Skip to content

Precarious employment 1. Unpicking the teaching plan.

Having retired I am starting work as an hourly paid visiting lecturer, a reversed career projectory as it is how most academics start their career, in some sort of precarious employment.  This is an interesting experience and I will be reflecting on it over the next couple of months.  I am already discovering the extent of the precarity with dropped offers of work etc and noticing the extra time it takes to plan and achieve things when you are not based in the institution combined with all the things that you don’t know and are frustratingly difficult to find.

My main task is of course getting my head around the teaching. I knew the person who ran the module before and some years ago was the external examiner, so have some knowledge of it, but predictably was over optimistic in thinking how much I could pick it up.

I have seen the phenomena so many times, so it shouldn’t have been a surprise – it’s the old ‘here’s the syllabus and PowerPoint for the first session’ scenario.  So, I don’t do enough preparation in advance thinking I can just pick it up.

In learning terms this is single loop learning, basically trial and error.  I imagine running through the programme, if anything doesn’t work, make an adjustment and settle for that.

But then I look at it and am struck by:

  • The things I wouldn’t normally do
  • Things I am not quite confident about
  • An unease about just filling ins someone else’s’ plan, teaching is personal expression

The dilemma that can take some of the precious preparation time is how long do I keep going making minor adjustments before I go for a more radical rethink.

The stereotype of traditional HE is that is the way it was done – academics who were focussed on research and didn’t have the time and interest in doing things differently would just do what had always been done, and that they had experienced as students and there is an element of truth in that.  It is also true that they were not encouraged to look beyond that or given the resources to do that.

Double loop learning happens when the context is introduced, and options opened.  The first way that can happen is by the introduction of choice – it could be done differently.  There is a concept of signature pedagogies (Gurung, Chick and Hayne, 2009) which describes the way in which academic communities have distinctive ways of teaching, and like any community they are defined by argument as much as consensus, so there are typical debates about how to teach the subject.  In English do students have to read a lot od books, or close read a smaller number, in computer science how much emphasis is on the coding process and when do students get introduced to application.  When I look at my syllabus I can identify where the person who designed it stood in those debates and I can choose a different path.

More fundamental choice is opened up when I go beyond that and look at their aims, what are they trying to achieve in what they are doing?  Goals opens up assumptions about learning theory, either explicit or implicit because if someone has a goal they have a model of the process.

Theories about learning fall into one of three categories or paradigms which can be identified by the key aspects of the gaols implied in a syllabus.  Is the focus on what the students should be able to do, practical tasks and processes, what they should understand or what they should experience?



Gurung, R. A. R., Chick, N. L. and Hayne, A. (eds) (2009) Exploring Signature Pedagogies: Approaches to Teaching Disciplinary Habits of Mind. Stylus Publishing.



I am leaving my post at Queen Mary University of London and retiring, moving on to a new phase in my life.

Working in educational development at Queen Mary has become more difficult since a move to a building off the main campus and a restructuring, both of which have reduced our contacts with academic members of staff and decision makers in the university and created other problems. I recognise that this reflects trends across the sector, but that does not make it any easier.  The failure to make a timely decision about the future of the main project I have been working on with two colleagues on short-term contracts has been difficult for me.

I have been in phased retirement for the last year and was hoping to continue that for a while – but that has not worked out so I am now fully retiring from August – but looking forward to doing other things.

While working in Educational Development at Queen Mary has been turbulent since I joined in 2007 I am proud to have been part of many positive changes and am particularly proud of the work on the Teaching Recognition Project and the positive impact that the team has made and the good will established across the university.

Educational Development Summer School Module

ADP7112 – International Perspectives on Higher Education

16-20 July 2018

Convenor: Dr Claire Bryony Loffman

ADP7112 is a face-to-face week-long module exploring international perspectives on higher education and their implications for the teaching, assessing, curriculum design and broader academic practice of students on the course. In this module you'll be encouraged to enhance inclusivity, develop heightened awareness of cultural contexts and to identify hidden assumptions about expectations of the teaching and learning experience in Higher Education internationally. ADP7116 is offered as a standalone CPD opportunity.

Module Structure

This module runs as an intensive 9am-5pm five-day face-to-face course in the week of Monday 16 to Friday 20 July 2018 on QMUL’s Mile End Campus in London, England (E1 4NS). During the week of the Summer School you will experience a mix of face-to-face teaching sessions with tutors; the format of these sessions will include: seminars with small group work, a practical workshop, a student-led forum and an opportunity for Q&A with alumnae from last year’s Summer School. You should expect to be on campus for a 36-hour week during the summer school. The module consists of eight core topics including:

1.       Internationalisation and Higher Education

2.       Theories of Cultural Differences

3.       Designing Inclusive Assessment and Feedback

4.       Curriculum Design and Graduate Attributes with a Global Perspective

5.       International Perspectives on Technology for Teaching

6.       Voice Workshop for Teaching in Multilingual Contexts

During the Summer School, participants will be asked to participate in group work and share individual experiences throughout the week. All participants are required to work together to prepare their Group Presentations for 20 July.

For full details and to book your place please visit:

Evolve politics take on the appointment of Toby Young to the Office for Students, not good for the future of HE.

  Shifting identities and blurring boundaries : the emergence of Third Space professionals in UK higher education