Navigating the Higher Education Landscape in the UK: A Reflective Journey

Entering the world of higher education in the UK is akin to embarking on a transformative voyage. My own journey began in 2013 when I commenced my MA at the University of Durham. Little did I know that this academic adventure would lead me to diverse experiences and roles in teaching and research, culminating in my current position as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Chester. Today, I want to share my reflections on this path through the lens of my higher education odyssey.

Foundation at Durham: Shaping Pedagogical Practices

My four years at Durham were nothing short of formative. It was here that I not only honed my research skills but also delved into teaching and learning activities. This period allowed me to align my practices with the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education. The Durham University Learning and Teaching Award (DULTA) provided me with a solid foundation to teach professionally and contribute to the broader institutional goals.

One crucial aspect of my learning journey was understanding how to design and deliver content while managing diverse groups of students with varying backgrounds and needs. Ensuring alignment with the curriculum was paramount to meeting learning objectives effectively. My pedagogical approach emphasized 'deep' learning, fostering critical thinking, and encouraging constructive engagement.

Small-group tutorials, workshops, and reflective written pieces emerged as my preferred methods of teaching. These formats allowed students to immerse themselves in the subject matter, think critically, and reflect on the topics. It was evident that the method of delivery played a pivotal role in shaping students' engagement and overall learning experience.

The Role of Feedback: Nurturing Growth

In my teaching roles, I also actively participated in the student assessment process, offering feedback and support. Feedback, as we all know, is the linchpin of the learning process. Both informal and formal feedback played vital roles in guiding students' progress.

Informal feedback, delivered through discussions, helped students understand the validity of their answers and how to expand upon them. Structuring tutorial time effectively was essential to the process. Formal feedback conveyed through written feedback sheets and one-to-one sessions, provided students with clear indications of their performance. Transparency in grading requirements was crucial, especially for students new to the higher education environment.

Creating an atmosphere of equality and fairness in the tutorial environment was equally significant. Encouraging active participation and ensuring that all voices were heard fostered a collaborative learning environment where students could engage with marking criteria effectively.

Adapting and Growing: The Transition to the University of Chester

My journey continued as I transitioned to the University of Chester in 2021. Here, my role as a cohort/module leader brought new challenges and responsibilities. The student cohort was larger, comprising international students with diverse backgrounds and learning trajectories. Traditional lecture formats took centre stage.

As we move towards normalcy, with in-person classes once again becoming the norm, it's heartening to see students back in the classroom, engaged and eager to learn. The transition back to face-to-face teaching has brought a renewed sense of connection and community among students.

As a module leader, my responsibilities included providing students with pre-session reading materials and access to library resources. I also facilitated open channels for students to seek assistance when needed, leveraging digital tools like Teams. While the shift to online and hi-flex learning was a necessary adaptation during the COVID-19 pandemic, it's refreshing to once again see students and educators coming together in physical classrooms.

Despite the virtual setting during the pandemic, I maintained interaction between students through features like 'break-out rooms' and small group discussions. This approach ensured engagement with course materials and fostered collaborative learning, breaking away from didactic methods.

In Conclusion: A Lifelong Learning Journey

Reflecting on my journey through higher education in the UK, it's clear that learning and adaptation are constants in this ever-evolving landscape. From Durham to Chester, my experiences have shaped not only my pedagogical practices but also my approach to fostering a vibrant and inclusive learning environment.

As we return to in-person classes, let us celebrate the resilience of the higher education community and the unwavering commitment to excellence in teaching and learning. The journey continues, and I am excited to see how the combination of traditional classroom dynamics and innovative teaching methods will shape the future of higher education in the UK.

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