Work-Based Training: Teaching at University

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By Dr. Catherine Armstrong

This is the first in a mini-series of articles on the best way to acquire work-based training in different contexts. Fitting in with's core audience and its original mission, the first article in the series will explore the training available to teachers at university level and how to get on this sort of course.

Recent changes

The situation as regards work-based training for university lecturers has changed a great deal in the last decade. Ten years ago, training often meant something as simple as a half-day session of viewing a Powerpoint presentation! This is hardly confidence building for the young academic or for the institution itself. This could have been supplemented by a City and Guilds 730 adult education certificate if the lecturer wanted to feel at ease in the classroom and receive some basic teaching training. The C&G course was really intended for those teaching at F.E. colleges which we will discuss in a future article. Going even further back, universities used to provide no training at all for its lecturers and had the attitude that good scholars must automatically make good lecturers and they didn't need to be taught how to develop this skill. As most undergraduates will testify, this is an erroneous assumption!

Fortunately, things have changed a lot since then. Many universities have developed an in-house training qualification, many of which are nationally recognised and transferable. Courses like this are compulsory for new members of staff in teaching roles in many universities. It is therefore likely that if you are employed as a lecturer in the U.K. from now on you will have to complete one of these courses in the first year or so of your term of employment.

Requesting the course

There are advantages to doing the teaching course before it is forced upon you. The most obvious one is to improve your skills base and enhance your C.V. as a younger scholar. If you have requested to go on this course it will impress current and future employers and show that you are committed to improving yourself as a teacher. You may also gain confidence and discover particular ideas that you can use in the classroom. You will also meet other colleagues in your institution who can help and support you. It can combat some of the feelings of isolation felt by part-time and doctoral teachers at H.E. level by giving a sense of community across the institution.

However, if you are looking for a permanent academic position it is also useful to have the course under your belt before embarking on that job. The first year in a new position is always going to be challenging as you get used to new ways of working, new teaching needs and so on. Having to fit in a teacher training course can be really tough at that stage. But it is a relief to have one less thing to worry about on arrival in your new post.

What does the course involve?

Various types of course exist, but these are some of the most common aspects. Overall, they are self-taught and self-driven. There are compulsory sessions, including day long workshops held out of term time or even at weekends, but mostly you will be encouraged to work independently on your own projects or in small groups with colleagues. The tasks given will be built around your current teaching demands, so will complement them not conflict with them. A large part of the requirement is developing a self-reflective teaching style, so you will be encouraged to keep a detailed record of your teaching and describe how you felt each session or assessment progressed. You will also be required to do some sort of group project working on improving the teaching practice of your department.

The benefits of the course, apart from learning a great deal about pedagogy and teaching practice, are that you get to meet people from other disciplines and explore in a supportive environment what works and what doesn't in different teaching contexts. Most teachers base their style on what they experienced as undergraduates and postgraduates and while this does help to hone best practice it is also important to have an injection of innovative ideas. It may help you move away from the traditional lecture format for example. Or change the way you give students feedback on their assessed work. Or ask for student feedback on your teaching.

You will also be given a teaching mentor for the duration of the course who will meet with you and discuss your progress as well as observe you teaching and encourage you to observe their teaching. While this can be a very nerve-wracking experience (and indeed is practised by some institutions for all their staff, not just those undergoing training) most members of staff eventually agree that it is a valuable exercise and helps them to improve their teaching practice by learning how best to deal with certain situations.

I want to do more!

For those interested in taking their teaching theory and practice development further there is the option in many institutions to progress to MA level. This of course requires more commitment in terms of time and so will have to be negotiated with your head of department as to whether they can spare the time for you to do this. For those who want to progress but not necessarily take on a whole new qualification, many universities offer one day or even half-day workshops to allow you to develop skills in particular areas. Courses that might be on offer include team building, funding, diversity, personal effectiveness and communication.

Other sorts of training

Teaching theory and personal development are not the only sorts of course on offer for lecturers at many universities. Others include first aid, disability awareness training, advice on student counselling, dyslexia training. These will often be run on a short term basis, and be free of charge to members of staff, but obviously you will need the permission of your head of department in order to attend. Some universities run courses on how to improve research techniques, make funding applications and so on, again often on a workshop basis. These can be really useful, especially if you have recently joined a new institution or if your current institution has changed its policy or the support it offers. And if you do attend and complete the requirements satisfactorily, make sure you keep a record of this on your C.V. as it is important to tell current and future employers everything you are doing to improve yourself as an employee.

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