David Hampton on winning the EUSA Best Course Award 2013-14

So I have been asked to write a short piece about winning the EUSA Best Course Award. Firstly I should say that I never contemplated any award as you could tell with the ‘short’ title of “Stem Cells, Neurodegenerative Diseases and Models”. I’m worried that it not only cost a fair chunk of university funds to print all of that on the trophy but possibly dictated the size of the trophy, although maybe size is important!

Firstly I would like to say it was a huge surprise to get nominated and even more gratifying to actually win. When I heard what some of the students had written about my course I have to say I felt truly humbled. Just prior to the ceremony I had a lectureship interview and I asked for feedback post interview. I was quite surprised when not only my ‘teaching’ ability was criticised but the feedback given wasn’t very useful to me, it gave me nothing to work on. I mention this not to complain about not getting a job (!) but to actually highlight the huge benefit of going on the PGCert (now the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice or PGCAP). If the person who gave the feedback had done this course then they may have thought a little more about their feedback and also importantly what the point of their feedback was, who was it for and what use could they get out of it?

I have to admit that I feel everyone who has any interest in teaching should give the PGCAP course a go and really try to do the coursework as well. It is definitely not easy as I have found out since I still have to submit the assessment for the final core unit and I started this course 3 years ago! What with work and life rudely interrupting my attendance and submission deadlines being missed, it has been a difficult ride. Also as a scientist the education literature requires a dictionary on hand to translate half of what they are saying! Although I guess you could argue that every field of academia has its own language and maybe I am just too old and not plastic enough to learn another ‘new’ language even if it might be beneficial to my brain!

I can only talk about my personal experiences but I found all of the courses so useful. I did a mixture of what I think of as practical courses. These included course design, assessment and course organisation. All of these courses were amazingly useful in helping me to contemplate my course, think deeply about what I wanted my students to learn but also why. Furthermore different techniques that can be utilised to bring them into feeling part of the course which drove several key aspects of my course design. This included mini feedback forms after every lecture that allowed me to alter the course subtly in real-time for the students if they raised points about lecture structure or styles as well as making me believe it was important I was present at all lectures. Now I realise that this isn’t always possible nor desirable in some situations but the continuity of having the course organiser present to drive and direct the course was a huge plus point.

Finally from the bottom of my brain (!) I would heartily recommend that you take a course that seems totally out of your comfort zone, something that seems totally silly to you because I can assure you it won’t be. For me it was ‘engaging students in autonomous learning’. Now you may have gathered that I am a scientist and quite practically minded so this definitely struck me as educational gibberish! However I was totally wrong. It was an eye opener and although some aspects didn’t seem instantly useful to me it helped me really stop and take stock of my teaching. As part of the module I had to try and design something to engage people in my academic area and from this germ of an idea I developed a game about the brain that I have used successfully in my lectures for 2 years now and it is a great ice breaker that also lets me judge the knowledge levels of my students.

All in all I not only have to thank the students for nominating me but I also wish to thank the PGCAP team for helping me to grow as a teacher. I have to admit I did originally think I was a good teacher and knew what I was doing since I had lectured and tutored for several years but the PGCAP course really opened my eyes to so many ways I could easily improve on every aspect of my teaching. I would say that anyone with just a few years experience or even decades would benefit from it and I hope many more academics attend this course.

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