Celebrating excellence

Many of our participants produce very high quality assignments, and the best of these go on to be used in blogs, conference papers and publications. Here are just some of our Academic Professional case study examples:

In my assignment for PCAP module 1 I took the opportunity to explore something that had been troubling me in my teaching. I had noticed that in the last few years the students arriving at university seemed increasingly risk-averse and increasingly less academically confident. Even very able students seemed to require closer guidance on tasks than before, and were less able to experiment with assignments. In my assignment I explored some of the possible reasons for this and asked how experimenting with formative assignments might give students confidence to take more risks, as well as coming to understand assessment as non-utilitarian, not always directed to a particular mark or outcome.


Dr Susannah Cornwall, Senior Lecturer in Constructive Theologies and Director of EXCEPT (Exeter Centre for Ethics and Practical Theology) - PCAP 2017

As busy early-career scholars with many competing research, teaching, and administrative demands, a course in “Academic Practice” may not initially seem an appealing use of time. But in fact, the chance that it provides for new staff to reflect on their pedagogy specifically – and the demands of the UK Higher Education sector more generally – is invaluable. Module 1 (EFPM900) provides scope to better understand the pressures, incentives, stresses, and rewards of a twenty-first century academic career. Module 2 (EFPM902), meanwhile, supports the development of robust teaching practices among junior faculty members, equipping them to succeed in the contemporary educational environment through sharing good ideas and proven strategies.

Having always been interested in public engagement and policy influence through scholarship, but also with a growing sense of the potential downsides – especially for early-career academics – of working with government and the media, I wrote my Module 1 assignment on the promise and pitfalls of the UK “Impact Agenda”. This followed from the poster presentation on the same topic that I gave within my PCAP group, and the feedback subsequently received from both peers and tutors. Through several iterations, the paper developed into an analysis of both the positive and negative incentives produced by the British government’s emphasis on the economic and societal “impact” of university research. A version of the paper is now forthcoming with International Studies Perspectives, the ‘state-of-the-discipline’ journal of the International Studies Association – and while centred around the particular implications of the “Impact Agenda” for UK-based International Relations academics, some of its conclusions will hopefully be of interest to scholars in other fields. The opportunities for critique and reflection provided by PCAP were instrumental in getting to that point.

Case study: Politics, Policy, and the UK Impact Agenda: The Promise and Pitfalls of Academic Engagement with Government

Dr David Blagden, Lecturer in International Security and Strategy – PCAP 2015-16

Moving from Belgium to Exeter, one of the first things that I noticed was the importance given to academic metrics in peer and departmental evaluations, and the influence of these to the allocation of resources and funding. I became more interested in the negative impacts of metrics as time went on both at the University of Exeter and in other academic institutions, and specifically interested in the potential side-effects of quantitative efforts to measure, rate and rank of various aspects of academia, in particular those related to individuals (e.g. personal h-index). I became progressively more attuned to the indirect effects of metrics on people’s morale, professional identity and workplace stress.

The flexible approach to assignment choice implemented by the PCAP programme allowed me to select this issue as my topic of study. Building on my existing research on the impact of quantitative indicators and language in international politics, I wrote a paper that theorises academic metrics within the broader logic of neoliberal government, in order to better identify and understand the impact of these metrics on academics’ perceptions, behaviours and identities. The results of a survey conducted among political scientists in the UK and Belgium was also used in order to further explore this impact. The PCAP assessors reported that they had enjoyed reading the piece and encouraged me to submit it for publication – which I did, after incorporating their feedback comments. The paper has now been accepted for publication in the journal Politics. A link to the article will be made available here in due course.


Dr Stephane Baele, Lecturer in International Relations, PCAP 2015-16

I taught throughout my Masters and PhD, prior to undertaking the PCAP course, so this was an ideal opportunity for me to reflect on my teaching practice and develop new skills and ideas. At the time I had led seminars for many years and was in my first full-time lecturing role so I wanted to focus on how best to engage students within – often large – lecturing environments. I used the PCAP assessments to learn more about the process of learning from academic literature and to reflect on my own experiences as a student. I became interested in how understanding and retention can be enhanced by alternating delivery modes and how different students can learn better from different ways of engaging with taught material. I particularly liked the concept of ‘active learning’ and in creating an environment where students are doing things with the material beyond simply listening. The PCAP classes were a great opportunity to learn from staff and fellow students about different teaching strategies that had worked for them across disciplines.

For one of my PCAP assessments I compiled a list of different activities that could be integrated into large lectures to help students interact with the material. I thought about emailing it to friends afterwards, as a set of ideas that may be useful for others who are newly appointed in lecturing roles, but realised that it could be of use more widely so published it as a series of blog posts. The first is on the importance of active learning, and the second is a set of ideas for making lectures more ‘active’. It was great to use the PCAP assessments as a springboard for contributing to debates on pedagogy.

I have since been nominated for a teaching award at the University of Exeter, and was shortlisted for ‘Innovative Tutor of the Year’ at Leeds Beckett University in 2016.

Dr Jess Gifkins, Senior Lecturer in International Relations at Leeds Beckett University – PCAP 2014-2015

Exeter is my first real teaching experience and so the PCAP course has been incredibly useful in a number of ways. Most obviously it provides ideas on teaching methods, techniques and useful educational aids (including educational e-technologies). It has also really helped me to consider the bigger picture around the role of HE in society as well as the expectations of our students. Naturally, it was also a great way to network with colleagues from different disciplines who were new to lecturing to. 

When it came to the assessment requirements for the course, PCAP gave me the confidence to try a few different approaches to some of my modules. Doing this alongside PCAP was a great source of extra support and also gave me the tools to really consider how successful these approaches were. In reviewing this for my PCAP assessment it made sense to get this disseminated via peer reviewed outlets. Again, PCAP was very useful for getting the opinions of the experienced educationalists on the programme and this ultimately played a big part in the publication of my work. 

Robert Meertens, Lecturer for BSc Diagnostic Radiography – PCAP 2015
(Download: Utilisation of a peer assisted learning scheme in an undergraduate diagnostic radiography module)

I came to PCAP with the certainty that Higher Education could provide space for creativity, imagination and risk - and that through insisting on this capacity I could become a better educator. My initial plan for the PCAP Module 1 submission was a podcast focusing on creative and critical pedagogical approaches, but life circumstances prevented me from completing the assignment as planned. However, my research into innovative teaching methods stayed with me in unanticipated ways! For the 2017-18 academic year I decided to integrate project-based assessment in all of my courses, and worked closely with students as they developed ideas and chose formats. The result was an incredible collection of deeply nuanced, critical and self-reflexive projects, which ranged from short stories to play scripts, video and photo essays, podcasts, flip-books, personal letters, discographies and original artwork.

Based on this experience, I co-created/curated an interactive symposium with eleven students for the 2018 Educational Research Conference, hosted by the Graduate School of Education (https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/graduate-school-of-education-annual-research-conference-tickets-40097440524# or http://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/education/research/events/annualconference/). Through an exhibition/performance of student projects, our session explored what it means to engage in active learning and community building in Higher Education. We invited our audience to circulate through the space and engage with the presenters who spoke/read/screened/performed simultaneously, and followed the exhibition with a discussion of critical thinking as an imaginative process. Together we sought to challenge narrow understandings of what counts as ‘knowledge’ and demonstrate how project-based learning can promote political engagement beyond the spaces of our classrooms. The response was resoundingly positive! We are now taking this forward to another event - a 'take over night' at the Institute - and working toward a collaboratively written publication.

The PCAP team has been instrumental in this journey not only through providing the forum in which to explore critical and innovative pedagogical approaches, but also by promoting flexibility in terms of assessment. While I was unable to submit the planned podcast for Module 1, the content of student projects and our unexpected collaboration has surpassed what I hoped to achieve. More than anything, I have learned to trust my students - as co-educators, creative thinkers and collaborative partners. This has fundamentally changed my pedagogical practice for the better indeed.

Dr Katherine Natanel, Lecturer in Gender Studies - PCAP 2016 - 17

Have you undertaken Academic Professional and used your assignment in a blog, presentation, or publication? Let us know. Email Anna Mountford-zimdars: a.mountford-zimdars@exeter.ac.uk