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WATE PGR 2018 commendee: Callum Thornton (Engineering)

Why did you start teaching? What (or who) inspired you?

I love passing on knowledge, helping someone gain an understanding of something is extremely important to me. Being taught by teachers who have been able to explain topics exceptionally well and have made learning an enjoyable experience has driven me to be as good as I can be when teaching.

What pearls of wisdom have you been given over the years that have helped you with your teaching?

Attending teaching workshops and talking to academic staff has shown me that when teaching you do not want just give away the solution for students to memorise, it is better to help them understand the way of thinking about a problem and build up knowledge from what they already know. Any facts taught should be backed up with experiences; this was seen to be effective when introducing Systems Engineering concepts, using laboratories to support what the students had learnt in the lectures.

Is there anything you wish someone had told you when you started out?

Whilst writing out a long equation or large matrix in lectures I found many students would start talking (as there is nothing they need to listen to); I feel it would have helped to know that I should prepare these beforehand to be projected on a screen or, at least, that I should talk whilst I am writing for a long period of time (to avoid long periods of silence).

If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what three bits of advice would you give?

  • Become friends with the students
  • Be honest
  • Don’t rush through topics (make sure enough time has been given for the students to understand the current topic before moving on to the next).

What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?

Again, be open to being friends with students. Additionally, do not become stuck in teaching methods just because you have been using them for a long period of time – be adaptable to each new student group and do not be afraid to add new topics and try out different teaching methods when necessary.

What new technologies are you currently using to enhance your teaching? What are your top tips for using them?

I have not had the opportunity to use technology during my teaching. Next year I would like to make use of ResponseWare to ask questions and gather feedback that would allow me to see which parts of the module or topic the students do and do not understand.

What new or future teaching innovations are you looking forward to?

I am interested to see what methods replace the typical classroom style of teaching for different subjects. For a first year Systems Engineering module we have found a new MATLAB laboratory to be very effective for teaching MATLAB and Systems Engineering concepts, with many student showing a deep understanding of the module in their final exam for the related module.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

Teaching means so much to me; being highly commended for a WATE award shows that my teaching has been well received, validating the teaching methods I have chosen and giving me confidence in my teaching. To even be shortlisted means a lot to me and shows me that I am doing something right. I hope it will also open new teaching possibilities for me, as it would prove I am a capable teacher.

What do you enjoy the most about teaching? What’s the best part of your job?

The new people I have met and become friends with through teaching, both students and academic staff, has definitely been the best part for me. My love for passing on knowledge means that I enjoy all the teaching I do – I enjoy helping someone gain an understanding of something.

What are the biggest challenges faced by teaching staff? How do you overcome these?

The amount of time preparation takes, particularly if you are teaching a topic that you are not familiar with or are preparing a new module or new part of a module. In order to be able to both do my PhD and continue teaching I work long hours, for me teaching is a pastime so I am happy to work the extra hours (it does not feel like work).

What lessons have you learned from your students?

In recent years I have been very focused on studying, seeing the students enjoy every aspect of life has shown me there is more to life and that I should not get stuck in my studies explicitly. Additionally, through feedback I have been able to learn which teaching methods have and have not worked and which ones students preferred.

If you could write a recipe for the perfect inspiring teacher, what ingredients would you need?

  • Open and honest – they should not be afraid to admit when they do not understand something.
  • Caring – allows the students to be comfortable.
  • Puts the students first – nothing matters more than the students when teaching.
  • Has time for the students – is able to answer questions during and after the class, whenever the students need.
  • Is open to being friends with the students – students can be comfortable around them and they are comfortable around students.
  • Can explain all topics from multiple different perspectives – allows each student to have access to an individualised teaching style.
  • Adaptable – can make changes to their teaching instantly in order to cater for each student’s needs.
  • Can make any topic interesting for all of the students – can be engaging and encouraging no matter what they are teaching.
  • Is able to effectively use technology during their classes – using technology to improve the students’ learning experiences and gain feedback to further improve their teaching.
  • Leads by example – understands that if the students are expected to do or wear something there is no reason that the teacher should not have to.
  • Gives constructive feedback – any feedback they give should help the students improve and never hinder their progress.
  • Provides anything needed – resources are distributed such that any student is able to gain access to them.

Enjoyed hearing from Callum? See the full list of 2018 winners and commendees and read other interviews.