In recent times, at various events, attended by a range of people, I have been asked about my teaching style, my approach to social work education and why I ‘do it’ the way I do. If you attended the recent JSWEC 2013 conference you may have got a taste of the randomness that is me and hopefully the basic humanity I try to embed when sharing understandings with student social workers. A colleague asked me to consider writing a blog about my ‘approach’ so here I (slightly uncomfortably) am. I thought that it might be interesting to share a piece I was required to write for the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme 2013 that details the criterion I was attempting to evidence in a bid to state my worthiness for this nomination.
I did not win the award and I am not actually sure if it ever has been won by a social work academic? Actually, the winning does not really matter. What does matter is that it provided me with the time to truly reflect upon my current professional position and the things I need to do to progress in this respect.
I found the seeking of feedback from students, colleagues and peers deeply disturbing on many levels and a tad sycophantic on others. It was however incredibly nice to be felt worthy of nomination.
Why I am doing this? Hmmmmm, I was asked and the asking prompted me to think about what it might offer those who might read it. I concluded that there might be a little nugget or two of learning within the content that you might take away and either apply or avoid 😉
See what you think
Amanda Taylor Senior Lecturer UCLan
ps. Please be aware the claim is written in a particular style and manner that could be interpreted or misinterpreted as ‘blowing ones own trumpet’ I hope you might see past that and consider the true message I wished to convey to the HEA panel.
”Social work academics should practice in a manner that reflects the core knowledge, values and skills of the profession. A profession I am incredibly proud to be a part of.”
School of Social Work UCLan
Claim for National Teaching Fellowship
Criterion 1: Individual excellence: evidence of enhancing and transforming the student learning experience commensurate with the individual’s context and the opportunities afforded by it.
I offer this claim to fellowship from a reflective position and begin by explaining that my pursuit of a career in higher education was as a result of my passion for and commitment to the development of the social work profession. A profession whose benchmark for qualified practitioners is the acquisition and direct application of a knowledge, values and skills framework. On entering higher education I considered the social work qualifying framework from pedagogic perspective to enable me situate my own abilities and address those areas from where authenticity and creativity could arise. I commenced and continue this professional journey by positioning myself as the learner; noting the teaching and learning parallels as they presented. This reflective positioning has resulted in an insightfulness that I utilise as I continue to pursue an experiential sense of the student as partner in the learning process. An outcome reflected in recent student feedback which explains, ‘Amanda never forgets what it is like to be a student.’ Furthermore, the contemplative junctures that continue to surface as I reflect foster a much more contemporary emphasis to my teaching practice; within these reflections is the on-going recognition of how pertinent my own progression is to that of student engagement and academic success.
My continued professional development, through the successful achievement of the Teaching Toolkit, PGCert in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and SD2 Mentorship, were frameworks that assisted me explore, experiment and apply; something that has become the norm within the learning spaces I construct and occupy. I progressed through these experiential learning processes, adopting and adapting various teaching methods grounded within the Blended Learning approach; an approach which continues to be most congruent to the facilitation of progression.
The afore mentioned methodological stance, alongside a knowledge of the evolving nature of the student, continues to motivate me to challenge the standard delivery of social work education. I have trialled and instigated change; incorporating music, discussion boards, media, literature, reading groups, poetry and metaphors aligned with the arts and philosophy into the knowledge exchange. I have developed lecture playlists that lyrically and within the musicality aim to set the tone; discussion boards that are designed to support classroom learning; I read subject related poetry to accentuate significant learning points and offer philosophical materials that prompt students to search for meanings in a professional located within the human condition. I wish for and pursue a vibrancy and depth in the learning space; one that leaves the learner impassioned, curious and wanting more. Combining interchangeable methods results in the range of learning styles being attended to almost naturally. Recent student evaluation makes reference to effects similar to those I aimed to achieve, ‘I felt inspired and impassioned about the subject’ and another who states, ‘Amanda`s methods and passion for her subject interests are second to none, due to this passion, enthusiasm and knowledge it has enabled me to be inspired about social work matters in a way that has surpassed my expectations.’
From the outset of my progression theoretical notions of relationality and connectivity enabled me to appreciate and maximise the potential within the learning environment that would emulate key areas of competency; those which Student Social Workers are required to incrementally achieve over the course of their professional training. Therefore, how I impart social work knowledge, convey social work values and utilise social work skills remains crucial to a student’s comprehension of the qualifying requirements within social work education. A further example of these considerations is evidenced in a current research project in which I consider ‘What is Social Work Education’s contribution to the Use of Self in Relationship Based Practice’; this is an additional body of evidence that has and will inform lesson and curriculum design. My keenness to test this hypothesis derives from the necessity to provide proof of that which works; all of which is aligned to my aspiration to further progress the nature of delivery in social work education.
Subsequently, when yet again re-defining that which should be core to my teaching approach, in the development of a profession that interfaces with the human condition at its most vulnerable, I concluded that it had to be understandings located and demonstrated within the relationship. The teacher / learner relationship I would construct and forge with the student, the subject matter, and the environment; an approach that interestingly reflects that of the professional social worker / service-user relationship. On this occasion I returned to Social Work theory, drawing from Humanistic Psychology and a Rogerian approach that is based upon creating core conditions (Congruence, Empathy, Unconditional Positive Regard) in which development can occur. Recent student feedback suggests success in my approach, ‘Amanda shows a tremendous amount of compassion and empathy, she respects other opinions and is genuinely interested in what students have to say, she does not dictate her views, she is transparent and congruent,’ and another who explains ‘Amanda instilled me with confidence by helping, not giving the understanding, but enabling me to find it with her powerful examples and all-encompassing explanations,’ all self-actualisation at its best. Additionally, a colleague’s view, ‘Amanda plays a crucial role in modelling professional behaviour. Students comment on the way she recognises and respects them, and the way she helps them to develop and form mutually supporting networks and learning communities. (colleague name removed) Programme Lead.
Having been invited to speak at the launch of the University of Central Lancashire World Class Teaching and Learning Event prompted me to cogitate with even greater conviction upon how and why I command teaching spaces the way I do. It was during a gallery and museum type vacation that I discovered my teaching parallel; which interestingly, but not surprisingly derives from my interests in the Freud lineage. Three generations of male within this family (there are others) had excelled in their chosen professions; Sigmund being the Father of Psychoanalysis, his son Ernst an Architect and his son Lucian the pronounced Artist. I immediately thought about the educators who will have shaped and forged their convictions in the creation of their curiosity, understanding and ultimately their works. Lucian, had been cited to enquire of his art, ‘What do I ask of a painting? I ask it to astonish, disturb, seduce, convince’ and it was in that moment that I asked myself, ‘What do I ask of my teaching? Concluding that, ‘I ask it to be engaging, progressive, stimulating, inspirational.’
Yet another self-appraising juncture arose which led me to examine the possibility of implementing learning activities additional to timetabled events; those which could stimulate engagement and supplementary progression due to the distinctiveness of their presenting construct. This consideration came at a time when I was developing my role as BA (Hons) Social Work 1st Year Lead. I understood the role in terms of professional development, academic attainment and retention but sensed there were real opportunities available to convey, from the outset of the degree course, the requisite skills of professionalism which correlate with those necessary for qualification and subsequent employment. I utilised numerous mediums to raise professional awareness; the most effective was that of the University’s virtual learning environment Blackboard and the social networking site Twitter.
Given the increased usage of social networking sites for the development of networks and the sharing of practice knowledge I facilitated student familiarity with the system through Blended Learning structures and clarified the manner in which both the academic and professional profiles could be advanced. Students were asked to introduce themselves to myself and peers during induction on Blackboard and to set up a Twitter account. The subsequent knowledge and skills made available and achieved through this simple engagement led to the emergence of student confidence with public communication, a consciousness of the risks in online behaviours, an ability to use technology in the development of their career and the provision of links with the wider social work world. Student feedback highlights the multifaceted benefits from an approach that speaks to academic progress, professionalism and the employability agenda, ‘her encouragement to students to engage with the ‘digital shift’ has prompted me to join twitter and following some fascinating professionals – without this I would not have access to additional resources and professional contacts,’ and ‘utilising learning environments and social media technology such as twitter and Skype, Amanda shares a wealth of experience and knowledge.’
Further claims to success with this medium are described by a colleague I encountered online, with whom I am now engaged in a research project where we are exploring student social workers use of social networking to supplement classroom based learning. (colleague name removed) Glasgow Caledonian University School of Social Work offers this account, ‘I noticed that your Twitter bio described you as an “enthusiastic” lecturer, this would seem particularly apt, and there is a sense of your enthusiasm and commitment that is clear in your virtual self. I also think there is an innovative approach, the social networking being an aspect of that but most notably the use of new learning and teaching environments and the ability to adapt environment like these (book and film clubs) to have a relevance to the work of the social worker. Finally I get a sense of thoroughness, you seem clear about what the aims of your teaching are and equally determined to ensure that the teaching activities reflect this. Innovative, enthusiastic, creative and thorough.’
Not satisfied that I had exhausted all potential possibilities I again I found myself setting about devising supplementary learning activities that would support events outside of those timetabled. Whilst researching Collaborative and Communities of Learning my attention was captured due to the idea that these teaching constructs enhance the likelihood for critical thinking. As a result the BA (Hons) Social Work Programme Book Club was born The Use Of Book Clubs in Social Work Education. Student engagement with this activity was roused by providing explicit explanations relating to the connections between reading and practice learning. I decided to recruit a student body to the book club process, with students being drawn from each year of the Social Work Course School of Social Work UCLan. This resulted in supplementary promotion of events and interest generated through peer curiosity.
The book club has drawn national interest via its Twitter feed @SWBookclub and my own personal Twitter presence @amltaylor66. As a result a number of renowned Professors have requested involvement given the uniqueness of the process and because it is not something that they have encountered within Social Work Education to date. The next event is will take place in a physical teaching space, with a Twitter debate and live stream to the actual room being offer as a link to all the wider social work education network. In terms of this innovation one such Professor comments, ‘Amanda’s social work book group encourages students to read literature which has a social work theme but is not in the category of core academic texts, including autobiographies and fiction. It also helps develop critical appraisal skills. Perhaps above all it facilitates learning which is really enjoyable and helps to create bonds in a student group. Book discussions have also been attended by invited external guests, include the author of the book in one case. The added bonus of publicising the book group via Twitter and allowing others outside UCLAN to participate via social media is the cherry on the cake.’ (colleague name removed) Cardiff School of Social Sciences.
The actual Author being referred to attended the Book Club in person having connected with myself through our respective Twitter feeds, and she had this to say, ‘Amanda Taylor is committed to providing learning experiences for her students to enable them to become the best possible practitioners that they can be. In creating the book club at UCLAN, she has connected fiction and reality in a unique way, which has proven to be a huge success. Students are engaged in a programme of problem-solving through collaboration, an important skill needed in the modern workplace. She is to be applauded for her efforts. Deborah Morgan (Author) Disappearing Home
All of the above is a work in progress and hopefully as I manoeuvre through this criterion you will perhaps get a sense of my belief that innovation, motivation and determination are each and together prerequisite to the development of 21st century teaching environments.
Criterion 2: Raising the profile of excellence: evidence of supporting colleagues and influencing support for student learning; demonstrating impact and engagement beyond the nominee’s immediate academic or professional role.
I have been said to be a driving force behind the uptake of the digital technologies within the School of Social Work on many levels, developing and using various digital platforms to support conventional teaching methods. Alongside these teaching advancements lay my ambition to progress these techniques across social work education as a whole given the prominence of social networking proficiency within the social work profession. The impetus in regards to these innovations was spurred even further by my understanding of the opportunities and effectiveness that exist within online engagement and the knowledge that the expectations of students have increased in this respect. Therefore, it was significant to address these evolving areas and deliver to student expectations to ensure that we were doing all that we could in terms of providing learning platforms that would further support both academic and professional successes; all of which speaks to the change in the landscape and what is now determined as a key employability skill.
Increasingly learning technologies are significant in the development of the curriculum across higher education and the combination of interactive online technology and enthusiastic academic staff, willing to engage with this type of concept, can provide students with unique learning experiences. An IT colleague I have partnered with in the progression of my understanding and skill has this to say, ‘over the past 12 months Amanda has ensured that her high profile professional standards and aspirations take full advantage of the collaborative learning platforms that are available, being one of the first staff in the School of Social Work to delve into the world of online learning. The flexibility and mobility of this style of engagement has created a catalyst of interest that is now being felt throughout the School. Through the work Amanda has pioneered, students in the School of Social work are taking full advantage of the diverse range of support, learning and discussion opportunities available to them both physically and virtually. The success of the work Amanda has undertaken has featured prominently in the University’s organisational change initiative support by the Digital Shift strategy.
Through the excellent pioneering initiatives Amanda has created in the School of Social Work we have been able to develop academic collaborations with other Schools with regard to their e-learning endeavours. Keen to learn and keen to share, Amanda has initiated discussions for innovative developments through the School of Psychology within UCLan to provide access to an online journal club where students are able to discuss up to date material pertinent to their studies with prominent experts from the field of Social Work. (colleague name removed) Learning Technologies Coordinator LIS – Digital Services.
As acknowledged the potential for technology to enrich the learning environment is more than pertinent in the forefront of my mind as I considered the overall student experience in my various academic roles. Conversely, I am also delicately aware that not everyone is as enamoured as I am in this respect and reflected on how I might encourage colleague participation; with the aim of balancing and conveying the advantages against the possible difficulties. Using technology does require a certain level of perseverance and equal amounts of confidence. I reflected upon a notable preconceived aversion if one had experienced complications with an IT system. I pondered this phenomena at length and concluded that there can be an almost conceptual deficit in the way we initially perceive digital unknowns. Consequently, when establishing the BA (Hons) Social Work Programme Blackboard space, I invested additional time and energy to ensure that this system was fully effective for the task in hand and offered coaching for colleagues to develop the afore mentioned confidence. All of which I recognised would be essential to confident and proactive engagement. One such colleague, who would freely admit to a digital aversion reflects, ‘Amanda, models debates about the professional presentation of self in not only in her direct teaching but also in her commitment to elearning (message boards, blogs, tweets) in her reflections and disclosures.’ (colleague name removed) SW Programme Lead.
Both, locally and nationally, my willingness to support colleagues with digital platforms has become widely known, acknowledged and sought; not only in relation to internal technology but also for my development of Twitter as a learning tool, retention aid and professional development platform. Locally, Associate Head of School Pharmacy and Biomedicine University of Central Lancashire explains, ‘Amanda was extremely helpful and enthusiastic about the use of Twitter. She explained how they have been using it with students in Year 1 within SW and provided me with her experiences of initially setting up the account and then subsequently the approach to engage students. I could see from the twitter feeds that students were readily engaging with Amanda I was very impressed with the fact that it wasn’t a one way dialogue and that students were sending tweets about what they had read and were asking opinions of lecturers. Since my discussion with Amanda I have taken the points back to my School.’
To coin a phrase, in relation to my use and successes with technology, in particular Twitter, it all went ‘a tad viral.’ Since my virtual inception I have been contacted by colleagues within Social Work / Social Care Education across the UK who request to consult on my use of this social media space to extend the learning potential. Two such colleagues explain, ‘I first ‘met’ Amanda via Twitter it was clear she was student focussed, creative in her approach to teaching, grounded in values of human rights and a sense of fun. I became intrigued in the ‘Book Club’ work that she has developed at UCLAN with her social work students. It is hoped that in the future we will be able to collaborate between the two universities so that students from UCLAN and Northampton might develop these discussions and debates further, again by using social media. This is an exciting venture, which Amanda has grasped with enthusiasm.’ (colleague name removed) Programme Director and Teaching Fellow University of Northampton School of Social Work and (colleague name removed) who had this to say, ‘I initially became aware of Amanda through her creative use of Twitter, which she uses to good effect to enhance her own Dept.’s profile and that of her colleagues. She has been extremely supportive of my own Dept.’s efforts to establish a weekly online Twitter ‘chat’ for Education and Social Work PhD candidates and other interested parties. Amanda has involved her own colleagues and advertised the talks on Twitter as well as agreeing to be a ‘Guest tweeter’ answering questions on her own use of social media in enhancing student learning. I have had a telephone conversation with Amanda to discuss her appearance as ‘guest Tweeter’ she is obviously highly committed to providing a really rich and engaged environment both for students and her colleagues. My own awareness of what UCLan has to offer has been almost entirely through contact with Amanda – such is her effect!
Within in three months of my social work academic virtual presence I had been voted as one of the top sixty Social Care Tweeters in the UK by Community Care Magazine; a widely known and read publication in the field. This again developed my professional profile and the manner in which the School of Social Work at the University of Central Lancashire was being understood and discussed for the innovative methods employed not only to teach but also in terms of pastoral care.
This publicity and visual effectiveness on Twitter has recently led to invites from the Joint Social Work Education Conference (JSWEC) to deliver a keynote speech using a digital platform; and Lancaster University who are hosting a Teaching and Learning Conference and wish to capture what they note as, ‘the dynamic and progressive style to the delivery of social work education that you offer’ (colleague names removed) Lancaster University. I aim to model and facilitate a journal club, based upon my book club initiative, with social work students from across the UK and the academic audience, in an experiential manner at both events. I have suggested that the delegate list is contacted to prior to the event to set up a Twitter account and offered a list of key Social Work / Social Care Tweeters to follow. They will also be expected to read a short and relevant article in preparation. A further aim through this process is to offer students access to learning, the conference, a range of educators and to provide evidence of the potential that requires exploration from the current academic community through this mini journal club event.
Criterion 3: Developing excellence: evidence of the nominee’s commitment to her/his on-going` professional development with regard to teaching and learning and/or learning support.
As I have written this claim for fellowship the contemplative nature of my teaching and approach to innovation has come into even sharper focus; reminding me of my professional social work practice which was embedded within notions of reflective ability and resultant proactive activity. As discussed, I set out on this journey with openness to change, an appreciation for adaptability and a strong sense of the currency of the student experience as it exists today. I reflected upon my own experiences of higher education and knew with immediacy that even though they drove my ambitions they should not be reflected in my approach. I am often known to cite that the words, ‘in my day’ are not relevant to higher education; particularly at this quite tentative time for it as an institution.
As previously evidenced in criterion one, I am in the fortunate position to be employed by an organisation University of Central Lancashire that promotes professional development and drives these processes forward in a fashion that sits creatively within my aspirations not only for higher education but also for social work practice. Working through and achieving the afore mentioned professional teaching qualifications, alongside progressing into mentoring roles within the University Learning Development Unit remain central tenets of my evolution as an educator.
The first time that I mentored a teacher new to higher education I was keen to explore and embed the effectiveness I had found within the humanistic approach that I had adopted with students in general. This relationship based perspective appears to offer validity in approach which is reflected in my first ever peer review feedback, ‘I was somewhat surprised with the length of discussion we had prior to the learning session (30 minutes), which I think emphasises the importance Amanda pays on understanding the colleagues that she is working with. I was encouraged – not so much asked – to articulate learning outcomes, why I had opted for a particular method of delivery, how I had planned the session, and my strengths/weaknesses or gaps in knowledge about the ability and make-up of the students I was engaging. This was something that I have never really been asked to do before but I found it affirming to be able to have a conversation where I was open about some of my anxieties (e.g. not knowing the students I was teaching particularly well) and also to get some tips as to how I might remedy this (e.g. something simple like asking the students to put their names on pieces of paper in front of them). A method of thinking about on-going issues surrounding the joys and frustrations of classroom based teaching delivery. The focus was subtly shifted from something that was a pressurised focus on me and my abilities as a teacher to how my struggles or successes are actually part of a wider teaching community that encompasses the students and other colleagues. (colleague name removed) University of Central Lancashire Teaching Toolkit Student and Dr of Geography.
Further to my development as a peer reviewer and within my mentoring position I have recently initiated an experiment that considers the peer review process from a cross school perspective as opposed to the current within school system. I linked with a law colleague who reviewed my teaching methods in a lecture environment; the topic of my session was loss and grief. I choose a colleague from law given the polarity in our respective areas of speciality and found that this method evoked much more authentic and constructive feedback for us both. This is my peers feedback on her knowledge of me an educator and the peer process, ‘I observed a 3 hour session which was a lecture and a workshop all rolled together in to one. There were approximately 120 students. I was interested to see how Amanda would engage the students over this period of time and also how interactive the session could be with that number of students.
I was impressed on both counts. Amanda used a range of media (starting and ending with a DVD, both of which had a huge impact) in order to provide variety in the learning experience for students. The session was very interactive, helped by the fact that Amanda knew the names of all her students so despite the large group, she gave the impression that she was communicating with each and every one. The session was also clearly focussed on professional practice with numerous anecdotes from Amanda’s own time in practice and a lot of discussion about how students might use what they were learning when they went in to practice themselves.
It was hugely beneficial to observe a member of staff from another School. The focus of the observation was entirely on teaching method, rather than on the substance of the material covered. It enabled me to observe as an entirely objective bystander. It was interesting to see that there were a lot of similarities between Amanda’s approach to teaching and my own. The benefit of some of these, which may be done incidentally when taking a class, are really highlighted when you are an observer and so now form part of my clear teaching plan for each session e.g., anecdotes from practice. In addition, it showed me how I could use different teaching methods, such as video clips, in order to ignite student’s interest and hold their attention through the session.
One of Amanda’s key strengths is the relationship that she develops with her students. She clearly nurtures them through the learning experience but balances this with an ability to empower them to reflect upon ideas themselves and form their own views. Amanda really does create an excellent teaching and learning environment’ (colleague name removed) School of Law University of Central Lancashire. This innovative approach I have proposed to the University Senior Executive Team as part of staff feedback into the current World Class Teaching & Learning Culture initiative; which has received encouraging levels of interest.
On a frequent basis I attend subject relevant seminar workshops to provide me with current and research based knowledge that I can utilise and impart within teaching spaces. It is these contemporary and topical findings that I glean and bring not only into traditional teaching spaces but also into digital spaces. I am currently evaluating discussion boards that I have incorporated into two BA (Hons) Social Work 1st Year modules as I means to again forging, supporting and maximising learning potential. Student feedback indicates the benefits, ‘If there were to be one thing I would change about modules I would have to say that having more discussion boards would certainly be an advantage to students. The discussion boards allow all students to actively take part in the learning experience. They are a great way of engaging all students into discussions and having an insight into other people’s views, as we all tended to have different perceptions on things,’ alongside that of a recent module feedback report, ‘I particularly liked the discussion board with relevant and searching questions posed by the academic team to assist students’ active engagement with the 2 chapters of directed reading. This seemed to be well utilised by students and is a useful vehicle to enhance their learning’ (colleague name removed)External Examiner University of Canterbury.
Recently, I began my fourth year of teaching practice in higher education and believe that I have creatively and authentically consolidated the foundations of my professional profile. I am now approaching a phase where further development is required if I am to put my stamp on the world of social work and higher education teaching and learning practices. Winning the Vice Chancellors Award for Outstanding Practice in Teaching & Learning: Excellence in teaching delivery and intellectual stimulation of students at School and University Level and being nominated for all six categories in the Student Lead Lecturers Awards did not, as you might expect, leave me believing I had arrived.
It simply generated further aspirations to cultivate additional approaches that would shape student education in a manner conducive to their academic success. Something I will never cease to strive for. I am enrolled to commence my Phd early next year once I complete the two current research projects mentioned and complete a book chapter. The subject matter clearly will be related to innovative teaching and learning and how this is a lifelong project as opposed to a fait acompli!
So there it is – my claim to fellowship and my honest reflections on what I ‘do’ and how I ‘do’ it. I do not get it right all of the time, in fact this recount could be based upon lots of deluded ideals and as I often say to students ‘what would Freud say.’ What I do know is that I am committed to social work and social work education and aspire to progress through the forgiving students and colleagues I have the pleasure of engaging with on a daily basis – virtually as well as in person.
* Consent was sought to share comments throughout the claim to fellowship process