Working in partnership… by Dawn Willoughby

With ever-increasing speed it seems we have reached that time of year again when teaching is finished, exam results are calculated and our thoughts start to turn from the current academic session to planning for the next one. This offers some time to reflect on successes and think about the areas of teaching where we would like to make changes. The “stand-out” feature of my module portfolio in 2014-15 has been the increased level of working in partnership with colleagues to teach and support our undergraduate students. Six of the seven modules I delivered this year were co-taught, an approach which has brought some challenges and plenty of rewards.

 

… with PhD students

In the Henley Business School, I am fortunate to work each year with a small team of PhD students who are responsible for supporting the delivery of lecture material in Statistics through weekly tutorials for undergraduates. This partnership provides an important opportunity for PhD students to strengthen their transferable skill set and become more effective facilitators; I have seen them gain a clearer understanding of pedagogy and an increased level of confidence. Similarly, there are benefits here for our undergraduates: they receive more individualised support for their taught course and they can also gain an appreciation of how their learning relates to the research undertaken in the School. And for myself, my motivation is improved by the enthusiasm of the PhD students and their “get-involved” attitude towards the programme delivery.

 

… with industry-based professionals

For my module in the School of Systems Engineering, there can be no doubt that engaging with IT professionals enhances the employability skills of our undergraduate students. In this case, the programme involves a group-based web development project for which employees of a local web design company act as the client. Developing this working relationship over the past few years has provided an extra dimension to my teaching. In recent discussions it has become clear that the company also values their involvement: “It offers an opportunity to gain skills and experience that simply would not be available to most of our staff members in their usual roles within the business. It has also afforded us an opportunity to give something back to the community by sharing our expertise – something we feel strongly about.”

 

Engaging in team-based teaching presents challenges especially in maintaining seamless delivery and providing consistent information to students. Sometimes there can also be logistical and communication problems associated with bringing together a diverse set of people with different working practices and other research-based or commercial objectives. However, all of these difficulties can be overcome when an inclusive environment is created in which open discussion is encouraged. From my experience, I have also learnt the importance of devising and sharing formal documentation to ensure consistency in assessment and provision of feedback to students.

 

When I first started working at the University, I expected teaching in higher education would be a rather solitary experience providing very little opportunity for interaction with colleagues. Ten years later, I can testify that this is certainly not the case as I work on a variety collaborative teaching and learning projects with colleagues from several Schools and Departments. It may be true that team-based teaching requires some additional commitment and effort but in my opinion this approach can bring benefits to University staff and students, and to external partners. And so, as planning gets underway for the next cohort of students, I would encourage consideration of team-based teaching as an option for module delivery.

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