Rebuilding the ancient world, digitally by Dr Matthew Nicholls

I was glad to find out recently that I’m a Digital Hero. Though disappointed that the title does not appear to confer any super-powers, I’m glad that the University recognises the innovative work that many of us are doing in our different fields – Reading feels like a place that values digital innovation and encourages its staff to take the lead. Having had a lot of support from CDoTL’s Teaching and Learning Fellowship scheme and the Annual Fund I was very glad to come along to the recent Digitally Ready Day and explain to colleagues what I’ve been working on.

The Campus Martius, the area of flat land in the loop of the River Tiber. Prominent monuments here include the Theatre of Pompey and the Pantheon.

During my time in Reading I’ve been developing a huge digital architectural reconstruction model of ancient Rome. I use this a lot in research, in teaching, and in outreach talks. I’ve also licensed it to commercial broadcasters and am working with Typography and Systems Engineering to turn it into a smartphone app for tourists.

Theatre of Pompey - Julius Caesar's colleague and rival Pompey the Great built this spectacular theatre from the spoils of his campaigns in the east. Julius Caesar eventually met his fate in the meeting hall at the end of the portico.

Students react very well to digital visualisations – they help give a vivid, instant impression of life in the ancient city – and have played a part in its creation through UROP placements. Seeing students enthusiastically contribute digital content of their own encouraged me to build this into the formal curriculum, so I’ve offered optional digital modelling assignments in existing courses, with uniformly high standards in the work submitted so far. From next academic year I’ll be running a new module, ‘Digital Silchester’, in which students will collaborate on a reconstruction of our local Roman town.

The software needed to get started in this sort of work is reasonably easy to pick up (I taught myself to do it) and some of it is available free. Among other things I use a modelling package called SketchUp which you can download for nothing to try out: I am sure this sort of work could be used in all sorts of academic disciplines and student projects, and hope that others will be encouraged to give it a go.

Reflective Teaching by Dr Natasha Barrett

Completing the Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP) portfolio provided the perfect opportunity for me to reflect on teaching and learning and how my approach has developed over the years. I was surprised at how well I mapped onto Kugel’s five ages of a lecturer (1993). I certainly started out at stage 1 (self) where the focus was on surviving each session with my dignity intact. I then started refining the content of my lectures as I gained confidence and moved to stage 2 (the subject). The transition from stages 1 and 2 onwards has gradually occurred with experience, but several of the PGCAP workshops really helped me move forward. Stages 3 (the student) and 4 (student learning) are very apparent to me at the moment and it is here that I have tried to apply some of the learning theories introduced in the PGCAP workshops. I’ve tried using Bigg’s (1999) constructive alignment theory, where learning outcomes dictate what is taught and assessment (particularly marks) can be used to drive the student to meet the outcomes, with pretty good success. I’ve also tried promoting active student learning (eg Kolb’s reflective cycles). Many students will readily “experience” and “conclude” teaching, but engaging the students in reflection and planning is not an area that I’ve had great success with (yet). I guess that this challenge will take me forward into Kugel’s 5th stage (student as an independent learner) and I look forward to applying some of the strategies to achieve this as I review my teaching material over the summer. I was really pleased to be awarded with the runner’s up PGCAP portfolio prize and would like to thank the CSTD, CDoTL and departmental staff for all their support.

How jolly good to be a Fellow!

Shortly after receiving the news that I had been made a Teaching Fellow of the University I found myself talking to a number of colleagues from other institutions involved in teacher education. I must admit to being a little embarrassed when my host, who I had told about the Fellowship in a quiet conversation, introduced me to the assembled company by announcing that I had just received the honour. They were generous with their congratulations and compliments but more to the point here, is that they were all seethingly jealous that I worked in an institution that recognised teaching in this way! We’re all obviously very aware of the pressures associated with the REF and notwithstanding those academics in every institution will doubtless have a plethora of things they are in the midst of researching or would dearly love to research. And research of course bring many types of rewards both to individuals and their institutions. However, the business of imparting what is discovered through research and encouraging and equipping new people to follow their own research interests through what we in the trade call ‘teaching’ can sometimes seem overshadowed by the business of research. The danger of this of course is that we end up with a research community that does research for the sake of research: without people to teach its findings, research can neither be applied, questioned or developed by others. How lucky we are then that, at Reading at least, teaching is recognised and rewarded.

The University Teaching Fellowship and Early Career Teaching Fellowship Scheme affords colleagues the opportunity of reviewing what they have done in their programme based teaching in the greater context of how this may have addressed the University’s priorities for teaching and learning. Personally I found this a valuable exercise. It wasn’t so much a question of looking at it all and thinking, ‘goodness, what a lot I’ve done and what a jolly good fellow I must be!’ as seeing, for the first time really, how the work that I had been doing did indeed reflect and contribute to the University’s grander project. In turn, this realisation enabled me to see how I might contribute further and meeting other Fellows for the first time genuinely excited me about the possibilities of sharing ideas and expertise in teaching methods among new colleagues and, ultimately, students. So thank you CDoTL for this scheme. It’s good to be a fellow and I jolly well intend to make the best of it.

Andy Kempe