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WATE 2018 winner: Elena Riva (IATL)

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

I have started teaching because of my desire of sharing the wonderful journey of learning with students, as I did as a student with some inspiring teachers and lecturers.

My first experience of teaching at University was during the Chemistry Department's outreach activities with Nick Barker and these precious times in schools and in University labs allowed me to realise that teaching was and is my vocation and what makes me happy.

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

More than pearls of wisdom, I'd like to share what has really helped me to understand what I wanted from my educational relationship with students: witnessing teachers that really cared for their students. My pedagogy has been inspired by the ways in which they were able to communicate this even while explaining a complex and ‘dry’ concept!

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

From time to time we feel very inadequate and incapable to reach all our students. We should not be afraid of acknowledging this and we should take this discovery, this feeling, as a new starting point for revising our practices.

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

To explore and discover what is the best way in which they can communicate to students how talented and valuable they are, as well as to create a student-centred learning experience in which students can be fully involved as active participants.

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

To remember to share educational experiences with students, to allow time for reflecting on the teaching and learning process, to personalise the time spent with them.

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

I have utilised lecture captures in an innovative manner for delivering personalised workshops to hundreds of students. My idea is to approach new technologies with the intent of exploring ways of utilising them as additional tools for creating a student-focussed learning experience.

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

I am looking forward to the pedagogic exploration of novel ways of assessment as well as of practices that can improve students’ wellbeing in the teaching and learning environment.

What does winning a WATE award mean to you?

It is a great honour to be among the recipients of this award. What particularly matters to me is having the very precious support of students and staff. This will give me the opportunity of opening up more discussions about the role of teaching in HE and of engaging with people that have the same desire of improving students’ experience.

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

What I enjoy the most is the fantastic possibility of spending time with students, reflecting and working on topics that interest me deeply.

Possibly the best part of my job is celebrating students’ achievements as I do when I create public exhibitions of the amazing works that they produce as part of their assessments.

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

The biggest challenge is finding more time to dedicate to students for supporting their learning (also outside the classroom) and their full development.

My door is always open! Nevertheless, this might feel overwhelming as we have so many commitments and duties. Finding solutions to this challenge is a 'work in progress' that needs full institutional support.

What lessons have you learned from your students?

They are my teachers! With their assessments’ works and their weekly participation in the modules, they teach me new ways for looking at genetics and water issues and new approaches to contemporary problems. Their curiosity is contagious!

Being part of their lives at University, getting to personally know them is the greatest privilege as well as being able to support their aspirations.

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

  • 1 kg of creativity
  • 1 kg of passion for your subject
  • 1 kg of kindness
  • 1 kg of compassion
  • 1 kg of humility
  • 1 kg of openness
  • 1 kg of patience
  • 1 kg of enthusiasm
  • 1 kg of empathy
  • 1 kg of awareness
  • 1 kg of capacity of sharing
  • 1 kg of curiosity
  • 1 kg of support from colleagues and students

Mix well all the ingredients of your reaction mixture (all in equal amount!), stir for few hours and add a pinch of desire for adventure and recklessness. Keep stirring for all the time you are teaching.

Remember to check that none of the ingredients gets consumed and, in case it is, look for a new wonderful source.

From time to time, make sure that you take your reaction mixture outside (possibly in the sun!), learning with your students in straight contact with nature.

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