June 11, 2015, by Emma Rayner

National teaching recognition for art historian

Dr Gaby Neher, Assistant Professor in the Department of History of Art is one of just 50 recipients nationally to be awarded a National Teaching Fellowship, which recognise outstanding achievement in learning and teaching in higher education.

Here she talks about what teaching — and learning — mean to her and why her work to develop and inspire her students is the best part of her job.

‘The best bit of finding out that I have been chosen as one of 50 Higher Education Academy National Teaching Fellows for 2015? It is getting recognition for my absolutely favourite aspect of being an academic. I entered higher education because I love teaching, I love working with students, and what keeps me fresh and passionate about my subject is that teaching is a two-sided process of exploring things, so I think this award is as much for my students as it is for me — thank you all!

What underlies everything I do is my firm belief that education is enabling; in the light of all the media coverage on universities as elitist institutions, it is worth remembering that a degree can still open doors and create opportunities. This was certainly the case for me, who was the first — and remains the only — person in my family to go to university. Education for me has opened doors to ideas and undreamt of experiences, and teaching for me is about enabling others, and giving back. At the core of how I teach is learning by doing, and also student support, and in particular, student support with a view towards inclusivity, enabling a student, regardless of their background, to successfully transition from school into the university context and while there encouraging students to reach their academic as well as citizenship potential. What makes teaching fun is getting a group to work together and doing things which maybe, at the beginning of a semester, looked hard and difficult and unobtainable, and yet, at the end of a semester, everybody did it. For me, learning is as much about subject-specific skills as it is about the ability to take these skills outside the curriculum and make them relevant to just about anything.

Maybe this is especially relevant to me as an art historian, because there can be few subjects that are as misunderstood and sometimes reviled as arts subjects in general, and art history in particular. Maybe you need to work harder as a teacher to unlock a subject that is less well understood, especially in a teaching landscape that is constantly evolving and never stands still? So, what does an art historian, a student of the Humanities do then? We look. In an environment where more information is transmitted through images and visuals than anything else (photos, social media, television, magazines, colours, spaces, etc etc), we look at what we see and try and understand how all of these myriads of bits of information work together. And we don’t just look at new forms of visual information, we look at the history of the images and the imprints of the past that surround us. Truly, there is no more relevant subject than the arts because the skills an art historian needs and develops are essential to a well-rounded society. And for me teaching is an opportunity to look with my students, rediscover my subject and see it through fresh eyes.’

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