Teaching can be a daunting or rewarding experience and is something many of us just fall into. This means that we can often benefit from training and development focused on our teaching practice. The Edinburgh Teaching Award (EdTA) is a flexible award that allows you to reflect on your teaching while gaining membership of The Higher Education Academy. For me, the EdTA was great as I could tailor it to my current teaching commitments and focus on techniques that would be of use to me. For example, I do not just lecture, but also teach practical and field classes.
During the EdTA, I reflected on many aspects of my teaching, but also took the chance to try out some new methods, many of which were well received by the students and are still being used. For example, one of the first classes I taught at Edinburgh was a thermodynamics class tailored for Earth Sciences. The subject is fairly traditional, and in the past had been taught through a series of lectures where the students were passive for an hour. Having tried this method in my first year of teaching, I decided it did not work for me, or for this topic. My solution was bringing what was then clickers, now Top Hat into the class. It was only through the EdTA that at the time I had heard of this. The difference now is that instead of me just talking to the students for an hour, the lecture is now interactive, with students answering multiple-choice questions (Figure 1) periodically throughout the lecture on the topics being covered. It is also a two-way feedback exercise, allowing the students to gauge whether they understand a topic, and also as an instructor I can see whether I need to go back and explain concepts again.
Another key aspect of my teaching that the EdTA has allowed me to reflect on, is how we assess our courses. As a student, I expected an end of course exam, but does this test the skills we wish our students to leave with? In some cases we need the students to learn information meaning an exam is suitable, but is this always the case? Certainly, my perceptions have changed with taking time to reflect on this and currently, I do not believe exams are always the best way to assess our students.
Overall, the EdTA gave me the space to reflect on my teaching, try out different methods or styles, and gave me the confidence to do so. Some colleagues were sceptical about the EdTA, but experience has taught me that experimenting and trying new things with teaching can work to both your and your students’ advantage. Many colleagues from a science background can be reluctant about delving into the educational literature. The EdTA does require this, but my experience is that there is some highly engaging and thought provoking literature available. I may not agree with it all, but it did make me stop and consider items from a different perspective. What I found extremely beneficial with the EdTA for me was the individual mentor who is able to provide support throughout the time you are working on the award and assist in navigating the EdTA.