I started my academic job search around the Autumn of 2001, just as the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) was taking place. Those on the market a year or two before me may have a different take, but to me I couldn't have entered the academic job market at a worse time. [I appreciate that anyone entering since has probably had it much worse.] I applied for and interviewed for various geography lectureships and research assistantships without success, but in Autumn 2002 I landed an interview at the University of Southampton in the Modern Languages department; I was offered the job and started in January 2003.
The job I actually got, was at the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS), 1 which was itself part of a national network with 23 other subject centres collectively called the Learning and Teaching Support Network, which later become part of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). My job title was the Academic Coordinator for Area Studies and I was brought in to manage the Area Studies Project, which was collaboration of six subject centres. Despite the learning and teaching focus of the subject centres, I knew very little about teaching in higher education when I started off, and I knew I knew little about teaching in higher education. I thought I knew a bit about higher education policy, but it turns out I didn't know as much as I thought. Over time the job evolved and I led various projects on interdisciplinary teaching and learning, organised workshops for new academic staff in languages and related disciplines. I read lots of papers, I carried out a few research projects, published a few academic papers and reports, and met hundreds of people from all round the UK and beyond. No need to go on here-- I have a CV for all that stuff.
Fast forward to 2015 and, among other things I am teaching new lecturers at the University of Brighton aware they they have come into a greatly impoverished sector. In part I mean 'impoverished' in money terms, but also resource and support impoverished. In the 2000s there were 24 subject centres which provided workshops, research funds, subject specific expertise on a national level, a sense of community and, perhaps most importantly informative and up-to-date websites and publications. The HEA commissioned its own research, projects and reports into a range of matters. Separate from the subject centres was the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL), the National Disability Team, Jisc (still around) and the later on the Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs – there was some disagreement about whether it should be pronounced 'settles' or 'kettles' (See David Kernohan's post on 'Ghosts of Teaching Excellence past' for his excellent analysis)).
Most of these are dead now. The subject centres are gone; the HEA is a rump of its former self trying to work out how to be self-funded, and known to many academics as a sort of DVLA for HE teaching). Many of these projects are mere memories to those involved in them, their websites and resources deleted, hacked, destroyed or if we are lucky, archived.
Some CETL's have a legacy, ironically because they funded buildings and refurbishments; our Creativity Centre at Brighton is still in use for its intended purpose. Now teaching excellence is all about a thing called the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).
I didn't realise it at the time, but I was actually part of the golden age of teaching and learning in higher education. Its easy to get nostalgic, and not all was plain sailing, but here I really have to acknowledge my privilege.
Still going as a separate centre at the University of Southampton ↩
Last Friday I joined my colleagues Juliet Eve and Catherine McConnell at the University of Brighton graduation to formally receive our Senior Fellowships of the Higher Education. We enjoyed donning our graduation robes celebrating our achievements.
I’ve been in my new job at Brighton for nearly three weeks now. I thought I would write a few thoughts about the positives about starting a new job. It has been over ten years since I was the ‘new guy’, and so far I’m enjoying it immensely.
Five good things about starting a new job:
I’ve let go: I find it easy to start getting involved in things, but difficult to stop doing them. After ten years in the job I was the ‘go to guy’ for lots of different things. I had accumulated a lot of roles and responsibilities I did not want to give up. Some of these roles and responsibilities were probably not that important, or they are less important than they were. Someone else has to do the stuff which is really important now. The rest of it doesn’t need doing.
I’m ignorant and naïve: Usually this is a bad thing but for a newcomer it’s a (sort of) strength. If I don’t understand how something works I can ask without sounding clueless. If there is an elephant in the room I can brazenly draw attention to it (if I want to).
I can be known for something else: Past achievements can be an albatross. After a long time in a job, people can appreciate talents, skills and achievements you wish to move on from. You can become known and appreciated for the wrong reasons.
I’m meeting new people and having new experiences: I was always meeting new people in my previous job, but it has been particularly nice meeting new people in my new job. Brighton has a very different subject mix to Southampton, so I’m meeting people who teach and research different subjects like sport, hospitality, fashion design and Youthwork.
I’m really doing new things. I’m teaching on the Postgraduate Certificate course, working with students on the Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) scheme, working on Brighton’s professional recognition scheme. All this is related to my previous role, but new enough to be exciting, challenging and daunting.
After ten years at the LLAS Centre (counting the centre in its LTSN/ HEA subject centre forms) I felt it was now time to move on and undertook a UK-wide job search. The end result was an offer from the Centre of Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton. Last week I visited Brighton for the university’s internal teaching and learning conference and heard about a lot of the interesting things about some of the interesting things which are going on there. It was also nice to spend time getting to know some of my new colleagues as well.
Statistics for Humanities
This past year has been mostly project based. My Statistics for Humanities student ‘text-book’ is available in draft form and I am awaiting comments from the British Academy nominated reviewers. The British Academy agreed that I could put a draft online for a crowd sourced review. This has led to receiving many helpful comments, and one academic in particular has provided some very extensive feedback. I have long been dissatisfied with introductory statistics textbooks. I hope that mine will reach out to students (and academics) who struggled in the past. The examples in the book come from the humanities and I have attempted to write a book which uses a verbal reasoning-based approach which should resonate better with humanities students than some other texts.
EU Quality Assurance project
We are coming to the end of the second year of this 2-year EU-funded project, Sharing Practice in Assuring and Enhancing Quality (SPEAQ) which follows on from LANQUA (the Language Network for Quality Assurance). I didn’t work on LANQUA and hadn’t worked on an EU-project before. I was quite apprehensive about being involved in the project as I had seen colleagues undergoing the stresses of running a project which involves administrative complications (e.g. currency conversions and daily rates) as well as working alongside colleagues in other countries who work in very difference pedagogic, policy and quality environments. Fortunately our assistant director (and my line manager) Alison Dickens is an experienced director of EU–projects and our senior administrator Sue Nash has worked on them before, so, fortunately for me, I have been able to concentrate mostly on content issues.
In the first year of the project we developed a workshop in which staff, students and quality managers can participate together. I played a big role in this aspect of the project producing a dialogue sheet and writing facilitator instructions. Along with our Danish colleague Ole Helmersen from Copenhagen Business School I attended the EQAF Forum in Tallinn, Estonia where we tried out the workshop on a large group of quality professionals from a range of European countries.
As well as running the workshop the EQAF conference was a great staff development opportunity for me. As a QE person rather than QA person it was interesting the meet people who operate in very different QA systems. The UK seems to be fairly in the middle between those countries in which QA is very highly centralised and regulated through to countries where QA is virtually non-existent—at least in the way that I understand it. If there is one thing that all countries seem to have in common it is that QA appears very different from teaching. As one person I met pointed out, a poor teacher is not a quality issue as far as most university structures are concerned. Even at the Senior Manager level there is often a separation of roles between the person in which of QA and the person who in charge of teaching and the curriculum.
For the second part of the project each partner does their own small-scale project which meets a particular institutional need. At Southampton we decided to do a project on feedback, called "Getting the Most Out of Feedback" (GMOOF). The core principle of GMOOF is that everybody, whether a member of teaching staff, a student or a quality manager, is both a provided and recipient of feedback. The principles of good feedback: Relevant, Timely, Meaningful and with Suggestions for improvement (See Race online), apply to all feedback, not just feedback from teacher to student but also student to teacher, student to student, teacher to teacher etc., teacher to quality manager, teacher to professional body etc. etc. GMOOF is a website which focuses on giving good feedback and making the most of feedback from others rather than focusing on different job roles. (The website is under development at present). A workshop based on the project is being developed and will be piloted in Southampton in September – I’ll be in Brighton by then so will not be leading it(!) Additional material for the website includes a card sort (built using the free software nanDECK), a series of feedback videos with reflective questions (built in xtranormal and put up on youtube), videos of interviews about feedback with the project team and other colleagues at Southampton, and online quizzes for staff and students. There is also a section specific on how we at Southampton work to enhance the quality of teaching across the university.
My teaching this year has focused in two major areas. I have been contributing to the interdisciplinary Curriculum Innovation module “Sustainability in the Local and Global Environment"). 2012-13 was the first time this module has run and I benefited greatly from working with National Teaching Fellow Simon Kemp. It has been some years since I taught undergraduates and the modules made extensive use of technology (including Twitter, Panopto, Blackboard) and had a variety of assessments including a presentation, conference paper and group film project.
My other teaching responsibility has involved teaching research skills to (mostly Humanities) doctoral students. I have run numerous sessions on everything from putting the thesis together, preparing for the viva, ethnographic methods, critical thinking and applying for funding. Most of my materials are available in the HumBox under a Creative Commons license. Students produce critical reflections on the sessions, which also provide me with feedback.
I also presented at the LLAS e-learning symposium about my online open access language teaching research website YazikOpen. I have also been preparing materials for the LLAS annual Heads of Department workshop, which is entitled “Thriving for the Public Good”
At Brighton I am expecting to be involved in a variety of academic development activities including working with teaching staff to apply for the HEA Fellowships, blended learning and undertaking research. I will also being going to Plymouth in November to undertake PASS (Peer Assisted Study Session) Supervisor Training.
I joined my new colleagues at the University of Brighton last Friday for their internal teaching and learning conference. Lots of new ideas including think about the role of silence in teaching (I'll try to write a bit more about this). Had lots of great conservations as well. I will be joining the Centre of Teaching and Learning on 1st September.