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NTFS 2022: From designer to NTF, how did I get here?

19 Aug 2022 | Richard Beggs National Teaching Fellow 2022 Richard Beggs is a Lecturer in Higher Education Practice at Ulster University. In this blog, Richard shares his journey from a designer to a National Teaching Fellow.

It is absolutely incredible to be awarded a National Teaching Fellowship for 2022, I am delighted. It is such an honour and privilege to have been supported by Ulster University (UU) throughout the process and to have gained this award.

Although I never envisaged I would be an educator when I was studying Visual Communication at the Belfast School of Art, or indeed, once I started working as a web and new media designer in 2000 at design and software agencies in Belfast. That all changed though when I started working in BBC Northern Ireland in their online education department, igniting my spark for learning technology. In 2006 my journey continued as I moved into higher education with Ulster University’s online masters team.

When I started in the role of multimedia designer at Ulster University, I was fortunate to be supported by my director to gain an MSc in Interactive Teaching Technologies, whetting my appetite for digital pedagogy and continuous enhancement. This support for CPD has been a constant during my 16 years working at the University which has allowed me to develop myself so that I can develop others.

The title of this blog is slightly misleading as it implies that I have transitioned away from being a designer, that couldn’t be more untrue. I am a designer and always will be, however I have carried that identity into being an educator and it informs everything I do and will continue to do.

I have brought my design thinking skills and experience from the creative industry fuelled by my CPD and applied it to pedagogic problems resulting in a number of initiatives that have transformed practice locally, nationally and internationally.

My work on the Digital Learning Special Call spearheaded innovation in digital delivery, transforming the integration of technology into the curriculum reaching across the University and impacting on 2000+ students and 40+ staff members. The call produced: UU’s first iPad app which was downloaded in 30+ countries; UU’s first open educational resources that were downloaded 1000+ times in HE across 23 countries; and partnerships with Wrightbus and Sensory Integration Network. My Apps for Active Learning initiative inspired over 400 UU staff to actively use new technologies and over 200,000 student engagements, changing teaching practice and student learning outcomes that reaches across the institution.

During the Covid-19 emergency online pivot in March 2020 this work was crucial when all teaching moved fully online overnight adding value to the student learning experience throughout the pandemic. This work inspired the establishment of ALTs Active Learning Special Interest Group expanding the reach of my apps practice bringing together colleagues from my professional network across UK, Ireland and Europe. This provides a platform across primary, secondary, professional, FE and HE sectors for colleagues to learn from each other on the experiences in the current Covid-19 environment and prepare the steps to recovery through the webinar series, blog, tweet chats and newsletter.

Through my experience of communities of practice, I am aware that people make change happen, so to further embed active learning and digital technologies I introduced staff Active Learning Champions (ALCs) and Student Learning Partners (SLPs) to UU. There are 18 ALCs and 30 SLPs across our distributed campuses making change happen at the coal face, encouraging collaboration and active learning.

Throughout my career designing websites and interactive media I used storytelling to explain complex concepts. After transitioning to an educator, I adapted storytelling techniques to empower staff to create their own digital story videos. These have been transformational and are probably the most enjoyable sessions I deliver for my learners and have had a wide and varied impact. Colleagues have invited me to teach on undergrad and postgrad programmes and to contribute to their research projects, impacting across Northern Ireland, the UK and Europe.

Presently I am leading on the learning landscapes work within the Centre for Higher Education with a clear focus to enhance and embed active and collaborative learning across the institution. I saw this as a fantastic opportunity to enhance practice, not only for Belfast, but at pan-university level. I reflected on experiences and strategic objectives and designed a Learning Environment plan to prepare staff and students across all campuses to adopt active learning pedagogies.

Flexibility in learning spaces is key to this plan and relies heavily on built pedagogy. This has become a blueprint for embedding active and collaborative learning across UU, shaping the physical environment, creating a sticky campus and transformative experiences for staff and 26,000 students across all campuses. For the new Belfast campus, I designed a flexible active/collaborative room layout template for 200+ rooms. This will enhance the learning experiences of 12,000+ students per year from September 2022 providing opportunities for access, collaboration, peer learning, technology enhancement and active learning. These innovations at Belfast are being incorporated into refresh plans for UUs campuses in Coleraine and Derry~Londonderry.

I recently published a chapter on the lessons learned in the Active Learning Networks book, 100 Ideas for active Learning for anyone that is interested.

I can honestly say that I have been lucky to have so many excellent line managers with every single one of them supporting my desire to learn and take risks. There are too many to name, you know who you all are, thank you. I would also like to thank Dr Sarah Floyd and Dr Ruth Pilkington whose advice and support has been invaluable.

After what has been a challenging couple of years, it is humbling for my learning and teaching practice to be acknowledged in this way. Hopefully, my journey will inspire others. I will end with one question for those thinking of making a claim for a National Teaching Fellowship in the future, who are you?


Richard Beggs is the lead for Learning Landscapes at Ulster University and a Jisc Community Champion (2022). His research interests are in Apps for learning and teaching, digital capabilities, learning environments, digital storytelling and sequenced learning activities.

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