Over the past few months there’s been a whirlwind of activity around the Learning and Teaching Academy (LTA). From practical steps to appoint a team (and find offices for them to work in) to determining strategic focus and priority activities, the work has progressed at pace. So what’s been learned from this journey to the start line – and how will it shape how the Learning and Teaching Academy develops over the next year? Here Professor Martha Caddell reflects back on her first four months at Heriot-Watt and looks ahead to how the LTA will grow over the coming months and years.
It’s been a huge privilege to join Heriot-Watt and to take on the role of Director of the Learning and Teaching Academy. It’s a unique opportunity to both help shape a new unit within the university and to amplify the work of our broad community of colleagues enthused by learning and teaching.
Over the past few months I’ve had the chance to meet with colleagues across the university and to get a flavour of what learning and teaching at Heriot-Watt feels like across our campuses. Attending Heriot-Watt Student Union’s Oscars ceremony was a fantastic introduction, a great opportunity to hear from students what – and who – inspires them to succeed in their studies. The huge appreciation shown for colleagues across the University – for medical staff, librarians and technicians, as well as lecturers, highlighted how any effort to inspire and support learning requires a strong collaboration across the whole University community.
Visits to Borders, Malaysia and Orkney campuses and the exploration of learning spaces across our Edinburgh site have been fascinating (and I’m looking forward to visiting Dubai soon). We have a unique opportunity here to teach and learn in ways that are genuinely globally connected and locally engaged. It’s rhetoric we hear in many contexts: for Heriot-Watt, though, it seems to be an ethos that is lived and which is being explored and developed in multiple, context-relevant and authentic ways.
So what are my top three takeaways from these first few months?
Collaboration, Conversation and Collegiality
The enthusiasm and interest in learning and teaching is palpable. Colleagues want to talk about teaching, to share their practice, and to develop creative ways to support their students develop a passion for their subjects and for learning. Yet, in the busy-ness of our university lives those opportunities don’t always arise as frequently as we might like. Creating spaces for such conversation, collaboration and collegiality must be one of the key priorities for the Learning and Teaching Academy.
Developing Support for All
Developing the craft (some argue ‘art’) of teaching requires an underpinning of skills and support to build our confidence, accompanied by a platform from which our curiosity and creativity can flourish and new ways of working with and engaging students can develop. Our work in the Learning and Teaching Academy should support colleagues whatever point they are in their career – from those taking their first steps into teaching through to those seeking to explore and deepen their own practice and to share insights with others.
Harnessing the opportunities presented by being a multi-sited, globally-connected university is exciting and, of course, challenging for how we develop the LTA. Questions of distance and time zone, of making sure we are able to respond to the interests of colleagues across the university are certainly important. But uppermost in my mind is how we can really build on the insights from different contexts and the diversity of experience and approaches to learning and teaching across our University community. Creating space for sharing the great practice evident across the whole Heriot-Watt community will – I hope – open opportunities for new ways of working and for thinking differently about teaching and learning.
As we approach the start of the semester and the launch of the Learning and Teaching Academy, there’s a lot to look forward to. Practically, we have resources to develop and share, events to facilitate, and new connections to make. But we also need to continue developing what makes Heriot-Watt unique in its approach to inspiring learning: What do our students strive to achieve through their time with us and what approaches to learning teaching and wider student support will help them flourish during their time with us and beyond.
Over coming blogs we’ll take time to reflect in more detail on our approaches to inspiring learning, the practicalities, the pedagogy and the policy contexts that frame our work.
For now, though, I want to pause and thank all who have helped us get to the start line, who have shaped the conversations about the vision of the Learning and Teaching Academy, and who are helping shape the next steps of our journey. We are excited to see where the journey will take us.