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The emotional aspect of learning

At the beginning of April this year, Dr Maria Kukhareva visited Solent from the University of Bedfordshire. She is the research lead for the Association for Learning Development in Higher Education and about to take up the post of Head of Organisational Development at Bedfordshire, and has given a successful TEDx talk on resilience in students. 

The purpose of her visit was to deliver a workshop as part of SLTI’s CPD programme, to talk about how we express our leadership in the classroom, and how we can help our students to tap into their leadership abilities too.

For Maria, leadership is about engaging through emotions, yet emotion is not generally part of the academic discourse. The psychologist Vygotsky talked about ‘perezhivanie’ – lived or relived experience – as the emotional aspect of the learning process. He believed it was as important as the cognitive aspect, as without it we are just performing habitual routines and failing to tap into our values and our motivations. 

Rather than ignore these emotional processes or work against them, we can build on them. 

So, what are the shortcuts to our students’ hearts and minds?

Maria has been exploring drama-based pedagogies, which is not about the theatre necessarily but rather connecting with the topic or the knowledge at hand in an interactive way, that borrows from the techniques of drama. 

She took us through an activity that involved writing two newspaper headlines for each of two short legal case studies. One had to have emotional appeal, whereas the other was about getting the facts right, thereby allowing the students to approach the same issue from two very different perspectives. 

From there you can move to narrative, having students tell the story of a case or an article as compellingly as possible. It helps students who are not comfortable or familiar with academic language by rehumanising the journal articles and providing a point of connection. 

All of this taps into experiential learning, social learning and creativity, and creates a space in the classroom for students to show other skills they have. Frame it well so students understand its relevance to their subject, and present with confidence: the more confident the facilitator, the better the session will go.

There are still workshops available this term, and plenty of information available about HEA fellowship if you’re interested.