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Meet the 2021 BILT Associates…Christophe Fricker

The following post is from Christophe Fricker who started his BILT Associate role on the theme of Assessment and Feedback.

My teaching is an ongoing inquiry into the various forms in which language aids or hinders the emergence of communities. I have designed courses on discourses around the ‘centre’ in society and politics, the language of economic policy-making, and the poetics and practices of German humour. My aim is to help students understand the extent to which they can actively participate in the linguistic processes analysed, because I contend that the current historical moment of crisis is a crisis of agency – of translating values and ambitions into linguistic action. Research and teaching can clarify the ways in which this is possible, and I see it as my job to do so.

The notion of language that I am referring to here sees language as always already mutual and situational. If this is indeed the case, feedback is always already given when I smile or don’t smile, ask for someone’s opinion or turn away, respond to a request for more information or ignore it. Even a question is a response, to a particular situation in the seminar room. The “-back” of “feedback” is never one-way.

As the sociologist Hartmut Rosa observes, for feedback to be effective, a practice and expectation of mutual interest must have been established already (“dispositionale Grundaffirmation,” in its fully German term); comments must be presented as part of a shared reflection, with the Other’s perspective in mind; and the Other’s reasons for acting in particular way must be considered. These are principles which are always on my mind when I teach.

In addition to my work at Bristol I have worked with Rosa since 2014 in the context of Deutsche Schülerakademie, the German government’s summer school scheme for highly gifted and motivated teenagers. At Bristol, I primarily work on the distance-learning MA in Translation, where I currently serve as programme director, aiming to build a renewed sense of an online learning community.

The wider educational approach developed by Hartmut Rosa is called ‘resonance pedagogy,’ and is based on the assumption that teaching is effective once a ‘resonant,’ mutual relationship between myself, my students and our objects of enquiry can be occasioned. This approach influences both my selection of course topics and materials and my teaching practice. Resonance pedagogy helps me develop seminar practices centred around students as situated human beings with specific interests who can develop their own strategy towards self-efficacy. Tools and exercises I use empower students to confidently navigate what may otherwise seem like an alienating reality and develop their own voice, even in contentious debates. These practices are rooted in both an ethical ideal of encounter and a recognition of epistemic differences between teacher and student.

For example, in a unit on the translation industry, students initially assume that globalisation and technological change mean they face an inescapable downward trend. I have developed a series of research questions which students address in self-study, relate to their self-concept and discuss with their peers and myself, including:

  • Who contributes to the development and adoption of translation tools?
  • In which areas can linguists charge the highest fees?
  • Which elements in a language service provider’s website instil confidence in the site visitor?

These questions make students recognise that many changes have been successfully initiated and implemented by linguists like themselves; that the language industries are growing, and fees are rising; and that by positioning themselves well and developing relationships with commissioners and colleagues they can harness this market. 

While some of the conceptual underpinnings of resonance pedagogy have been translated into English (and have found a large audience), its key components as well as specific teaching materials remain untranslated and unused in the UK. As part of my Associateship I will

  • run a workshop around premises and practices of resonance pedagogy with regard to feedback;
  • prepare a set of materials available across Schools to introduce resonance pedagogy approaches to feedback;
  • and conduct mentoring sessions with colleagues around specific situations encountered by them.

The reason behind this sequence of undertaking (especially running a workshop before preparation of materials ready for wider dissemination) is that I would like to make sure that specific UoB concerns are addressed in the way the materials are designed.

I hope the benefits will be that

  • colleagues are able to engage with new and exciting advances in educational research;
  • Schools will sharpen their profile as educational leaders;
  • student voice concerns about commitment can be addressed holistically; and
  • ongoing debates around tutor positionality can be linked up with relevant research.

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