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WATE 2018 winner: Ian Tuersley (WMG)

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

Why did I start teaching? Well frankly, because the opportunity presented itself! I started at Warwick in the early 90’s as a research fellow but as that contract came to an end, the opportunity to get involved in both domestic and overseas teaching programmes arose and I found that I liked it. I have been inspired by many colleagues over the years – too many to single out any individual. There really is a lot of very good teaching practice around the campus!

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

Never try to appear smarter than you actually are on any given subject; students have an uncanny ability to tell if their teachers are faking it. On the other hand, they are remarkably responsive if their teacher acknowledges that they have asked a question that requires the teacher to go away and think about their response. They very much respect a teacher that is happy to join them on a mutual learning journey!

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

That the HE sector would be badly skewed in its view of academic staff by the introduction of research assessment. This is gradually being rebalanced now but many institutions (especially in the Russell Group) have been slow to acknowledge that teaching is an essential component of the sector’s whole purpose – and often generates a great deal of the surplus funds.

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

  1. Be available to your students when they have questions – it really is a simple thing but it makes a significant difference to their learning experience and they will thank you for it!
  2. Put the time and effort into designing your teaching and assessment properly in the first place; shortcomings will take a great deal longer to address at point of delivery.
  3. Go easy on the coffee!

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

Try to get out of your own teaching environment and see how others are doing it; around our own institution or elsewhere. Warwick International Higher Education Academy (WIHEA) has proved very helpful in this regard. A lot of mention is made of us all ‘working in silos’ but it is a very easy trap to fall into, far too often. Seeing how (often quite common) problems are addressed elsewhere is very enlightening.

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

I make a lot of use of Responseware (to tailor my teaching to address the students’ understanding in real time) and web forums for helping to try and make the experience of a large cohort of students more personal. There are a lot of other technologies that can be helpful in specific circumstances but actually, a lot of the time, I find that it is simply a case of finding ways to communicate better, faster and more effectively with the increasing number of students that we deal with.

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

Parity of esteem with our research colleagues?

More seriously, I suspect that the more basic aspects of teaching (e.g. being able to address a student’s learning needs on a personal basis) will always be the differentiator between a good or bad learning experience. Many future innovations will simply provide ways of enabling that for greater numbers and more remotely.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

It is wonderful to have recognition for the work that I have put in over many years just trying to do the job as well as I can. Of course, ultimately it is all about the students and so a nomination from those we teach means a great deal but sometimes, being acknowledged by your colleagues as a professional who cares about a job well-done can be very heartening as well.

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

The variety of truly inspiring ideas that students will bring to any situation that engages them. It really makes you understand that no matter how much you may think you know, there is always more to learn.

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

I think there are two things that have had very significant implications for HE in my time in the job, which were not anticipated when I started. The simultaneous introduction of fees and the expansion of student numbers has put a great deal of pressure on the “transactional vs transformational” expectations of all of our students. The Teaching Excellence Framework and the Office for Students both put a lot of power in the hands of the ‘customer’ and it will be challenging to maintain the focus on providing an education rather than simply ‘training for better employment prospects’. I believe the key is ensuring engagement in everything we deliver.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

That there is always more to learn. In engineering, experience is a very valuable thing and sadly that takes time to acquire but the best innovation comes from imagination and a mind that is open to curiosity.

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

Obviously a good helping of subject knowledge would be essential. Things such as openness, humour and passion are likely to be helpful. But most of all, I strongly believe that a good teacher will have a thorough recollection of their own educational experience.

If you can recall what it was like – how it felt to be studying for your qualifications then you will be better able to empathise with the range of needs that make up the ‘learning experience’. This generation of students have some significantly different features in their learning environment; some of them are better than those experienced by their predecessors but there are also some very heightened demands and pressures. It is our job to help them achieve the best they are able to but also to try and ensure that they enjoy the experience along the way.

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