Edinburgh University Students’ Association’s Student-Led Teaching Awards are back to recognise outstanding members of learning and support staff. After a challenging year for everyone, we’re celebrating our worthy nominees by shouting about their successes across our digital platforms.
What is your full name?
What is your job title?
What school or service do you work in?
School of Biomedical Science
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role.
I began my current role at the University of Edinburgh in 2016; I teach experimental design and data analysis to undergraduate, MSc and PhD students, but also help staff in these topics. I began as a Teaching Fellow, but am now Lecturer.
My career path is not typical. In the 1990’s, I completed my MSc in Canada studying pollination ecology. This is when I fell in love with research. But, at this time I also volunteered with the non-governmental organization, the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society. This volunteering helped me see the real-world importance of outreach, and prompted me to leave academia. I began teaching environmental education (e.g. oceanography for kids) in the USA, which led to my teaching high school Biology for three years in Boston, USA. During this time I grew to further appreciate the real-world impact and importance of teaching; I also really missed the creativity that comes with research. As a result, I began my PhD, determined to obtain a position where I can both teach and conduct research. I completed by PhD in 2011 (evolutionary genetics), completed a post-doc in speciation genomics in 2015, and held a Teaching Fellowship before starting my current position.
Although I am a biologist, I really enjoy teaching experimental design and analysis. This topic lies at the heart of how we “do” science and understand the world, and is often under-appreciated.
What does it mean to you to have been nominated for a Teaching Award this year?
It feels wonderful to be nominated. Almost all of my teaching involves classes with more than 150 students, so it is difficult to get to know students as I did when I taught high school. It is also difficult to understand whether I have managed to create a positive learning environment and experience for them. It is hard to describe, but being nominated helps to fill that gap and motivates me to do more.
What’s your favourite part of your role and working with students?
I love working 1-on-1 with students. (Lecturing is not as fulfilling as we might wish!) From a teaching perspective, this is when I can begin to see where a student is struggling, and why. It feels great to help the student see their own mis-understanding and learn from it. Learning stats can also be daunting for students; it is during these 1:1 sessions during my office hours that I often see students gain confidence with the subject. That feels great: we aim to make students independent and confident learners. The 1:1 sessions also help me see how I can present materials more clearly to the whole class, and I try to change my teaching accordingly.
How have you adapted your approach to teaching and supporting students under the Hybrid Model this year?
I completely changed my teaching from standard ‘lectures’ to a ‘flipped-classroom’ approach. Each week, I provide videos and ‘homework’ (e.g., practice problems) for students to complete before we have a ‘live session’ a week later. (I refer to events that involve the whole class as ‘live sessions’, rather than ‘lectures’.) These preparatory materials replace a standard lecture.
The ‘live’ sessions are flexible. We always begin with Q&A to clarify issues that arose from the preparatory materials. I show up to the live sessions with a number of activities prepared; these often include:
1) a review quiz (presented on PowerPoint) with MCQ’s that students answer via a Poll in Collaborate; discussion follows each question;
2) presenting an analysis based on that that week’s subject matter; students and I can work through the analysis together;
3) an activity that students might work on in groups.
Students also make suggestions/requests for how to spend our time together. Students vote (via Polling in Collaborate) on the available options to decide how we will spend the session.
Students seem to appreciate this approach. I love the interaction and sense that we’re spending time on what students need.
What’s been the biggest challenge in your role this year?
The sheer amount of work has been overwhelming. The transition to online teaching has been a huge task.
What would you say to the student(s) who nominated you, or students who are considering submitting a nomination for a staff member who has had an impact on them?
To students who nominated me, I’d say ‘Thank you; being nominated provides me a form of personal support from the people that matter most in this job (you, the students). It not only feels nice, but it motivates me to improve my teaching further. It is like having someone cheer for you during a race.’
To students who are considering submitting a nomination for a member of staff who has impacted them: ‘Please let the staff member know how they have impacted you; this could simply be through an e-mail or a note, but all people need to know when they are appreciated. A nomination, however, also celebrates good teaching in a way that impacts the university more widely: it creates a culture of appreciated and celebrated teaching, which can benefit everyone.’
To find out more about the Teaching Awards and browse nomination categories, please visit the Students’ Association’s website.