Contemporary Approaches to Teaching – Panel Q & A response

This is the third in a series of articles following our recent event Contemporary Approaches to Teaching –December 10th responding to questions raised by participants.

While the panel was able to respond to some of the questions on the day, there wasn’t time to address them all.  To enable all questions to receive a response we will be posting them on the blog over the coming weeks.

We would be really interested in receiving your comments and feedback about the questions, the panel responses and your own experience.

This week’s question:

How can we encourage innovation in the classroom when development time is minimal and some teaching staff are reluctant to change?

“I want to be innovative in the classroom, for this I need time to try new approaches but my work plan does not allow for staff development time.” 

“I want to be innovative in the classroom, but the rest of the teaching team are resistant to new approaches, saying that ‘we do it this way, and always have done’.” 

A response to this question was provided by: Brian Irwin – Head of Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL), Eddie Mighten – Principal lecturer in Health and Wellbeing and Emily Connor, Education Officer, Students Union

When considering how to encourage innovation when development time is minimal, Eddie said “For me this debate comes down to how we see our role as a teacher in HE and how this translates to the ever changing landscape. What is certain is that our times call for continuous improvement and measures of this are subject to public scrutiny in our institutions.

To achieve improvements in our pedagogy innovation must be seen as a key outcome. We could also argue that the traditional lecture model is no longer relevant and needs to be replaced by smaller group sessions that make use of new methods and technologies and this examines the nexus between innovation and pedagogy.

Picture of the Salvidor Dali clock

To be innovative in the classroom requires us to be reflective practitioners, thinking which extends beyond work plans, and constantly examine our approaches to the learning experience in terms of the complex multifaceted role that we fulfil in order to equip graduates for the future.

Brian acknowledged that “Often it can be hard to find time in your individual work plan for staff development. In these situations it can be helpful to ensure that your course team/subject group are on board with the innovations you want to try. Where a whole group wants to try an innovation it is often easier to get time prioritised for staff development around it. This can be made more efficient through sessions offered just to that group’s needs too.

In response to staff being resistant or reluctant to change, Eddie’s advice to teaching teams is “to simply hold these discussions and have the debate in both formal and informal settings as this can often be the catalyst for innovation”.

Brian agreed that sometimes it can be hard to convince a group to try a new approach when “often one impetus for change is an identified issue which can be fixed. For instance, if NSS results identify an issue around teaching delivery then you could suggest innovative teaching approaches to meet that need.  Of course if all feedback suggests that the current teaching approach is excellent then there may not be a need to change anything.

Another motivation for groups changing their practice can be developments at other institutions, particularly competitors. If there is a different institution who is having success with a particular approach it may be worth highlighting to the group as a reason to change to keep up with them.”

Emily agrees that “staff support is vital for any changes that we wish to make as an institution through to a course by course basis. Good practice and clever communication between academic members of staff could potentially be the solution for this, especially when embracing time limitations.

She does however find it incredibly frustrating as both a student and as an officer with the Students Union, the resistance from some teaching staff saying ‘we do it this way, and always have done’. “It’s these attitudes that are the hardest to change but can make the greatest of difference to a students learning experience at Sheffield Hallam. When taught by a lecturer who is forward thinking, innovative and adaptable, students are more likely to invest in these qualities themselves and these are the kinds of graduates which Hallam should be aspiring to create.

Hallam prides itself nationally on its applied teaching and is at a risk of losing this credibility and status if its own teaching staff are stagnant and unwilling to adapt in their approaches to teaching, learning and assessment.”

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