‘A good lecturer treats students as young professionals from the start’
Passionate, innovative lecturers are the driving force behind our education. Janine Geerling, former assistant professor of the Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences programme, obtained her Senior Teaching Qualification (STQ) at the end of last year. ‘You have to make time for educational innovation, and not be afraid to just do it.’
This is part one of a series of interviews with lecturers who have recently obtained their Senior Teaching Qualification (STQ).
For more than a year now, Leiden University has offered lecturers the opportunity to obtain a Senior Teaching Qualification (STQ). Following the successful completion of a pilot with ten lecturers in 2018, the second group of lecturers obtained their STQ at the end of 2019. Janine Geerling was one of them. Geerling used to work as an assistant professor in the Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences programme; when we caught up with her for this interview, she had just started a new job at Utrecht University. ‘During my last few years in Leiden, I was able to fully focus on education – not just on teaching, but also on course design and development. Since I wanted to take my career in this direction, getting the STQ was a logical step.’
Senior Teaching Qualification
The STQ is a qualification for lecturers who play an active role in the development and innovation of education at curriculum level, beyond their own course or discipline. To obtain this qualification, candidates are required to compile a portfolio in which they demonstrate that they satisfy four final attainment objectives:
- Acting from within the academic learning environment
- Creating and developing a didactic programme, taking account of the context of a curriculum
- Preparing and implementing teaching
- Having an impact on the teaching within one or more programmes that extends beyond the candidate’s own teaching
Lecturers must have also obtained the University Teaching Qualification (UTQ), have at least five years’ experience teaching various university courses and year groups, and have applied a variety of teaching methods.
Academic Development learning pathway
A lecturer can also be considered eligible for an STQ if they have been involved in educational innovation. This certainly applies to Geerling: she developed an Academic Development learning pathway for students of Bio-Pharmaceutical Sciences. This learning pathway spans all three years of the bachelor’s programme, and Geerling personally coordinated and taught most of the curriculum. As part of this pathway, students learned how to write academic articles and how to present research. The students weren’t always enthusiastic about that at the time, she says with a laugh. ‘I commented on that openly. I said: “You’re probably not going to enjoy this, but let’s make the most of it.” In the end, most of them were quite glad they did it. Once they’d moved on to their master’s internship or when they were writing articles for their PhD, they often told me that the skills they had learned on that pathway came in really handy!’
Make time for educational innovation
As part of her STQ portfolio, Geerling reflected in particular on the development of this learning pathway. ‘The portfolio was a lot of work, but it was also nice to take a moment and reflect on everything you have actually taught and developed. You quickly forget about the little things at the start of a process, which ultimately results in something quite significant, like that learning pathway.’ According to Geerling, having the opportunity to try and test ideas is especially valuable. ‘Don’t be afraid to just do it – or sometimes even to fail. Make time to review and update your teaching methods and materials, because it won’t happen by itself.’
Students’ plans for the future
The learning pathway that Geerling developed also focuses on students’ career prospects. It encourages them to think about their future goals and where they might like to work. It also teaches students to reflect, and to look at their studies from a different perspective. For example, at the end of the third year, students have to produce an academic statement, in which they tackle the question: how do you view yourself as an academic and a young professional? They work towards this statement by completing all kinds of assignments and attending various sessions throughout the course of their bachelor’s programme. ‘They actually start working on it from day one. In the very first lecture, students are asked to think about their plans for the future,’ says Geerling. This concept was well received by both students and fellow lecturers, and became known as the Hopes and Dreams workshop. It is now also taught in other programmes.
e-Learning for academic skills
In order to provide additional support to students as they evolve as young professionals, until her departure Geerling worked as co-project leader on the development of a Skills e-learning platform for the entire Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. This platform provides interactive support to students who want to work on their professional development, particularly in the areas of research, collaboration, scientific communication and more. Geerling: ‘The platform not only provides students with theoretical knowledge about these skills, but also with some very practical tools that they can use straight away, for example, templates for agendas or making notes at team meetings, or step-by-step plans that they can use when looking for literature, writing an article or making a presentation.’
The student as a young professional
Geerling is passionate about preparing her students for the future – and it is this passion that drives her interest in teaching and developing curricula and teaching material. ‘I believe that the key to good teaching is treating students as young professionals right from the start. And you should gradually reduce the amount of guidance and support as they progress through the programme, so that they can really become more independent and take on more responsibility.’ One of Geerling’s top tips is to use different teaching methods. ‘And as a lecturer, don’t try to pack all your knowledge into your lectures; instead, think about which teaching methods best suit the students’ study phase and offer them the chance to deepen their knowledge further.’ Within her own field, this means that she develops teaching material and courses that help students get where they want to be – in a way that is both useful and fun for both student and lecturer. ‘I believe that, as a lecturer, I have a responsibility to prepare students for their working lives, regardless of whether they go on to forge a career in academia.’
Inspired to get your Senior Teaching Qualification?
In 2020, lecturers will have another opportunity to obtain the Senior Teaching Qualification. You can register your interest for the next round by contacting the secretary of the STQ assessment committee. You then have until 1 May 2020 to submit your academic CV and initial reflection, on the basis of which the assessment committee will decide whether you are able to obtain the STQ. For more information about the entire procedure and the requirements for the initial reflection, please visit the STQ webpage.