History New to Teaching, September 2016, Institute of Historical Research, Senate House, London

On the 15th September around 40 postgraduates and early career researchers attended the New to Teaching event at the Institute of Historical Research (IHR) at Senate House London; which was co-sponsored by the IHR, History UK and the Royal Historical Society. The purpose of the day was to allow those new to teaching history in higher education, the opportunity to gain advice on different pedagogies from established academics from institutions across the UK. It also provided an opportunity for the attendees to meet peers who were also new to teaching, and share experiences, hopes and fears about the path ahead. A number of attendees (including ourselves) were granted travel bursaries sponsored by History UK, making event attendance possible to those from outside of London.

For the first session of the day, Dr Marcus Collins, from Loughborough University spoke about curriculum design, quality assurance and the student experience. Marcus asked small groups to design their own curriculum for an undergraduate history degree, encouraging us to think about how we would strike a balance between what modules students may want, with those that are less desirable but nonetheless essential to their understanding of history.

Jamie Wood, from the University of Lincoln, then led a session on small group teaching which provided some great tips on classroom management and ideas for activities.  What was especially useful, was that we learned how to manage and teach small groups in a practical way.  Jamie demonstrated the key techniques through teaching us.  We were shown some activities to elicit discussion and encourage peer-to-peer teaching.  Overall, the session on small group teaching has enabled us to plan engaging activities and encourage participation.  We have found the tips very easily transferable to the real seminar environment and now feel much more confident in our roles as a seminar instructors.

In his session, Adam Crymble from the University of Hertfordshire, talked to us about the multiple ways that he uses digital history in his teaching. Adam explained one of these in detail; as part of his module Adam gets his students to work collectively to data mine from the Old Bailey online database and create Excel spreadsheets. The purpose of this is to get students familiar with using online resources, and to teach them how to use different software and gain skills that may be useful for their dissertation research and also in their future careers.

Marcus Collins delivered his second session of the day, this time on assessment and feedback. Marcus gave us an assessment that had been marked and asked us as groups to critique the marking. By doing this we could see the types of positive feedback that we could use ourselves, and also how feedback can be too negative and potentially demoralising for a student. The main point that we took away from this session was to try to give an overall positive feel to our feedback. To do this, we should focus on highlighting what students did well and need to continue doing, and highlight one element that was poor, but provide practical feedback on how this could be improved in the future.

Melodee Beals (from Loughborough University) gave a session on peer-to-peer teaching which provided us with great advice on classroom management and how to use digital tools to encourage students to interact with each other.  She highlighted the importance of the physical layout of the room, and the difference seating arrangements can make in delivering an effective seminar.  We now think about the layout of the class and take time to position the students in a manner to encourage talking and discussion in our own seminars.

For the final session of the day, Dr Catherine Armstrong (also from Loughborough University) ran a session on building an academic career. Catherine began by discussing ways in which PhD students can begin to develop their career, helping us to think about what we can do now to help increase our chances of getting an academic job in the future. Catherine also gave us some really useful advice about writing an academic CV, as well as some ‘golden rules’ for the interview process.

The New to Teaching event really helped us to develop our skills as seminar instructors and offered great advice on facilitating lessons and planning activities, much of which we have already successfully put into practice.  We left the event feeling motivated, confident, and looking forward to the academic year ahead.

Resources:

By Abigail Dorr, Rachel Yemm and Diane Ranyard

 

Abigail Dorr is in the third year of her PhD in the School of History and Heritage at the University of Lincoln, working with the Common Fund Accounts of Lincoln Cathedral in the fourteenth century.  Her research analyses on how the quantity and type of gifts, both given by and to the cathedral, were affected by the wider economic and social climate.  Abi is also the treasurer of the Women in Academia Postgraduate Research Group at the University of Lincoln and has co-founded a regional history network for postgraduates in the East Midlands.  She is an Associate Lecturer on a Level 1 survey module – The Medieval World and soon to begin teaching a Level 1 module at Bishop Grosseteste University on church history.

Abi’s Twitter: @Abi_Dorr

East Midlands History Network’s Twitter: @EM_HistoryNet

Rachel Yemm is a third year PhD student in the School of History and Heritage at the University of Lincoln. She is working on the impact of local media on public perceptions of immigration in the Midlands from 1960-1990. Rachel works with the Media Archive for Central England (MACE), situated within the University of Lincoln. She is also the President of Women in Academia, a Postgraduate Research Group at the University of Lincoln. Rachel is an Associate Lecturer on the Level 2 module New Directions in History.

Mace Archive Website: http://macearchive.org/

Women in Academia’s Website: http://wiapg.co.uk

Rachel’s Twitter: @rachelyemm

Diane Ranyard is a second year PhD student in the School of History and Heritage at the University of Lincoln. She is working on gendered representations of marital behavior within the Divorce Court of England and Wales, between 1909 and 1937. Diane is also the current Treasurer for History Lab at the Institute of Historical Research and has worked as a Student Ambassador on the HEA funded Making Digital History Project for three years. Diane is an Associate Lecturer on the Level 1 module Forging the Modern State, 1750-1979.

History Labs Website: http://www.history.ac.uk/historylab

Making Digital History Website: http://makingdigitalhistory.co.uk/

Diane’s Twitter: @dianeranyard

 

Getting Fit for Academia? Taking Part in the Academic Boot Camp

Welcome to the first in a series of posts on the History UK blog. This is an occasional series in which committee members, postgraduate students and guest authors post on the issues and themes that are important to HUK and to professional historians across the community. For our first guest post, we are very pleased to welcome Dr Charlotte Faucher who took part in our Academic Boot Camp which took place earlier this year at the Institute of Historical Research. Charlotte’s AHRC funded Ph.D was on the history of the French Cultural Institute (1910 – 1959) in South Kensington. She is currently a Teaching Fellow in Modern History at Warwick University. Charlotte tweets as @Cha_Faucher . An earlier version of this post can be found on the French History network blog.


In April 2016, History UK organised an “academic boot camp” in the form of an interview for an imaginary lectureship. This workshop aimed at giving feedback to those of us Early Career Researchers (ECR) who struggle with the academic job market. Interviews for all shortlisted candidates (around 25 of us) were held in the form of a workshop at the Institute of Historical Research on a sunny Saturday afternoon.

 

A team of wonderful historians from History UK had given up their time to give a few lucky ECRs the opportunity to go through a 20 minute interview (followed by 10 minutes of feedback). The participants then held a short research/teaching presentation which was observed by 5-10 other candidates who proceeded to give their feedback orally and on a piece of paper. A round table about the myths around job applications concluded the day and we were then all taken to the pub and to diner.

Besides being able to practice in front of people who had never heard of my research before and were not my friends, I received extremely useful feedback on my own interview, but was also able to observe one other participant’s interview as well many research presentations. Probably the most valuable insight of the day was how these helped me deconstruct some of my views on what makes a good interview/research presentations.

Here are the interview questions I got asked (which had been asked to candidates who had applied last year for a lectureship in history at the University of Loughborough) and some advice for answers that my panel suggested to me.

  • How do you maintain the attention of students in a big lecture theatre?

Here, it’s all about the examples. My panel was really looking for specifics on how I structure my lectures and how I feel this can impact on students’ attention, or what I do to keep them engaged. If you have not lectured to large cohorts very often, there’s no need to say so! Rather try and reflect on the (little) experience you have and demonstrate what makes you stand out as a lecturer.

  • Can you tell us about a form of innovative teaching or assignment that you’ve used in the modules you’ve taught or that you’d like to use in the future?

For this question, the panel was again expecting candidates to be reflexive and think both about specific forms of teaching or assignments and also to outline what the students had got out of them. They also suggested discussing some forms of resistance to these new methods that a few students might have expressed, or more generally, what were the problems related to these innovations and what you did to overcome them.

Another approach could be to link an innovative form of teaching to employability. This probably would not work for everyone’s teaching but it’s certainly a good point to be making if it fits in with the module objectives.

  • What are your four REF output?

The panel were not only expecting to hear about your publications but they also wanted to know when / where you were going to be submitting that book proposal, that article etc. This question is also a good opportunity for the candidate to expand on each of their outputs, giving the specific title and outlining the argument.

  • What makes your research four star?

For this question, we had to be familiar with the REF vocabulary but also go beyond merely repeating the REF criteria for a four star output (“Quality that is world-leading in terms of originality, significance and rigour” in case you are wondering!) As the panel suggested, other ways to think about this question is to ask: why are people going to be citing your work in 10 years’ time? What is going to be changing your field and how is your research contributing to this change?

  • If your head of department was involved in an accident and you had to step up, what would you like your legacy to be?

Here, you want to show that you are aware of a department’ needs – and especially the department you are hoping to join.

Of course, these are just some of the questions you may get asked during an interview, and we all stumble on different things. For those of you going through the hoops of interview preparation, the French History network has a dedicated section on its blog where you will be able to read a list of interview questions compiled by fellow historians.

Following my mock interview, I joined in the academic presentation session. I heard about seven short presentations given by ECRs working on various topics and periods. Whilst I was impressed by everyone’s career paths and accomplishments, I also tried to focus on how participants were presenting their research: the structure of their presentations, the pace of their voices and how accessible they were making their research to other historians. These were also the points that the participants and I most often discussed in the feedback sessions which followed each presentation.

Finally the day ended with a round table on the myth of academic interview. We heard from a wide range of speakers including HR staff, academics at various stages of their careers as well as heads of departments. The session helped me better understand the recruitment process: I now keep in mind that my application is likely to be screened by HR before ending up in the hands of academics. This means that applicants want to make sure that they distinctively outline how they tick each “essential criteria” boxes for the job in their cover letters (as opposed to assuming that a CV speaks for itself).

A couple of lecturers also encouraged participants to broaden their search to jobs outside History departments as departments such as sociology, politics or law are sometimes on the look for historians.

Overall, hearing about the different professional experiences of those researchers keen to stay in academia and those with a permanent job served as a (reassuring) reminder for participants, but also for the whole profession, that there is no one single path to interviewing success.


If you would like to suggest a blog post (for example, on your impressions of an event, on research culture, on the changing academic landscape) we are always very happy to hear your ideas and encourage you to get in touch. Please contact us on: jwood@lincoln.ac.uk

2016 Plenary – 5 November 2016, IHR

Following on from last year’s successful plenary event on REF2014, we are pleased to announce that the next plenary will take place at the IHR on 5th November, from 11.00-15.30.

Speakers include Margot Finn (President-elect, RHS), Sir Rick Trainor (Rector, Exeter College, Oxford), Geoff Stoakes (Head of Special Projects, HEA) and Marcus Collins (Co-Convenor, HUK).

Full details and booking information are available on the website and via Eventbrite.

Call for new co-convener

History UK is inviting expressions of interest in the post of Co-Convenor. Andrew Dilley is stepping down after seven years of sterling work for the organisation, three of them as Co-Convenor.

The next three years will be critical ones not simply for History UK but for the higher education system in which it operates. The next REF, the mooted ‘TEF’ and the financial turbulence unleashed by changes to tuition fees and research councils will affect us all. History UK has a role in shaping these developments and responding to their consequences and representing the interests of academic historians. Co-Convenors have a role in representing History UK.

Any academic historian working in the UK is eligible for nomination, and we would particularly welcome applications from historians less white, male and English than the other members of the executive. Although the deadline for nominations for executive officers is 21 days before the next scheduled plenary meeting on 16 November 2015 (see here), we would be grateful if informal enquiries reach us by the first week of June. This is so that we can explain what the job entails, ensure a smooth transition and arrange with the Secretary for an election in the event of multiple candidates. For informal enquiries, please contact the Co-Convenors Marcus Collins (marcus.collins@lboro.ac.uk) and Andrew Dilley (a.dilley@abdn.ac.uk).