2 Inspiring great teaching and learning in the Social Sciences

Professor Claire McGourlay

Professor Claire McGourlay, University of Sheffield School of Law delivered the second keynote address at the conference.

I received a National Teaching Fellowship in 2015. Shortly after the announcement I was asked to give a keynote speech at the HEA Social Sciences conference in December. I felt quite honored and humbled to be asked and was also very excited. The day is now here and the excitement has been replaced with nervousness.

My discipline is law and I studied law as both an undergraduate and postgraduate. I started working full time at the University of Sheffield in 2002 as a lecturer in Law and I am now a Professor of Law. I am the Faculty Director of Teaching Enhancement and the School of Law Director of Learning and Teaching. I also run the Miscarriages of Justice Review Centre and until recently I was also the director of the Freelaw Legal Clinic.

I have been asked by the HEA to write this blog and here are my answers to the questions posed:

1. What will you be speaking about at the Social Sciences Inspire conference?

My talk will look at my journey in developing high impact pedagogies and how I believe this has transformed not only the way that students learn and increase their employability but how this developed my own career pathway and professional development. I will also look at the disciplines and ‘disciplinary tourism’ as I think they are key challenges in higher education.  I am going to (obviously!) make reference to the TEF as the TEF makes it clear that assessments about the quality of learning and teaching are made at discipline level as soon as practicable. The green paper may very well be a very green paper at the moment but the implementation will soon come and as we all know if things need to change – changes in learning and teaching practices do not just happen overnight.

2. What issues in HE teaching and learning are you passionate about?

I will mention two key things. The first is working with students as partners: I love this – it is what keeps me alive and energised. It never falls to amaze me what my students are capable of. Whenever I set out to do anything the first thing I ask myself is “How can I get the students involved?”

The second is working with colleagues to develop learning and teaching and promoting good practice and sharing ideas. I created Teaching Excellence in Social Sciences (TESS) on the back of this passion. This is a medium for this to happen.

3. As a lecturer how important do you think it is to look at teaching and learning issues through a disciplinary lens?

It is important that we engage in this way because it could be that one small conversation you have with someone can change the way you do things. Someone might point you in the right direction, tell you about something you have missed or give you a new perspective. It is also about the sense of belonging – that could be to a faculty or a department that allows you to have those conversations in the first place.

4. What advice would you give to early career academics who want to develop their teaching and learning careers?

Keep your work life balance, but take every opportunity to work with others or develop your teaching that is offered to you. As Steve Wheeler says in his blog ‘take risks’. I agree with him 100%. I have lost count of the number of times I have said to myself “Oh well, what have I got to lose!”. I would also advise, if you have the time, working as a governor in a local school. I learn a lot from the school and they learn from me. You also keep up to date with trends in schools and you get to learn a whole new set of educational acronyms!  Most of all, get the students involved in what you are doing. As I said above I always start any new project by asking how can the students be involved.

This blog was previously published here: https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/blog/inspirational-teaching-and-learning-social-sciences-2

kEYNOTE DAY 2 Simon Heath

Professor Claire McGourlay, University of Sheffield School of Law

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