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PGCHE: First impressions

I have just started a new qualification: the Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education (PGCHE) at the University of Huddersfield. I’m very fortunate that my employers are paying for this, so I want to make sure I get the most out of it!

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I wanted to do this course as teaching is a significant part of my role as a librarian, and its one I want to improve. I don’t feel like teaching comes naturally to me. I have completed some training in this area already (notably the week-long intensive Level 3 City & Guilds certificate in Teaching & Learning at Northern College I completed in 2016), but most of the teaching I do at Huddersfield is based on things I’ve cobbled together from observing my colleagues, and trial-and-error in my own sessions. I would really like to get a more comprehensive, theoretical underpinning for my teaching practice.

There is also an aspect of reputation building. Working with academics, it’s sometimes difficult to get across that I can actually teach their students useful skills, rather than just standing at the front and demonstrating how to search a database (which is deathly dull for me so I can’t imagine it’s any more interesting for the students watching!). Becoming a qualified teacher, and Fellow of the Higher Education Authority (which comes along with this qualification), will be a way I can put myself on a more equal footing with the lecturers in the departments I work with.

Finally, I’ve also watched with envy as a few of my colleagues have completed this same course over recent years (most recently the awesome Jess Haigh, whose blog on the topic has been a source of inspiration for me over the past year), so now I’ve finally completed my Chartership it seemed like a good time to take my turn at this!

Side note: it’s just occurred to me that I haven’t actually written about achieving Chartership on the blog at all – I do have the start of a blog post about what I learned from the process, and will endeavour to get this finished off, in between my PGCHE work…

The course started a couple of weeks ago. We have a workshop every Friday afternoon, so I have now attended two of these. I’m going to blog my thoughts from the first two sessions – my plan is to do this after each week’s workshop, so I can get down some initial reflections on what I am learning.

The first session started with a morning’s induction, where we were introduced to others on the course and went over the course content and assessment. It was really interesting to see the cohort: there were more of us than I expected, about 20ish. Most were new members of academic staff, mostly from the Business School, School of Applied Sciences and School of Art, Design and Architecture. I had hoped there might be some academics from the School of Computing and Engineering there, as this is the School I support as subject librarian, and I thought this might be a way of doing a bit of stealth library advocacy! There weren’t any academic staff, but there are two new Graduate Teaching Assistants from my School on the course, so I’m looking forward to working with both of them and learning more about their roles and how we can work together.

In the afternoon we had our first “proper” workshop session, where we went over teaching in HE and course planning. It was a useful overview of how and why to plan teaching, and gave us an opportunity to share with each other some of the techniques we had used.

We had a discussion about what makes a successful session (the consensus seemed to be some kind of combination of motivated learners, an inspired/inspiring teacher, and opportunities for active learning), and how we planned and structured sessions. We came up with some ideas for getting a session off to a good start, including starting with a discussion point (e.g. an image, quote or story to provoke thoughts and set the scene), outlining the objectives for the session, and setting expectations.

One of my main takeaways from the session, that I’m still thinking about more than a week later, was about how we as educators model good behaviour. One point was about keeping our subject knowledge current: how does an engineering lecturer, for example, keep up with developments in the field they are teaching? If they’re teaching current engineering industry practice, how do they engage with industry to ensure they are up to date?

It made me think about my own context: as a librarian I am not teaching a particular subject, but rather am teaching behaviours and a way of engaging with information and academic work. How do I keep my own skills in this area current? I actually wondered if doing this course and becoming a student again might be seen as an example of this. I am immersing myself in the student experience – although, of course, my own experience as a mature student doing a course based in my own workplace will be very different to the experience of a new undergraduate coming to academic study for the first time. But will this experience of being a student, doing self-directed study and producing academic assignments enhance the support I am able to provide to the students I teach?

I would like to think so: I have been conscious over the past couple of years at Huddersfield that my last experience of formal education was a long time ago. I finished my Masters in 2009, so I’m a bit disconnected with the experience of being a student. I hope this course gives me a chance to reconnect to that process, and perhaps develop more empathy with the students I teach.

My final takeaway from this session was our closing activity. We were talking about how we finish a session and consolidate learning, and were introduced to a technique that requires zero preparation, and can be done with most sizes/types of group.

It’s called an instant questionnaire, and involves going round the room, inviting each learner to share something they learned from the session, something they will take forward, or something that made them think. They each only have to say one thing, and it can be anything, but they must say something. I really liked this idea: I could definitely use it with some of my smaller groups, and I’ve been thinking about how I could adapt it for a larger group in a lecture theatre setting.

This is getting long, so I’m going to write about week two of the course in a separate post. Coming up shortly…

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