Teaching and Learning Gallery

Rowan Tomlinson

Rowan shares more detail about their practice us and how they felt about being shortlisted for a Bristol Teaching Award.  

Could you tell BILT a bit more about your shortlisting?

I’m especially pleased because in some ways the historical period I teach can be overlooked in favour of more modern areas of focus. Students (and academics!) may have assumptions about this period, that it’s boring or too difficult, or not ‘relevant’ and so my shortlisting made me pleased on behalf of the past, for premodern culture, whose energies my students discovered and relished and used to reflect back on themselves and their world.   

Could you tell us a bit more about your practice?

I really encourage students to be brave and creative. Montaigne is a writer who was influenced by the classical philosophy of scepticism and in my teaching I encourage students to rethink the how and what of their knowledge. My practice is inspired by the radical pedagogies of Renaissance thinkers. These include Montaigne, the Dutch humanist Erasmus, as well as a fascinating Spanish writer called Juan-Luis Vives, who influenced Monty (as I call him!). Each of these railed against traditional modes of teaching, which saw student and tutor in a firm hierarchy, and were early proponents of what would be called, in today’s jargon, ‘student-led teaching’.

Students often seem to have learned formulae or rote ways of doing things. I’ve tried to challenge some of these ideas, encouraging them, for example, to think about the value of the first person in their academic essays, or asking students to create a podcast which addresses some of the contemporary ideas that Montaigne’s approach to knowledge pushes us to defamiliarize. I’m also driven by the desire to look at different ways of doing history, to think, with my students, about the borders between the historical and the literary, say, and to embrace elements of creativity in analytical work and argument.

A further influence is my experience, some way back now, of TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language), whose philosophies insist on active learning and foster student individuality. I look to create a space that’s defined by intimacy and acceptance, and by so doing enable students to take the risks in thought and ideas that are so important to learning.  

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