Teaching staff reflect on the first week of term


September 30th, 2020

Over the last few months University staff have been working relentlessly to adapt process, systems and teaching styles to make the new academic year a success.

Many programmes have gone online so that other programmes, such as the more hands-on teaching offered by some courses, can go ahead in controlled, safe, face to face manner.

Colleagues are working at pace, adapting to a challenging environment, while combatting their own anxieties for themselves, their families as well as staff and students.

In this blog we hear from four colleagues across the university as they reflect on the first week of teaching.

Professor Steve Howdle is Head of the School of Chemistry.
Week One this year was always going to be a challenge. Obviously none of us have done anything like this before.  I’m Head of School of Chemistry and I have personal tutees in each of our four years (about seven in each group).

Up first were our Freshers. We started with a Teams call with 260 students on-line on Monday morning. Jon (Deputy Head of School) and Rossana (Senior Tutor) and I were socially distanced in front of a camera and our triple act went swimmingly, with just the right level of information, instruction and humour. We “patched in” Kyle (Director of Teaching and Learning) and Daniel (ChemSoc President) to give a real Team Chemistry feel to the welcome message. Later that day we started to meet the students for real – in their tutor groups – and that for me went really well – we sat out on the grass in the sun and chatted about University life and what the students should expect.

Next up were our returning students and again Jon and I did a Teams event for each year group to bring them up to speed on what will be different this year and how we are handling teaching chemistry under the restrictions we all face.

I knew that my groups were all back in Nottingham so I invited them to come along to Chemistry for a face to face chat – and that worked well – again the weather was kind to us and we sat outside of the building and made contact again. Certainly, it wasn’t quite business as usual but we were adapting and the overall feeling from our students was that they could see how hard we were working to get things right and I got a genuine sense that they appreciated that we were doing our very best.

Problems? Yes – a couple of students couldn’t make it – they were self-isolating – and one developed a cough in the morning and messaged me to say that she’d rather not come – all very sensible….  Oh and one student slept through his alarm! Some things don’t change.

Stefanie Sullivan is Associate Professor in Mathematics Education in the School of Education.
On Monday 14 September, we welcomed nearly 300 students onto our Post Graduate Initial Teacher Education Programmes. We have now come to the end of two weeks of blended learning, teaching the students from 9am to 4.30pm every day in either face-to-face or online sessions.

It is fair to say we were all nervous of both forms of teaching, but the overwhelming feedback from staff and students has been incredibly positive. A key success has been thinking carefully about the purpose of face-to-face teaching so the experience of coming into University is a worthwhile one and offers something different from learning in the online space. Our students have been building strong learning communities through discussing and presenting with their peers, all at a social distance. This has then strengthened the online teaching as our students are confident and secure due to the relationships they have with their peers and ourselves.

We have all had our moments of struggling – from issues with technology and learning how to work the room in a new way of teaching face-to-face, through to building in enough time to navigate one way systems and remembering to take the protective film off our visors! For all the hiccups though, it has been wonderful to start working with students again and doing what we love, teaching.

Jake Hodder is Assistant Professor in the School of Geography.
It has been a strange first week of term.  After an unusually busy and uncertain summer, the start of term has felt more of a relief than a worry. This week, I launched a new Political Geography module and (digitally) delivered the first lecture of our large, first year module, Exploring Human Geography. Like so much else, every day has felt like learning the job anew.

For me, this week’s key lessons were:

1.) Online teaching rewards directness, especially on how students can contribute, lest you be confronted with a silent wall of purple initials.

2.) Lecture engagements work better in pairs. Leading a session with a colleague helped things feel more natural and relaxed; it removed some of the intensity which students can sometimes feel with online teaching which, in turn, made them more willing to contribute.

3.) Our students are wonderful, and wonderfully forgiving. We are charting this brave new world together and, although not circumstances of our own choosing, we are all committed to make it work. Online teaching is hard work. It takes time and imagination. But it can also be unexpectedly rewarding. It is not all zoom and gloom.

Deborah Merrick is a Senior Tutor and Assistant Professor in Anatomy
I teach Anatomy to medical students in the early years of their medical course. This involves the process of full body dissection to appreciate the intricacies of the human body. With the challenges of teaching a large cohort of students under the current restrictions, myself and colleagues have spent the summer looking at ways to maintain the essential hands-on experience we believe is key to a sound understanding of this important discipline. In week 1 (day 2) we welcomed our second year medics back into the medical school for our new look Anatomy practical classes. Any anxieties about logistics and student engagement we’re soon forgotten as the students impressed us all by their mature attitude and enthusiasm to reengage with our unique learning environment.

In addition to the in-person practical sessions, we designed an on-line collaborative platform to reunite study groups and allow dissemination and consolidation of anatomical knowledge. The introduction of new software and modes of working didn’t faze our students at all, taking it all in their stride to produce some exceptional work. I cannot underestimate how impressed I am with our students. We have already received feedback that the new sessions were “really beneficial and it was a great learning experience”. To receive this in week one when we were all finding our feet is fantastic and we hope to build on the positive student and staff experience as we progress through the semester. The need to redesign our teaching this year has been challenging, but I have real optimism that our changes will benefit to our students today and for many years to come.

Continuing to adapt as the term progresses
In line with the Guiding Principles for Teaching in 2020/21 Professor Sarah Speight, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning has been clear that we will continue to listen and learn from our students as the term progresses, so that we can ensure our teaching is effective.

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3 Comments

September 30th, 2020 at 10:20 pm

Wenonah Barton

It’s so encouraging to hear these success stories from colleagues, seeing hard work over many months pay off, and seeing the positive responsiveness of new and returning students. I’m conscious it’s been a long, hard, tiring road for colleagues, with more to come. Wonderful to share in these highlights. Wishing all my academic colleagues energy, patience and similarly positive student responses to your hard work of teaching in the weeks ahead.

October 1st, 2020 at 11:11 am

Jo-Anna Russon

I am a contract researcher so I am not currently involved in teaching, but I wanted to note my thanks for all the effort and energy that has been put into making teaching work in very difficult circumstances. Thank you also for taking the time to write these blogs.

October 2nd, 2020 at 8:52 am

Steph Glen

It is so wonderful to learn that the hard work and long hours so many of us have put in this summer is paying off.
Working from home, therefore not being able to see the results of your labour, is tough so thank you for taking the time to share.
It is lovely to read this.

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