Teaching: on the front line

October 24, 2003

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

Name: Angela Dawson
Age: 35
Job: Lecturer, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
Salary: £32,537

Qualifications: BA in history of art (Canterbury, New Zealand); MA (London); Teaching certificate/diploma (University of Sydney); Public health diploma (University of New South Wales).

Experience: On-the-job experimentation. I teach health promotion, education and communication, which often takes me outside university walls and into indigenous communities. In Australia, I coordinated distance-learning courses in community healthcare.

Hours spent teaching: Only a fifth of my time is spent at Liverpool, where I teach health promotion, which forms part of the diploma of tropical medicine, master of tropical paediatrics and the tropical medicine for nurses course. I am also education adviser to the Gates Malaria Partnership, a programme in sub-Saharan Africa to which Microsoft's Bill Gates recently donated $100 million (£60 million). I work on health education programmes in Ghana, Gambia, Tanzania and Malawi. I run courses for journalists, workshops for community workers and a malaria module for community health nurses.

Hours on red tape: The School of Tropical Medicine is semi-autonomous, being affiliated to the University of Liverpool. I chair our information communication technology group, which feeds into various committees and policies, and we have our share of bureaucratic obstacles. In Africa, the red tape is getting ten institutions -Jseven African, two British and one Danish - involved in the Gates partnership to work together.

Hours on research: I am trying to be strategic about my career and get my PhD done in instructional design, learning styles and health professional education with the University of New South Wales medicine faculty. I try to write a research paper for each chapter, but it takes time. I am also evaluating the Gates malaria scheme. I have a research assistant.

Teaching bugbear: Not being able to get to know my students properly and so having to make assumptions about their needs. My students at Liverpool are mature postgraduates and many are doctors. They may know a lot about clinical one-to-one situations, but they may not be so knowledgeable about broader community work or developing countries. It is hard to judge what scenarios they will relate to. I need to enable them to transfer what they have learnt from one context to another.

How would you solve it? Throw a few parties beforehand. The teacher-student relationship is more formal here than it is in Australia. It would be nice to know more about my students. But because I travel a lot, I do not always see them right through a course, and establishing a relationship is difficult.

Best teaching moment: A lively class debate in Australia about who should be involved in carrying out a community health-needs analysis raised heaps of questions. From it, one student drafted a checklist and recommendations that were adopted by a community health centre in the town of Weewaa.

Worst: One year at Sydney University, a group of students came consistently late to lectures and were disruptive. It was a nightmare. I felt that I was in a class of high-school children. Warnings from the head of school had little effect. Most chose to drop out, much to my relief and that of their fellow students.

Funniest: I was running some continuing professional development workshops.

For the one on time management, I was so on time that I turned up to find no one there - I was a day early.

Outside interests: Energy-efficient building. My partner and I are building a straw bale house, which, when finished, should be very snug in the winter and cool in the summer.

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