Marin shares more detail about their practice us and how they felt about being shortlisted for a Bristol Teaching Award.
- Which Award were you shortlisted for?
Inspiring and Innovative Teaching Award – PGR
- How did you feel when you found out you had been shortlisted for an Award?
Validated. It’s always nice for effort to be recognized and validated. Having experience with systems where going the extra mile is not validated (and can even be frowned upon) it just motivates a person to do better. Getting positive feedback from students, and them recognizing the commitment is very fulfilling. Getting similar feedback from my course lead (Peter Allen, a fantastic educator in his own right) adds another important factor of validation.
- Can you tell us a little bit about your practice and why you were nominated?
Just a dedication to promote student understanding. That dedication then translates into plenty of thought about how to promote understanding. On one hand, the important thing is to promote independence, walk the line between outright explaining what needs to be done vs prompting students to work towards solutions themselves. Understanding which obstacles cannot be navigated without intervention and which can. The other part of it is creating multiple opportunities and modalities for applying the concepts (we all know how forgetting works and how learning, especially research methods, follows a “use it or lose it” rule most of the time). Towards those goals I constantly think about examples, materials, lab activities which would promote learning and independent application of what has been covered. Numerous handouts, planned activities, toy problems, working toward generalization and transferring skills to problems students need to tackle for coursework, supporting them through labs, on the discussion boards and the materials in question. During the past couple of years, being sensitive to the dynamics and context of the pandemic meant rethinking how to best support students, leading to much more online activity (thousands of discussion board inquires during the past couple of years), working on relieving the anxiety and pressure students have felt during the period. Finally, working on promoting the idea that what we do during the course is important and meaningfully ties into their immediate outcomes (marks) and distal outcomes (other coursework, year 3 projects and beyond that, to their careers). This entailed in-depth analyses of data collected for the research projects in order to demonstrate many of the concepts taught in learning modules, materials concerning the importance of research methods, in-depth analysis and group level feedback on their own reports etc.
- What inspires you to go the extra mile with your teaching?
Multiple things. Working with like-minded people for one. I would not have had nearly the same level of motivation if I was working with someone who did not have the level of dedication, concern and just sheer work-ethic as Peter Allen does. That collaboration, his openness to take in suggestion and feedback and the overall work he does is quite a large motivating factor since I never felt my effort was being wasted. The second factor is how students react to the extra effort. If the effort had no clear impact, or the students found it cumbersome rather than useful, if their feedback was not overwhelmingly positive, motivation certainly would not have been as high. There are other factors which I won’t enumerate here, but a big one is my current stance about Psychology as a science and science in general. Considering the replication crisis, the publication policies of many top level journals, considering that many do not view Psychology as a strict science, that many within the field approach it as such, the fact that many undergrads don’t view it as such prior to enrolling – promoting good practices, a firmly scientific foundation for how students approach future work (within research or in applied fields) needs to happen at this level. Educating at this level, in this particular course, may be the best way to tackle these issues and provide a good foundation as early as possible.
- What would you like to share with others about your teaching practice?
One, always approach teaching as a learning opportunity. Even if the concepts seem simple, you do not know everything (no matter the level of expertise) and teaching should be approached with having that in mind. Teaching will make you a better expert if you let it. Second, there are no easy answers or a one size fits all solutions – putting in a lot of thought, preparation, and taking in feedback are all essential. The trend is to standardize everything, to remove subjectivity from evaluations, to provide the same exact experience to everyone – the reality is that flexibility will be required and the extra effort put towards supporting students will have an impact on their performance, their attitudes/motivation and their wellbeing. But that requires time, thought, and sometimes going the extra mile.