The UTS Learning and Teaching Awards are now open. To help get you started, Shirley Alexander (DVC Education and Students), Jan McLean (Director of the Institute for Interactive Media and Learning) and Jo McKenzie (Professor for Learning and Teaching Projects) share their advice.
Think of your application in three parts.
- What do you do and why?
- How do you know what you do is effective?
- In what ways are you a leader in learning and teaching?
Part 1: What do you do and why?
Start with a philosophy of teaching and learning and tell a story. What is your philosophy? How is it different? How did you come to it? Your teaching philosophy is not a theoretical statement. It’s about how you think your students come to learn. It’s what informs the way you design your students learning experience. Really think about what’s important for you and your students.
Give specific examples of what you do that relates to your philosophy. Let the reader of your application get a sense of what students experience in your subject. Whether that’s in class, online, in assessments, etc.
Tell a story. We know that sometimes students don’t always appreciate innovations in teaching and learning. A good application isn’t always about reporting on the very top performing subjects. Good applications include stories about addressing challenges in learning and teaching. They describe the challenge, what was done to address it, how it worked, what the evidence for this was and how it was then improved or taken further.
Be consistent. Ensure that what you say in your philosophy is mirrored in what you actually do.
“For example, don’t say ‘I’m all about student-centred experiences,’ and that’s the last you mention students throughout the submission. There is no right answer. You just need to be consistent and back up your approach with evidence.” – Shirley Alexander
Try to avoid:
Using buzzwords that aren’t reflected in your work.
“The biggest mistake I see people make is they go and look up an education textbook and find the buzz words of the day. For example, I have seen many applications where the applicant claims a teaching philosophy of Problem Based Learning (PBL). They then go on to describe what they do in lectures and never mention PBL again.” – Shirley Alexander
Part 2. How do you know that what you do is effective?
This is where you present your evidence. It’s your chance to show that you’ve genuinely tried things, evaluated them, taken on board the advice and put it back into your practice.
Explain the lessons and outcomes. If it didn’t work, explain why. Then show what you did to address it and iterate.
“It’s not about saying ‘we always get things right’. It’s about saying ‘I set out, I did this, it worked, it didn’t work, so I tweaked it. And this was the result.” – Jan McLean
“Sometimes if you’re trying to introduce an innovation, not all students will get it. What’s important is that, firstly, you try to introduce an innovation, and secondly, that you’re trying to understand the experience of those who haven’t understood; and importantly what you’re doing about it. Understanding the innovation journey.” – Shirley Alexander
Look at multiple evidence sources. Don’t restrict it to the SFS. Look to your peers for a peer review. Or involve students with minute papers and student testimonials.
“Engage in some kind of peer review, be it locally or across another faculty. I encourage you to go outside your faculty to get peer advice. I know a lot of academics don’t want to approach academics across faculties because they feel that they can’t understand the other discipline. But someone from another discipline isn’t a subject matter expert, so they will experience the subject in a similar way to your students.” – Shirley Alexander
Show how you truly tried to innovate, enhance or address a problem faced by your students. Again, it’s not purely based on SFS.
“Most people rely heavily on SFS. There is an urban myth around that the only thing we value is the SFS. This is a proxy indicator for student learning. It’s nothing more than a measure for how students perceive what a learning environment should be. I’m much more interested in how a teacher is trying to make sense of how effective what they’re doing is.” – Shirley Alexander
Try to avoid:
Cherry-picking SFS data by leaving out some sessions or subjects. This isn’t best practice and can look like you have something to hide. If you have legitimate gaps (like you were on PEP or parental leave), say so. If you tried something that students rated poorly in a session, include the data and talk about how you acted on it. Stories like this are valuable.
“Did you know you can opt out of SFS for one session if you’re trying something wildly different? You’ll need to evaluate what you’re doing, but you can do it in different ways.” – Jo McKenzie (Contact the Institute for Interactive Media and Learning for more detail).
Part 3. In what way are you a leader in teaching and learning?
This is especially important when applying for a national teaching award or citation. This is your time to showcase how you’re helping others to follow in your footsteps.
Show how you take initiative.
“One of the interesting things I hear is ‘why don’t we do x?’
And we say, ‘What a great idea! Why haven’t you done it?’ Every one of us is a leader and when you see opportunities to do something better, do it. Unless it’s outrageously outside of policy. Coming up with new ideas or ways of doing something better, this is absolutely an example of leadership.” – Shirley Alexander
Show the multiple ways that you’ve shared your knowledge and innovation.
“Have you spoken at a conference? Or at our annual Learning and Teaching Forum? Have you been invited to be a peer assessor? Do you lead projects or groups? Everyone should see themselves as a leader and seek out the opportunities to share their work.” – Shirley Alexander.
Don’t forget the many ways you show leadership on campus. You might show leadership in the way that you lead your subject team, mentor your tutors and demonstrators or make contributions that make a difference in course-team meetings.
- It may sound simple, but make sure you read the guidelines and follow them (how often do you tell students to read the subject outline?).
- Signpost your submission with subheadings, bold key information, use dot points, etc. The panelists will look at hundreds of papers, so make it easy for them to see what you believe, what you’ve done, the results and what you’ve learned.
- Once you’ve outlined your philosophy, substantiate it clearly.
- When providing supporting artifacts, ensure they back up the story (and please don’t include them if they’re not asked for).
- Talk to your referees, and choose wisely. Avoid choosing a referee purely because they have a senior title. If they don’t know you and your work all they can do is repeat your application. Pick someone who knows you well enough to add to what you’re saying in your application and someone who can add to your story by providing new information. And don’t forget to talk to them beforehand!
- Read some literature on the ‘reflective practitioner’. Keep a journal, keep stories, keep results, do an evaluation and write-up what the evaluation has told you. This should be an ongoing process during your career. It will help you keep a narrative about your career as a teacher and will ensure you have evidence when applying for an award or job later on.
Ready to apply?
Download the nomination form and guidelines online. Applications close on the 18 October (10 am). Good luck!
Want some extra support?
- Register to attend Writing a convincing case for your teaching, Wednesday 4 September.
- See also Building a case for teaching, by Ann Wilson.