Upon completion of my undergraduate degree, I distinctly remember saying that I would NEVER go on to pursue a Master’s Degree.  Several years later upon completion of a Master’s Degree, I insisted that I would NEVER pursue any formal studies beyond that.  There is a bit of irony here in that I now find myself taking “postgraduate” modules/courses at Durham University (DU) with students completing both Masters and PhD studies.  I’m still learning to never say never when it comes to further studies!

Taking such courses was one component of the DATP Fulbright program that I was definitely NOT looking forward to for several reasons:

  1. Course work often steals time from things I’d rather be doing.
  2. I wasn’t sure how relevant some of the courses offered would be to my actual project.
  3. I was also intimidated by the prestige of taking “postgraduate” courses at a University that ranks in the top 100 of the world by most metrics. What if the coursework was completely beyond my ability and previous training?
  4. Homework…need I say more?

Thankfully my fears have proven to be quite unfounded and my experience with studies at DU have been quite enjoyable.

What American’s refer to as graduate classes are called postgraduate modules here.  A school year at the DU School of Education is divided into 3 terms unlike the common 2 semester practice in the US.  This term, I am taking 2 postgraduate modules.  The first is called Research Methods in Education and the second is titled Intercultural Communication.

The current term will end in the middle of March.  Until then, my course load is similar to that of a full time postgraduate student.  Once done with modules, I should be able to be in local schools in a full time basis with only occasional days off to focus on report writing and project related activities.

Most students in my modules are completing Master’s degrees in Education.  This will take 3 terms meaning that students complete a full Master’s degree from start to finish within 10 months.  It’s difficult to find an American program that takes less than 2 years let alone 1 year!  Students completing a Master’s in Education take 2 modules per term until their 3rd term in which they spend all of their time focusing on work related to their dissertation and research.  Each student is assigned an adviser who guides them through the necessary steps of completing their dissertation.  Most PhD students tell me that their studies will take between 2 and 3 years.

The vast majority of students in my modules are not from the UK with most of them coming from China.  The next largest demographic of students are coming from the US followed by a small number from various places within Europe.  It initially seemed odd to be at an English University with very few English postgraduate students but similar trends can also be noted in STEM graduate programs back in the US regarding American students.  Most students do not have any teaching experience themselves but hope to teach at some point in the future.

Whilst the basis of the instruction is founded on British sources in terms of the research and educational system, there are often opportunities for sharing of ideas and practices from other countries. It’s been fun to observe universal trends in some areas and yet to learn of differences in educational patterns between certain countries. One example of this was seen when our professor was discussing the achievement gap between boys and girls in the UK.  When asked by the professor if the trend of boys under performing was observed in the US education system, I said that “such is often the case.”  The professor then turned to a group of Chinese students and asked the same question regarding China…all unanimously shook their heads stating that they had never heard of such behavior in China.  What are the factors influencing such trends?  That’s just one million dollar educational research question that many are seeking answers to!

In spite of my initial aversion to further academic studies, I have found both of these courses to be helpful in gaining further insight into both the UK and the educational issues faced by educators and educational researchers over here.  I’m especially enjoying my module on Intercultural Communication.  A module such as this one is designed to not only help one identify the various processes by which different cultures communicate, but to more fully understand ways in which one might effectively engage with those of different cultural backgrounds.  I can already see ways in which this module will assist my efforts to clearly communicate with students in my classroom as well as their families.