Dons take lessons in lecturing

September 29, 1995

As term starts a whole crop of new academics is facing its first students, The THES asks what support and training they get.

Lecturers starting their first jobs this autumn face an unprecedented squeeze on their time, according to John Wakeford of the school of independent studies at Lancaster University.

Pressure from their departments to produce visible signs of research activity will be high because of the looming 1996 visit of the research assessors. But pressure to teach well has also risen, often as a result of decisions made higher up the university. Most new lecturers will have to find time for compulsory courses in teaching.

At Oxford Brookes University new lecturers who have not already done five years of teaching are bound by their contracts to do a training programme. It lasts a year and takes them out of their teaching for three hours a week, as well as taking up some free time for study.

At the end, lecturers must hand in a portfolio. They receive a university certificate and national accreditation from the Staff and Educational Development Association, to which 16 universities have signed up. Another 24 applications are being considered.

Dr Wakeford says: "I think universities are beginning to think much more about the quality of what they provide and their courses' acceptability to students rather than sheer volume of students. The consumer is beginning to ask more for quality." And, he says, as higher education becomes more expensive, parents are scrutinising university teaching more carefully.

Patricia Partington, director of the Universities and Colleges Staff Development Association, says that another big pressure for change in teaching is the funding councils' teaching quality assessment.

And young lecturers claim that teaching in a mass higher education system, where the average ability is lower, requires more skill.

In engineering, where it is tricky to recruit sufficient students, professors decided to revolutionise the teaching of teachers several years ago. More than 60 universities now run special courses on teaching engineering. Some 200 engineering lecturers have been trained to introduce teacher training programmes to engineering staff.

Professor Partington is delighted with the surge in training for new lecturers over the past five years. Since she became involved in training in 1978, she says: "I've never experienced as high a level of interest as now. A new lecturer can expect to receive at least primary training". Universities have become so curious about what their counterparts are providing that UCOSDA is carrying out a survey with the University of Ulster. The most enthusiastic universities are providing qualifications such as diplomas and masters degrees.

At Ulster, new lecturers must study part-time for a postgraduate certificate of higher education (PGCHE), which is also run at other universities including Northumbria, Teesside and Brighton. Staff at old universities, says Professor Partington, tend to be less interested in such nationally recognised certificates, but are nevertheless increasing their training.

Warwick runs a compulsory eight-day induction course for staff new to lecturing, followed by optional training open to everyone.

Leicester runs a two-day residential induction course which aims to set its new staff on a programme of learning that they choose for themselves.

MICHAEL HERRIOTT

A lecturing post in hospitality and tourism management at Napier University is something of a homecoming for Michael Herriott, who took a Higher National Diploma in catering and hotel-keeping at Napier before joining the army.

"Last year I finished a first career in army catering, leaving with the rank of major, and decided I wanted to follow a second career in education. I have no previous formal teacher training, but I'd had fairly extensive experience of what's called instruction in the army, and I'm not scared to get up on my feet and talk to a roomful of young people."

He has just completed his first year as an academic, and believes Napier makes an effort to induct new staff properly. An initial one-day course covered issues such as academic responsibilities and health and safety, and he has attended two two-day residential courses on teaching and learning.

He was given a departmental mentor for the first year, and is taking a postgraduate certificate in tertiary level teaching methods.

TAMARA KERBEL

When law lecturer Tamara Kerbel took a part-time turn as a tutor to supplement her student income, she not only caught the teaching bug, but saw a satisfying career outside the courts opening up before her.

"I was attracted by the creative side of the job and the independence I get to work as a professional in my own area of law. If I had gone into practice I would be applying rules almost like a chess player. As an academic I can look at whether these rules should be changed and whether they are coherent," she said.

After graduating with a law degree from Oxford University and completing a Masters at London University, a year of lecturing at Southampton University has convinced her she has made the right choice. She sees learning to teach as "a matter of trial and error", assisted by staff training provided free by the university. She has been given "a couple of years to get the teaching up to scratch" before research commitments loom.

DOMINIC OSTROWSKI

Dominic Ostrowski, 32, starts his lectureship with no worries about getting tenure: he is more concerned to preserve his mobility and avoid getting bogged down by the slow turnover of staff in academia.

Dr Ostrowski worked as an electronics engineer in Cambridge in the 1980s and was attracted to research. "I saw the choice and the freedom (Cambridge researchers) had in their work activities and the amount of fulfilment they got out of their work. Engineering was more a nine-to-five job." He did an MSc, lectured for a few months and then did a PhD at Imperial College in digital electronics. He is starting a lectureship at Oxford Brookes University in electronics.

His main worry is that he will lack time for research and is afraid that working at a new university involves too much of a commitment to teaching, especially, he says, with falling standards among undergraduates. "Their maths ability is quite shocking," he says.

QUINTIN CUTTS

Quintin Cutts's teaching duties in his first term as a full-time academic are confined to a tutorial group of 18 second-year computing science students.

"But I've got a pretty full load after Christmas: eight MSc students, third and fourth year groups of between 20 and 40 students, and 120 second years," he says.

He believes Glasgow University is giving him time at the beginning of the session to establish his own research work and prepare lectures for next term. He estimates that one hour's lecture will need up to 12 hours' preparation.

"Universities have had a really bad reputation among young academics for dumping lots of administrative work on them. I think Glasgow's trying to make sure new staff don't get completely swamped by teaching and administration."

He will shortly attend an induction course, and will be expected to take a number of training courses on teaching during his three years' probation. He has already undergone some training while a research fellow at St Andrews University, although classes and tutorials there were smaller.

The brighter students are going to succeed no matter who teaches them, he says, and he says that he will enjoy the challenge of motivating the less able students and watching them progress. Research will take up between a third and a half of his time, but while academics have been rated principally on research in the past, Dr Cutts detects an increasing emphasis on teaching. New academics can be expected to have reasonably good speaking skills since they will be used to making presentations, Dr Cutts says, but there is a difference between addressing a high-level research seminar and a group of undergraduates.

PHILIP EVANS

Philip Evans is clear about the challenges he faces in his new lecturing post in the economics department at Southampton University.

He knows he can handle the teaching, having survived his first lecture in front of more than 100 students. He is confident about his research. He is even hardened to the fact that he will be earning considerably less than fellow graduates now working in the City.

The burning question is whether he will be able to get enough work in print to secure a successful career. Currently on a two-year contract, the prize of a permanent post, probably at another institution, will depend on his ability to "consolidate" research by competing for space in academic journals. "That seems to be the way for young people these days. To get a permanent post you have to show sufficient capability of publishing in the future. Just having done the research is not good enough," he said. While teaching skills can be "picked up" through experience and some training, self-promotion may require closer attention.

GRAHAM WYNN

Graham Wynn, 26, gives his first lecture today as lecturer in astrophysics at Leicester University. He says most of his nerves were extinguished by a two-day course in teaching: "I thought it might be a waste of time, being a little cynical, but it was actually very good."

The research rather than the teaching bothers him. "Getting the time to do research is quite daunting. I'm spending a lot of time preparing courses." He will teach two lecture courses, one in each semester, do half a semester in laboratories, and a be personal tutor to a third-year group.

So far, as a PhD student and postdoc, Dr Wynn has done laboratory supervision and tutorials. "Now that I've done a bit of teaching I enjoy it and I'd like to carry on," he says.

His biggest worry is getting tenure. He has a five-year contract, "which is as long as you can get".

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