Winning teaching awards (why I think I do)

Had an interesting conversation on Twitter yesterday about student nominated teaching awards that was prompted by this tweet. 

One of the problems with teaching awards is that people don’t generally talk about why they think they won them and the article mentioned in the tweet said that winning is a source of embarrassment for some and others think that it’s down to being ‘cool with the kidz’ or funny – both of these are likely true. There is an argument that white straight men are more likely to win by default because of privilege and that’s unconditionally a factor so I’m not even going to get into it or dispute that is an influence.  I freely admit (and other white straight dudes hate I do this) that I’ve benefited from privilege,  even if you know about it and acknowledge it, it’s really hard not to – it’s built into every level of the academy.

Since I joined Edge Hill in 2012, I’ve been nominated for student led teaching awards every year and won in 2013 and 2015 (#humblebrag). So even with the caveats mentioned above, I think it’s useful for people who win teaching awards to discuss *why* they think they won them because even if we factor in popularity and privilege, there might be some useful themes that occur from such discussions about what we do as academics.  I run a debrief every year with my students, look at my feedback and ask students who’ve nominated me if they are happy to talk to me about why they do so.

I’d love to say that the feedback from students was that is because I am inspiring figure but the most consistent comments are structural and about process not content (although some do common on content – my assignments are largely open ended with a high degree of student choice). As far as I can determine a lot of students vote for me because my modules are well structured and it is clear from week one where we are going and why and I don’t blow deadlines.

This is (based on what the students have said to me) what they like: 

  • All of my module handbooks outline the module assignment and dates before the course starts – students hate with a passion assignment deadlines given late or assignments that are poorly communicated. My module handbooks are really short, I don’t have a detailed syllabus, just themes in maybe two paragraphs, no student has any complained or commented upon this.
  • All of my module content follows a consistent structure from naming conventions to style – a seminar handout has a style that is consistent from week to week, presentations styles don’t randomly change from week to week. 
  • Ever assignment is handed out for consultancy to check that it is free from error or there are no confusing elements before official release
  • Every assignment has clear assignment criteria that is given in advice to the students and clearly outlines boundaries all the way to hundreds (I’ve seen assignments that uses boundaries that are 70-100% – just no). 
  • My blackboard site follows a clearly logical structure – things aren’t hidden in a mishmash of folders
  • Lecture slides are provided in advance in a PDF note form – students really like this because generally it helps structure their own notes and how their organise their folders.
  • Students really like that my office hours are bookable online so they aren’t wasting their time emailing me
  • I don’t blow deadlines – if say X will happen on this date, X happens on this date.

Fundamentally students seem to like if you run a module as if you aren’t making it up as you go along

 

 

 

 

 

On how White male academics fail as allies

Why I’m a shitty ally despite my protests.

A couple of recent things have made me think  how I conduct myself as an academic. My thought here are rough and might veer into #mansplaining. If they do, call me on it.

I’ve done UCU casework for a number of years at a number of different places – I’ve tried to help people confront bullying, sexism, homophobia, transphobia etc and hopefully make a little difference and along the way I get to pat myself on the back as a progressive chap who has done his bit. However the more I think about it the more I think as an ally I fail in two important ways. 

The first is that no matter how many times I deal with cases, no matter how many people I assist, I still have a lived experience where none of this stuff ever happens to me. I am absolutely the default which the academy is constructed for. 

I am the living embodiment of the default in the academy
I am the living embodiment of the default in the academy

Nobody doubts my credentials as a professional, students don’t engage in micro-aggressions, my contributions are listened to at meetings, no senior profs tried to feel up at a conference etc etc etc. Moreover when people talk about the stresses of the academy, I actually have a great time on a daily basis, many of the frictions that occur on a day to day basis just don’t exist.  

So here is the first way I fall down as an ally – even though I know on an intellectual level that all these things occur all day, everyday there is a little voice in my head that I have to constantly fight down which is saying “well it cannot be that bad” because emotionally this is all invisible to me. Every single experience I have as an individual gives me a set of mental heuristics that say “everything is A-ok!” 

So I wonder if I don’t push as hard as I could do as an ally because there is that dualism going on. This leads me to the second reason I think I fail as an ally, given the academy plays overdue attention to people like me – are we (people like me) really doing as much as we can to win structural meaningful change or am I happy to win tactical battles for individual people and then pat myself on the back? 

White male academic to the rescue! Look he's got a blazer with brass buttons he must know what to do. 
White male academic to the rescue! Look he’s got a blazer with brass buttons he must know what to do. 

So what should I do? Well I guess I get to Listen more and speak less and think a bit more.