My name is Ellen Spaeth, and I’ve been working on an exciting project at the Institute for Academic Development for the last few months. I’ve been interviewing academic staff about their approaches to teaching and Laura McLean, from the College web team, has been filming the interviews. Together we’ve been working with the recorded footage to make a series of short videos. This blog post is a tantalising trailer for the videos themselves, which have just been made available on the IAD web pages. You can find them here.
The interviews and videos have been designed to be used in the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (or PGCAP), a development programme specifically designed for academics, that helps them engage with pedagogical issues and enhance their practice in their academic roles.
I’ve had a lot of fun with the interviews. It’s been my job to meet with academics and chat with them about various aspects of their teaching, including what “good teaching” means to them and how they try to reflect that in their own teaching practice. Our eight interviewees have been spread between the three Colleges of the University and have ranged from early career postdocs to established professors.
A number of really interesting themes emerged from the interviews:
Enabling student learning
The academics talked a great deal about different ways in which they attempted to enable student learning. Most of the interviewees voiced a strong interest in facilitating the students’ capacity to think critically, and learn actively and independently. These interviewees talked about creating an environment where students could develop their own academic opinions and voice.
Others talked about the importance of being organised and structured within a teaching session, and of following up in-class learning with between-class tasks. A love of learning shone through as a motivator for working as an academic, and displaying genuine enthusiasm for the material and for teaching was a great way to engage students.
Several of the interviewees also discussed the importance of trying to understand how it feels to be a student. As experts in a subject, it can be difficult to remember what it was like to be in earlier stages of learning. Showing that it is okay to get stuck, to not understand something, or to answer a question incorrectly, was particularly important to these interviewees.
Strategies for teaching and learning
The interviewees mentioned a wide range of different strategies for teaching. Dividing up sessions to include different activities was a means of catering for different learning styles and promoting engagement with material. Group work, quizzes, and free writing were mentioned. Other strategies included dressing up to illustrate concepts, using silence, and thinking carefully about the questions that one asks as a teacher.
The role of technology
Several of the interviewees spoke about using technology in their teaching, from showing animations that illustrate concepts to streaming online, interactive lectures. The technology was not seen as the focus of the teaching, more a tool that enabled people to learn from a distance, or that facilitated engagement with the material.
Academic as modeller
A few people discussed the importance of modelling what it looked like to be someone who worked in the discipline they were teaching: a mathematician, an historian, a nurse. For example, a mathematician has to be comfortable with getting things wrong sometimes. An historian needs to be able to evaluate different primary and secondary sources and come to their own conclusion, rather than being swayed by one opinion (such as that of the lecturer).
Changes over time
Perhaps the most interesting thing to me was hearing the interviewees’ opinions on how their thoughts about teaching, and their teaching strategies, had changed over time. A narrative came out from many of the interviewees:
When they started teaching, they had felt pressured to know as many things as possible. They were concerned that presenting that information would be like an exam, where students would test them on how much they really knew. Not knowing the answer to a question would have been a sign of failure. This was a very stressful place to be. As they gained more experience, these interviewees reported thinking less about how they came across when presenting information, and more about how the students would experience teaching and learning sessions.
The videos are available to watch on the IAD web pages. Why not take a look? You can find them here.
About the author
Ellen Spaeth is a learning technologist at the University of Edinburgh. She’s recently completed her PhD, likes playing video games and music, and is interested in how technology can facilitate engagement. Ellen tweets at @ellenspaeth and blogs at https://ecspaeth.wordpress.com/