Preparing to Teach


This was an extremely dense two day course which “introduced key concepts, tools and issues which are important to teachers in higher education” (from the welcome document). The primary target audience for the course, which is delivered by our Academic Development Unit regularly, was PGR students who are starting to do some teaching as part of their work, but who may not have had any formal teacher training yet.

One of the course objectives was for itself to deploy some of the techniques under discussion, and the first such example of this was a ‘signature search’ icebreaker exercise, something which was completely new to me and most of the others there. This was followed by a reflection on the purposes on HE which employed the snowballing technique (more than learning, we concluded, also to develop students, at least potentially, into researchers and citizens who contribute to the advancement of society), how students learn in HE, techniques for reflective practice (including models of reflective practice from Schön, Gibbs and Rolfe, of which most of us preferred Rolfe’s model), key pedagogies (including scaffolding, repetition, cognitive load and chunking), planning your teaching (which included advice on how to plan, the difference between planning for a programme, session or individual learning activity, and a broadly applicable session template), and finally assessment and feedback strategies, e.g. how to select the appropriate assessment strategy for a given activity. The photograph is of the results of an exercise to complete a guidance and feedback loop based on Hounsell’s model. A joint exercise, my partner kept the original, hence my photo, which also explains why you can read the handwriting!

This was an extremely useful course for me which will help inform my development and, I hope, the quality of the sessions I deliver as I transition from a trainer, as I have previously characterised myself, to a teacher. An immediate impact will be on the fact that I will, from now, create proper sessions plans which go into a lot more detail than the notes I have previously prepared and which will include more thought on contingency measures and alternative activities which can be deployed depending on the nature of the group on the day. Some other things which will have an impact are that I now have an increased awareness of attention spans and the need to change activities at appropriate intervals to keep people awake, and the benefit of embedding informal assessment throughout a session to reinforce learning.

There were also some parts of the course which were not immediately applicable to my work and exercises which were harder for me to complete as they had in mind people delivering entire modules and programmes, not something I do at the moment, but I’m sure it will come in useful in the future as I look forwards to doing a PGCert in learning and teaching. That’s not going to be this year due to prior commitments, but possibly the presentation starting in September 2016.

I would have liked to have seen TEL being used to greater effect on the course. From a technological standpoint the course was a very tradition ‘PowerPoint plus handouts’ model which left plenty of room for improvement. I believe a small forest in South America must have been destroyed to furnish us with the enormous amounts of paperwork we were given; many of us, myself included, requested digital copies of the materials but there hasn’t been any follow-up on this yet, perhaps it is too soon. A lot of the paperwork was forms which we had to complete, the templates for the reflective feedback models for example, how much better to have delivered these via Mahara? Ideally in advance and that way we would also have had time to consider questions and points for discussion in order to get more out of the course (the flipped classroom approach). I work with Academic Development quite closely on a number of areas so I will have plenty of opportunity to feed this back to them.

Twitter Account

Today I created a Twitter account for the team and styled the pages in line with the University’s new corporate blue and orange style. I got the ball rolling by posting some tweets, following some interesting TEL people and companies we have relationships with, and created a couple of widgets to post our tweets and a list into a Blackboard course site, just as a proof of concept really, to demonstrate that it can be done and looks pretty. In due course the idea is to have a public organisation for the team where we will have a blog and news, and a page for our Twitter feeds.

Customer Support Calls

In preparation for my official* move to TEL Support my two bosses wanted to know more about the quantity and type of customer support Blackboard and PebblePad require, as I will be transferring the bulk of this work to the Senior Helpline to concentrate on technical admin and content development in TEL Support.

Creating a suitable report was an interesting challenge as there was nothing in SupportWorks, our call logging system, that quite did what was required.

The closest was a report on the number of calls resolved by category and person but it was all in code so I had to combine this with data from other sources, using Access and some joins, to turn the username code in an actual person’s name along with the team there were in, and another data set to convert the category code into the actual human-readable category, ‘INCI-BB00-BB01-BB14’ turns into ‘Incident > Blackboard/eLP > System Issues > Site/Module Content’ for example. Finally I turned the data into a pretty pie chart showing number of calls resolved by team.

The results of this exercise were fascinating. I now know that while I resolved 180 calls during February, which feels about right, our front line Helpline combined resolved a massive 481! I had no idea our front line were fielding and resolving so many calls at the first point of contact – it just goes to show what a great service we have.

* Bureaucracy is a magnificent beast is is not? Almost a month since I got the news no-one is sure if my secondment has actually started yet, though the bulk of my time is now spent doing work either directly for TEL Support or preparing documentation for the Senior Helpline. It also means I have two line managers.