A common issue that many early career postgraduate tutors and demonstrators face once they’ve overcome the whirlwind that can be the first few terms of teaching, and they’ve settled into rhythm of it all, is one of progression. How do we make the most of the classroom opportunities we have? How can we provide the best possible experience for our students, whilst also advancing our own practice and career, alongside our postgraduate studies or research? In the search for inspiration, the field of pedagogical literature may seem a bit impenetrable and a daunting road to journey alone. With new areas of literature comes a whole new language and many new ideas, often requiring a great deal of effort to get one’s head around.
One option that can address these questions and hurdles is a professional teaching accreditation with Advance HE (formerly the Higher Education Academy (HEA)). With these desires and postgraduate teachers in mind, the IAD developed the Introduction to Academic Practice (IntroAP) to support navigation of this new world; a semester long, workshop-based programme leading to Associate Fellowship of the HEA. Each one of three workshops guides participants through specific areas of the UK Professional Standards Framework for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (a rather long mouthful for what is actually quite a short document), familiarising them with teaching concepts and pedagogical literature, whilst also allowing time for peer discussion and activities based on each person’s specific teaching.
IntroAP aims to introduce participants to a wide range of different teaching styles and methods from different disciplines, through appropriate resources and discussion with peers, inviting them to introduce innovations into their own practice. A peer observation exercise provides the opportunity to reflect on how effective other practices can be and whether these could be applied in their own teaching. Online discussions between workshops also allow participants to crystalise their thoughts and gain peer and mentor feedback outwith the classroom. The aim is to allow participants time and space to reflect on the teaching they have done, are doing and want to do. Participants can shape the course and direct their learning to those aspects of their teaching practices which they feel need improvement, whilst also, through interaction with others, reflecting on their current practices and how these influence their students.
Through the exchange of ideas with others in similar positions and with similar concerns, tutors and demonstrators can develop the appropriate mind-set that will help them understand that reflection on their teaching practices is a continuous process.
The IntroAP is a hugely popular route to accreditation, with over 240 participants successfully completing the programme since its inception in 2013. Crucially, it is also the only route offered by IAD which prioritises postgraduate applicants, creating a space that understands the specific needs of a cohort with many varying priorities.
Wearing my former programme-participant hat, I found that IntroAP opened many exciting doors for me. Not only did it lead me down the path to my current career, giving me the confidence but also sparking the interest to take those first steps onto a new path, it also opened my eyes to the vast wealth of knowledge and support that exists in postgraduate tutors and demonstrators in other offices, labs, classrooms around the university. I’m happy to call people I met on the programme my friends and supporters to this day, and we continue to draw on the different experiences of each other for inspiration in our own classrooms. Many of us face the same challenges, thrills, fears and victories in our classrooms, whatever those spaces may look like for us. By coming together to reflect on our experiences, we can celebrate our successes together, understand who we are as teachers, develop creative approaches to our own teaching, and build a more lasting support network.