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You CAN teach an “old dog new tricks”: learning to be a more effective lecturer, through HEA Fellowship

06 Mar 2018 | Dr Julianne Law Dr Julianne Law. Lecturer in Healthcare Sciences. Bangor University.

This blog was originally posted on the former Higher Education Academy website.

While I was studying for my Ph.D., I received very little training on how to be an effective lecturer. During that time, I was asked to teach a few undergraduate classes, where I learned how to teach “on my feet,” but that was the only training that I received. When I was hired to be a full-time lecturer at the same institution; I attended a one-year in-service training course for new lecturers, provided by my employer.

I was luckier than most new employees, however; because many years earlier I had studied at Keele University and been awarded a Certificate in Education. My first teaching job was in a High School in London, where I worked for five years; so, I knew how to conduct myself in a classroom, and I knew the basic skills of teaching and classroom management. So, when I started my first full-time job as a lecturer; I relied heavily on the skills that I had learned twenty years earlier. 

After being a lecturer in America for four and a half years, I returned to the UK, in 2004. I was hired by Bangor University in North Wales, as a part-time lecturer; and have been employed there ever since. After working for the University for ten years. I started to hear about the University’s HEA accredited programme; but I believed that I was too busy to complete the two-year course. Later, I found out that I could take a shorter version of the course, because I had over five years’ experience as a lecturer; so that is what I decided to do.

There were so many benefits to taking the CPD Fellowship course; that as soon as I started it, I wished that I had done it sooner. Firstly, I met many other lecturers who were taking the same course; and I was able to engage in networking and make new friends and colleagues. I also got to know many of the CELT lecturers (Centre for Excellence in Learning and Teaching) at the University, who were able to mentor me. I also attended several half or full-day presentations; from lecturers who worked in other universities in the UK.

But what helped me to be a better lecturer the most, was reading the current literature about teaching pedagogy. As I read; and tried to put into words what my teaching philosophy was, I read books and articles that I wish I had found at the beginning of my lecturing career in Higher Education.  The most important and helpful book that I read was written by Phil Race (2015), The Lecturer’s Toolkit. As I read this book I kept saying to myself, “I needed this book 20 years ago!” Every question that I had about how to be an effective lecturer, was answered in his book; and to be quite honest I was frustrated that no-one had told me about this book, earlier in my career.

While completing the HEA Fellowship application I was forced to think about what my teaching philosophy was; and this was a very good exercise in self-examination and reflection. Having two of my lectures observed by my colleagues, was a nerve-wracking but enlightening experience; and it gave me the opportunity to engage in more self-reflection. Lastly, I really enjoyed the opportunity to plan my Continuing Professional development (CPD) for the next one to two years; which was also part of the Fellowship application process.

I didn’t think that I would have the time to complete the HEA Fellowship award; at the same time as teaching multiple modules, supervising dissertation students, and providing pastoral care for many other students; but I was able to find the time to do it. In fact, it was often a welcome relief to have “permission” to step back from the hustle and bustle of my job; and focus on more “ideological and pedagogical” issues, for a few hours each week.

Am I glad that I took the time to complete the HEA Fellowship programme? Absolutely! Not only has it improved the quality of my lecturing, but it has also disproved the theory that you “can’t teach an old dog new tricks!”

Find out more about Fellowship.

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