Nick Freestone wants to put teaching centre stage

The bioscience teacher of the year, whose pedagogical skills were honed on the fly, is pressing for more recognition of teaching. Plus the latest higher education jobs and appointments

May 8, 2014

When Nick Freestone was named Higher Education Bioscience Teacher of the Year, he was “dumbfounded”.

But the Society of Biology accolade was not a one-off. Among other achievements, Dr Freestone, associate professor and course director for undergraduate pharmaceutical science at Kingston University, has been named Kingston’s most engaging lecturer, is a senior fellow and academic associate of the Higher Education Academy, a fellow of the Society of Biology and holder of a postgraduate certificate in teaching and learning in higher education.

How has he achieved such heights when it is research that most often wins a person recognition in the academy? He attributes it to a drive for self-improvement that was spurred by his gaining a lectureship.

“I had spent five years [doing research] in a dark room on my own looking down a microscope,” he said. “I got a job on the basis of that experience, then was thrown in front of 200-300 students. My skill set was not completely attuned to the job I had been given.”

Traditionally, he said, lecturers have to learn on the job. Some, “if they’re lucky”, have a mentor. For most, however, it is a case of “chuck them in at the deep end and see if they float”.

“I took a conscious decision – when I realised that I had so many students and so many responsibilities and [not] too much time for discipline-specific research – that I would [lean] towards the learning and teaching aspects of the role.”

This decision motivated him to develop his pedagogical knowledge and skills, because – despite having a PhD – he was “completely unversed” in the theory of teaching and saw no other way to learn what he needed.

Universities are taking steps to professionalise teaching – a senior fellowship at the HEA is now required for some roles and these may be tied to the UK Professional Standards Framework – but Dr Freestone feels that there is much work to do to help aspiring teachers and to give them reason to take the job as seriously as research.

“There’s no incentive to answer those emails [from students] at 7pm on a Friday night,” he said. “It might be changing subtly, but at the minute you don’t really get promoted on the basis of good pedagogical practice.”

The sector has “struggled with this issue for 30 years” but has not “really made much progress”. He said that while the awarding of prizes for teaching was important, teaching excellence “has to be linked to promotion”.

He advises fellow academics to get involved with the HEA. His experiences with it have been “fantastic”, he said, and the meetings and resources available were “very supportive, collaborative and collegial”.

Dr Freestone also recommended that every department have an “expert in the education of that discipline”. “That’s not very common in the sector, and that’s what I would like to see in the future,” he said.

Instructive potential: teaching posts

St Mary’s University
St Mary’s University, Twickenham wants to hire a lecturer in tourism.
Closing date for applications: 15 May 2014
View the full job description and apply for this role

Brunel University
Brunel University, where education will become a separate department in a new structure designed to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration, is seeking a lecturer in early years education.
Closing date for applications: 1 June 2014
View the full job description and apply for this role

University of the West of Scotland
The School of Education at the University of the West of Scotland has an opening for a lecturer in education (childhood studies/ childhood practice).
Closing date for applications: 16 May 2014
View the full job description and apply for this role


Margaret Bates, professor of sustainable wastes management in the School of Science and Technology at the University of Northampton, has been elected the next junior vice-president of the Chartered Institution of Wastes Management.

The University of Brighton has named Chris Pole its new deputy vice-chancellor. He will be responsible for student recruitment, academic standards and the development of the university’s Hastings campus.

The Quality Assurance Agency has appointed two new directors. Victoria Lindsay, a deputy director of The Open University, has been appointed to the post of director of quality development. Rowena Pelik has become director of QAA Scotland. She is currently director of academic strategy and practice at Edinburgh Napier University.

Judith Smith, dean of science and technology and head of the School of Environment and Life Sciences at the University of Salford, has been appointed president of the British Society for Parasitology, the UK’s primary scientific society for parasitologists.

Saul Becker, assistant pro vice-chancellor (international) and director of research for the Faculty of Social Sciences at the University of Nottingham, has been named pro vice-chancellor and head of the College of Social Sciences at the University of Birmingham.

A new dean has been appointed for Nottingham Trent University’s School of Science and Technology. Martin McGinnity has joined from the University of Ulster, where he was professor of intelligent systems engineering within the Faculty of Computing and Engineering.

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