Teaching: on the front line

January 17, 2003

What is your experience of teaching? Pat Leon asks teachers how they manage.

Name : Allison Littlejohn

Age : 40

Job : Lecturer in e-learning, Centre of Academic Practice, Strathclyde University

Salary : under £38,000

Degrees : BSc (Hons) and PhD in chemistry; postgraduate diploma in educational technology; plus, hopefully, a DEd

Practical training/experience : I wanted to be a research chemist and worked first at Glasgow University and then Strathclyde, where I was asked to take some undergraduate chemistry classes. Eventually, I decided that teaching excited me more than researching crystallography. In 1992, I began lecturing at North Highland College in Caithness. Many students lived or worked in remote areas of Scotland and could not easily attend. I was intrigued by the idea of using computer technology to help them. I designed two Higher National modules for oil workers to use during their free time that won the 1995 BT Beacon Award for Distance Education. That same year, I was awarded a Churchill fellowship and went on a four-month tour of US universities to explore computer-supported teaching in science. After a stint as an education consultant at the University of Northern Colorado, I moved to Strathclyde in April 1997. My role includes directing the continuing professional development programme in ICT for learning and teaching, and managing an e-learning research group.

Hours spent teaching : Officially, 240 hours last year, but it is difficult to estimate the time spent teaching online, particularly feedback. As I work in a central academic support unit, I spend a lot of time helping staff with teaching issues. I recently worked with engineering staff on helping students design online project management logs and with architectural students on online group portfolios. Feedback from students was really positive.

Hours on research : On average, about a third of my time. But there is a big overlap with teaching.

Hours on red tape : Too many. I'm too busy to count.

Teaching bugbears : Inadequate procedures at campus-based universities to encourage the mainstream adoption of e-learning.

How would you solve them? Universities must look seriously at procedures such as recording teaching time. Most methods do not take account of the asynchronous nature of online teaching.

Teaching tips : When designing courses, always start with the student. We are all guilty of focusing too much on the subject. In 1997, I helped develop an online course for final-year aerospace engineers at Glasgow. The course was very mathematical and students were having problems. Tests revealed that many were "visual" learners, while others were "analytical". We allowed students to choose between learning through animations and simulations or through a more traditional approach. Few restricted themselves to one or the other.

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