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Dearing Award winners offer their top teaching tips

328635_269018099785117_445712184_oThis year Dr Pauline Eadie won a Lord Dearing Award. The Dearing Award Scheme recognises the outstanding contributions of University of Nottingham staff to the student learning experience. Awards are nominated by both students and Schools or Departments. The School of Politics staff have now won 12 Dearing Awards to date, here some of our past winners offer up their top teaching tips.

This year’s winner, Pauline Eadie, believes in using images and role playing in the classroom. 

1. In teaching you should illustrate theoretical and methodological concepts with real world cases so that students get into the habit of doing this themselves. This helps to avoid mere description in academic work.

2. Encourage students to challenge what they are being taught. If students can point out the weaknesses in arguments and identify the manipulative nature of rhetoric then this will help them to become critical thinkers.

3. Use images. A picture tells a thousand words and the use of images in lectures can help focus attention and bring subjects to life. Students always respond to an image in a lecture, especially one that moves.

4. Role play in seminars and workshops always works well. Being ‘in character’ allows students to voice their opinions in a way that they might not do as themselves. It also helps students understand standpoints that may be alien to them, by literally getting inside someone else’s head.

Dr Adam Morton, Associate Professor of Political Economy, won a Dearing Award in 2012. Here he explains what HP sauce has to do with teaching political economy. 

My approach to teaching has sought to create a supportive, inclusive, and participatory learning environment. I strive to generate an approachable style so that students feel emboldened and confident to develop their ideas as critical thinkers and as independent learners about political economy and international studies.

For example, I have strived to bring “everyday” political economy into the classroom and the lecture theatre by establishing a “lucky dip” that students may enter and then explain the products they receive in political economy terms. In the past this has included fair trade chocolate, the sweet potato, and a bottle of HP sauce which are then all linked to different theories of political economy!

These cases of “everyday” political economy are then used to explain liberal accounts of political economy (fair trade chocolate); radical arguments linked to colonialism (the sweet potato); and poststructuralist theories of representation and signification (HP Sauce). The latter example is a particularly powerful expression of my endeavour to explain complex concepts through simple cases: after all, during the enjoyment of an ‘English’ breakfast in the presence of a humble bottle of HP Sauce on our kitchen tables, the state of the United Kingdom is represented through the signifier on the bottle (the Houses of Parliament). In this way and many more we then become accustomed to questioning “everyday” forms of political economy, not least how the state represents itself through civil society.

Mark Stuart, one of two winners from the School in 2011, offered these three top teaching tips:

1. Treat every lecture and seminar as a performance. Deliver it as though each one is your first.

2. Always answer every e-mail from a student within two working days. Do so politely where possible.

3. Give general feedback as well as individual feedback for all pieces of coursework.

Dr Sue Price, who won a Dearing Award in 2010, had this to say:

My tip for teaching is that it should be about inspiring learning. This requires excitement, enthusiasm, energy… and of course preparation. Teaching for me is being lucky enough to do a job I love.

Alex Danchev, Professor of International Relations, won a Dearing Award in 2009 for his third-year module on Political Biography. It includes a visit to the National Portrait Gallery in London, to study portraits of prime ministers, and also an element of creative writing – the ‘forward obituary’ of someone not quite dead.

1. Don’t take no for an answer – insist on individual contributions to seminar discussions.

2. Make small groups work – listen, prod, probe, stimulate, question.

3. Encourage the imaginative – reward wide reading, creative thinking, apt phrasing.

4. Keep your ears open – pick up what students say, reformulate it, and run with it.

Finally, Philip Cowley, Professor of Parliamentary Government and 2004 winner of a Dearing Award, offered these three tips:

1. Go on a lot about the correct use of apostrophes.

2. Tut loudly whenever a student gets ‘fewer’ and ‘less’ mixed up.

3. Don’t let them in once the lecture’s started.

Published inPedagogy

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