Meet one of the three nominees for the Education Prize 2017, awarded to a member of the academic staff who has made a particularly commendable contribution to education at Erasmus University.
This is Dr. Payal Arora, who works in the Media and Communication department. Dr. Arora is an inspiring lecturer and a true storyteller. The jury praises her contribution to the digitisation of education, her widely deployable educational innovations, and they way she presents herself as a lecturer to the outside world. Students love the way in which Dr. Arora creates an open and interesting educational environment and takes them out of their comfort zone. In doing so, she makes the difference in education!
Congratulations! Are you happy to have been nominated?
Of course, it is an honour!
Do you recognise yourself in the jury’s comments about your nomination?
‘I am sympathetic with the comments in that I always see lots of potential in new media technologies to create a more inclusive teaching environment. That is why I founded the Catalyst Lab. I felt like the educational system was moving more and more into an ivory tower. Companies experienced a scarcity of employable students, while students were looking for companies. We don’t understand the industry and vice versa, we’ve exoticised each other. But society is government, industry and civic society, and what better position than an educational university as a platform to bring them together?
‘That’s what Catalyst Lab is. Companies have certain questions, but they find it hard to get genuine feedback without being accused of whitewashing something. They really want an answer and want to contribute to society, but they need guidance. That’s what we do: we guide, we don’t do marketing. And since our students are very savvy in their new media usage, why not make them leaders? They brainstorm, do ground surveys, interviews in focus groups and create social media campaigns and videos, in which they are guided by me but also by artists and film makers. It’s a lot of fun, because you get inspiration from all sides. It’s really a mixed, interdisciplinary team of expertise.
‘This is a time consuming process but really rewarding for all parties. The industry gets to see the students in action: they’re not just interns that need mentoring, they have something solid to contribute. And the students see how research is actually being put to practice, rather than being an assignment that’s graded and shelved away. ‘
In academics, research is usually considered the most important, not teaching. Do you think teaching needs a better name?
‘Yes, education definitely needs a better name. There’s so much pressure on an academic to publish. Although everyone emphasises that teaching is important, promotion remains contingent on research. What would be the ideal situation is to bring together research and education. For example, I’ve come up with papers based on talks I prepared for the classroom.
‘To me, personally, teaching is very important. When I went to college in India, where I’m from, I didn’t think I was a very good student. My performance was mediocre, and I even dropped out briefly during college. In India the emphasis is on memorising things, and I’m not very good at that. History was very much just a matter of dates, the teaching was quite passionless.
‘After dropping out, I needed to make some money, so I joined a group in India that was experimenting on alternative educational models. There I started teaching, and I was shocked how much I enjoyed dealing with students. I hadn’t realised before that education could be fun. When I went to the US later and joined college, my teaching experience was a lot different than before. I felt inspired and realised I could indeed be a good student. My life would have been very different if I hadn’t met good teachers.’
Teaching is very important, but is it something you really like to do as well?
‘Well, everyone who says they always like teaching, lies. It’s a rollercoaster. When a class goes well, and you see in the eyes of the students that their brains are exploding with all the things they discover, it gives you the biggest thrill. It’s the most rewarding thing there is, you walk out of the classroom in a complete high.
‘But if you’re a good teacher, you’re always experimenting with teaching styles. And experimenting also means that some things will fail. Nobody can say that all my experiments went well. And when it does fail, you need to have the courage to say: ok, that was a stupid exercise and I’m not doing it again.
‘Teaching really tells you a lot about human nature, what works with people and what doesn’t. I really believe that if you can instill passion in students, they will do well. If you ask a question and you cannot seem to stir passion, maybe you’re not asking it in a way that is meaningful to them. That’s our job, to inspire. And you’re constantly tweaking your way to connect to people. It’s a constant process, sometimes painful, but very rewarding.’
The Education Prize will be awarded during the opening of the accademic year, September 4. Check out all 3 nominees here.