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The power of a Provost’s Teaching Award

9 March 2012

Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen, lecturer in Scandinavian Literature and undergraduate tutor for SELCS, describes the ways in which being a Provost’s Teaching Award winner has impacted upon his career.

Provost's Teaching Award winners 2009

Image: The Provost with the 2009 award winners, including Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen (third from the left).

Can you describe the work or project that led you to win your Provost’s Teaching Award in 2009?

It was partly due to work I did with colleagues on the BA Language and Culture, in which we took students out of the classroom and into the museums and streets of London to teach them about the city’s different language cultures.

However, I think the main reason for my winning the award was the MA in Comparative Literature, which I designed from scratch. It involved a module that was taught at three universities in Europe – the University of Lisbon, Aarhus University in Denmark and UCL – which we delivered as though it was in one seminar room using basic video conferencing equipment, with students interacting via Moodle and social media.

We realised that nobody prepares essays in a linear way nowadays, so we decided to assess the students via a hypertext essay. Some magnificent pieces were produced, and they were all very personalised. It was a really engaging experience and I still use ideas I had during the process now.

Sounds great! So go on, what did you win?

I won a month’s extra salary, a very nice diploma and a handshake from the Provost. There was also a speech by the Vice-Provost (Education) and a great evening out with my colleagues. It was a wonderful experience, particularly because I actually did this course completely in my own spare time and it has since fed into other teaching I’ve done. It was a good formative experience for me.

Do you think winning your Provost’s Teaching Award directly impacted on the advancement of your career?

I think so. It definitely helped me become more embedded in UCL, learning about how things work, and it helped me get the job I got here the following year. It also gave me a lot of new connections and I’ve been invited to many different universities to speak about this experiment – last year I was in Hong Kong for a week talking about digital learning, and I’ve also talked at universities in Scandinavia and Italy. So the award opened up a lot of opportunities to meet other people and certainly that’s been important to me.

You were on the judging panel last year. What was that like?

It was an interesting experience. It just shows you how many people across UCL are doing innovative things, mostly in their spare time, simply because they find it important that we move towards the kind of teaching that will take us into the new era, which we’re already in and actually lagging a little bit behind in. That’s what I always wanted a career in higher education to be: I’m obviously a researcher but I have a big heart for teaching and providing the kind of learning for the future that our students really need and want. It’s absolutely fascinating to learn from those in other disciplines, for example chemists using Moodle in an interesting way; practices often transfer really well.

What made entries really stand out to you?

It was the all-round good ideas where people had innovated to solve real problems that really captured my imagination. I was also pleased to see that so many teachers had found ways to include things such as internationalisation or technology in interesting ways in order to engage with students.

What do you think about the two new award categories that have been launched this year? (The Award for Team Collaboration and Achievement in Teaching and the Internationalised Department Award.)

I really like that because a lot of these projects could not come to fruition if it wasn’t for a team working together. Teamwork will become more and more necessary in the future, because if you want to innovate you have to work with people who have different skillsets. It’s absolutely crucial that that is rewarded. And it’s motivating; it’s just a wonderful thing to be recognised for doing that extra kind of work.

What do you think the general perception is of the Provost’s Teaching Awards?

I’m not quite sure, it’s not something that people go around talking about, none of these prizes are. From my own experience, though, if you say you have received a teaching award, colleagues really appreciate it. Very few things out there recognise good teaching and having received a Provost’s Teaching Award does signal that you have done something special. I also think in terms of promotion it’s often recognised, which I’m happy about.

How can staff whose main focus is research innovate in their teaching without spending hours on big, ambitious projects?

We pride ourselves on being a research-led university and all of our teaching is research-led. It’s quite possible to transfer some of that real high-quality, innovative, interesting research into a teaching situation. Asking students to do research projects under the supervision of a quality researcher can also lead to innovation in itself. You don’t have to start a complex international collaboration like mine!

What do you think UCL could do to encourage all of its teaching staff to try and innovate?

I think first of all that it should be made absolutely clear that innovation in teaching and learning is recognised across the board in terms of promotions and hiring staff. That’s just a no-brainer. It’s becoming even more important now that students are paying higher fees: we absolutely have to recognise the centrality of teachers and their work. They should be given time and resources to develop their teaching in interesting, innovative directions that match the needs of society ten years down the line.

How could the Provost’s Teaching Awards be improved?

The thing about the awards is that heads of department have to nominate you, and I think that might be a stumbling block because most heads of department are extremely busy people. We need to find all of the good work that’s going on out there; it shouldn’t just be based on whether your director or head of department is good at promoting these things.

And actually, not everyone wants to put themselves up for an award; sometimes just sharing what you do and engaging with colleagues is enough, and I think the Teaching and Learning Portal could be a good way of achieving this. Then, in the future, maybe that could be a resource for putting people forward for awards more centrally.

Interview by Ele Cooper

Page last modified on 09 mar 12 11:59

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