The morning after James Pickering collected his Times Higher Education Award for the Most Innovative Teacher of the Year, he had to board an early train from London to return to Leeds and run an exam. Unassumingly, he calls this inconvenience a “pity”, although he did rue having had a slightly “thick head”.
Cutting short your moment in the sun to go back and do the very thing that has earned you success seems fitting: for Dr Pickering, university is all about the students.
“If it wasn’t for the students, universities wouldn’t exist – they would just be research centres,” said the lecturer in anatomy at the University of Leeds. “We have an obligation to teach the students and do research to the best of our abilities. I’m passionately interested in helping the students to fulfil their potential.”
Because students arrive at Leeds with different learning skills, he said, “I try to cater for that by making the core content [accessible] in as many different ways as possible.”
Lectures are still vital to “inspire and stimulate” students, but as that “teaching tool is lost” as soon as the session ends, Dr Pickering replicates the material in podcasts, screencasts and other packages using YouTube, e-books and iTunes U.
By doing so, students from all over the world can also benefit from the material. Additionally, he said, research he has undertaken shows that such resources are of particular help to weaker students.
“I put all the resources from a module into one e-book, and it’s had a really good impact on student assessment. It seems that, with the e-book specifically, the poorly performing students in previous assessments tend to perform better if they engage with these kinds of resources.”
To Dr Pickering, plaudits recognising his teaching serve to emphasise that he must work continually to improve the standard. While there were obvious advantages to putting resources online, he knows that the web is sometimes viewed as a “dumping ground” for material. But he believes in teaching innovation and in the internet’s value as a learning tool, and this was behind his selection to lead a university Mooc.
“I’ve taken material from our teaching and made it available to the world on the FutureLearn platform, [enabling me] to engage with people that you don’t get with YouTube. [It gave] students everywhere the opportunity of discussion.”
The Mooc also allowed him to present the latest research by integrating clinicians on the subject.
“I think [teaching and research] work really well [together]. You have trailblazers of research and really good teachers…to help deliver research-led teaching,” he said of the reasoning behind the Mooc.
On more general tips for better teaching, Dr Pickering said that looking “closely and carefully” at method was fundamental. “Think how the best and most appropriate way to deliver it is,” he advised. “Don’t just rely on tried-and-tested methods. Try new things. If it goes wrong, it goes wrong; but tell people [if that is what happens]. But if it’s a success, then tell people it is.”
Keele University has announced the appointment of Jonathan Wastling, a Keele alumnus, as dean of natural sciences and pro vice-chancellor.
Simon Chaplin has been named director of culture and society at the Wellcome Trust. He was previously head of the Wellcome Library.
Geoff Pringle, who was previously director of campus services at the University of Exeter, has been made chief operating officer at the university.
Brendon Noble has been named executive dean of research, postgraduate and innovation at the University of St Mark and St John, while Liz Smith has been made executive dean of student experience.