Category Archives: Learning and Teaching

Progression and promotion in HE: Rewarding excellent educators

I recently attended my first Advance HE event since the merger of the HEA, the Leadership Foundation and the Equality Challenge Unit. The logo and CEO might have changed but the remit of promoting excellent learning and teaching has not. Although, interestingly one of my first take homes of the day is the shift from using ‘Learning and Teaching’ or ‘Teaching’ to ‘Education’. There seems to be a growing number of institutions doing it. The University of Essex have changed their awards from Excellence in Teaching Awards to Excellence in Education Awards this year and last week Claire Gordon was talking about ‘Educational Leaders’ and just like Essex suggesting that what HE provides goes beyond just teaching. Is this change in terminology important or is it just semantics? Does it reflect a change that the whole student experience is now being seen as important not just time in the classroom? I have been doing a lot of work recently around supporting transition to HE and a group tutorial programme to support academic skills development and promote employability related activities. The idea that the term ‘Education’ encompasses these areas appears to be, at least part of, the rationale for refreshing the name of the University of Essex. I still remain to be convinced about the key differences between ‘Education’  and ‘Learning and Teaching’; however, I welcome any change that encourages us to think holistically about the students learning experience to ensure that we provide an inclusive educational experience that allows every student to realise their aspirations and achieve their potential.

Educational leaders

One of the advantages to using education, not learning & teaching is that it works well when you talk about leadership. Claire Gordon talked about the work she did with Dilly Fung titled: Rewarding Educator and Education Leaders. One of the PVC’s interviewed for this project commented that there were not enough educational leaders within universities, with the emphasis being on leadership rather than management. Educational leaders are important for strategic development of learning and teaching, examining impact of education practices and adhering to the principle of evidence based teaching practice. If there are not enough of these educational leaders, why not? Is it because of lack of support, are academics not willing to put their heads above the parapet or is the reward for doing so lacking? What can we do to change this? One of the other things this has made me question is my own role, am I an educational leader? I like to lead by example – putting things into practice in my own teaching what I am telling other lecturers to introduce in their teaching. I try to measure the impact of the teaching interventions I use on student success and satisfaction and I like to think all my work is aligned to the institutions strategic mission. So maybe that does make me an educational leader – I might need a little more reflection on that one….


One of the recurrent themes of this session was mentors. Mentoring academics to support the development of their education practice and also mentoring them in their own career development. In my own experience the availability of mentoring has been much more limited to those on a research track career than those opting for the educational route. I was lucky enough to be supported by Prof. Illaria Bellantuono when I was at the University of Sheffield. Whilst still focusing on a research-orientated career she encouraged me to complete the PG Cert in Learning and Teaching, which was the turning point for me down the educational route of academic careers. The discussion around mentors also made me reflect on what we offer at Writtle University College. I mentor all new staff with respect to learning and teaching but is the process formal enough and should I be encouraging other staff to act as mentors – all though all staff also have a buddy who will be within their own department. I focus mainly on the practice of learning and teaching, do I need to encourage staff to think about their career paths a little more?  Some interesting questions to think about.

Academic Citizenship

Another idea that resonated with me was that academic citizenship was a requirement of recognition for promotion. UCL have included this as a compulsory criteria within their Academic Career Framework. I have worked with individuals at every institution I have worked at that see their own research as more important than anything else. These academics will not do anything extra to contribute to the department and leave other members of staff to pick these things up. Including academic citizenship within the promotion criteria ensures that those going the extra mile receive the recognition they deserve.

Career Framework for University Teaching

Spheres of impact from

My final take home was the very useful resource developed by the Royal Academy of Engineering called ‘Career Framework for University Teaching‘. It shows how you develop through the levels of teaching to become more competent your sphere of influence might grow. I think it will be useful for reflecting on my own level of teaching but also provides an easy to use framework for staff to use during appraisal and applications for promotion. At present I have good evidence for my influence within the institution and I am increasing the amount of scholarly work I produced, although this is somewhat limited by the small size of the institution limiting cohort size. To work further on this I need to look at developing collaborations with other institutions to produce scholarly work that will impact at a national and global level.


Good Teaching Practice Conference at the University of Essex

University of Essex Good Teaching Practice Conference Proceedings

It is always nice to be invited to present at a conference and when I was asked to do a short presentation at the University of Essex’s Good Teaching Practice Conference, of course I said yes. I was asked to present on the learning community that had developed around staff who were completing, the PG Cert in Higher Education Practice. I found preparing the presentation a little challenging. Firstly, because at a good teaching practice conference you have to present or ‘teach’ using good, if not best practice. Secondly, I wanted the presentation to be relevant to everybody in the audience.

I decided to present using almost entirely pictures with little or no text and use questions and discussion with the audience to make it interactive. It was only a short session and there was not really time to be more ambitious. I presented what we had done at Writtle as a case study that could be used by any university department. The presentation went well although I was disappointed not to get any questions at the end. I did get positive feedback after the event on both content and delivery, which made up for the lack of questions. I was glad to be able to talk about the impact that this learning community had, with 25% more staff completing module 1 of the PG Cert in one year compared to previous years. My hope is that I will have inspired other lecturers in how they can support their peers, especially those new to teaching. If I have done that, even if it was just for a handful of lecturers, I will be pleased with my day’s work!

HEA Virtual Reading Group


Last week I took part in my first virtual reading group run by the HEA. It was much like the journal clubs I had taken part in face to face within my discipline but this just happened to be online. The paper we read and discussed was:

Kirkwood, A. and Price, L. (2013) Missing: evidence of scholarly approach to teaching and learning in higher education, Teaching in Higher Education, 18(3), 327-337.

I enjoyed reading the paper in preparation for the webinar. For me it raised a number of important points. The first relates to staff development sessions I provide on technology. Staff have been very keen for me to deliver sessions on how to use technology in a practical sense and so this is what I have given them. The paper prompted me to reflect on this. It made me question do I just provide technical training on how to use the technology or do I include the scholarly background to using the technology, do I include the pedagogical principles that should underpin the decision on how or if the technology is appropriate to what the teacher is trying to achieve. Luckily I think the answer is yes, but it is something I will give greater consideration to as I plan my sessions in future.

The second point that jumped out a me related to undertaking research. Having completed both a PhD and 5 years as a post-doc doing arthritis research I sort of assumed I took a scholarly approach to research. This paper made me question this. When I have done educational research how did it build on previous research? How much did I use previous research in planning the methodology? Or did I just create my hypotheses out of what I was interested in and wanted to see? Did I just design my methodology based on what was available to me at the time without giving further considerations to improving the experimental design? I am not sure if these questions have binary answers. I feel I have used research to plan and design my educational research but have  also used hunches and what was easily available to me at the time. Having reflected on this paper through the reading group I will certainly take a different approach to future research.

Sally Bradley from the HEA did a great job at leading discussions around the paper. One of the areas that particularly interested me was how if you are teaching centred in your general approach to teaching you are likely to be teaching centred in your approach to technology (PowerPoint, webcasts) whereas if you take a more student centred approach to your general practice you are more likely to use a different range of more interactive technology, such as students creating content, producing reflective portfolios and so on. Again I don’t think you have to fall solely within one of these categories. For example, although I use webcasts which are quite teacher focused broadcasting knowledge these are often backed up with students having to respond via a forum to questions or relating to their thoughts on the webcast.

Overall, I found the virtual reading group useful and the paper has provided me with a number of elements to consider as I move forward in my practice. I am looking forward to the next reading group on 22nd March. For more detail see the HEA website.



Using videos to assess understanding

What did I do?

I have just finished teaching theory and practice of the horse’s senses and how they regulate behaviour. I wanted to check how much my students had learnt so I set them a task. Make a video suitable for horse owners explaining about the function of the horse’s senses in relation to behaviour. We had just finished the practical session at the yard and so they could make use of the horses and I provided iPads for them to make their videos. Once the videos were complete they were uploaded to ClickView and then they could be shared with the whole cohort. This meant they could provide peer feedback to each other as well as me providing some tutor feedback.


So how did it go?

The students enjoyed doing it. The shortest one was 28 seconds long whilst the longest one was 4 minutes. The students embraced it and worked independently. The videos would have easily been accessible to horse owners although the content was lacking in the depth that I would have liked to have seen – so some work for the students and I to do there. I was disappointed at the lack of peer feedback that was provided by the students to the videos on Moodle but with this particularly cohort I am having trouble getting any engagement with Moodle….

Would I use it again?

Yes, definitely. Making the videos really engaged the students and made it easy for me to assess how well they were doing with the module content. Uploading it to ClickView and sharing to Moodle was also really easy to do and there is not the same pressure as putting onto Vimeo or YouTube where you feel it is that much more public. Just need to work on the engagement with peer feedback now!