Staffordshire University lecturer wins prestigious teaching award

“I wanted to explore ways of engaging students with writing by using objects and visual metaphor.”

Dr Alke Gröppel-Wegener, Senior Lecturer in Contextual Studies

A Staffordshire University lecturer who encourages students to visualise essays as icebergs and secondary sources as sea creatures has been recognised for her unique teaching practices.

Senior Lecturer in Contextual Studies Dr Alke Gröppel-Wegener is one of 55 educators in the UK to be awarded a National Teaching Fellowship by the Higher Education Academy.

The NTF scheme celebrates outstanding achievement in learning and teaching in higher education.

The successful NTFs were chosen from over 180 nominations submitted by higher education institutions across England, Northern Ireland and Wales.

“This has been one of my career goals so I’m delighted. I was nominated last year but didn’t get through.” said Alke. “I’m still in shock. I didn’t expect to get it.”

Alke, who has been teaching at the University for seven years, works with first year students in the Faculty of Arts and Creative Technologies and is pioneering a new teaching method dubbed “tactile academia” to help them research and write.

“I wanted to explore ways of engaging students with writing by using objects and visual metaphor.” explained Alke.

“Often it’s hard to engage arts students with writing. They’ve come to make pots or films and are sometimes surprised by the academic side of their course.”

Depending on the objective of the session, students might find themselves discussing how the reader of their essays could be likened to a polar bear (and the essays to an iceberg), exploring secondary sources by visualising them as sea creatures or understanding the concept of a literature review by thinking about playing cards.

Students might also find themselves handling objects from the Betty Smithers Design Collection, Staffordshire University’s research collection, on a treasure hunt or doing a spot of documentary drawing.

“Not everyone thinks in the same way. We all have different strengths and weaknesses.”

Alke added: “This method of teaching is about equipping students with the skills to think for themselves and to find ways of working that suit them.”

As a National Teaching Fellow Alke joins a group that is active in networking, has its own conferences and exclusive access to funding.

“This is a fantastic opportunity for me and the University. It means I will be able to develop my teaching methods even further.”

Alke has compiled a workbook for students called ‘Writing Essays by Pictures’, which collects some of the visual analogies she has been using in her teaching and raised the money for printing 150 test copies via a successful Kickstarter campaign.

Alke will be taking the book to the Learn x Design 2015 Conference being held in Chicago next week, where she will be holding workshops about visual learning.

The NTF awards will be formally presented at a celebration event to be held at Liverpool Cathedral in October.


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