Teaching: on the front line

January 9, 2004

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

Name : Rosie Parnell

Age : 31

Job : Lecturer in the School of Architecture, University of Sheffield.

Salary : £24K plus a bit.

Qualifications : BA (Hons) architecture, postgraduate diploma in architecture, PhD, PCHE (Sheffield).

Experience : I got into teaching part time in the design studio because I needed money to support my PhD. Sheffield was one of three architectural schools running a radical project on how to get clients and users involved in design education. This is still not accepted practice. I gave communication and collaboration workshops countrywide on presentation skills, presenting your portfolio, doing peer reviews and group working.

As a follow-up, I co-wrote a book about how to get more out of the "crit".

The crit is an event in which students present and defend their design work to a panel of critics.

I then left academia, partly for money but partly because of claustrophobia. I felt cocooned and wanted to make a mark in the outside world. I worked for the Groundwork Trust, Wakefield, as education manager.

It gave me lots of experience managing budgets, working in teams and writing research bids.

Coming back into academia was a difficult decision. I am only four months in and feel constrained by the walls of my not-so-ivory tower. But I have a mission: to develop an approach to teaching that does not result in the anguish I went through as an undergraduate architecture student.

Hours spent teaching : 25 per cent of my total.

Hours on red tape : 15 per cent.

Hours on research : 60 per cent.

Teaching bugbear : Crits and reviews that are not a positive learning experience because they give little or no feedback and do not help students to develop critical skills. Crits and reviews can be fantastic, but so many end up destroying students' confidence.

How would you solve it? Through greater student participation. Tutors have a responsibility to create an environment to support this.

Student-centred learning demands that the traditional power relations are eroded. It is very difficult for students to make this happen unless they are given a framework to work with rather than against.

In the case of crits, this has implications for room layouts, staff and student numbers, the crit format and procedure, the roles adopted by students and staff and so on.

Best teaching moment : When I'm not teaching and the students take control - I am just part of the discussion.

Worst teaching moment : In the lecture theatre. It is difficult to engage in dialogue.

Outside interests : Doing up my wreck of a house.

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