Public engagement and teaching: two sides of the same coin?

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Can we use the lessons from public engagement to improve our teaching? Yes, argues psychology lecturer Thomas Bak

Thomas’ work on the possible links between language learning and delaying the onset of dementia has attracted a huge amount of media attention over recent years. This increased media engagement led him to wonder how he could engage with the public more directly.

In the past few years, Thomas has taken part in science festivals, run consultation events with older language lessons, and even addressed Scottish Government and the European Commission about the importance of language learning for our health.

Students as members of the public

As Thomas took part in more public-facing events, he became increasingly aware of how being able to explain his research to an audience of science-festival attendees used the same skills and resources as explaining their research to a room full of students. It’s easy to forget that students and the public are not two separate species.

Thomas says: “Being trained how to explain my research in a brief, clear and engaging way but without compromising on accuracy, made me much more confident in my teaching. I learned how to engage students in my lectures, how to encourage questions and provide more satisfactory answers (even in the notoriously difficult task of feedback).” – Thomas Bak

Read more about Thomas’ thoughts on public engagement and teaching in his guest blog on the University of Edinburgh’s Teaching matters blog site:
Guest Blog with Dr Thomas Bak – Engaging the public and engaging students

Engaged teaching and learning

Thomas’ ideas are part of a wider trend in higher education to bring together public engagement and student experience. In 2016, Psychology students took part in a pilot course which saw students paired up with a non-academic client (e.g. local school or charity). The students drew on psychology research to answer a problem or develop resources to meet their client’s needs. The course was hugely successful and intake is being doubled for 2017-18.

The students drew on psychology research to answer a problem or develop resources to meet their client’s needs. The course was hugely successful and intake is being doubled for 2017-18.

About Thomas Bak

Thomas Bak is a reader in Human Cognitive Neuroscience at the University of Edinburgh. He works with the language learning centre Bilingualism Matters and is a member of the Centre for Cognitive Ageing & Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE) and the Centre for Clinical Brain Sciences (CCBS)

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