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?
Reader, Director of Civil and Environmental Engineering Discipline
What school or service do you work in?
School of Engineering
Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your role.
I came to Edinburgh in 1999 to spend few years as a post-doc and I have never left. A great University in an amazing city is not a combination found easily elsewhere. I have a multidisciplinary background as I studied geology and geophysics in Greece followed by a PhD in computational electromagnetics and ground penetrating radar at York. The radars I work with have a strong area of application in infrastructure sensing and civil engineering site and structure investigation problems and non-destructive testing. So, my connection to civil engineering comes from the application of my research over the years although, I mostly work on developing tools and fundamental improvements on how we model and understand ground penetrating radar and I do not only focus on the applications themselves. As the Director of Civil and Environmental Engineering am overall responsible for the delivery of the Discipline’s degree programmes and the continuous development and adjustment, when needed, of our curriculum obviously within the overall framework of the learning and teaching strategy and planning in the School of Engineering. During the academic year, some of the most important aspects of this role are to be able to address any urgent rising concerns or issues brought up by our students and resolve and explain and clarify decisions that affect them, listen and act on their feedback. I do this with the support of a great team of people working with me and of my academic colleagues. As their line manager my equally important role is to manage as equitably as possible the workload of my colleagues and most importantly support them in delivering our courses and also on their own professional journey in the University. The pandemic has presented great challenges for everyone and all my colleagues have worked extremely hard to adjust our courses and programmes to the needs of this uniquely challenging academic year.
What does it mean to you to have been nominated for a Teaching Award this year?
To be nominated by my students is for me the biggest reward and also a confirmation that my course design and delivery ideas are at least to a good degree effective. This year we all have had to adapt and innovative and I should say that my interest over the years in education technology helped me also to overcome some obstacles, brought in by the pandemic, in delivering my course. I am really happy that my ideas in designing my course this year worked, and this nomination is a very much welcome “pat on the back”. In my view academics should not be classified as either educators or researchers but they are both these two things entangled. This is very important as it is crucial, especially now, to understand that our courses should aim strongly in developing our students’ way of thinking and understanding and not just be vehicles for stale transfer of knowledge and this needs to be done by marrying whenever possible the academic’s research expertise on the subject with the right pedagogy and the appropriate tools to be able to commune the fundamental understanding of the subject’s important elements as efficiently and universally effectively to our students. In this process, also an understanding of the learner’s view is very important but is not always as easy to have. So, this nomination to me reinforces the validity of these ideas, that I had as guiding principles for developing my course and deciding the tools to use in it, but although I am very happy and grateful for this nomination it also does not mean that everything is perfect but that I am at least on the right path! Thank you!
What’s your favourite part of your role and working with students?
An academic career is very rewarding and yes also challenging and often with disappointments, but the biggest reward is to see how young people develop, over the years of their studies, to become mature critical thinkers and I feel very happy that I play a part in this process. Education and the creation and communication of knowledge and critical thinking is the key to unlock the solutions to most of our problems as a human race and actually the pandemic has proven this point beyond doubt if one considers that our only viable route, we have found out from this situation, is through knowledge.
How have you adapted your approach to teaching and supporting students under the Hybrid Model this year?
In engineering problem solving is embedded in our thinking and when presented with a challenge we spring into action to meet it. I must say that previous knowledge and my interest in technologies that supported teaching helped greatly thinking of an approach to develop and adopt to a combination of digital and when possible in-person teaching. The pedagogical frameworks that underpin the concept of hybrid teaching, as used, were not new but needed adapting. More clear structure and regularity in the delivery of content and a clearer plan for the students and also management of expectations are as important, or even more, as the clever use of technological solutions to make things happen. Listening and be able to respond quickly to students I think was more important this year.
What’s been the biggest challenge in your role this year?
There have been many challenges for many aspects of my role, but this is common for many of my colleagues this year. What I have found particular challenging in my teaching is the inability to actually see my students when I teach in a live digital session and therefore to be able to close the loop of feedback on how the class is doing at the time. Teaching as a lecturer is to a degree like giving a performance as in theatre and I think we had to do a lot of cinema this year. It can be equally exciting and good, but it is different…
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 find out more about the Teaching Awards and browse nomination categories, please visit the Students’ Association’s website.