Award winning teacher on HUK Steering Committee

Sara winning her award

Sara winning her award

In November 2016, Dr Sara Wolfson, a Senior Lecturer in Early Modern History and member of the History UK Steering Committee was honoured by the Times Higher Education awards as the Most Innovative Teacher of the Year. This award was sponsored by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) who selected Dr Wolfson, as she “brings alive the past for students using workshops rather than traditional lectures on her courses in order to keep undergraduates engaged” (HEA). Key innovations within Dr Wolfson’s courses are the use of online debates for assessment; role-playing and re-enactments to understand key early modern trials and events; making use of the early modern environment of Canterbury Cathedral; and an embedded public facing poster exhibition for her second year course, Sex, Deviance and Death in early modern England. Dr Wolfson  brings her contacts and networks in the heritage and history sectors into the teaching space to not only develop students’ historical knowledge and skills development, but also to foster collaboration with external parties as a means of enhancing the undergraduate curriculum. In August 2017, Dr Wolfson was interviewed by Chris Parr, the Times Higher Education‘s Digital and Communities Editor on ‘What does good university teaching look like’.

Sara's students presenting their work

Sara’s students presenting their work

Sara's students in action

Sara’s students in action

Report on New to Teaching event, September 2017

Peter D'Sena

Peter D’Sena

A one day New to Teaching event for early career historians took place in early September at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR), London.  Peter D’Sena, Learning and Teaching Specialist at the University of Hertfordshire and a Senior Research Fellow at the IHR, ran several events of this kind when he was Discipline Lead for History at the Higher Education Academy (HEA). However, in 2014 the HEA relinquished its direct interest in supporting discipline-specific events of this kind and so Peter sought funding and support from the Royal Historical Society, History UK and the IHR to keep the event going. It’s become an annual event since then. Peter has provided a summary of the event, which follows:

“Over twenty people attended the event, and participated in a series of interactive workshops designed to develop their understanding of innovations in teaching and learning with a focus on curriculum design and authentic assessment, teaching seminar groups, using digital technology in the undergraduate classroom, quality assurance and preparing for the academic job market. Peter led with an interactive session about curriculum design. Historians at Indiana University, such as David Pace, Joan Middendorf and Leah Shopkow have been pioneering the work of decoding the disciplines in order to rethink the ways in which teaching and curriculum design can be more finely tuned to address the conceptual bottlenecks that hinder student progression. In a practical exercise, participants combined this pedagogic strategy with the more well-trodden approach of Constructive Alignment to improve one area of their teaching. Jamie Wood (University of Lincoln), then facilitated a session about small group/seminar work. Some of us may take for granted what a seminar is and what it can be for. By modelling several best practices, Jamie showed participants some of the ways in which seminars can be used to encourage small groups of students to deepen their historical understanding through hands-on and collaborative learning. James Baker (University of Sussex), carried on this theme in his session, though with a specific focus on improving student engagement with historical information and enquiry through the vehicle of the digital humanities. .

Not all of our students are so-called ‘digital natives’ and struggle to understand the ways in which technology can be used to both support their own learning and interrogate the past. Peter’s second session took on the thorny subject of job applications. As you would imagine, in the current climate, this was a session that grabbed participants’ attention. 

Finally, we were also fortunate, on this occasion, to have a session from Adele Nye (University of New England, Australia) about quality assurance and standards in history. Her work about recent changes in the ways in which undergraduate achievement is measured in Australian universities gave participants to compare their strategies and processes with the ways in which expectations for history in higher education in the UK have been set out by the most recent QAA benchmark statement (2014). Also present, supporting and prompting participants during these workshops, were Jakub Basista (Jagiellonian University, Poland) and Ken Fincham, chair of the RHS Education Policy Committee (University of Kent).”

All of the presentations from the event can be accessed here.

Academic Boot Camp 2017

Simon Peplow is the new ECR representative on the History UK Steering Committee. His AHRC funded PhD was on the 1980/81 disturbances in England, examining the perception and role of public inquiries and local Defence Committees. He is currently Lecturer in History (Education and Scholarship) at the University of Exeter. Simon tweets as @simpep.


In May 2017, History UK ran the second instalment of their ‘academic boot camp’, which provided valuable interview experience for PhD students and Early Career Researchers (ECRs). A number of academics had kindly donated their Saturday so that around twenty of us, who had been shortlisted for an imaginary lectureship and subsequently travelled various distances to the Institute of Historical Research, could participate in and observe interviews and presentations, receiving detailed feedback and advice.

Charlotte Faucher detailed the first event of this type last year, including the range of questions she was asked, and some advice given on how to respond. My experience of this aspect of the workshop wasn’t hugely different, other than facing questions regarding how I might contribute an impact case study – emphasising the importance of effectively demonstrating the public significance of research. So, rather than simply repeating her thoughts, I will focus more on the presentation aspect – both of participants, and Dr Sara Wolfson’s ‘10 tips for getting an academic job’.

Participants were asked to produce a short presentation on ‘How Does your Research inform your Teaching Practices’? This type of question is standard for job interviews, inviting introductions to research, what applicants can offer in terms of teaching, and what form such teaching might take. Unfortunately, due to suffering from a cold, my own presentation could have gone better…but learning to adapt to things outside your control is itself an important lesson! Academics and other participants provided written feedback for each presentation, with recurrent themes appearing to be regarding structure, relation to the question posed, and ensuring that historians of other periods/topics can appreciate what is significant about your work.

After the traditional academic coffee break, interviews and presentations were followed by Sara Wolfson’s tips for securing an academic job, which included targeting conferences to increase your profile, obtaining funding to organise conferences/workshops, and the benefits (and potential risks!) of an active twitter profile. Having provided advice articles for jobs.ac.uk, Sara was also awarded the Times Higher Education’s ‘Most Innovative Teacher of the Year’ 2016, and her presentation included the importance of maintaining high-quality teaching; refreshing for those of us uncomfortable with advice obtained elsewhere essentially suggesting ‘putting the least amount of effort possible into teaching and focus on building your CV’. Whilst implementation of the Teaching Excellent Framework (TEF) has been at best controversial, universities should certainly consider teaching ability more so than they have in some previous cases.

Sara’s presentation was followed by discussions where other academics also provided suggestions and answered questions, and both sessions were extremely helpful. The main takeaway from these discussions was that there are many different pathways to obtaining jobs, both inside and outside of academia, and you must follow whichever you believe best. As Charlotte concluded about last year’s event, the knowledge that there are many different paths to success is indeed a reassuring reminder and key value of this workshop.

A subsequent pub trip and meal for those who could make it was only slightly ruined by my having to rush off mid-food to catch a train. This ‘networking’ (a word I personally hate) aspect was just as useful as the rest of the day in reminding that, whilst at times it may feel like you are the only one struggling with the difficulties of late/post-PhD life, this is most definitely not the case. Whilst we are conditioned to believe that ECRs are in constant competition for jobs, academia has been criticised for its tendency to ‘eat our young’ – and we shouldn’t be adding to that.

The value of this workshop has been echoed by those who attended it, variously described as ‘super useful’, ‘a great day’, and ‘very helpful’. It personally helped me to obtain a number of interviews this summer, as well as preparing me for what to expect when it came to actually arriving at various different university campuses on interview days!

Dion Georgiou described the value of the 2016 academic boot camp event.

Dion Georgiou described the value of the 2016 academic boot camp event.

 

The main training required by post-PhDs appears to be the ability to ‘hang on in there’. It is all too easy to be disheartened by a lack of success in job applications, particularly in the early days whilst often receiving the standard response that your application hasn’t been taken further and, ‘due to the high number of applications received’, no feedback will be provided. Ben Mechen recently explored the precarious nature of PGRs/ECRs, considering how such a position could affect the kinds of history we write. The lack of job security is one of the main reasons for more-than-qualified colleagues to move outside of academia, and will undoubtedly continue to be the case in a world where there are far too many excellent applicants for the jobs available.

For those determined to obtain an academic job; whilst it may appear to be a particularly bad time to be coming out of a PhD, it is important events such as this Boot Camp – and the confidence and relationships that can be obtained through attending – that, to continue the military theme, prepares PhDs/ECRs for the battles to come.

Strongroom to Seminar: archives and teaching in higher education

Jamie Wood, History UK’s Media Officer, took part in an event on using archives in teaching in HE at the National Archives at the end of February. Jamie, along with other participants in the event, has recently published a post on the TNA blog – follow this link if you’d like to know more.

HUK are hoping to develop further links with the TNA in future – so watch this space…!

Historians on Brexit

Universities face much uncertainty over the coming years because of Brexit. We want your help to spread information about how Brexit is affecting you!

Brexit EU pictureThe aim of this blog is not to take sides in debates about Brexit. Instead, we wish to present this as a platform where historians can exchange information about how Brexit is affecting us personally and professionally, as individuals and within our departments and universities more broadly. Groups like Scientists for EU have very successfully gained wider coverage about scientists’ views on Brexit. This means that much of the coverage and government interest in Brexit and Higher Education has focused on how these issues affect scientists. While we admire their success, we partly wish to provide an alternative voice, to remind politicians and the general public that Britain’s university sector is a diverse community.

This has inspired us at History UK to offer a platform for historians and History programmes throughout the UK to express their views. In order to do this, we need your help. All you have to do is send us a short email or tweet. This can be anecdotal evidence about your experiences or links to relevant research or articles. We want to know about how Brexit is affecting funding, travel, and future plans, both at an institutional level and at a personal level. We will use this blog and our Twitter feed to provide a forum for the exchange of such information (anonymously, if desired).

History UK will also draw on your evidence to inform our activities as we negotiate Brexit, the upcoming REF, the introduction of Teaching Excellence Framework, and a variety of other proposed changes to Higher Education in the UK.

This will help us present History experiences and views to the wider public and policy makers, ensuring these potentially seismic shifts in Higher Education recognise the importance of one of the most popular subjects in the UK.

Rachel Bright
11 April 2017