Fellows: on the front line

July 25, 2003

Pat Leon asks a winner of one of this year's national teaching fellowships how she manages.

Name: Vicki Tariq

Age: 46

Job: Senior lecturer in biology, Queen's University, Belfast. I'm a "skills consultant" and a member of the Bioscience Advisory Group for the Learning and Teaching Support Network for Bioscience.

Salary: Not enough.

Qualifications: BSc applied biology, PhD microbiology, MSc (Ed) computer-based learning.

Experience: I loved natural history as a child and still do. But it was the enthusiasm of my teachers that inspired me to study biology and microbiology more formally. In 1985, I set off for Belfast to take up a one-year temporary lectureship in botany. Here I am, 18 years later, still teaching mycology, but to much larger and more diverse groups of students, using methods I couldn't ever have imagined. My interests have broadened recently to cover students' skills development. My interest in computer-based learning and web design has also flourished.

Hours spent teaching: Tends to be in blocks, with two-thirds of my contact hours during the first semester. Over the year, this averages out at about six hours a week over two 12-week semesters. My average is down to four hours a week as I've been seconded part time to work on the university's skills policy implementation.

Hours on red tape: Too many.

Hours on research: About 40 per cent of my time. But as my main research fields are now bioscience education and student skills development, there is overlap between my teaching and research. It is difficult separating the two.

Teaching bugbear: The consumerisation of education and the bureaucracy, conformity and uniformity associated with the quality assurance agenda.

These potentially suppress teachers' creativity and undermine them and their work. Ironically, creativity and flexibility are needed more than ever because of the diversity of students.

How would you solve it? We could start by putting teachers back "in charge". The emphasis on accountability, particularly in the context of students as consumers, can undermine "good" teaching practice and academics' commitment to enhancing the quality of their teaching. We're in danger of "allowing the lunatics to run the asylum". We shouldn't lose sight of the fact that a key factor influencing the students' learning is the teachers' experience of the environment in which they work. This includes the pressures and constraints under which they are sometimes placed.

Teaching pleasure: Working with students on a one-to-one basis in practical classes and helping them develop technical laboratory skills and apply their knowledge. Witnessing first-year students' delight when they view an organism normally "invisible" down a microscope never wears thin.

Teaching tip: If you want a better idea of today's "student experience", step into their shoes and enrol on a part-time course.

Outside interests: Walking my dogs, DIY, gardening and reading.

Career highpoints: Being appointed to an "established" post after three renewals of my original one-year contract, my promotion to senior lecturer and being awarded a national teaching fellowship.

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