Dr Lenka Banovcova, Academic Staff Developer in the Centre for Learning & Teaching, reflects on a panel discussion on teaching excellence and academic promotion at this year's EduFest.
This very practical session was supported by a panel of academics who are particularly engaged and successful in teaching and who have achieved career progression on the teaching pathway. They offered some useful practical tips about ways of enhancing teaching practice and impact of teaching related activities. In my opinion, though, the main value of the session was to raise the awareness of colleagues about the possibility of progressing academic career through teaching excellence and learn about concrete examples of those who have been particularly successful on this route. Let us also hope that this event, and others like it, will result in raising the profile and status of teaching at Bath.
The session’s Chair, Professor Andrew Heath (Centre for Learning and Teaching), began by introducing the panel: Professor James Betts (Health), Professor Momna Hejmadi (Biology and Biochemistry), Professor Richard Joiner (Psychology) and Dr Cassie Wilson (Health). Questions from the Chair to each of the panellists and from the floor led to a lively debate, with equal contributions from both the panel and the attentive and engaged audience.
"The discussion started with each panellist introducing their ‘teaching self. Interestingly, but unsurprisingly, they listed a wide range of ‘teaching identities’, including: fondness for teaching as a creative activity, promotion of innovation and sharing of practice; interest in learning and taking part in national and international debates surrounding learning and teaching; developing close links between teaching and research; and focus on student satisfaction and the enhancement of feedback to students."
Subsequently, the discussion moved to an intriguing question of what teaching excellence means and how it can be achieved. Participants counted a range of activities that many of us, as teaching practitioners, regularly and implement in our practice, often unmindfully: developing deep learning and critical thinking in the students, inspiring learners to experience the joy of knowledge, providing optimal opportunities for developing learners as individuals and shaping their skills necessary to be successful in their lives beyond academia.
Following on from this, one participant raised the question of how best to demonstrate teaching leadership. The panellists agreed that opportunities for demonstrating leadership may not be very easy to come by but that leadership is considered an important skill; thus, it was important to look out for such opportunities and, even more essentially, to create them actively. Some of the practical suggestions included supporting early career colleagues on their teaching journey and taking part in the organisation of teaching-themed events.
Discussing and sharing practical teaching tips is often one of the favourite activities of educationists. Therefore, one question that I believe several of us in the audience had in mind to ask the highly experienced panel members (and yes, it did not take long until the question was asked) was: What advice would you give to a colleague who wants to concentrate on teaching in their career? The main piece of advice provided by the panellists was to focus on building an effective, evidence-based teaching practice, which is grounded in current research. Another tip was to get involved with a diverse range of teaching practices, which will result in developing a good breadth and depth of experiences, which they can draw on later.
Let us conclude with a question that has been a concern of many colleagues who care about teaching: What can we do to raise the profile of teaching at Bath? A number of undertakings were put forward with the aim to make teaching appropriately acknowledged. Integration of research and teaching was highlighted as one of the routes. Another was to support endeavours to recognise teaching as an academic activity that is just as challenging as research, and therefore should be given equal status and endorsed with equal rewards as to those received for excellent research. Such an approach will create a true partnership of research and teaching based on mutual respect and marked with an appreciation of the particular strengths of all of us as contributors to our academic community. Several recent promotions to professorship via the teaching route are crucially important in this respect and set examples for other colleagues to follow in the future.
Lenka Banovcova, Academic Staff Developer, Centre for Learning & Teaching