Professor Mark Huxham hoped that his PhD in Estuarine Ecology would equip him to either change the world through environmental campaigning or conduct ground-breaking scientific research. He had no interest in teaching. Then he found himself appointed to a lecturing post at Edinburgh Napier University. He remembers that it felt like an accident, and says his first students probably felt like its victims. To his surprise, he discovered teaching was a fascinating, challenging and rewarding vocation.
Looking for guidance on how to teach and for scholarship on the theory of teaching, he found many unanswered questions and began researching his own teaching, discovering a pedagogical community that is a welcoming mix of passionate people with diverse skills.
Impact of work
He still investigates the ecology of marine ecosystems. In particular, he leads a range of projects on mangrove ecology and conservation and helped to establish Mikoko Pamoja in Kenya, the first community-based mangrove conservation initiative funded by carbon credits. This was an important outcome of his ecological research, but it was also part of his identity as a teacher. More than 250 volunteers from around the world have helped with the work in Kenya, all of whom were trained in mangrove ecology and climate science. The project hosts hundreds of Kenyan and international students every year; hence education is a core part of this work.
A vibrant mix of teaching and research is the unique privilege of academic life. Mark teaches students from first year undergraduate to PhD and combines that with research. Listening to, learning from and learning with students is essential to him. The recognition he has received based on student evaluations are amongst his proudest achievements; the HEA Ed Wood Bioscience Teacher of the Year award in 2009 was a particular highlight.
Plans for the future
Mark also works to influence policy and practice beyond his classes. His Students as Colleagues initiative trains student volunteers to become expert evaluators of teaching and helps all to improve. His research on feedback, assessment and co-creation with students shows how important dialogue and empathy can be, as well as how much we still do not know about teaching.
Mark looks forward to continuing to learn from his students and working with them, across disciplinary boundaries, to make a difference. Today’s students will face vibrant opportunity but also unprecedented threats, such as climate change. Teachers need to help students not only understand this context, but to change it for the better; Mark hopes to find new ways to combine knowledge and action with his students.
Edinburgh Napier University