Teaching & Learning


Leaders in education must receive same rewards as leaders in research

28 May 2014

Dilly Fung

CALT Director Dr Dilly Fung shares her views on the promotion debate, good teaching and what it will take to push education forward at UCL


Attached to one of the bright yellow walls of Dr Dilly Fung’s Torrington Place office is a small glass cabinet containing a magic wand. Beneath it, the inscription reads ‘In case of emergency break glass’.

It’s been six months since Dr Fung joined UCL as Director of the Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (CALT), and, so far, the glass remains intact.

That’s in spite of facing major challenges in the form of launching a new institution-wide teaching scheme and helping to organise a major conference.

Since Dr Fung’s arrival from the University of Exeter, the Provost & President Professor Michael Arthur has placed a big emphasis on developing research-based education at UCL, calling its implementation “mission critical” for the university.

Through the UCL Arena scheme and new ventures such as the Connected Curriculum initiative, Dr Fung and her team are playing a major role in turning that vision for research-based education into reality. So what does she see as the best path to achieving the Provost’s ambitions?


You joined UCL from the University of Exeter, where you performed a similar role. What has been your impression of UCL in terms of its education?

We’re in a new era of valuing education at UCL, I think. And UCL is committed to demonstrating that by setting out to consult widely on a review of promotion criteria for all staff who teach.

And given the world-leading expertise of so many researchers and professional leaders, we’ve got an extraordinary opportunity to connect up with one another in the way we think about designing courses. That’s how we can become more than the sum of our parts.

Education can sometimes be seen as the junior partner to research. How can that mind-set be changed?

I think that’s a significant task that won’t happen overnight, but a number of things can help. Clarifying the promotion criteria is one.

Leaders in education must receive the same opportunities and rewards as leaders in research. This is happening in other Russell Group universities and UCL is looking closely at ways in which we can demonstrate parity of esteem.

People also need to understand what is meant by education and teaching in this conversation. When we talk about the importance of teaching, that doesn’t just mean teaching in a classroom. That would be the same as talking about someone’s research excellence by focusing on whether they are really good at data gathering, for example.

Education is more than teaching. At senior levels, it’s about strategic leadership, creative influence, impact upon the institution and even beyond.

At the Teaching and Learning Conference you launched UCL Arena – a new scheme billed as an opportunity for colleagues to share approaches to teaching. What has the response been like?

We’ve had an amazing number of people come to the events we host in the UCL Arena room [in Torrington Place], and we also have many colleagues planning to apply for a UCL Arena Fellowship in June. Since its launch, around 250 people have either shown an active interest in gaining this award or have already gained a UCL Arena Fellowship or Senior Fellowship through the scheme.

There’s clearly a big appetite for developing teaching at UCL.

What makes UCL Arena different from other teaching and learning schemes people may have come across in the past?

You can gain a nationally recognised award based on your experience and expertise in your own subject area. And it’s not dull or humdrum.

Colleagues look together at how we can be creative and do really effective things, especially in a digital world that crosses so many boundaries. It’s not just ‘Here are the rules and regulations’. There’s much more emphasis on evidencing real, day-to-day effective practice within your subject area, and there’s absolutely no need to adopt a particular kind of education-related language.

If you want to find out more, visit the website and come along to an event. We have guidance sessions for applicants as well as ‘Exchange’ and ‘Summits & Horizons’ sessions where colleagues present and discuss their teaching ideas and innovations.

What examples of great teaching at UCL have you come across so far?

There’s no doubt there is outstanding practice taking place across many parts of UCL. And, in particular, where staff are not only drawing on their own research, but enabling students to get involved in research activities.

Dr Steve Fossey from UCL Physics and Astronomy, for example, involved students in research with dramatic results when they found a supernova. Dr Julie Evans, UCL Brain Sciences, is arranging for new students to interview lecturers about their current research and then present their findings.

Undergraduates from Science and Technology Studies design and undertake their own research projects. First year History students design their own group projects, presenting their findings through video.

There are so many great examples of research-based education already.

Is that where teaching is at its best at UCL?

That’s where we want to go.

Beyond UCL Arena, what else will CALT do to deliver the Provost’s vision?

From summer 2014, we’ll be introducing a new large-scale initiative called Connected Curriculum. It will involve investigating how connected pathways of research-based learning can be embedded in all programmes at UCL. And if we succeed, we’ll be the first university in the world, to my knowledge, to achieve that.

Connected Curriculum also means looking at ways of designing the curriculum so that the students have a more connected experience in terms of how they co-operate with one another across the years, and how they explicitly make intellectual connections in their own critical thinking as a result of participating in research activities.

What achievement are you most proud of since joining CALT?

The UCL Teaching and Learning Conference was a big highlight, as was the launch of UCL Arena. Above all, though, I’ve enjoyed helping to make UCL Arena accessible and getting across the idea that it’s for anybody at UCL who teaches or supports students’ learning, no matter what their job title.

Do you have one simple tip for colleagues who are keen to develop their teaching today?

Think about what students are doing outside contact time to learn – not just in the classroom or lab. A focus group or even informal conversation can be very illuminating in helping staff to get a better understanding of how students are really learning in their own time.

The other thing is to ensure that students do more work than teachers.

The students should be doing more preparation than staff, they should be actively engaged in sessions and they should be doing follow up work.

Designing courses which make this both necessary and also exciting, for example by getting students to think and practise as researchers do, will build on UCL’s already vibrant sense of community.