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WATE 2018 commendee: Jamie Roebuck (WMS)

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

It’s been a gradual process, starting with peer teaching sessions whilst I was a medical student, providing ward-based teaching and instructing on resuscitation courses whilst a junior doctor, and finally moving into my current teaching fellow post at Warwick Medical School. Although I enjoyed many aspects of clinical work, I recognised that my real passion and drive came from teaching and trying to make the basic sciences relevant and memorable to healthcare students and staff.

I was fortunate to have several inspirational and memorable teachers whilst I was a medical student, and in my current role I hope that I convey the same enthusiasm and love for the medical sciences that they showed me.

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

“It’s OK that you don’t know everything” and “it’s OK to admit to your students that you don’t know everything”. Being honest about your own limitations, along with a genuine commitment to helping your students develop seems to go a long way to earning their respect.

The 7 P’s (or variations on the theme) “Proper Planning and Preparation Prevent Painfully Poor Performances”. Although very ‘common sense’ it can often be forgotten or not given sufficient time due to competing demands. Generally, whenever a session has not gone as well as I would have liked, the problem can usually be traced back to aspects of my preparation.

“Keep it simple”. Enough said.

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

I wish someone had told me that even after years of teaching I would continue to feel incredibly nervous before lectures and teaching sessions. For a long time, I was under the impression that good and experienced teachers don’t get nervous. The reality for me is that my nerves are almost as bad as when I first started, however, I do seem to have got better at controlling them and channelling that nervous energy into something that hopefully helps rather than hinders.

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

  • Try using Rudyard Kipling’s ‘Six Honest Serving Men’ (What, Why, When, How, Where and Who) as a framework to ensure you cover the main aspects of session planning. Preparation is far more than just having a PowerPoint ready.
  • Teaching is a skill, and like any skill it takes time, practice and effort to get better at it. Try observing teachers you respect, and mentally critique the strengths and weaknesses of their sessions; pick out and use those aspects which you can adapt to suit your own style.
  • You can’t please everybody and be prepared for some sessions to not go as well as you planned. However well (or not) a session has gone there’s always something that can be learned and improved upon.

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

Try to ensure you’re still enjoying the teaching you do. If not, look for ways to regain that spark of enthusiasm; whether it’s trying a different way of teaching the same material; teaching on other modules; developing new resources etc. We all need something to stretch us, keep us fresh and prevent us stagnating – no-one benefits from a bored, grumpy, resentful teacher.

Always think back to your experiences of learning a topic for the very first time. Many students will have exactly the same questions, difficulties and struggles you did, and they seem to appreciate a teacher who anticipates and acknowledges these issues, and who is willing to share their own struggles and tips for learning a topic. It also gives us more realistic expectations of our students.

Stay humble, and keep learning and developing as a teacher – none of us are indispensable.

Never forget that teaching is a privilege, and don’t underestimate how much we can learn from our students.

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

I’ve found Personal Capture useful in being able to prepare ‘directors cut’ versions of my lectures. These longer recordings allow me to spend more time explaining some of the complex topics, and allows students the option of either watching or fast forwarding those sections depending on their own needs.

When considering the use of technology in a session, I’ve found the following two questions helpful:

  • How / will the use of technology enhance the teaching session over and above a standard version of the same session?
  • What is the backup plan if the technology fails / becomes unavailable during the session?

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

I was recently interviewed by a Warwick Computer Sciences student as part of their PhD project. They are working on the development of a real time student feedback system, designed to be seamlessly integrated within lectures, but without the limitations of standard audience response systems. It should be a really useful tool, if they are able to implement it as planned.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

Although cliché, it really is a genuine honour and privilege to be recognised and shortlisted for this award. It reassures me that something I’m doing must be working and helping the students, and it also encourages and energises me to continue improving my teaching.

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

I love the constant challenge of trying to explain basic medical science concepts in ways that I hope are clear, relevant and creative, and that lead students to a deep rather than superficial understanding. It’s really rewarding witnessing those ‘lightbulb moments’, when concepts that students have struggled with suddenly ‘click into place’ and start to make sense.

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

I think the main challenge is guarding the time needed to prepare and develop a decent teaching session when there are so many competing demands. I’m very fortunate to have worked in the same department for several years, and during that time have built up good relationships with supportive teaching focused colleagues, with whom I am able to have open discussions about workload, and what my priorities should be.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

  • What a privilege it is to study and teach medicine, and to never lose our wonder and awe at how amazing the human body is.
  • The importance of understanding (and if necessary questioning), the rationale for why we do things the way that we do.
  • Introducing me to useful online teaching resources and keeping me up to date with new and emerging technologies.

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

A mixture of:

  • Excellent subject knowledge
  • Infectious enthusiasm
  • Creativity
  • Good sense of humour
  • Genuine commitment to helping students learn
  • Humility and a willingness to admit their limitations
  • Committed to self-development / improvement
  • Approachable and willing to offer help / advice to both students and colleagues.

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