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Better Teaching!

The first time she encountered the topic of diversity was in 2009 when, as a freshly graduated film and media scientist, she took up a position as a research assistant at the Bauhaus University in Weimar. At that time, Silke Martin had a so-called "lecturer position" with an increased teaching load and, because she had no teaching experience whatsoever, joined the workshop "Schöner Lehren" (Better Teaching). This workshop was founded by Lena Eckert as part of the GeniaL project (Gender in Academic Teaching in Thuringia) in the Faculty of Media and regularly brought together interested colleagues to discuss how good university teaching can succeed, especially with regard to gender and diversity. As a novice teacher, this was a good framework for Silke Martin to develop her teaching professionally and to discuss gender issues at the university with her colleagues. Years later, she even published an anthology together with Lena Eckert as part of the GeniaL project entitled "Schöner Lehren - gegendert und gequeert" ("Better teaching – gendered and queered"), which brings together gender-sensitive module components for teaching media and cultural studies. Today, Dr. Silke Martin is a research assistant at the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Erfurt, where she also coordinates the doctoral programme Communication and Digital Media. The topic of diversity has not let her go – and she still tries to live it in her own teaching and make it useful for students. We took a closer look...

Dr. Silke Martin
Dr. Silke Martin

"At that time, I was initially happy to have a connection to colleagues and to be able to exchange ideas about teaching collegially," Martin recalls. "There were hardly any courses in higher education didactics in Thuringia, and the workshop 'Schöner Lehren' was – in the truest sense of the word – my salvation. This enabled me to cope well with the high teaching load – despite a lack of teaching experience – and to continuously improve my teaching, so that in 2014 I finally received the BMBF teaching award together with Lena Eckert for particularly creative and effective teaching. As part of the professionalization of my teaching, the workshop also sensitized me to issues of gender and diversity. Because that way I had 'peers' with whom I could have a well-founded theoretical exchange on power relations, the precarization of researchers, especially women, and on research careers as high-risk enterprises." And so the "Schöner Lehren" workshop eventually crystallized into a circle of female colleagues who applied to the WISA (Women in Science and Arts) mentoring programme at Bauhaus University and explored the topic of diversity in a variety of ways – for example, in the form of a gender reading circle, writing workshops, creative writing nights, and bar camps. Feminist manifestos on writing as a scholar, articles on collective writing methods, and other texts related to gender and diversity emerged. From this circle of colleagues, the working group "Power and Gender in Science" was finally founded in 2018, which still meets regularly and, among other things, formulates a declaration against sexism in science, which gathered more than 1000 signatures of scientists nationwide within a very short time. The declaration contains vignettes, smaller texts in the length of a paragraph, in which colleagues anonymously report on sexist experiences in science.

We ask Silke Martin how the topic has accompanied her in her everyday life since then. "After my training as a writing consultant – inspired by the mentoring group, the writing workshops, and others – I started to set up groups on writing, but also on university teaching and career development both inside and outside academia, as part of my gender-sensitive workshops that I have been offering for post/docs at various universities since 2015. I have initiated several writing groups that are autonomous and self-organized – also at the University of Erfurt. Through these experiences, my interest in research has also changed relatively quickly. Thus, for almost ten years now, I have been involved with gender/aging studies, among other things, especially with regard to film and aesthetic film education."

Ten years ago, the reaction was still restrained. [...] Now, however, there is immense interest in such topics.

Silke Martin has not only worked on this research topic in publications, but today also incorporates it into her teaching – for example, in seminars on film/aging studies, in which she has organized film education workshops with students in nursing homes, among other places. "This resulted not only in a transfer of university knowledge to society and an exchange between generations, but also in students' conscious reflection on 'ageism', the structural discrimination based on age." Later, other diversity-related seminars were added, which she organized with colleagues in tandem teaching (this is also a diversity topic): at the University of Erfurt, for example, the lecture series "Religion and Gender" or seminars in Studium Fundamentale on "Feminism and Writing, Female Sexuality or (Queer) Parenthood". "The parenthood seminar was inspired by a research project on motherhood that I have been developing for several years together with Sarah Czerney and Lena Eckert," Silke Martin explains. This resulted in workshops, an online writing group on motherhood, a film evening with a director's talk, publications, numerous readings and the "Motherhood and Science" network.

And how do students react to the topic? "Ten years ago, the reaction was still restrained, especially with regard to gender-sensitive formulation, but also with regard to diversity-sensitive topics such as aging and gender. Now, however, there is immense interest in such topics. When the word gender or feminism appears in the title of courses, I often 'can't save myself' from registrations."

Despite all the openness to the topic, it also goes along with challenges time and again. On the campus of the University of Erfurt, too. Silke Martin explains: "Reflecting on one's own position, uncovering privileges, but also marginalizations and deriving actions from them – doing this together with students is a particular challenge, especially because as a teacher you are per se in a higher 'power position' than the students. I try to counteract this by establishing a teaching attitude that I call teaching at eye level and hierarchy sensitive. In addition to critically reflecting on the (own) power position, for example with regard to gender, class, sexual orientation or origin, of both teachers and students, student participation and empowerment is central to this teaching approach. It is important to me to make the respective positions of power perceptible and to balance them – also and especially between teachers and students. By the way, I have researched this teaching approach within the framework of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning – among others together with Sophia Wohlfahrt, a former student of the Masters Children's and Youth Media Studies, and Kristine Baldauf-Bergmann, head of the Brandenburg University Didactics (sqb). We have also published the results."

What can we, what can each individual on campus do to make diversity part of everyday life, we ask Silke Martin in conclusion: "Be reflective and sensitive, pay attention to others, question your own privileges: What, for example, does it mean to be German and to come from an academic household? What does it mean to live in peace? What does it mean to be able to study at a university? What responsibility do I have as a teacher, especially with regard to discrimination? How can I introduce diversity to those who have had little contact or even developed resistance? What responsibility do I have as a student – especially when I am in a privileged position? That would already achieve a lot."

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