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Developing international links through National Teaching Fellowship

29 Apr 2020 | Prof Alastair Irons As part of the 20th anniversary celebrations for the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme, NTF 2010, Professor Alastair Irons from the University of Sunderland shares the impact of his NTF win as a visiting scholar at the University of Cape Town.

I was invited by colleagues from University of Cape Town (UCT) to apply for their visiting scholar scheme to teach on their undergraduate Computer Science programme. I was able to use some of my NTF funding to match funding from UTC. My visiting scholar activities included teaching a final year undergraduate module, collaborative research and working with colleagues to enhance their PSRB position. I was very fortunate and was able to visit UCT on three separate occasions over a period of three years.

The main teaching activity that I engaged with was the delivery of a digital forensics module to final year undergraduate honours students. This was a subject area that had not been taught at UCT before and it was really interesting writing a new module (and getting it approved at UCT before I travelled), teaching in the context of South Africa rather than the UK (different legislation and different criminal justice system), developing learning and teaching materials and assessing (expectation of coursework and examination) in an institution different to my own.

I was also able to present my research as part of UCT’s Academic Seminar Series. I was thrilled that staff and students from across the campus attended.

I got lots of questions at the end of my seminar and I was able to make a number of contacts, one of these lead to the initiation of a collaborative project, ending up in a Journal publication.




I had a series of objectives that I hoped to achieve during my time at UCT, which included:

  • experience teaching and working in a different environment – understanding and appreciation of different learning cultures
  • promoting my discipline and sharing expertise with colleagues and students
  • developing new professional relationships, particularly research collaboration opportunities
  • gaining new insights and outlooks
  • meeting people from different backgrounds and cultures
  • finding out more about South Africa.

My visits enabled all of these. I was overwhelmed and humbled by the kindness and generosity of colleagues at UCT who welcomed me into their academic environment as an equal and gave up their free time to show me around the city and surrounding areas. Visits to the top of Table Mountain, Robben Island and a number of wineries were exciting highlights.

Teaching on different programmes to students who had experience of different educational systems was a real eye opener. Balancing my usual learning and teaching approaches with the students in South Africa kept me on my toes and encouraged me to try new approaches.

Colleagues from UCT also had a set of objectives for my visit which included:

  • introducing a new topic to honours teaching (and then repeating on further visits)
  • including an international speaker and a UK perspective in UCT research seminar series (I gave a different seminar on each of my three visits)
  • providing staff development on PSRB activities
  • developing collaborative research
  • acting as catalyst to bring different parts of UCT together.

At the conclusion of each of my visits I had a review meeting with the Head of School of Computer Science and the feedback on objectives was positive on each occasion.

The opportunity to visit UCT in South Africa was a wonderful experience made possible by my NTF in 2010 that shaped and changed my professional practice in education.

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Professor Alastair Irons is Academic Dean for the Faculty of Technology at the University of Sunderland. He is currently Vice President and Chair of the Academy Board for the BCS.  He is working on the 2nd edition of a text on Formative Feedback and Assessment.


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