Teaching: on the front line

April 25, 2003

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

Name: James Flannery

Age: 35

Job: Lecturer in fire safety and technology at the University of Central Lancashire.

Salary: Somewhere between lecturer/ senior lecturer scale.

Qualifications: BSc building management, postgraduate certificate in education.

Experience: Engineer in the construction industry from graduation in 1992.

Decided the construction industry was not for me - too much time travelling, working away from home, long hours, constant problem-solving.

Resigned and took a teaching certificate at Bolton Institute.

Started lecturing on an hourly basis in the department of building and civil engineering, Preston College, Lancashire, in 1997.

Similar arrangement at the University of Central Lancashire, department of the built environment. After two years, went full-time.

Hours spent teaching: Twelve. I help manage all fire-related courses. The department has a well-established Fire and Explosive Studies Research Centre and attracts serving Fire Service officers to its degrees. Students take maths, science, human behaviour and the law. They study in bursts of two-week blocks four times a year. They are a mixed bunch of backgrounds and ages and some need extra support with key skills - report-writing, referencing, writing a bibliography, computer literacy.

I project manage Fire Spark (Support Programmes for Assisted Resources and Knowledge), an online programme, to help them. The project is funded by the Higher Education Funding Council for England.

Students can experiment with simulations of flashovers and smoke movement in the lab.

Hours on red tape: Too many.

Hours on research: About six a week. I am doing an MPhil/ PhD on learning through technology, looking at whether online teaching and learning materials are effective.

Teaching bugbear: My bugbear is more with the profession. The lack of communication between academic staff. In the construction industry, communication was key to project success. In academia, everyone seems to operate individually. Maybe it's a symptom of the amount of work we are expected to do.

How would you solve it? Collaboration, regular meetings and transparency so we know what everyone's doing. Wishful thinking.

Teaching pleasures: The pleasure is working with students.They are the lifeblood of the job.

Tips: Listen to the people you are teaching.

Outside interests: I recently retired from a semi-professional football career. I played for Lancaster City and Accrington Stanley. I once played against David Beckham in a friendly against Manchester United. He was an established England international at the time. Got to the first round of the FA Cup in 1999 before getting knocked out by Northampton Town, featured on Match of the Day. Enjoy keeping fit and spending time with my wife and two children.

Career high points: Departmental activities in Hong Kong. Travelling to China and meeting international staff and students. A fantastic experience.

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