University students announce their teaching awards

Inspirational, innovative and engaging are just some of the compliments given to lecturers at the University of the Highlands and Islands (UHI) in the third annual teaching awards scheme run by students.

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Award winners (L-R) Matt Sillars, Dr Kirsty MacDonald and Prof Toby Sherwin

Organised by UHISA, the UHI Students’ Association, the awards recognise excellence in seven categories and go to: Dr John Howe, SAMS UHI, most inspiring lecturer; Jane Edwards, Perth College UHI, outstanding student support; Professor Toby Sherwin, SAMS UHI, best research supervisor; Colleen Maclean, Perth College UHI, most engaging online tutor; Matt Sillars, Inverness College UHI, best student adviser and most engaging video-conference tutor; Murray Stark, Inverness College UHI, best preparation for employment and Dr Kirsty MacDonald, Argyll College UHI, best assessment feedback.

The winners will all receive a trophy and certificate.

Most inspiring lecturer, Dr John Howe, a marine geologist at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) UHI, was commended for his positivity and his passion for geology. One student commented: “John is the most incredible lecturer I have ever had. With love for his subject, he has the ability to bring across knowledge in a short time and raise the interest of the whole class.”

Speaking about his award, Oban-based Dr Howe said: “I was surprised and delighted to be recognised in this way. Geology is all around us, from the tops of the mountains, to the bottom of the sea so it’s a very easy subject to get excited about! I’m pleased the students also find it so interesting - even when we do have to stand in the rain!”

Best research supervisor, Toby Sherwin, a Professor of oceanography at SAMS UHI, was selected for his commitment and support. One student wrote: “Toby is a dedicated and diligent supervisor and has supported me over a number of years, including during a period of ill-health. He has an open door policy and was extremely supportive during the year I was unable to study because of ill-health. He collected samples at sea for me and drove me home when I was too ill to use public transport.”

Professor Sherwin said: “It's a great honour to be considered the best supervisor because there are a lot of very good teachers and supervisors in the university. This should also be a great fillip to the support team at SAMS UHI who do all they can to ensure students get the highest quality of support. Training a young researcher and watching them develop from their first hesitant steps to becoming a fully-fledged, mature scientist is a great reward in itself so to be honoured for doing this is a very nice experience.”

Best assessment feedback winner, Dr Kirsty MacDonald, was complimented for giving thorough, fair and timely feedback. One voter explained: “Kirsty is extremely quick with her assessment feedback, often giving it back within a few days. She is also excellent at presenting it in a way that positive attributes are highlighted with equal weight to negative. I feel she is exceptionally fair and constructive.”

Dr Kirsty MacDonald, who is based at Argyll College UHI and teaches on the BA (Hons) Scottish cultural studies degree, said: “I'm delighted to have won this teaching award - it’s particularly meaningful because it has been voted for by the students themselves. I love teaching, so it’s wonderful to receive some acknowledgement from those who matter most.”

Best preparation for employment winner, Murray Stark, works as an environmental science lecturer at Inverness College UHI. He was commended for his sound employability advice. One student wrote: “The advice Murray gave in compiling C.V.s and drafting covering letters was excellent. Some of the guidance he gave to my course members also opened their eyes to unorthodox methods of entry into work like chance calling, word of mouth recommendation and volunteering.”

Speaking about his award, Mr Stark, said: “I was very surprised to get voted in the preparation for employment category and feel Dr Liz Barron-Majerik deserves credit for developing this module. The module is important in gearing up students for employability and therefore plays an important part in the students’ degree programme.”

Best student adviser and most engaging video-conference tutor, Matt Sillars, was complimented for being an approachable and helpful advisor and a stimulating video-conference tutor. One student described him as a “knowledgeable and approachable” advisor who is “quick to answer queries and always ready to help” while another said his use of video-conference technology was “interactive” and “inspiring.”

Mr Sillars, who works at Inverness College UHI and lives in Dingwall, said: “I feel very honoured to be recognised in this way by the students on my courses. Student advising is one the most important jobs I have at UHI. Encouraging and enabling people to develop their skills is very rewarding and it’s nice to know that my students feel I’m doing my best for them.

Speaking about his video-conference award, Mr Sillars added: “I particularly enjoy teaching by video-conference as it brings together people from all over the Highlands and Islands and allows courses which would never be viable in most small centres to thrive.”

Colleen Maclean, a health studies lecturer at Perth College UHI, was named most engaging online tutor. Voters credited her with providing consistent and valuable support and helping students work through any issues, making the subject come alive. One student said: “she has spent endless amounts of time helping everyone with queries, explains clearly and makes you feel like your answers are worthy to listen to.”

Ms Maclean, who lives in Perth, said: “I am delighted that my work has been validated by the students I teach. The same values and principles apply whether teaching takes place in a classroom or using the virtual learning environment - but I recognise the additional challenges for students studying 'online' so I do my best to provide an equivalent experience for them.”

Despite only starting at Perth College UHI in September 2011, student engagement officer, Jane Edwards won the outstanding student support award for her work with the Students’ Association. Praise for her included: “she’s really gone far above and beyond the call of her job” and “she is truly amazing and inspiring to work with.”

Ms Edwards said: “I was surprised and delighted to receive the award after such a short time in the job. It’s a pleasure and privilege to be told that what you're doing is appreciated by the students, especially when the volunteers themselves work so hard.”

The University of the Highlands and Islands was one of the first institutions to work with the Higher Education Academy and the National Union of Students to introduce student-led teaching awards. They have now been adopted throughout Scotland and will be introduced to the rest of the UK this year.

UHISA president Nathan Shields said: “The awards clearly highlight that we have tutors who regularly go above and beyond their roles to support their students and create an outstanding student experience. The quality of nominations this year aptly reflects the students’ appreciation of the support, skills, and expertise that their lecturers bring to the classroom.”

UHI’s head of student services, Dr Iain Morrison, said: “These awards are run and awarded by the people who are best placed to judge the quality of university staff - our students. Once again the students' nominations suggest that the region's local university has staff delivering excellence in both teaching and student support. We are proud of our colleagues and the positive impact they clearly have on individual student's lives.”

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