Learning to teach (or teaching to learn?)

There was a time when teaching in Higher Education (HE) was treated as a bit of a necessary evil, and no doubt all of us have sat through some execrable lectures and seminars in our time.  That time is (thankfully!) behind us, and there is currently a strong focus on professionalism in teaching that fosters an excellent learning experience for students.  The Higher Education Academy (HEA) have developed a UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) and professional recognition for teaching in HE, widely used in the sector.

PGRs are an extremely important part of learning and teaching at the University of Birmingham, and many of you get involved in teaching activities across the institution.  As well as being a very rewarding activity and providing much-needed cash, those PGRs hoping to follow an academic career path will find teaching experience essential for their CV.

Teaching is a skill perhaps best learnt through practice and reflection, but there are a number of opportunities to help you develop your teaching practice at the University of Birmingham:

Simeon Whiting, a PGTA with various teaching responsibilities in his department and on the PGR development programme, has recently completed the IAPDR module and shares his experience:

The Introduction to Academic Practice for Doctoral Researchers is not a title that trips off the tongue. It’s a rather prosaic name for a very stimulating course. I’ve just finished it this month, myself, and I would definitely recommend it if you’re at all interested in any kind of teaching work.

My first reason for saying that is that I learnt loads from it. I found plenty of insights into good practice in teaching and about teaching within my own subject, and I had opportunities to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of my own teaching. (Apparently some people get annoyed with my habit of standing with my hands in my pockets, for example. Who knew?)

You should also sign up for IAPDR, just because it’s enjoyable. You’ll have the chance to get to know other postgraduate teaching assistants and to share experiences with them. And I really enjoyed the ‘micro-teaching’ session, when everyone presents 15 minutes of their own teaching material. The module convenors are excellent, too: helpful, knowledgeable, enthusiastic and approachable.

If you’re hoping for an academic career, I would urge you to take on IAPDR at the first opportunity. The qualification you get from the course – Associate Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (AHEA) – will be a must to establish your academic credibility. If you’re doing any kind of teaching work already, you should definitely do it too, to add value to what you’re already doing.

How have you developed your teaching practice?  What has been the most useful advice you’ve been given about teaching?

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