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How do you know I know anything?

23 Jan 2020 | Prof Simon Usherwood In the 20th anniversary year of the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme, Professor Simon Usherwood from the University of Surrey writes about how his award in 2015 has helped him to help others.

Teaching and learning was for a long time a bit of an oddity in the higher education landscape: obviously an important thing, but not like disciplines or research, however problematic both those terms might be.

If you wanted to improve your teaching, then you had to get lucky and bump into someone else who was also interested, with whom you could chat and share ideas.

And if you didn’t get lucky, then you had to hope that your personal reflection would be enough to get you through.

That’s essentially how I did it, drawing on the positive (and the negative) experiences I had had, striking up random conversations with people I met at random events, squirrelling away ideas for the day when I might actually be able to use them.

I did pretty well like that, especially after I found myself in Albuquerque with nothing else to do, among a bunch of people also with nothing to do. We set up a blog and got to writing some pieces together. That blog is now one of the globally most-visited politics teaching sites, but it still relied on chance (and the absence of New Mexican tourist attractions).

All of which is to say why I have valued the award of National Teaching Fellow which I received in 2015. That status and that promotion took me from being “that guy who does stuff on simulation games” to being someone with a meaningful validation that this 'stuff' had real value. In the years since then, many new doors have been opened by my new title, and not all in the expected way.

Yes, there have been invites to speak to institutional teaching and learning events, and workshops across four continents, but also an improved visibility for me and my fellow NTFs within our home institution on matters pedagogic.

However, the biggest impact was one that took place well away from the classroom.

As a scholar of European politics, you’d not be surprised to know I’ve been talking about Brexit for the past few years. Indeed, it’s been the main part of my work, as a member of the ESRC’s “UK in a Changing Europe” programme.

That includes media interviews, organising public events and a lot of trying to explain the latest issues to a lay audience. In short, a lot of it is like teaching.

My involvement was based in no small part on my NTF track record and the confidence the programme could have that I would use my pedagogic insights to best effect in helping people to learn. Sometimes that has meant visual representations, and sometimes it’s meant playing with Lego, but always it has sought to embody the values of the NTF scheme in striving to do the best for those we are trying to help.


Simon Usherwood is Professor of Politics at the University of Surrey and co-editor of the 'Active Learning in Political Science' blog. His pedagogic focus is on the use of simulation games, but he’s also interested in anything that make for better learning, whoever he’s working with.


Applications for a National Teaching Fellowship 2020 close on Wednesday 18 March 2020. Institutions can nominate up to three individuals for the award. Find out more.

Share your #NTFSis20 story with us on Twitter and join the Advance HE Connect group especially for National Teaching Fellows.

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