Professional development in learning and teaching

As Educational and Postgraduate Researcher Developer, I (Dr Heather McKiggan-Fee) am responsible for the mandatory training that the University requires all PhD students to undertake before they are allowed to teach within their Schools.  This is a valuable opportunity to get a grounding in good practice before working with students for the first time, but these internal professional development workshops would not necessarily be recognised by other institutions.

Some years ago, in response to feedback from participants on my workshops, I decided to develop two optional 10-credit Masters modules (ID5101, ID5102), so that postgraduate tutors and demonstrators keen to pursue a career in academia could leave St Andrews with development that would be universally recognised in the HE sector.  The modules are also accredited by the Higher Education Academy, such that graduates become Associate Fellows of the HEA.

St Andrews is fairly unusual in having modules such as these designed with postgraduate student teachers in mind, so much so that an article on the modules was recently published in the online journal Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education.

McKiggan-Fee, H et al (2013) Postgraduates who teach: a forgotten tribe?  Not here!, Practice and Evidence of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 8(2).

Students on the modules have found them to be valuable preparation for an academic career, as indicated by this quote from a graduate of both modules (and co-author of the article mentioned above), Dr Gavin Ballantyne:

“Nearing the end of my PhD I became more interested in higher education teaching and so attended the courses run by CAPOD to improve my teaching practice. As a biologist I initially found the techniques used a little alienating. The pedagogic terminology and practice seemed at first insubstantial and simplistic, although it was clearly useful to learn which bodies and policies were responsible for shaping the current organisation of higher education in the UK. From the start of the course, it was interesting to meet and talk with postgraduate teachers from very different disciplines and compare our experiences. I quickly discovered that we shared many of the same challenges and difficulties engaging and encouraging students.

As the course progressed we were asked to reflect on our teaching through the use of a reflective log and final reflective essay. Although I was sceptical of recording anecdotes from my day when I had other work to get done, I ultimately found this to be a useful exercise. It made me stop and take the time to think about what went well and where there was room for improvement. As a consequence I approached my teaching preparation in a more structured manner. It also encouraged me to connect the abstract ideas I had been struggling with in the pedagogic literature with solid examples from my own practice. Techniques like this helped to prepare me for and learn from my subsequent post as a teaching fellow.

In higher education we are lucky to have the freedom to teach however we see fit, cover the topics that we find fascinating ourselves and experiment with a wide range of techniques. This non-dictatorial approach really excels when backed up by a solid framework of training that helps us to develop as educators.”

For more information on these modules (including previous module handbooks) see the Support for Postgraduate Researchers who teach page (and scroll to the bottom).

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