“I’m proud to say that I am a HEA Senior Fellow and I’m proud of the part played in my successful application by my work in student engagement.” – Jasper Shotts, Senior Lecturer and champion of student engagement, University of Lincoln.
Jasper Shotts became a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy in 2016. Besides working as a Senior Lecturer at the University of Lincoln in the School of Health and Social Care, he has also won praise for pioneering innovative ways of looking at student engagement across the university.
I initially found the application process of going for HEA Senior Fellowship quite painful in terms of compiling all the autobiographical detail. I’m not the sort of person who enjoys dwelling on myself or my background. Of course as soon as I sat down and made myself do it, then I began to notice all sorts of interesting patterns emerging. For example, before I came to the University of Lincoln, I worked with further education colleges and schools in Hull under the local authority umbrella. I created and piloted new ideas designed to enhance children’s educational attainment, then monitored and evaluated the ones that were most successful, rolling them out across the city. I started with one school, then two, then 10, then 94 schools. And my title was ‘Innovator’. That encapsulates so much of what I’m doing now; I teach, but there’s also the innovation side. That’s when you begin to join the dots not just on your application, but your entire career.
I’m naturally quite a creative, innovative and inventive type of person. I find that once you get to know enough about the organisation you are working for, then opportunities arise to pioneer things and take them forward. That’s what happened after I’d been at the University of Lincoln for two or three years. I had ideas about working in partnership with students around the quality of teaching and learning. I said ‘I’m going to get a group of students together from across the university and pitch my ideas about student engagement to them, then work with their feedback’. And that’s pretty much what I did! We recruited and trained student volunteers from right across the university to go in, observe staff teaching, and provide the kind of feedback that tends to be more impartial than you’d normally receive from your own students. These are students with different social skills, personalities and disciplinary skills ranging across a wide range of subjects, and that gets reflected in the feedback – they all bring a healthy range of skills and approaches from different disciplines. Of course there are many other colleges out there working on student engagement, and some might do it better than us. However, there are very few that have taken it as far as we have done in terms of supporting students.
Combining this sort of innovative student engagement work with my teaching can be quite challenging; there are only so many hours in the day! But it does put me in the unique position of being able to utilise some of the feedback for my own classroom methods. I know now that if you give students early and easy access to online material – and if you structure it in a way that makes sense to them – then they are going to engage much better. I actually developed a Google Form enabling students to do mock-tests, give me feedback on their learning, practice some of the skills they need to improve, and so on. The Google Form collates the information which I can then use with groups. That allows me to ascertain their needs in order to select and use digital tools at the optimum stage of the learning process, so that online learning reinforces and consolidates what learners do in class. It’s had a very significant impact. Instead of getting 50-odd emails from students with various requests, I receive hardly any queries or questions because everything is centralised through one medium. As a result I’ve ended up with far less individual tutorials to do. In terms of results, out of my last group of 55 students, 15 achieved overall firsts. I can’t say that’s all down to using Google Forms, but then again I can’t say it isn’t either. What I can say is the learning process seemed to go particularly well. So it has helped my teaching. In fact I’ve found that my approach to teaching has radically changed, for the better.
Yes, I may have found that initial thought of applying for Senior Fellowship a painful one, but the reflective process you go through as you contemplate your career and evaluate what you’ve done is thoroughly worthwhile. I’m proud to say that I am a HEA Senior Fellow and I’m proud of the part played in my successful application by my work in student engagement. I am now better placed within my institution to further develop student engagement and digital practice, give students more voice, influence and opportunities to work with staff and, in turn, improve teaching practice across more disciplines.