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Lois - director of teaching and learning in an HEI
Name: Lois
PhD discipline: Archeology
Area(s) of work: University teaching
Year of graduation: 1997
Date of Interview: 08/06/2008

Now Playing: Lois - director of teaching and learning in an HEI
Lois talks about how she came into her role and describes what she does on a day to day basis. She identifies the things she enjoys most about her work as well as the challenges.

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Well I don't have a very complicated career history. It's quite simple really. When I finished my PhD I came to work for the Institution that I'm now working for in the school that I'm now working for. A lot has changed around me and my position has changed quite a lot within that unit, I was – I came in as a lecturer, a new lecturer with no experience and then moved to gradually taking on more and more responsibility for different parts of the school for different programmes within the school, different courses.

So I've been responsible for short courses within a specific discipline and my discipline was archaeology. And that's what I did my PhD in. And so I was responsible for courses in archaeology. And I built that up quite a bit, increasing the courses, increasing the number of students, you know, I can't remember, I did at one point know by how much, but it something like doubled the number of students that were coming in to do those courses. And then I took on responsibility for a much broader range of courses that included lots of disciplines, not just archaeology so I work within the life long sector if you like. It's a very diverse sector, but in my school it had at that point it did the – the overall shape of it was very much an arts and humanities kind of approach so it was your typical evening classes that retired people tend to go along to. That's the typical picture that people have of them. In fact they're much broader than that. So they covered all kinds of disciplines: archaeology, history, history of art, English literature, creative writing and science, languages all those kinds of things.

So I took on responsibility for managing that whole programme of 250 courses every year. And I did that for about five or six years. And then the school grew and became even more diverse and so we needed somebody to take a more strategic role really and look after all the provision within the school as far as teaching and learning was concerned, and so that's now my position: as Director of Teaching and Learning, overseeing all of the provision within a very, very diverse school. So not only is it diverse discipline wise, cos we now also have management programmes and programmes in careers guidance, but its also diverse in the way the courses are delivered. Some are delivered on a weekly basis, face to face. One of them is actually a full-time course but all the rest of them are part-time courses. And some of them are distance learning, some of them are blended learning, some of the students are retired students doing it for pleasure, some of the students are doing it for professional qualifications, some of the courses have professional accreditation and others are basically just leisure courses. So it's really very diverse provision, so I have sort of over sight of that. So I guess that's probably my career up to date.

And what is your life like on a day to day basis?

Hmm right, life okay. It's very diverse, I think diverse is a word you could use to characterise everything about me. There's a lot of reacting to things that are happening. There's a lot of helping my colleagues, so in a way I sort of manage five programme directors, so these are people who take more direct responsibility for the different programmes that we run and are subject experts in these programmes, because I'm not.

So I suppose they come to me with questions, so I get a lot of questions, you know, 'we've got this problem what do we do? We've got this student who has these particular circumstances, what can we do?' You know, 'what should we advise them to do?' So it's very reactive, a lot of it.  

I do teaching as well so I do still teach archaeology to keep my feet on the ground and I think that's very important to me in my position because I'm telling other people how they should teach, how they should design courses and things and its no good if I'm not actually doing it, if I'm not in touch with what actually works in the classroom with the students. So I do still teach - I have teaching preparation to do and I teach evening classes and so I have marking to do and that sort of thing.

We deal with a lot of sessional staff as well so there is a big sort of management role there, managing their expectations, doing a lot of training with them. And another big part of my role is to liaise with the rest of the university. I am one of the key liaison persons between the school and the rest of the university so I spend a lot of time in meetings, university meetings, which I actually quite like. Most people hate them but I think I must be quite odd because I quite like them. I like to know what's going on around, I like to know what other people are up to and what developments are happening in the university, and somewhere we can link in with things. So I do spend quite a lot of time in university committee meetings and then also just in more informal meetings with my colleagues. So it's a lot of talking to people which in some ways I still haven't adjusted to because I often get to the end of the day and I think 'ah I haven't done any work today. I spent the whole day talking to people' but that actually is a key part of my role, but still I tend to think that sitting down in front of the computer producing documents is work, or preparing teaching – that's work – whereas talking to people isn't so much work.  

So yeah my days are very different but a lot of it involves talking to people, dealing with people, actually whether they're students, whether they're the staff that work here full-time or whether they're sessional staff or whether they're people in other departments in the university. I love e-mail. (laughs)

What are the best aspects?

The best? I love the diversity, I'm very much a person who likes to flit from one thing to another and I'll have 20 things open on my computer when I'm working and I'll flit between, you know, I'll get fed up doing something, I'll be trying to write something and I'll be getting a bit bogged down and so I'll think 'oh I'll have a look at my e-mails, I'll do a few e-mails' and then I start writing some other documents, so I like the diversity, I like having lots of different things to choose from.

What else is good about my job? I like dealing with people. I do like teaching and that can be a bit stressful at times when there's so much to do because you have to be prepared, you know, a lot of things you can put off and say 'I'll do it tomorrow it doesn't matter, that deadline will slip a little bit,' but teaching you can't, you've got the students in class in front of you, you've got to be ready, you've got to have your stuff ready so it can be a bit stressful but when I've finished my teaching I always think I'm always on a high, you know, I really enjoy that interaction and the light dawning on the students faces, so I really enjoy the teaching.

And I enjoy the challenge of doing new things, I like doing new things and problem solving. I'm not very good at doing the same thing over and over and I get bored to be honest, even teaching the same thing year in year out, I do get bored. I like to develop new courses, which is hard work, but I like to develop new courses quite regularly. And I have the freedom to do that in working in life-long learning. You have the freedom to develop courses and run them for a few years and then stop and develop another course.

What are the challenges?

Hmm, challenges? Well I think, as for everybody who works in academia: dealing with everything that needs to be done. So its just workload is a challenge and especially as I have a family now, I have two young children and before I had them I could work into the evenings and I did work into the evenings a lot of the time, work was basically my life, there were a few other things but, you know, that was the most important thing in my life. Obviously my partner as well. But now having the children that is much more of a challenge but that's the same for everybody I think. And I can't work so much in the evenings and at the weekends now so it just has to be squeezed into the day. So that's a challenge. Work - sort of dealing with other people, people management if you like, cos a lot of my role is a management role. But I don't have responsibility, line management responsibility, not formally anyway and I think again that's a very common thing in universities so I'm not line managing people but yet I'm still supposed to be leading what they're doing and that can be quite a challenge. I think I need to develop my skills further in managing people but it's a challenge but its also really rewarding when it works well. And because working with a team to develop say a new programme or something is very rewarding. Everybody's minds are working in the same way, its just not quite so rewarding when they're not working in the same way (laughing).

So yeah I guess those are really the challenges, trying to get people to do what I want to do.

What has been more important to you do you think, the teaching or research?

Well the teaching because I do very little research actually in this job. I could do more research but it's difficult to do and this job is very intensely teaching. There's a lot of historical reasons for that which I don't think I need to go into but my job's much more about teaching. But there is the facility there to do a little bit of research and I like to try and keep that up to a certain extent cos it connects me with my discipline. But what I'm trying to do more of now is research in teaching and learning and research in life-long learning, rather than research in archaeology because it is more difficult for me to get to do the research in archaeology because its so much more detached from my day to day life of dealing with students and dealing with staff, whereas the research in teaching and learning can benefit from my day to day experience. So that's where I'm trying to go with my research at the moment.

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