I was faced with overcoming the issue that many Business Schools have experienced, being quality assurance driven. Teaching enhancement was not in the daily narrative but in the era of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), doing so was of strategic importance (Parr, 2017). The festival was aimed at restoring our focus on learning and teaching while being mindful of inclusivity and the success of our students. Of course, my strategy was not to be at the expense of losing the momentum of improving research in the School. Simply, I wanted to create an environment to support lecturers on the Teaching and Scholarly career pathway and provide an equal opportunity to progress. Using my knowledge of business education, I was in a good position to do this.
Initially I created a Teaching and Learning Forum, as many other Business Schools did. We met once a term to share ideas and projects in the area of pedagogy and encouraging reflective practice for which we received very positive feedback. However, I was disappointed with the average attendance, numbering around 15 lecturers in each meeting. Academics are now expected to be experts in everything, and we create so many activities during the teaching term that it is impossible to fulfil all requirements. So I reflected on a new approach and with my colleagues we decided on a one-day festival. I wanted the festival to include a platform for sharing practice from all business disciplines, showcase faculty projects and most importantly get people from different departments to talk together, instead of sitting in their offices trying to keep up with the challenging pace of academic life now.
The first festival had approximately 80 staff attend, sharing their experiences and engaging in discussions about future projects.
“The Learning and Teaching Festival provided an excellent opportunity to hear about innovations in teaching practice by other colleagues in the Faculty. It was extremely informative to hear from other departments as we develop best practice together to address challenges and celebrate our successes together. I also appreciate how the Festival provided me with an opportunity to showcase my own practice outside of the department.”
The Business School declared the event a success and I secured funding for this to become an annual event. The key to the success of the festival was to have a member of each department part of the organising committee and to ensure a small part of the day was dedicated to what was important to each department. The timing of the event was also critical, so I chose the end of the academic year in the week of the exam boards and we combined it on the day we have our annual campus BBQ to maximise impact.
The festival inspired more people to engage in research into pedagogy, so much so that I was able to secure a separate budget for small bids in this area. Attendance at national conferences has also improved, academics have now carved out time to learn from others and bring in ideas from other universities, not just other disciplines within our school. More importantly, this change in culture is now directly influencing practices inside and outside the classroom.
As with all universities, at Greenwich we want all our events to be inclusive, so this was the focus of the second festival, where we had approximately 140 people attending and presenting. We invited an external keynote speaker and commissioned a special edition of a journal in pedagogy to publish case studies from this event. A stronger community of practice was achieved with Hourly Paid Lecturers (HPLs), Transnational Education (TNE) partners and professional services staff all presenting alongside full-time academic staff. It was important to signal that we are all in this together. The student experience only works if we understand each other’s contributions to the process. We are already in the planning process for the third festival, and for the first time, we plan to hold a sister event in Malaysia to improve the student learning journey at our franchises.
Discussing good practice is essential and the only way we can improve the student experience is to provide an opportunity to talk, which is difficult with the many objectives that academics have now. However, now that most universities provide clear pathways for promotion, which include Teaching and Scholarly, it is important that individuals on each track receive the same opportunities to develop and evidence their impact. It has not been easy to create this community of practice and it does require a financial investment. However, we have been investing in the area of research and enterprise for some time now, so is it time we started investing more in this area too?
Dr Liz Warren is Director of Learning and Teaching and part of the Senior Management and Executive Team, within the Business School at the University of Greenwich. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) and an HEA Senior Fellow.