Let me examine you……

Bolton from the blue……

James Derounian (University of Gloucestershire) muses on external examining in England’s North-West….and beyond:

As I stood on Bolton train station post-exam board, this random stranger said “not too often you get more than 1 National Teaching Fellow in a room”! After the initial shock, Cardiff Met’s Jeff Lewis NTF and I embarked on a whistle-stop conversation around teaching and learning, family disasters and his own specialism of Dental Technology! In case you were wondering, and as Jeff explained to me, such “technologists are the ones that make the things dentists put in your mouth….they couldn’t do their job without us”! So now you know……..

I love external examining, for all sorts of reasons. At the moment I am completing 4 years working alongside colleagues delivering courses in Community & Neighbourhood Studies. As I’ve noted in periodic reports “overall, very full, clear and constructive tutor comments and clear sample 2nd marking of student assignments. The use of words deployed by markers matches the marks awarded e.g. “All the feedback here reflects an excellent piece of work” – 80%. Similarly, glad to see that in-text comments clearly reflect what has been said in the summary for each” assignment/ student.” It can be so rewarding when – as with Bolton – colleagues are open and receptive to constructive critical commentary, (the same is hopefully true of me as EE)! In my experience you learn as much as give, if you engage in dialogue and listen, as an external.

Then there are the places, themselves…..my ‘missions’ have been to such diverse and fascinating places; that I might otherwise have never been able to explore. My very first validation, leading on to becoming external, was for the University of the Highlands and Islands. And I couldn’t believe my luck that I was able to fly up, take part, and then take an extra day as holiday to investigate Inverness and surrounds; and then – for semester 2 – go trekking round the Isle of Lewis/ Stornoway. So on one occasion I did a 10-mile walk across peat bog, from Traigh Mhor beach on Harris, all the way up to Ness, and the Shipping Forecast’s ‘Butt of Lewis’. At the end of which I picked up the Friday evening bus, filled with excited teenagers, all chattering in Gaelic, on their way to a night out in Stornoway. It was magic.

Externaling in Bradford could hardly have been more different; and reminded me strongly of my own upbringing in Haringey, North London. Thence to postgrad EE at Liverpool John Moores, which included vivas with graduating students, against a backdrop of Paddy’s Wigwam/ the Mersey Funnel aka Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral! On to the National University of Ireland minding a Rural Development Distance Learning course, that took me to the cliffs at Moher (it had to be done J); Bournemouth – with a ground-breaking Masters in Green Economy; leading to my current stint in the faded Victoriana, dereliction and rebuilding that is Bolton.

So I would say to NTFs, embrace external examining as a way of broadening horizons, staff development, learning new ways of doing things, fraternising with colleagues, and reflecting n on your own practice. I also love the mix of forensic examination of assessments, marking, feedback…..as well as learning about – as well as suggesting – creative ideas for teaching experimentation; plus hearing from students undertaking the particular course.

Please do consider writing a piece for theBlog about aspects of your own External Examining experience: To C.Nerantzi@mmu.ac.uk or jderounian@glos.ac.uk

NTF and Me:

In this first of a series of nosey interviews we ask an NTF to reflect on what their teaching fellowship means to them; and a host of other teaching-related questions….

First up is in-coming ANTF Chair, Becky Huxley-Binns 

If you’d like to post to ‘NTF and Me’ or know an NTF with plenty to say (!) then do make contact: with Chrissi (Nerantzi) C.Nerantzi@mmu.ac.uk or James Derounian jderounian@glos.ac.uk

Questions, questions…..

  • Did you enjoy your time as a student?

At primary and secondary school, very much indeed. I was a sponge and just wanted to learn. At University, less so. My expectations were not really met – but I think that is because I had not had the foresight to understand what University would be like and how much I would have to do independently. No regrets, but I should have worked harder in my first and second year.

  • Were there any particularly memorable tutors you remember; and why?

My final year company law tutor. She knew what we were studying was tough, had a lot of complex detail, but would make sense when we finished and could reflect on the big picture. She kept telling me this, and understanding my weekly struggles; she was ace, such empathy, such patience and understanding.  And she was right, I did get it in the end, and before the assessment!

  • How would students describe your teaching? 


  • What motivates you – about HE – to get out of bed each morning? 

Knowing I can and do make a difference to students’ learning experiences and their lives.

  • Can you tell us about a successful teaching experience of yours? 

Not an individual one, but that moment when you are teaching something nuanced and complex, where the qualitative factors which have to be balanced mean there is no one ‘right’ answer, and when a student ‘gets it’ and they cross the threshold and have a mini epiphany – their faces are the most rewarding, the happiest, the funniest, the best thing in teaching.

  • And, a difficult teaching experience, or a ‘failure’ even; and what you learned from this?

Oh, I had set some really easy and helpful reading to one class to help them understand the following week’s class and it was so easy and would have taken them 15 minutes and they would have cracked the issue and not one, NOT ONE, had done it.

And I walked out of the room in anger. And I lost that group, never to get them back. They lost trust, engagement and, almost certainly, respect for me. There are lots of ways I could have handled it, and I didn’t.

I never did it again. I did carry on setting the reading and I carried on explaining why it was important – and told later classes how badly I had acted and what impact it had had – and I think they felt sorry for me and read the article. And they cracked it. One class’s loss was later classes’ gain, but I felt dreadful.

  • The researchers get to play all “the good tunes” – do you agree? 

Not at all. I am a researcher, but I work in a provider proud to be a teaching institution where we genuinely value teaching and teaching excellence. And teaching is a great gig. That said, I do love research – it broadens my mind and captures my imagination, but I am not in the REF and so my research is for the love of it, never for the impact.

  • If you could give 1 bit of advice about teaching to your younger self, what would it be?

Listen. To colleagues, to students, to peers, to managers. Don’t believe everything you hear, but always listen.


  • Beyond the university, what ‘floats your boat’? 

My daughter, who is 12 and utterly awesome (in the proper meaning of the word). She is funny and resilient and creative and the most interesting person I have ever met.

  • What has it meant for you to become a National Teaching Fellow?

See my blog in September!

Under new management!

Greetings NTF,

and welcome to The Blog. Chrissi Nerantzi [C.Nerantzi@mmu.ac.uk] and I – James (Derounian jderounian@glos.ac.uk) – are the new Blogmeisters and will be posting regularly on teaching and learning, NTFs and our Association (ANTF).


We welcome ideas and offers of short pieces – around 400 words – we don’t want to be an ‘echo chamber’ but rather wish to reflect and converse on topics of mutual interest. With some good pic’s of course!

We are amongst friends!

….Before we forget, Chrissi and I want to thank Viv Rolfe very much for her kindness and help in gently leading us towards taking on the blog 🙂


James and Chrissi

ps. I have just also arrived here… Chrissi here 😉