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WATE 2015 highly commended: Daniel Sgroi (Economics)

Daniel SgroiDaniel was highly commended in 2015, and when alumni reminisce on their time at Warwick, Daniel is often mentioned with great fondness as someone who really ignited their interest in the discipline of Economics.

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

As soon as I sampled university life I knew that I wanted to be an academic and teaching is an intricate part of that. I had many great teachers throughout my student life and still learn so much from other teachers and students. It is almost impossible to single anyone out but one that I remember with special fondness is the late Professor Frank Hahn who made mathematical Economics fantastic fun which convinced me that any material no matter how seemingly dry and formal can become enjoyable if it is taught in the right way.

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

The most important tool for successful teaching is enthusiasm. Enthusiasm is surprisingly infectious and once you pass it no to your students they will not only enjoy the learning process but understand so much more.

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

Try to slow down: the majority of lecturers talk much too quickly – you need to give students a chance not just to listen but to absorb what you are teaching.

If you were mentoring a first-time teacher, what three bits of advice would you give?
  1. Be enthusiastic – if you love your subject do not be afraid to make it obvious.
  2. Try to focus on intuition and (real world) examples as much as possible.
  3. To reiterate my answer to the last question – do not talk too quickly, and do not be afraid to repeat important and tricky material.
What advice/top tips would you give to more experienced teachers?

Always look at feedback during and at the end of each course. Even if you have taught something for many years there is still room for improvement. Talk to other lecturers who teach similar topics: you can always learn from other experienced lecturers. Talk to you junior colleagues too, sometimes they see with fresh eyes and can remember being on the receiving end of lectures more easily so often have an interesting perspective.

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

The visualizer is great – if your handwriting is not fantastic you can prepare material in advance, have it neatly typed up and leave gaps and space for working during the lecture. This is often easier to prepare than using the whiteboard and easier for students to follow. It is also great to be facing students when you write!

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

Anything that allows increased interactivity with students. Playing relevant interactive games will not only help them to learn but keep them interested and alert.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

It is great to be appreciated as a teacher. As someone who has a strong research focus (and helps to run a research centre) it is vital for me to maintain balance in what I do, which can be hard when research pressure is so high!

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

The students! I have taught in Oxford, Cambridge and Warwick and have been lucky enough to be surrounded by bright, enthusiastic hard-working students at every stage of my academic career. Having students who go on to do so many great things – including academic work – is especially rewarding. For me the importance of balance (being able to carry out cutting edge research and teach superb students) cannot be overstated.

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

Teaching technically difficult material, especially in compulsory 'core' courses to students who may have only a passing interest can be tough: and the solution is keep showing them the relevance and importance of the material and to focus on intuition whenever possible.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

All students are different: some will enjoy more intuitive or more practical material while others enjoy more rigorous mathematical challenges or more abstract concepts so it is important to keep up the variety and make you teaching accessible to the full range of students.

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

Not in order of importance and drawing from everything I have written so far:

A great teacher should be…

  • Patient both when delivering material and when listening
  • Constantly providing intuition and real-world examples
  • Approachable during and after lectures
  • Understanding of differences between students
  • Willing to listen to feedback from students
  • Willing to talk to other lecturers and learn from them
  • Able to take criticism in a positive way
  • Always looking for innovation
  • Trying to keep material fresh and up to date
  • Able to maintain balance, bringing in their own research and linking their teaching to the very cutting edge of research whenever possible
  • And most importantly they should be enthusiastic about the subject!

Know someone like Daniel? Nominate them now for a WATE award!