New to teaching

In the line of duty: new to higher education during a pandemic

This blog has been authored by Paul Chesterton (NTF), Associate Professor, Teesside University; Jennifer Chesterton, Lecturer, Sunderland University; Emily Hedley, Lecturer, Teesside University; Daniel Moore, Senior Lecturer, Teesside University. A follow-up blog from the same authors will be published tomorrow!

Photo of Paul Chesterton
Paul Chesterton, NTF

As an NTF, developing the careers of academics through the lens of learning and teaching, has always been a sharp focus of mine. I often reflect on my own transition into full-time academic life and recognise how difficult the past year must have been for colleagues new to Higher Education.

This is the first of two blogs: the first reflecting upon the experiences of academics new to teaching, with the second considering the support mechanisms facilitating the transition. As a current academic, teaching on an allied health professional course, I asked colleagues to share their experiences and co-author these blogs.

From our discussions it was obvious that the shift during the pandemic to a mainly online delivery, limited the traditional on-campus introductory experience. Weaving the often-complex maze of institutional systems, policies and regulations from the comfort of home presents its own challenges. The inability ‘to bump into colleagues’ or chat over a ‘coffee’ asking those pertinent questions of how to navigate alien university systems, were missed opportunities.

The sector at the time, together with other industries across the globe, went into crisis management responding to a rapidly changing climate. The move to the digital world, as a seasoned academic, brought challenges but was ultimately underpinned by my knowledge ‘of the system’. Colleagues new to teaching didn’t have the benefit of being ahead of the game. What they did have was a fresh approach to teaching in an online world which fostered unique perspectives shaping future delivery styles. There was no need to remove the shackles of years of traditional teachings, with the pandemic allowing colleagues to embrace and innovate modern forms of healthcare education delivery. The largely hybrid delivery model for healthcare courses, allowed for a mix of online and on-campus delivery and the opportunity to experience some practical teaching. The experience has instilled the confidence to adopt flexible approaches to student learning, whilst retaining the student experience at the heart of everything we do.

Despite the numerous benefits of online learning, colleagues reflected upon the reduction of visual and audial student engagement, during teaching. Face-to-face delivery allows the infusion of immediate feedback with the evaluation of student’s body language and non-verbal communication a vital cog in the teaching loop. Teaching to often blank screens, with videos turned off, often left colleagues feeling they had lost an important feedback opportunity to develop their own teaching styles. Positive reinforcement, and the feeling of their teaching being ‘well-received’, breeds confidence in one’s ability. Colleagues missed informal discussion with students, often at the end of sessions, allowing reflection upon teaching delivery.

They say police officers are never off duty, and this rings true for most of the academic community over the past year. For colleagues new to the demands of academic life, the blurred boundaries between work and home have become even more hazy and distorted. The digital world ensures an email is never far away and managing a work life balance, whilst constructing the best possible student experience, is an ongoing evolving process.

Embracing these challenges is certainly the overarching take home message. For most, the past year, has been a learning journey taken alongside our students. Ultimately, in the spirit of true collaboration, both parties have learnt and grown together.

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