July 11, 2013, by Teaching at Nottingham
Working my way from the outside in: reflections of a NTFS winner
Dr Sarah Speight: “I’ve been at Nottingham since 1987 when I arrived to do an MA in the department of Archaeology. I followed this up with a PhD (on 12th century Yorkshire). Both the MA and PhD were studied part-time – I funded myself by working as the sales manager of a local company selling historical metal miniatures (or toy soldiers!). I was an expert in Napoleonic and English Civil War uniforms. As I finished my PhD in 1993, I had a choice. I’d been interviewed for some part-time teaching for the Department of Adult Education (based at Shakespeare Street) but had also been offered the prospect of taking over the running of the toy soldier company when the Director retired. I opted for the adult education teaching. I had no experience, no training, but thought that I might be good at it.
“Being awarded a National Teaching Fellowship seems to affirm that I made the right choice. As a part-time student myself juggling employment, family and studies, I was well-equipped for the world of adult education. My first job for the University was teaching a 10 week course on Roman Britain at Hucknall Library (autumn 1993). One of the students in this group went on to enrol upon the School of Education’s BA Humanities and graduated in 2010. Another student that I started teaching in 1995 went on to complete his BA, MA and PhD with me – he should graduate in December 2013. Adult education teaches you that you are in education for the long game. Through it I’ve learnt patience, adaptability (to the needs of diverse student groups), flexibility, creativity (making use of student knowledge and experience) and sheer resilience (dealing with failing equipment and variable teaching spaces).
“I strongly believe that my professional career has been shaped by my adult education background. Back in the 1990s I was a peripatetic tutor- I travelled around the East Midlands teaching adult groups ancient and medieval history and archaeology. I took students on field trips and occasionally ran field work projects. I remember the really busy days – Stamford (Lincolnshire) in the mornings, then over to Derby for the afternoon, then home to Nottingham for dinner before travelling up the M1 to Sutton-in-Ashfield for an evening session. I was teaching up to 9 different courses per week (because it took me a while to realise that I could repeat the same course) and honed an extremely efficient filing system for all my notes and lesson plans. But these also had to be honed for the needs and preferences of each group – and groups in Derby (engineers working for Rolls-Royce and associated companies) were different in character and interests to groups in Sutton-in-Ashfield (factory workers) or Lichfield (cathedral guides). So I’m used to responding to student needs and to adapting the curriculum to different contexts.
“This also means I like change and I like a challenge. My teaching has morphed in recent years from archaeology to sustainability. My academic home has changed from Adult Education to Education. I’ve taken up a University-wide role as Academic Director of the Nottingham Advantage Award – this has given me a strong focus on employability and an interest in how my academic discipline supports generic learning. I’ve enjoyed exploring new literatures and undertaking research and curriculum development projects related to these areas. Most recently, I’ve been working with Learning Technology colleagues in designing and delivering the first NOOC – Nottingham Open Online Course – called ‘Perspectives on Sustainability’. Within the NOOC I have had the freedom to design a wide range of assessed e-tivities from reflective blogs to waste audits, SWOT analysis of university strategy, poster presentations and a rich ‘image bank’ or visual history of sustainability. I’m working again with diverse groups but now it’s in the context of cross-campus collaborative learning (working with students from UoN UK, UNNC and UNMC) rather than local adult groups in Derby and Hucknall. I began my Nottingham career on the edge as a part-time and peripatetic extra-mural tutor carrying my antiquated slide projector around with me. I’m firmly at the heart of the University now, committed to innovative models of online learning and working with professional services and academic colleagues to enhance teaching and the Nottingham student experience. But I must give credit to my adult education ‘on the job’ training for equipping me to make this journey with enthusiasm, adaptability and creativity.”
Sarah was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy in June 2013. This prestigious award recognises an outstanding contribution to teaching in the UK. The University’s press release includes Sarah’s response to being chosen for the award.