Robin Shields, a Professor of Education in the School of Education, has been shortlisted for the Inspiring and Innovative Teaching Award in the Faculty of Social Sciences. He shared his experience and approach to teaching during 2020-21 with us and what has led him to being shortlisted for the award.
Can you tell us a little bit about your background and teaching experience?
My teaching at Bristol is mostly related to education policy; this is an interesting topic as it’s not just about what “works” in education but much more about what is fair or equitable (i.e. social justice). I’ve been teaching and researching on the globalization of education policy for about 12 years – looking at ways in which national policies tend to converge on certain common models and the forces that drive this process. I started at Bristol in 2019, and before that I worked at University of Bath for six years. Before I worked in universities, I worked in NGOs and international development for several years.
What can you share about your style of working and teaching ethos?
I knew that teaching in the 2020-21 year was going to be mainly online and tried to prepare myself for this over the summer. To understand students’ experience of learning online, I decided to try it myself and enrolled in a MOOC (Andrew Ng’s course on Machine Learning on Coursera). In addition to gaining new skills, I learned about good practice in online learning, for example structuring videos in short “digestible” chunks with a clear point, making references to other videos, and introductory/concluding videos that recap content.
I was also aware that students are facing a lot of challenges this year, so I tried to remind students to be kind to themselves frequently. These challenges were quite diverse: some students are studying part-time while working full-time in schools. They faced a very demanding work environment, including rapid changes in government guidance and frequent closures. Other students had just arrived in the UK and faced the challenges of a long isolation period and difficulties making connections with social distancing in place. Most of my teaching was online this year, but when guidelines allowed, I held small (6 person) meetings in Berkeley Square, so that students would have some in-person contact. I also tried to remind students of the progress they were making.
Some of the nominations mentioned that I used interactive slide software (https://2sli.de) that I developed myself a few years ago. It is a good way to spur participation in seminar discussions and helps to break the ice for discussion in breakout rooms. I was happy with how it works in an online context, although I’d like to find time to update the software.
What you enjoy about the role?
I enjoy working with students a lot. We have a really fantastic group of Master’s students in the School of Education, who have very interesting and diverse personal backgrounds and interests. The other thing that I enjoy about teaching is that I learn a lot! Preparing for lectures is always a dive into new sources and ideas, and students always have experience and new information that adds to the discussion. Teaching is always about “dialogue” and never really “delivery” – the unexpected parts of a class can be best!
How you feel about being shortlisted for the award?
I’m really honoured to be shortlisted, and thankful to the students who nominated me, it’s as much a reflection of their hard work and commitment to a high-quality as my own efforts!