Principal’s Teaching Awards – Celebratory Reflections
Several staff from the Learning Services team were able to attend the Celebration of the Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme (PTAS) for 2014. Their individual highlights from the day are presented here.
Over 100 staff from across the University gathered in late June to share experiences and ideas from their projects. The PTAS scheme began in 2007 with the aim of supporting staff in developing innovative learning and teaching through research and development work. At this event I was struck by the sheer range of work being presented, and reflected on the maturity of a programme which has an impact across the curriculum.
The opening keynote on the Co-creation of learning and teaching from Dr Catherine Bovill of the University of Glasgow’s Academic Development Unit, and the two parallel sessions I was able to attend (Jeremy Kidwell and Andrew Kelley, School of Divinity, discussing their work in different school contexts under the banner “To blog or not to blog? a critical review of the use of blogs in teaching” and Jo-Anne Murray, Veterinary Medicine, on “Lecturer in your lounge: providing digital feedback to distance education students using screencasting.”) all provided useful insights, and a number of “notes to self” on follow-up actions and references – mainly to do with how staff found the tools they had used, and what lessons support staff could draw from their experiences.
However, for me the highlight of the day, in true “Keep the best till last” fashion, was Mark Huxham’s closing keynote From Constructive Alignment to Natural Lines – Learning to Share Control in Education. What made it special?
- He woke us all up.
So often at events focused on learning and teaching we do to ourselves, just what we try not to do to our students: sit in windowless rooms for hours at a stretch, listening (or not) to didactic presentations. Although the day had been nicely paced, with plenty of time for networking over coffee and moving between rooms, it had been a long and tiring day requiring focus and attention. Mark acted on the “good practice” ideas we so often pay lip service to, and got us up and moving around.
- He gave us “warts and all”
Honestly presenting an outline of a “focused feedback” project which did not work out as planned, and explaining just how he and his colleagues reached that “Duh!” moment (it’s obvious when you’ve thought of it – after the event) was a very vivid illustration of the dangers of deterministic thinking, and how easily teachers can fall into the trap of somehow expecting students to behave differently from ourselves.
- He took us on an inspirational journey
He explained, with photographs, student quotes and some hard data, how he had engaged a large-ish cohort of students in co-creating a course – changing what happens in (and out) of the classroom, course content, and assessment practice, in some cases quite radically. So, for example, there are whole days blocked out for the course where all the students can go on a “Darwin’s sandwalk” .
- He gave us some direction
All of these ideas are firmly rooted in educational models that can be shown to work – which certainly helps support the inevitable arguments when such radical changes to the curriculum and timetable are proposed. The closing mountaineering metaphor – choosing “natural lines” instead of “constructive alignment”, works well even for those of us who wobble on the smallest cliff edge!
I attended Prof Susan Rhind’s presentation on “Where Art meets Science: 3d printing in Vet Medical Education.”
The PTAS project being presented and discussed was a joint project between the Vet School and the Edinburgh College of Art. There were three main reasons for wanting to investigate 3d printing within veterinary medical education:
- to print objects which represent rarely-seen pathology examples;
- to assist with understanding cross-species differences; and
- to minimise the use of animal tissue for welfare and ethical issues.
The project was working with the Jeanne Marchig International Centre for Animal Welfare Education.
Susan brought along a box of 3d printed objects which had been used in the project, to highlight that not everything translates well from image to 3d object.
For example, a 3d spleen which does look like a spleen, but does not feel like a spleen.
Size, shape, colour and consistency are paramount in pathology (Susan’s specialism) and 3d printing doesn’t allow for this . . . yet!
However, there is massive opportunity with 3d printing to print objects which the students would not normally see within their training and to scale up or down objects which can then be used for example, for public engagement with veterinary medicine.
Susan presented images of the workshops that were conducted with vet med students and students from the ECA. It was clear to all that the students were enjoying themselves, having fun, laughing and smiling, and Susan did confirm that the students did indeed have a lot of fun.
This sense of fun came through in the evaluations which showed that students both enjoyed having a break from their more stressful classes and events and additionally they enjoyed using a different part of their brain in a creative way.
Student Feedback: “The pathology came alive as we got to play with it more”.
“Enquiry and Innovation: Secondment Stories” was a session in the day’s programme which drew my curious attention.
It was led by Daphne Loads from the Institute for Academic Development (IAD). Daphne is currently researching how university educators develop their own practice and how they contribute to the development of others whilst seconded to work on projects at Academic Development Units.
After a short introduction to the academic secondment idea, the audience were given an opportunity to talk to four former IAD secondees. To make these discussions a bit more orderly, all chairs in the room were arranged into four “conversational circles” with each circle starred by a secondee. The group which I joined had their eyes and ears focused on the IAD secondment experience of Gavin McCabe from the Employability Initiative – as told by the man himself. Gavin’s first IAD project focused on developing the Edinburgh Award scheme. This was followed by a second secondment (sic!) where Gavin contributed to a new “Excellence in European Doctoral Education” scoping study, a joint initiative with Aarhus University (Denmark).
Whilst listening to Gavin’s impressions I realised just how much of it resonated with my own experience as an IAD secondee. These secondments sometimes might seem like swapping a full time job for two inter-connected part-time jobs; inter-connected not only within the institutional structure of the University but also in time as a career development opportunity.
The motivations of colleagues who undertake such a task are very complex. They are often a mixture of authentic work-related passions and ideas of the secondee and institutional requirements of the time to produce a specific piece of work. However, the most challenging issue for all secondees is to be able to switch regularly between two different workplaces. In my view, this challenge itself can almost turn a secondee into a grandmaster at the simultaneous chess exhibition! It seems that good time management skills as well as flexibility and adaptability are essential for the challenge.
Once the discussions in groups concluded, we were all invited by Daphne to think of a secondment idea which each of us would see as particularly attractive. So, I am now extending this invitation to all the staff reading our blog! Have YOU ever thought of becoming a secondee?
As one of the breakout sessions, I went to see Dr Jo-Anne Murray’s “Lecturer in your lounge: providing digital feedback to distance education students using screen casting“. Jo-Anne gave us a whistle stop tour of the ways in which she has used audio and video feedback with her distance based students. She described her journey with this kind of technology (mainly Jing by TechSmith) and some of the advantages she’s discovered, including being able to simultaneously highlight text in the assessment as she’s speaking to make the feedback really clear and targetted.
She talked about her growing confidence with giving feedback in this way, starting off by scripting her feedback in advance, but ultimately reaching a place where she speaks naturally as if she was having a face to face conversation with her student. She emphasised the importance of addressing students directly by name, and giving some positive reinforcing messages, including acknowledging any difficult personal circumstances which might have made the assessment tougher to complete. Feedback from her students suggests that they very much appreciate both the detailed level of feedback they receive, and the highly personalised format. For me this reinforces some of the messages I’ve heard more generally around student feedback – where personalised useful feedback, and a 1-1 connection with academic staff are valued highly.
Dr Cathy Bovill’s opening keynote spoke of co-creation of learning and teaching with students as feeling ‘risky’, and Professor Mark Huxham’s closing talk identified the sharing of control between staff and students as requiring ‘risky commitment’. In the context of her distanced based teaching, Jo-Anne talked about being willing to take a risk, and by doing so is turning feedback into an important moment of personal connection that does more than advance the student’s academic achievement.
More information about the University’s PTAS Award scheme from the IAD. If you have an idea you would like to discuss further this includes contact details.