Teaching: on the front line

August 15, 2003

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

Name: Rosa Michaelson Age: 47 Job: Fellow in business computing, accountancy and business finance, University of Dundee. Part-time gender equality coordinator for the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council.

Salary: £36,712 (pro rata). I am on a rolling contract of 80 per cent.

Qualifications: Maths BSc (Edinburgh); MSc in knowledge-based systems (Heriot-Watt).

Experience: My first experience in teaching was at the Edinburgh University settlement, where I taught numeracy and literacy to local people and refugees. My first job was working as a research associate in electrical engineering, mathematics and artificial intelligence.

In 1982, I got a lecturing post at Napier University and in 1985 moved to a research post at Dundee, subsequently lecturing at Abertay. I was also tutoring for the Open University, which gave me the feedback that was crucial for improving my teaching.

In my current post at Dundee I have been called an "anomaly", in that I have a wide range of duties. I have researched, taught and, for ten years, run a large departmental computing system. Now I am lecturing again. My Shefc equality hat is a result of my campaigning for women in science, engineering and technology.

Hours spent teaching: About six. I teach half of a management of information module and was a laboratory tutor for business computing. Next year, I am taking a class of 140 students for a second-year module looking at the effect of the internet and the worldwide web on information systems.

Hours on red tape: Much of the past year was spent preparing to switch from modules to semesters, which is odd given that other institutions are doing the reverse. There is also an interesting clash between the six main accounting bodies' professional accreditation requirements and the module size adopted by the university.

Hours on research: Difficult to quantify. I am doing a part-time PhD on deploying educational technology in higher education. I am also part of a Framework Five Network of Excellence team investigating grid technologies for e-learning. I am in another team with a bid in for European Union money for similar work. I have become Dundee's gender expert for European funding. EU work seems to contain at least as much red tape as the actual research.

Teaching bugbear: Reconciling individual student's desire for a personal mark with the benefits of group-based work.

How would you solve it? Convince students - and some colleagues - to trust student peer assessment. Most students are happy to do groupwork, but each year a problem emerges. Some students refuse to work with others because they do not trust anyone else to contribute to their mark, another type cannot work with others, and then there are those who suddenly realise a group member has contributed nothing to the project. It's a fine balance between emphasis on group dynamics and project outcomes in this type of work, and how each will be assessed.

Teaching pleasures: Having students challenge me, each other or even themselves in lectures and seminars. Helping them work out a solution to their particular question. Gaining insight into a topic because a student has a new way of thinking about it.

Tips: It is important not to be afraid to say, "I don't know, but I'll find out", to student questions - or, better still, "I don't know, but we'll find out".

Outside interests: Scots fiddle music and playing in sessions. Reading. Making jam.

Career highpoints: Realising that I really am an academic; getting the Shefc secondment to coordinate its women and science, engineering and technology initiative in 1998, and subsequent membership of the Athena steering group; working on an e-learning project that produced Finesse, a web-based learning environment we use to teach portfolio management strategy via group activities using real-time stock-market data.

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