In this episode, Senior Lecturers Guy Fletcher at the School of Philosophy and Marc Geddes at the School of Politics share good practice by examining the successes and challenges of their courses nominated in the Teaching Awards. This is the third episode of our 2022 Teaching Awards podcast series, which features reflective conversations between nominees.
The first in the UK to offer student-led Teaching Awards, Edinburgh University Students’ Association is now in its 13th year of celebrating staff through the process. This year, over 2,680 nominations were made, with winners to be announced on May 25th. Read more about this year’s Teaching Awards through Natalie Hay’s introductory blog post.
This episode features Guy and Marc discussing what effective course design looks like to them and their students. To that end, a running thread through their conversation is the challenge faced by teachers to make their subject matter accessible and compelling to students. Guy’s approach to ethics prioritises clear examples that range from everyday premises (‘what is the value of our friendships?’) to high-stakes hypotheticals (‘what if, in order for everyone to enjoy a football game, a single person had to keep getting electrocuted?’) For Marc, the solution to student engagement is embedded in the very structure of his course on parliaments, which features guest speakers who work at the very institutions being taught:
… [It] gives an opportunity for the students to really understand the real life of parliaments, and the ins and outs of how they work in practice, which, I think, is always really, really fun to teach… [It] ensures that there’s a lot of interaction as well, between the students and parliaments directly, which, I think, otherwise, when you’re teaching material in the abstract can otherwise be… it remains abstract, right? And students are perhaps not as engaged when they’re learning about an institution or a topic or a theory.
Guy and Marc also reflect on the impact of the pandemic on their teaching, discussing the various changes they had to make to their classrooms. Technological tools such as Padlet became important resources that brought academic communities together and allowed them to communicate in a safe, virtual way. Yet, such platforms are only as useful as the culture of communication that scaffolds them. Marc notes that the pandemic brought to light certain pre-existing issues of (mis)communication between students and their teachers. Guy explains how it’s easy to assume what students want from their instructors, and the lessons since learned:
… I learned that students have a much greater appetite for explicit structuring and explicit instruction about what’s going to happen and what they need to do. I’d always just assumed that it was much more obvious to them how things were working that in fact is and I just should have realized that previously, but I also just thought they find it really boring and annoying to have lots of messages from me saying like, “we’re going to do this, and this is how this fits together”. I was like, no, they don’t want that. But it turns out that at least a significant chunk of them want a lot more of that than I’d ever previously appreciated.
Dr Guy Fletcher is senior lecturer and undergraduate teaching director in Philosophy, in the school of PPLS. He has been at The University of Edinburgh since 2011, teaching courses in ethics, meta-ethics, and political philosophy. His research interests are in philosophy of well-being and in meta-ethics. He is the author of The Philosophy of Well-Being: An Introduction (Routledge, 2016), The Routledge Handbook of Philosophy of Well-Being (Routledge, 2016), and Dear Prudence (OUP, 2021).
Dr Marc Geddes is Senior Lecturer in Politics at the School of Social and Political Science. He joined The University of Edinburgh in 2016, where he researches and teaches on British and parliamentary politics, with a particular interest in how governments are held to account by parliaments, and the relationship between knowledge and democracy.
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Eric is an alumnus of The University of Edinburgh, where he studied Mathematics and Statistics student and worked as a podcasting intern for Teaching Matters. Eric is passionate about university student mental health, interviewing researchers for the Student Mental Health Research Network at King’s College London, leading the University of Edinburgh’s WellComm Kings Peer Support Scheme, and conducting research on stigma for People With Mental Illnesses (PWMI). In his free time, he enjoys watching and playing sports, over-analysing hip-hop songs, podcasts, and any sort of wholesome shenanigans.
Aiswarya Jayamohan is a PhD researcher in English literature at The University of Edinburgh, specialising in twentieth century writing, critical theory, and gender & sexuality studies. Their growing interest in critical pedagogy emerges from the trans* feminist priorities of their research and teaching, and ongoing engagements with curriculum transformation at the Institute for Academic Development. You can find them on Twitter at @ajayamoh.