module SOCI347 Creative Consultant: Dissertation by Portfolio. Inspired by my own recent diagnosis of Dyslexia (October 2020) and the need to facilitate the supervision of students in new ways.

Dr Tunde Varga-Atkins recently invited me as one of the guests on the Centre for Innovation in Education podcast where I discuss the module and my pedagogical approach.

Thank you to fellow guests Dr Treasa Kearney, Marcus Pedersen and Johnny Lee for such a great conversation. I learned a lot!

I am also fortunate enough to have been awarded some Beacon Funding by the University of Liverpool to conduct a scoping exercise of the project/module and am enrolled onto the brilliant and supportive Leading in Learning and Teaching at Liverpool programme where I am receiving lots of help.

I have argued elsewhere about rich pedagogical gifts, stating that: “I am so privileged that I get to teach about my passions and develop innovative trauma-informed pedagogy. My “dark funds of knowledge” (Zipin, 2009) mean that I can re-contextualise my experiences and facilitate students to engage with their own experiences in a way that values them”.

This year, we ran in-house projects with my clusters of students working on projects relating to stigma and sex work, and sex workers’ voices, and my colleague running a cluster on transphobia and homophobia in sports. The students support one another in action-learning sets and meet regularly before attending group supervision with a list of refined questions. They take responsibility for their learning and they are taught about collaboration over competition.

This is inspired by my personal ethos and values to creating an inclusive academia that values different forms of knowledge. I wrote in a 2021 journal article that:

“The academy must place more value on lived experience and on narratives that disrupt the status quo and challenge the discipline…I recommend that criminology allows more people to speak for themselves, and to be able to do so in noisy, fractured, provocative ways. By placing value on new ways of storytelling, we place value on women’s writing and those who come from non-traditional academic backgrounds” (Ahearne, 2021).

I am delighted to have found supportive colleagues all around the university with the same vision for innovation and radical change that I have. From September 2022 some of our research clusters for SOCI347 will be working on cross-faculty projects with Engineering students (huge thank you to Dr Matt Murphy for working with me on this and making it a reality) and some projects across 3 faculties working with both Engineering and Medicine. This is ‘game-changing’ according to supporters and I am very thankful to have this opportunity to use my Dyslexic-thinking to its full potential.

We will announce the specifics of the projects once student registrations are confirmed and all projects are finalised.

Teaching and learning are my passion, and I am delighted to be offering a dissertation option that allows students to nurture their own and their peers’ gifts that are transferable to the employment market. This module gives students confidence in their ability as not only researchers but as project managers, develops digital fluency skills such as making films/storytelling, advocates for social change, campaigners, teachers.

None of this is possible without my colleagues in professional services such as Abbie Goodwin who have been co-developing and facilitating the module with me. We need to be working with colleagues across the board and I am thankful for the expert skills that Abbie has instilled within the module.

Students need a sense of belonging and community after feeling isolated and lonely during the pandemic. We must ensure students have meaningful connections and develop their confidence. I will be speaking about this soon with my colleague Abbie- so watch this space! Our plans for SOCI347 commit to our university’s curriculum plan as seeing campus as a ‘living lab’ and using our world-leading space to our advantage.

The module assessment is an 8-10,000 word portfolio, half of which is on the research content, and half is on the process of research including working with others and a critical reflection of Research Day. The day where students present their findings is an important one that we build up to across the academic year. I am so proud of the students’ achievements, and I reflect on these ‘lightbulb’ moments in the podcast.

The image is a collage of student presentations from SOCI347 Research Day, March 2022

This day was a high in my teaching career so far, and I felt such pride for all the students and how they encouraged one another.

One of our external guests from industry stated:

“It was such an illuminating day of presentations, and I’m incredibly grateful to have been able to observe them. I can’t remember having ever attended a more insightful event in my 4+ years in this role. It was also actually the last time I’ll be on campus for an event as I’m moving on to a new role in a few weeks so it was great to be leaving the campus activity on such a high!”

I can’t wait to share more with you as we progress on our journey. I am always happy to make contact with those lecturers committed to learning and teaching.

Gemma x