Imperial links lecturers

July 25, 1997

IMPERIAL College has set up a network of education development coordinators to improve teaching across departments.

In what is thought to be the first such initiative in Britain, Imperial has appointed lecturers in three departments who will do their own scientific research but also devote a prescribed proportion of time to educational development and research.

One of the lecturers, Caroline Baillie, is coordinating LINKED, the London Imperial Network for Education Development. She says education development work is normally carried out in universities by a separate unit that works with departmental representatives.

"Often in universities the educational development unit is disassociated from the rest of the university," says Dr Baillie. "Those people are seen as quite aloof from the departments and as such are often not consulted.

By appointing lecturers with both established science and education research interests to departments, she says Imperial is trying to ensure that best teaching practice permeates effectively throughout the college.

"We are one of their own. We are researching in both education and our own discipline. We not only understand what it is to learn and teach our subject, but also the difficulties and future changes facing education. We speak the same language as others in our departments," she says.

Dr Baillie, who is based in the material engineering department, has a masters in higher education. She spends a quarter of her time researching and lecturing in materials and three-quarters on education research and development.

Imperial has created equivalent dual posts in its environmental technology and medical schools. It also has a network of staff in each of the other departments involved in the programme.

According to Alan Swanson, pro-rector for education quality at Imperial, placing such research and development staff inside departments makes sense at Imperial where there is a strong tradition of departmental independence which could have resisted a central education influence.

"When it gets fully underway we will have to train those in other departments in educational ideas such as how to relate research on student learning to practice, " says Dr Baillie.

Departmental representatives would ideally then spend around 10 per cent of their time coordinating educational development, drawing on their experiences and those of their colleagues with whom they lecture and do research.

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