Introducing…Momna Hejmadi

Momna is the Treasurer for the Committee of the Association of National Teaching Fellows, and Professor of Bioscience Education and Technology at the University of Bath.

My formative years were spent growing up in a part of Bombay very similar to a ‘Slumdog millionaire’ filmset – humble but happy beginnings. My fondest memories were being in the classroom with some wonderful teachers – Catholic nuns but with a great sense of fun! Being the only one in my family to attend university, I considered teaching as a career, but a brief stint teaching in a college in Bombay put me off because of the largely didactic approach I was told to follow.  Funded by an Indian Govt. scholarship, I left teaching and went on to do a PhD in radiation oncology, and became a biomedical researcher, with subsequent professional research experiences in the USA (Brookhaven) and UK (Belfast & Bath) – a life of B’s!

At Bath, I was offered a short-term teaching position, which I accepted with some unease, despite enjoying the experience of supervising and mentoring students in the lab. It turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made! I discovered the truly transformative potential of student-centric education, exemplified by Phil Race, ‘never mind the teaching, feel the learning’.  

Coming from humble beginnings in India, I was acutely aware of the environmental, financial, social and academic challenges facing students from lower socio-economic or international backgrounds during their transition ‘into’, ‘through’ and ‘after’ higher education in the UK. I therefore focused on projects  that supported students through their academic continuum; from supporting students to get into university; to transforming our curriculum be more inclusive and globally representative and using professional placements for career progression and social mobility for these groups of students.

Students remain one of my constant sources of  inspiration, from resilient young undergraduates to mature learners overcoming personal hardships. One such student is Heather. A single mother of six young children, she successfully juggled full-time study with caring for her children, without ever seeking extensions or mitigation, even when her home caught fire the day before an exam! She is now an inspirational teacher!

My NTF award and association with the ANTF Committee has opened up a whole new network of like-minded friends from disciplines I had little knowledge of – such as Law, Music and Performing Arts. This network has led to new project collaborations and co-authoring of papers in areas that are close to my heart. One of these is looking at the impact of the current crisis on exacerbating inequalities among higher education practitioners, particularly those from BAME backgrounds (e.g. career progression, unequal access to support mechanisms, digital tools, advice and networks). As educators, we are all ‘in it together’, and it is more important than ever to support passionate educators, as the sector faces unprecedented challenges and uncertainty. As a body, the ANTF is beginning a series of projects, including a mentorship programme addressing the lack of diversity and leadership opportunity across academia for BAME colleagues. We would love to hear your stories and I hope you feel confident and comfortable to share these with us.

Photo of Momna Hejmadi

What do people get out of being a National Teaching Fellow?

In response to a recent JiscMail discussion regarding the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme, several fellows offered accounts of what the award meant to them. This blog has previously published such accounts from NTFs teaching Law, Science  and Music.

Professor Debbie Holley

Professor Debbie Holley, Bournemouth University inaugural lecture 2018.

The new testimonies feature as part of a WONKHE.com article. The contributors to the article were Stephen McHanwell, Peter Hartley, James Davenport, Debbie Holley (photographed above) and Vivien Rolfe, and below are details of what some of us got out of being a National Teaching Fellow.

  • The NTF changed my life – enabling me to gain a Professorship (Sheffield Hallam) and focus on educational development. This enabled my move to lead the Educational Development Unit at Bradford where we managed to influence institutional policy and bring in over one million pounds worth of project funding (HEA, Jisc) to investigate sector issues such as e-portfolios, student transitions, computer-aided assessment and assessment feedback, as well as being involved in two collaborative CETLs. I was Project Director on the PASS project, investigating programme assessment, and materials from this project are used by a number of universities to inform current plans, The project is continuing to develop post-funding, and we will have chapters in two new publications issued in 2018 (co-author with Ruth Whitfield from Bradford). Along with other initiatives which my NTF stimulated, this has enabled me to extend my career into semi-retirement.
    Peter Hartley – NTF 2000, Education
  • Because the NTF money was awarded to the individual NTF, the NTF could use it on “experimental” ideas, or ideas without the sort of certain return that bids to internal or external funders tend to require. In 2016, I submitted a paper (with colleagues, both internal and external) to SIGCSE 2017, the major US Computer Science Pedagogy conference. It was rejected. Nevertheless, I went (I was already in the States, but it still cost £1000), observed the various tracks of the very large conference, talked to people and showed the rejection to some “old hands”, and got valuable advice. This led to a (rather different) resubmission based on the same underlying research, which has now been accepted to SIGCSE 2018. The institution will now pay, but it would never have paid for the vital exploratory visit.  Another example is taking a student to FOSDEM (Free Open Source Developers’ European Meeting) to talk about his final year project. This was great  for the student, even though his project was not accepted into the main tree of the software, and gave me a great insight into what the barriers were to getting student code accepted.
    James Davenport – NTF 2014, Computer Science
  • My NTF funding of £10,000 awarded in 2012 was a lifeline for me as I moved universities at that time and therefore had the autonomy to develop my area of open education practice, particularly where internal funds were not available. I built national and international reputation in the field of open education, and the money funded conference attendance and travel, and over 30 research outputs since January 2014.
    Vivien Rolfe – NTF 2012, Physiology and Open Education
  • My NTF was of huge personal and professional benefit. It took three institutions and five attempts to finally gain this so much desired and valued award, and meeting the other NTFs in Liverpool Cathedral, and sharing the time with senior staff from my institution and my family was an evening i will never forget, as we walked across the candle lit walkway, pianist playing, to enjoy our meal together. No, it is not about financial award, it is about building community, having an expert body to reach out to for inspiration when times get tough and you have a deadline. It is about being welcomed in most Universities across the UK, there is a kindred spirit who aims high and puts the students at the heart of learning. But with University funding severely pressed, students expecting more and the demands of both TEF and REF, the NTF remains the one space where we can have that small amount of ‘creatively’ money and use it to offer our students the most wonderful set of learning experiences. The REF and TEF both, in theory will deliver additional ‘corporate’  funding to Universities. But our students deserve better – and we, the  exceptional educators who facilitate their learning and engender a love of the discipline deserve small scale funding pots to facilitate the pushing at the boundaries of education that our line managers, so tied up with corporate finance, are unable to offer. Who would have funded Jan Sellers Labyrinth work? Viv Rolfes OER work? My own JISC work delivering benefit to not only the institution, but the sector?
    Debbie Holley – NTF 2014, Digital Innovation

If you are part of the NTF community and wish to share your ideas or details of your innovative teaching practice, then do communicate via Twitter @NTF_Tweet or the NTF JiscMail list.