I still remember it vividly. I was at a pedagogical conference in Helsinki, in the middle of a presentation session, when my Twitter stream exploded with colleagues and friends congratulating me from all over the world: the National Teaching Fellows for 2017 had just been announced, and I had won an Award! It was overwhelming. A few minutes later, I was able to call my mum; her shouts of joy made it real. Here I am with my parents at the Awards ceremony:
Nothing has been the same since. The experience has made my head spin: new people, colleagues, tweets, blogs to write, interviews, invitations, keynotes, recognition, achievement, and a new beginning. I certainly feel that I have come a long way since taking my first steps in the world of pedagogical practice with the award of an HEA Teaching Development Grant in 2014.
My expertise is crafting pedagogies to increase student self-efficacy at performing academic tasks. This is a process that I have experienced myself - gradually building my expertise and my confidence, evaluating and disseminating my practice, until I reached the NTF milestone. But, the journey is just the beginning - conference after conference, workshop after workshop, experimenting and working in partnership with my students to enhance their learning experience and to support colleagues in helping their own students.
The impact of my NTF award became evident almost instantly after the official announcement. With my photo splashed all over the UEA website for over four weeks, colleagues would stop me all around campus to congratulate or just to say ‘Hi!’. I certainly made some new friends during that time, but the achievement was about more than the euphoria of celebration. Just prior to winning my NTF, I was appointed as the new Teaching Director for the School of Economics, and there is no doubt that the momentum helped me to establish my leadership and bring positive change all over our teaching practice. Being honest, leadership does not come with an instruction manual as some skills can only be learnt in the field. My enthusiasm for good teaching practice still pushes me to dive into passionate conversations about learning and teaching enhancement; I can only call myself lucky for working with such a great team of colleagues at my School, as well as across the whole institution at UEA.
In the past two years, I have been able to implement a wide range of innovations at the School of Economics, spanning from the creation of new modules and courses, to the improvement our assessment practice. Keeping sight of the ‘bigger picture’, and sharing experiences with expert colleagues has also informed my plans to support the professional development of my colleagues and find ways to incentivise and reward innovation. Moving to the wider institutional environment, my NTF award granted me greater professional recognition and allowed me to have my voice heard across different disciplines and units. I run workshops on assessment design, the implementation of active learning approaches, and the use of learning technologies. I sit on various committees that inform University strategy on the management of teaching spaces, as well as on inclusive education and widening participation.
One of the activities I enjoy the most is meeting with our University Teaching Fellows and working with them to support the development of their profile as they prepare to apply for an NTF award. I was extremely pleased when our colleague Harriet Jones was awarded her NTF. We had some very productive conversations about her application, and I was delighted to see her star shine.
There are no official statistics to this date, but it appears that there are less than 10 NTFs in Economics, within a population over 900 NTFs appointed over the past 20 years. Needless to say, news of my Award established my position within the discipline. I was appointed as Associate of the Economics Network, and I have worked with our discipline network ever since, running workshops for curriculum implementation, as well as for the dissemination of good practice in assessment. Individual departments and schools of Economics have invited me to visit to deliver bespoke training events and to conduct course reviews. Currently, I am also acting as external examiner for Economics for two prestigious institutions in the UK.
Becoming a National Teaching Fellow allowed me to go well beyond the boundaries of my discipline. I am part of a fantastic community of knowledgeable and enthusiastic academics. Our mailing list thrives with ideas, calls for collaboration and networking opportunities. Our annual meeting, through the Association of National Teaching Fellows, is a joyful festival of excellent teaching practice, scholarship, and friendship. Becoming a NTF was not just the celebration of a great achievement, but the beginning of a new chapter in my professional life.
Thanks to the work of my mentors, Sally Brown and Phil Race, I met many interesting and knowledgeable colleagues. Over a year, I entered in a collaboration with fellow NTF Naomi Winstone, and we are working together to investigate the role and the applications of feedback over viva-voce assessment. Following an Anglo-American Summit on Assessment practice, gathering the expertise of British NTFs and American experts in the field, I also made a great connection with colleagues working at James Madison University, in Virginia, who are pioneers in assessment practice in the US. This past summer I had opportunity to visit them to learn about techniques for teaching Ethical Thinking in Practice. I came back with fantastic ideas to experiment in my own teaching and to disseminate here in the UK. My future plans include expanding the reach of my consultancy activities overseas, as well as continuing my work in pedagogical research.
Metrics, professional frameworks, and quality standards make the British education system reliable and accountable, but we would be lost without the passion and energy of our teaching community. The NTFS scheme supports teaching enhancement and innovation in the HE sector and is a valuable asset that we want to preserve.
Happy 20th anniversary to all NTFs, here’s to the next 20 years!
Dr Fabio Aricò is the Director of Learning, Teaching, and Quality at the School of Economics of the University of East Anglia. Fabio is an Associate of the Economics Network and an internationally recognised pedagogical innovator and consultant across the disciplines. His research predominantly focuses on assessment design and evaluation.