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Enhancing learning experiences
  1. Elaine Hall

Abstract

Equine thermographer Elaine Hall wanted to improve her teaching skills so she enrolled on a course that could equip her with the skills she needed to improve her students' learning experience

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I RUN an equine thermography service and also offer an equine thermography training course. However, I have no teaching qualifications so I looked for a course that could teach me what I needed.

Principles and Practice in Veterinary Education is a collection of five progressive courses developed by the Royal Veterinary College to help vets and paraprofessionals working in veterinary education and workplace training. Finding that the courses aimed to equip teachers with ‘the skills to develop their own performance and to enhance the learning experience of anyone they teach or train’ was just what I wanted.

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The first course (PPVE1) is for staff who are new to teaching or whose job is to support academic provision, such as those having a demonstrator or technician role. It covers student learning, teaching methods, developing learning materials, developing skills and assessing student learning. As I wanted to see teaching from different perspectives and learn valuable new teaching skills, I enrolled. I opted for the five-day residential course as, living in south Oxfordshire, I didn't fancy commuting via the M4 and M25.

‘It was interesting actually being taught using the theory that we were learning’

Although the course requirements stated that no prior qualifications were needed, I was conscious of the fact that, potentially, my fellow students could be qualified, experienced vets. As it turned out, the course suited me exactly.

Just by driving through the gates of such a prestigious venue I started to feel a little more intelligent! My initial trepidation soon eased. My fellow students were very friendly and, as we were all ‘mature’ students, our individual experiences enriched the learning environment.

We were an eclectic bunch, with a practising vet from Antigua, two teaching vets from the USA, two UK vets – one working for an international charity and one home-grown from the RVC – and myself. We got on well, which made the course even more enjoyable. Our tutors and staff were welcoming and supportive; it was a huge bonus that they joined for our evening meals, as this allowed us to get to know one another.

Each student was allocated their own tutor, giving us a ‘go-to’ person, and we also had the support of our classmates. I did wonder just how interesting teacher training could be and, when I was handed an enormous textbook on veterinary education on the first day, I admit my heart did sink a little. However, in the days and weeks that followed, as I dipped into my textbook, it became much less daunting.

The course itself was interesting and made all the more enjoyable by the great tutors. It helped me to understand teaching from different perspectives and introduced me to different teaching styles. It showed me that teachers don't simply talk at students, but support their learning; I benefited from learning the different ways I could achieve this. Surprisingly, the course also showed me that much of what I was already doing was actually known theories, and this was a positive feeling.

There was quite a lot of work to do after the residential course. Although this was mainly formative, it was where I really started to understand education, and this approach has shaped the way I teach my new students. The teaching observation was a useful component of the course. Seeing yourself as others see you is quite an eye-opener, and being able to discuss this at length with my tutor using Skype/video link was very helpful.

The course was complemented by online materials. I found it helpful to be able to go back over the day's learning at my own pace. Coursework was submitted through ‘Turnitin’, an education tool that I was unfamiliar with, but I found it quick and easy to use. It was interesting actually being taught using the theory that we were learning.

I particularly liked the concept of formative assessment – helping students to identify their strengths and weaknesses and target areas that need work – and have incorporated this into my own course; I find that it works well. It is a form of assessment that I would not have thought about before the course.

When I applied for the PPVE1 course, I was not thinking about progressing my teacher training beyond it; I merely wanted guidance and information to make me a better teacher. However, completing it has given me confidence in teaching that benefits my students. It was so enjoyable and interesting that I have decided to follow the course through to certificate level, as I hope this qualification may open up other possibilities and take me, and equine thermography, to a wider academic audience.

Course details

Participants can develop their training further via the online postgraduate certificate, diploma and Masters degrees.

The RVC's veterinary education team is led by three tutors who hold the National Teaching Fellow Award. The National Teaching Fellowship Scheme celebrates outstanding achievement in learning and teaching in higher education. Only four veterinarians nationwide have achieved this award.

The next course will be held at the RVC's Hertfordshire campus from February 6 to 10, 2017. More details are available at www.rvc.ac.uk/PPVE1, e-mail: mscvetedu@rvc.ac.uk, or call 01707 666438 for more information. The closing date for applications is December 11.

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