One of the most frightening aspects of teaching in higher education in the UK is that it is predominantly something that you learn “on the job”. As far as I can tell, most academics first experiences of teaching are the equivalent of being taught how to swim by being tossed in to the deep-end of a swimming pool. I remember vividly my first teaching experience in 2007 as a PhD student at Newcastle University, being asked to lead a series of 1st year political theory seminar groups. I was utterly terrified and had little to no idea what I was doing beyond the instructions to discuss various set questions with the groups around the ideas of Socrates and Plato. Suffice it to say I struggled through the sessions and only gradually improved throughout the semester to a point where I had gained the ability to get more out of a quiet room of similarly nervous students. One particularly amusing story that sticks with me from this time is an “icebreaker” delivered during week one of the module where students – to settle their nerves and to get them talking – were each asked to name one person from human history that they would meet if they had the chance. One student (perhaps looking to impress) suggested Karl Marx, another the Roman Emperor Caesar before one student suggested Formula One Racing car commentator, Murray Walker (still very much alive at the time). Not only were we not prepared with the practical skills of teaching but also for containing our amusement at some of the more interesting answers and viewpoints that would come back from the students in the room.
For many years then, I mostly developed my teaching capacities simply by doing more of it. In 2015 when I joined Leeds University, I was enrolled in some official teacher training but left before the lengthy course had completed. In the subsequent years at Durham and then Sheffield universities whilst I did a lot of teaching, I had never received any official recognition of my teaching competency or chance to reflect on how to improve it further. In 2023 I decided to do something about this by applying for a senior fellowship of the Higher Education Academy. I have to admit that part of the inspiration behind this was instrumentalist in character – it would “look good” on my CV, and may in fact be essential for my future promotion plans – but there was also an understanding that it would be intrinsically a nice thing to have for myself. After around 15 years of teaching, it would be good to have something to show for what I had done. So, for the past seven or eight months I slowly pieced together evidence for my teaching practice that I could use to demonstrate what I have achieved thus far focussing (for the senior element) how I have mentored others in their teaching development. After much struggle in bringing together the extensive evidence required for this (testimonies, screenshots of emails, recordings of teaching sessions etc) I finally got this submitted in June 2023. Thankfully I heard this week that I was awarded a senior fellowship of the HEA and have a lovely certificate to pin up in my office:
The fellowship was by no means easy. It was a slog at times and required a lot of evidencing and redrafting. There were times when I cursed it as an entirely useless exercise but on reflection (now having received the fellowship!) it is clearly a very nice thing to receive and did actually help me to reflect on my practice and how far I have come as a teacher. But, perhaps more importantly, it has also pushed me to think about ways I might improve my teaching practice in the future! In completing the fellowship application I was asked to put together four 600-word case studies about my teaching. Rather than languishing in an old folder in my laptop I thought it might be nice to share them on here, both to show off my teaching practice (obvs!), but also to give an indication to other potential applicants about what these case studies might look like. If it helps other applicants chart their own teaching experience against the professional framework, then that would also be a nice bonus. So here are the four case studies I put together for my application which map against the professional standards framework which accounts for the strange A1, D4 letter/number combinations throughout:
Case study one: Designing and delivering qualitative methods workshops with a team of Graduate Teaching Assistants
In March 2023 I was asked to design and deliver two three-hour workshops on qualitative data analysis for 160 master’s students (A1). The sessions were delivered in computer labs where students allocated to a desktop PC were introduced to and taught how to code data in a piece of qualitative data analysis software called NVivo (A2; K4). I was asked to lead a team of five graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) who I met with a week prior to the sessions to ensure everyone knew their role in the teaching sessions, clarify the learning outcomes and to take questions and suggestions on best practice (D3.vii). I decided that to increase learning the teaching would embrace a philosophy of flipped learning (K2) where following Francl (2014) I gave an overview of NVivo and then students would be expected to work through the data analysis with guidance from myself and the GTAs who I had allocated to “zones” of the computer lab. A key element of the flipped learning process was that students had been asked (several times) to prepare for the class beforehand by coding data manually (without NVivo) and to familiarise themselves with some of the core concepts (K1). In the first workshop, however, it became clear (by show of hands) that only 2 or 3 of the 80 students had done any preparation for the session. The class was also 95% international (predominantly Chinese) so any possibility of quickly working through preparation that would take students around 2-3 hours was impossible. This presented some key challenges which required us to bring people up to speed with basic elements of Nvivo and core concepts of qualitative data analysis in a way that was unexpected on this scale. We expected perhaps a dozen or so students to have not done the preparation but a whole class presented a massive problem and a rather challenging session. At the end of the first workshop, once the class had left, I called a group debrief session in the computer lab where following research into group deliberation about teaching and learning best practice (Cole, 2013) the GTAs and I collectively discussed what had worked well and the key challenges experienced in the session (A5; K6). Through this deliberative process we agreed a plan of action for the second workshop which was to take place the following morning where we assumed that a similar proportion of students might not have done any preparation. Overnight, I changed the slides and the pattern of delivery so that it sidestepped any issues with preparation (whilst still making the session a lot easier for those who had) (V3). Following research on flipped learning (Mehring, 2016) the workshop became, instead, a much slower step-by-step walk through of how to use NvIVO in which we waited for the whole class to complete each part before moving on to the next rather than allowing students to race off at different speeds (A4; V1). This enabled me and the GTAs (as well as fellow students) to bring the whole class towards the desired goal (V2) encouraging motivation by understanding different cognitive loads (Abeysekera & Dawson, 2015). In the collective debrief at the end of the second workshop it was agreed that this shift had “improved the session massively” and there was a real sense of camaraderie over what we had achieved as a collective teaching team in a difficult situation.
Case Study Two: Leading a team to deliver a large undergraduate teaching module
In July 2022 I was asked to take over leadership of an undergraduate teaching module which typically enrols around 350 students. This involved leading a team of two junior lecturers and five graduate teaching assistants towards the successful design and delivery of ten 2-hour lectures (repeated two times), three 3-hour workshops (repeated nine times) and extensive assessment marking and moderation (A1; D3:vii). In the first instance this required me to use my co-ordination skills to plan the sessions ensuring that appropriate dual working teams were created for the workshops and these were timetabled and allocated appropriately. I then called a team meeting in late July to debrief from the experiences of those within the team who had taught in the previous academic year and to discuss possibilities for changing content and style of delivery to further improve student experience. Following deliberation, a number of changes were decided upon which included: i) encouraging lecturers to change topics where appropriate so that lectures were considered more relevant to students so that they aligned (to some degree and where possible) with research interests, enabling the benefits of research informed teaching (McLinden et al, 2015). I worked closely here with junior lecturers encouraging interactive and visual content due to the 2 hour length of lectures (K3, K4) so that it aligned with the broader guiding ethos of the module whilst ensuring the topics connected from week to week (A2; K1; D3:vii); ii) adding content to the workshops to ensure students learning at different paces were supported through appropriate scaffolding within the broader learning environment (Diaz et al, 2015). In previous years there was a feeling that for more capable students the workshops were moving too slowly, so additional questions and talking points were added (through collective discussion and debate within the team) to stretch and push these students further (A4; V1); iii) to ensure more extensive feedback on assignment ideas through all members of the team so that students felt more prepared for producing an independent piece of work (A3). This involved improving the quality and increasing the frequency of feedback through face-face and written means but also through the creation of an online discussion board (receiving around 150 messages) which was regularly responded to and updated over the course of the module (K4). Due to the dual nature of the assignments (a 1000-word proposal to be submitted in November and a longer 3000-word case analysis to be submitted in January), meetings concerning marking and moderation were also staggered throughout the module. Facilitating a fair and consistent moderation process across eight different markers was a key aspect of this process and brought about its own challenges (A3). Following evidence (Bird and Yucel, 2013) I required all markers to submit their first 5 marked assignments (for both the November and January submission) and then re-marked those assignments blind before comparing marks. I then held meetings individually and collectively with markers to discuss differences in grades and how to adjust feedback where necessary particularly during instances where it fell short of what we were looking for across the module (K6). The evidence for success in delivering these changes and processes came in the form of module evaluations in January 2023 which placed the module above the faculty average of 4.1 and delivered a 4.3 in how accessible and approachable staff were to students (K5). Whilst module evaluations are not entirely reliable (Shevlin et al, 2000), these scores do reflect that the team worked well together to deliver a large compulsory module that had numerous challenges throughout.
Case study three: Leading a Portfolio Review of the Management School for the Work, Employment and Organization Division
In early 2022, through the leadership of the Director of Postgraduate Education (DPE) and the Associate Dean for Education (ADE), it was decided that the Management School would conduct a portfolio review to explore the potential for enhancing its offering to students. In March 2022 I was asked to lead the Portfolio Review for my division, Work, Employment and Organization (WEO), talking to colleagues and collecting views, and reporting back to the DPE and ADE along with other divisional representatives about the kinds of changes that should be made to programmes in the coming years (A1; D3:Vii). The review adopted a focus on enhancing quality towards excellence (Land and Gordon, 2013) both in our learning and teaching and student experience, with an intention to produce enhanced outcomes, positioning, and student satisfaction scores (K6). The cross-cutting theme of Equality, Diversity and Inclusivity was also considered a key driver of excellence within the review, with social responsibility, criticality and employability acting as key components of the University of Sheffield’s mission and values (K4; V1; V2). As a relatively new member of staff I began by familiarising myself with the existing programmes of study, enabling me to better understand how students were currently learning and being taught at the management school (K3). Following research into the role of dialogue in successful change processes in higher education (Roper, 2019) and its broader role in reducing resistance to change (Lines, 2004) I then conducted informal interviews with 14 academics across the division (V3). I then analysed this data to draw out recurring themes that acted as core recommendations for a report to the portfolio review committee. A range of operational changes were proposed such as improving clarity on the programmes offered within the school and improving study skills of students through existing social research methods modules. The major proposal for change centred around the rebadging or replacing of a Human Resource Management (HRM) programme that was deemed too similar to another existing programme. It was suggested that the new programme could be rebadged and redeveloped so that it became more distinct in its subject material, that it recruited a wider range of students and potentially acted as a stronger pipeline for PhD students (K1; V1; V2). It was also suggested that the newly developed module incorporate a wider range of teaching on socially responsible organization that might be attractive to a more diverse group of learners whilst reflecting the inclusive values of the university (V1; V4). I submitted my report to the committee in May 2022 and presented my findings to the group, whilst deliberating about priorities (A1). In January 2023, encouraged by the findings of the portfolio review, colleagues began drafting potential versions of the redeveloped programme and seeking feedback in this process from across the division (V3). Following the portfolio review the University commissioned desk research (from an external partner) focusing on a competitive analysis and the distinctiveness of our current programmes, as well as ones we had preliminary thoughts of developing in the future including redeveloping the HRM programme. Whilst the creation of a new programme will be a lengthy process (we are not expecting any new programme to become active until at least 2025/26), my role in facilitating a divisional process towards programme improvement allowed me to demonstrate leadership skills in this area of learning and teaching (A1; D3:Vii).
Case Study Four: Leading roles in Research Centres focusing on the development of PGR students
In 2020 I was appointed as the director of the Centre for Organizations and Society (COS) at Durham University Business School. In 2022 I was appointed as the research development director of the Organization Studies Group (OSG) at Sheffield University Management School. These roles both had central elements within the job description to attract, support and facilitate the development of postgraduate research (PGR) students (D3:Vii; A4). As Director of COS, the main challenge was to encourage PGRs to engage with research of members within the group and in the wider academic community. In line with the research suggesting the benefits of postgraduate engagement with collective research events (Cunningham-Williams et al, 2019) I created a yearlong seminar series (V3). Each seminar paired up an academic within COS with an external academic, highly regarded in the field, exploring a similar research theme and asked them each to present papers and comment on their work (K1). Within two of the ten seminars PGR students were invited to present their work to the group (and paired with an external contributor) encouraging them to share their own research in a group environment, building critical thinking skills, confidence, and public speaking capacities whilst providing them with feedback on their work (A2; A3; K3). More broadly, all seminars were well-attended by PGR students with them regularly asking questions and joining in with the debate, incorporating the use of technologies such as Zoom break out rooms and Padlet (K4). As Research Development Director of OSG, similar challenges existed. However, on taking the position I decided to conduct several informal interviews with current PGRs within the group to understand what had worked well for them, the challenges that they faced and what they would do to improve the future experience of PGRs. One of the central lessons learned from this process was to a) incorporate PGRs into more OSG events and b) to help PGRs develop skills in writing and getting published so to help with their transition into a future career into academia. In June 2023, following the feedback and the priorities of the OSG, I worked with the centre-lead of the OSG to design and set up a “Critical Methodologies Workshop” incorporating an invited world-leading expert in organization studies to work for a day with members, including PGR students (A5). The session involved presentations from three academics (including the external expert) on “critical” research they had developed and the challenges they faced and overcame in publishing research in this area despite constraints experienced in higher education (A1; K1; V4). We designed the sessions with devoted space throughout the timetable to give PGRs and other colleagues to ask questions and provide their own experiences of critical research, enabling students to learn a significant amount about the subject whilst also developing writing and speaking skills, as well as learning about ways of publishing whilst using critical approaches (A1; A4). The feedback from the sessions from those PGRs attending was very positive with students suggesting that they had learned a significant amount and felt more included in OSG activities (V1; V2). Overall, these leadership roles within two universities enabled me to play a central role in working with a diverse group of PGR students from multiple countries and backgrounds to develop a broad range of skills and capacities. This contributed towards PGR development more broadly within a higher education context in areas that according to research (Engel and Simpson Reeves, 2018) require much more attention in learning and teaching (A5).
So, there are some examples from the fellowship application that show the kinds of teaching experiences I included. It was, as I wrote above, a challenging process but ultimately a really rewarding one that was expertly supported by the administrative staff at Elevate at Sheffield University. If you are thinking about doing something similar I would highly recommend it as something that will help you to take stock of just how much teaching experience you have gathered over the years whilst also flagging up possibilities for developing further the future.