A new year provides a great opportunity to reflect not just on our professional achievements of the preceding 12 months, but also on the trajectory that we envisage for ourselves going forward. One question that I’ve been continually asking myself, for the past two and a half years now, is what role a National Teaching Fellow might uniquely play within their associated institution.
For me, the question has a personal significance: two months after becoming a NTF back in June 2013, I left the position I then held as BMus Programme Director at City University London in order to take up a new post – with a much wider cross-disciplinary remit – as Director of Learning and Teaching in the School of Arts at the University of Surrey. This goes to show the new doors that the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme can open for successful applicants, even within a relatively short space of time.
One way in which I have endeavoured to play my part as a NTF moving to a new institutional role is in periodically organising Learning and Teaching symposia within my new School. Following the inaugural event in January 2014 (towards the end of my first semester in post), the symposia have thereafter been held biennially, in September and January. Hence they are at the forefront of my mind at the start of each calendar year; the next is scheduled for early in the New Year.
Given the fast-paced nature of life as a higher education lecturer, we do not always manage as often as we perhaps might to take a morning out of our collective schedules to take stock of current issues in learning and teaching, strategy and policy development, and our ongoing training requirements. These symposia have therefore provided valuable opportunities for staff to come together as a School, as well as involving other areas of the University such as Quality Enhancement and Standards, Technology Enhanced Learning, and Student Services.
The events have adopted a range of approaches and formats, responding to issues that have presented themselves as being both important and timely. Some have included staff presentations and workshop demonstrations, while others have crystallised around seminar-style discussions in which all attendees have been active participants. Areas they have covered have included assessment and feedback, inspirational teaching, student-centred learning, personal tutoring, quality assurance, assessment penalties, and student interactivity.
Specific discussions that have taken place at the symposia (often, though not always, facilitated by myself) have included themes arising from recent publications such as the HEA’s excellent ‘Engagement through partnership’ report (which was lead-authored by a NTF) and the NUS’s Charter on Personal Tutors and Ten Principles of Effective Feedback. The former even inspired a roundtable question and answer session on ‘Inspirational teaching – students’ perspectives’, led entirely by student panellists.
As a keen blogger, I have been in the habit of taking pictures and writing up each event for our School of Arts blog (see links below). I have also circulated documentation via follow-up e-mails to all School staff, which has proven to be a valuable means of sustaining discussion beyond the symposium itself, and of providing ongoing reminders of the issues we explored and the conclusions we reached.
Above all, my experiences of organising these events have suggested to me that if a NTF seeks to build something new at their institution, people will indeed come (with a minimal amount of gentle persuasion). Perhaps their usefulness is also being recognised by colleagues: over a month ago, I was already being asked whether it would be possible for staff who will be teaching during one of the workshop sessions to catch up what they missed via another avenue.
With the recent governmental proposal for a Teaching Excellence Framework heralding the renewed importance of nationally understood criteria for the recognition of teaching excellence, the role of the NTF will likely become even more important in the years that follow. The time therefore seems ripe to contemplate how NTFs may continue to make a unique contribution within – and indeed beyond – their respective institutions.
Links to School of Arts blog entries