The Staff Awards are a great opportunity to show appreciation of the hard work that goes on day to day, here at Warwick! Find out more about our award winners and nominees in our series of interviews, highlighting their roles and achievements.
Peter Corvi, Professorial Teaching Fellow, WBS
Tell us a bit about your role:
I teach Finance to large cohorts of undergraduates, and never cease to be amazed by the calibre of our students. A digital migrant, I use technology wherever I can to enhance my teaching. I post weblog summaries of my lectures and encourage students to engage with these by posting their own comments. I invite students to ‘tweet’ questions whilst I deliver review lectures, pausing at regular intervals to answer them.
I use online discussion to create communities of collaborative learners. Working in small online groups, students answer suites of questions about topical articles from the Financial Times. These activities help them make important connections between the real world and what they are learning in the classroom. I have the ingenious developers in WBS e-Solutions, and Michael Eardley in particular, to thank for the state-of-the-art e-platform that hosts these discussions.
You were Highly Commended for the Community Contribution Award for your work on leading the team that designed and developed the new Foundation Year entry route for students. Tell us more about this project:
The Foundation Year project began in early 2013 with the first meeting of a dedicated working group made up out of colleagues from WBS and other departments. Over the course of 15 months, we designed from scratch a novel entry route to our BSc Accounting and Finance and BSc Management degrees for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who, through no fault of their own, would not be expected to meet the requirements for direct entry.
The Foundation Year is common to both BSc degrees and aims to equip students with the skills and knowledge they will need for successful progression to degree-level study. Students then follow the same course of degree-level study and graduate with the same degree as our direct-entry students.
Underpinning the Foundation Year is the belief that each of us has talent and that the main obstacle to success is often lack of self-confidence, not lack of ability. The role of the Foundation Year is to help students develop that self-confidence. What matters, therefore, is what they are capable of achieving by the end of the Foundation Year. This key insight has enabled us to articulate a case for setting the minimum entrance requirements in terms of GCSE grades, not ‘A’-levels. This is a major step forward for a top-ranked UG programme that normally requires a minimum of ‘AAA’ at ‘A’-level for direct entry. It also draws attention to the fact that the key success factor is the curriculum, how it is delivered, and how the students engage with it.
Each of the 25 students who enrolled in the Foundation Year in October 2015 was selected on the strength of their UCAS narrative and their performance in an informal interview at WBS. Each of them is still here, and currently on a 4-week work placement, a novel feature for a gateway course. As expected, some have found the going tough, but they have been supported by teachers, personal tutors and administrative staff who want them to succeed. Another 25 students will join next year and, by the time the first cohort graduates from Warwick in 2019, no fewer than 100 students will have benefited from the Foundation Year. It all helps to advance the social mobility agenda in the UK.
The Award nomination highlights how you have gone above and beyond your role, what have been the key challenges of this project?
The Foundation Year involved endless hours of discussion with colleagues, consultation with other universities, and sustained lobbying of senior management. I personally recruited each member of the teaching and pastoral staff from amongst my colleagues in WBS, and like to think that I helped to raise their awareness of the importance of Widening Participation. A number of them have subsequently told me that their involvement in the Foundation Year is the best part of their job.
The key challenge has been to get each of the important decisions right (when, in fact, only time will tell if those decisions were the correct ones). My colleagues and I spent a lot of time debating the merits of an integrated model, in which the Foundation Year constitutes the first year of a 4-year course of study at Warwick, versus a standalone model where students come to Warwick for one year only. Bound up in these arguments were considerations of student financing, student progression and the need for an accredited exit qualification, and whether applications should be invited via UCAS or directly to the department.
Time was also an issue. We knew we had to begin marketing the new Foundation Year before schools broke up for summer 2014 and that in turn meant that the business case, and all of the course and module approval documentation, had to be prepared, externally moderated, and approved by the relevant School, Faculty and University committees by the beginning of the summer 2014 term. It was a close call. Looking back, I know where I made mistakes and where we lost time.
The Staff Awards are a great chance for the University to improve and learn from staff initiatives over the year. If you could change one thing at the University, what would it be?
I would like to see parity of esteem for teaching and research. Teaching ‘stars’ should be recognised and rewarded in the same way as research ‘stars’. I was an early beneficiary of the University’s decision back in 2009 to extend the Teaching Fellow ‘ladder’ to enable promotion to professorial rank, and have encouraged and helped others since then to follow suit. However, I would like to see more colleagues progressing up the Teaching Fellow ranks.
What does being Highly Commended for the Staff Awards mean to you?
I am deeply touched by having my Widening Participation work recognised in this way. I am also a great fan of Nick Barker’s, and the tremendous Outreach work that he does in local schools to raise interest in studying Chemistry, so to be mentioned alongside him is a real honour!
A lot of staff and students took the time to nominate, if you had the chance what would you say to the people that nominated you for this award?
Thank you so much for putting my name forward. I know that it takes a lot of time and effort to prepare a nomination, and I really appreciate that you did this for me. I will be sure to return the gesture and nominate someone next year.
We hope you enjoyed the Staff Awards evening. Any highlights from the night?
I enjoyed sharing a table at dinner with colleagues from WBS and seeing people whom I know and respect win an award or receive a commendation. The organisers had obviously gone to a lot of trouble to make the evening a bit special for everyone. I also thought the food was delicious!