“David’s ability to support and nurture the novice learner is astounding: the individual is the focus of [his] attention. His skill in building a frightened “I can’t study at Master’s level” student into one who completed her programme with Distinction and has since published her work. David’s approach […] to the love of learning and exploring knowledge that he imparts to the student is I believe the key to his success. The MA student has now applied for a funded PhD to continue her study into sexual health and religion.”
Colin J Roberts, Advanced Nurse Practitioner, 2012
As e-learning was new to me in 2009, transforming the reputable paper-based Sexual Health Skills (SHS) ‘distance learning’ course into electronic format required me to understand and draw upon applicable methodologies (Allen 2007). I started by researching best practice exemplars, to:
- understand andragogical (adult learning) epistemologies specifically related to electronic learning, and
- organise and present highest-standard materials for enhancing student experience through excellence in 1) production, 2) delivery and – based on regular and routine feedback – 3) on-going practice (DH 2005).
My reputation for working towards these goals led to me being ‘head hunted’ to co-produce materials for the Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). I interpreted McVeigh’s (2009) challenge to adapt a familiar physical classroom presence into a virtual e-learning presence, making sure that non face-to-face contact with students did not lose or disengage them.
SHS Respondent #6 2010, on-line evaluation (anonymous)
“[…]support from my module leader was absolutely fantastic. I have done a lot of courses and it isn’t always easy to connect with people on-line but David was great.”
My reputation for dynamic teaching, using animated technology and humorous presentations, is well known. During a recent Peer Observation of Teaching by my SFHEA mentor Professor Liz Meerabeau (see Criterion 2), the class of 48 paramedic students gave me a round-of-applause from the opening slide. This first slide was a blood-red critical cardiac design in which I added an animated ambulance image complete with flashing lights. A subsequent slide had a moving ambulance with siren sound when I wanted to accentuate a point of emergency care for HIV+ (positive) clients. The hours of preparation I put into every individual session helps to captivate student interest, maximise interactive rapport and results in excellent feedback and evaluations. The significance of customising learning to specific needs and professional backgrounds of participants means that topics such as HIV transmission become personally and professionally meaningful, whether students are from childhood studies, nursing, midwifery, or critical care paramedics.
Enhancing and transforming student learning is coupled with my own professional and academic development. A long-term national colleague and I recently organised some innovative teaching between the Universities of Bedford and Greenwich, subsequently co-authoring an article (Hadley & Evans 2013). Afterwards she wrote of me:
“As head of the [former Government’s] Teenage Pregnancy Unit I have seen huge benefits to individual practitioners completing [SHS course]. They have all been hugely enthusiastic about your encouragement to fully explore the complex area of sexual health and your support in their learning.”
Alison Hadley, OBE
Further evidence of an enduring capacity to stimulate students’ curiosity and interest, in ways which inspire a commitment to learning, is exemplified by the following individuals:
After completing a DipHE in mental health (UG), Beatrice undertook SHS as a stand-alone course. With my encouragement, she continued studies, graduating with the BSc(Hons) and MA Professional Practice, both in sexual health. In evaluation, Beatrice says:
“David made this learning experience one I will always remember. […] I learned so much and felt confident to share the knowledge acquired with others.”
At the 2013 General Practice Awards, Beatrice was shortlisted ‘Finalist’ for the third consecutive year, in three categories. At the ceremony, she introduced me to her older sister, whom she has now inspired into nursing. Beatrice’s sister is a third year student at Greenwich.
Vicky Dixon (olim Papworth):
Vicky was a student nurse at another university when she undertook SHS. Vicky completed her sexual health MA at Greenwich in 2013. Her assignment for the M-level e-learning (core) course I developed and coordinate, Contemporary Issues in Sexual Health (CISH), was a conference poster on the silencing of male voices in abortion care.
The poster brought her recognition at the School’s Sexual Health Research and Practice Conference. Vicky published the written element of that assignment in Nursing Standard (2011), and was invited keynote presenter at the 2013 Association of PsychoSexual Nursing conference at which I also presented.
“David has given me confidence to push myself academically and without his belief I would not have had the confidence to submit papers for publication. Thanks to David’s encouragement and feedback, I have had the joy of seeing my work in print on two occasions and am currently in the process of submitting a third. […] I am most grateful for this encouragement and support.”
Aged 17, working in an LGBT charity, Michael’s manager, Vicky Dixon (above), suggested he contact me to talk about developing a career in sexual health. We communicated over a number of years, finally meeting in person at the UK Sexual Health Awards 2012, at which we were both finalists (different categories). After four very successful years studying nursing at Kings College London, Michael moved to University of Greenwich upon winning the Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship.
“David has been one of the most influential people in my life for the last 6 years! He […] has been very encouraging throughout my education journey from post-16 through to PhD! David is now first supervisor for my PhD research project.”
Despite the potentially ‘delicate’ matters I teach and publish on, I routinely use judicious humour and personal openness as evidence-based techniques for enabling learner-centredness (Lawler 1991; Felman 2001). Reflecting on sound andragogical practice, I commence every face-to-face session by stating that I am open to being personally challenged or questioned at any point. I believe such ‘interruptions’ are a dynamic force in the learning encounter. I actively court challenges by way of discursive educational deliberation, and despite ‘pacing the stage’ as I present / teach (i.e. not standing still behind a podium), I sit and face individuals who are speaking, so as to be more equally positioned to them.
These andragogical, or adult learning theory, techniques demonstrate research-validated ways to display therapeutic rapport, role-modelling good practice in dealing with embarrassing topics (Joyceline Lawler 1991). Using humour and real-life anecdotes familiarises students with language and practices they may otherwise find difficult to discuss or work with. I joke how “I used to be a Catholic priest, now I get paid to talk sex all day!”
“I would like to thank you for your lectures, they really are amazing. I gain so much knowledge from your sessions and you make the learning environment very enjoyable. The comments you make, the funny stories you tell make it personal. Out of the years I have studied you are the only lecturer that gets applauded without fail and it was great having you today.”
NJB, UG Childhood studies student, 2013
Whilst some of my colleagues are not surprised at what I say in the classroom, and the humorous way I deal with sensitive and explicit materials, the standing ovation I had most recently was in NJB’s class, about 100 students. They were from very diverse ethnic, language, cultural, and, for many, religious backgrounds. The standing ovation was because I asked them to voluntarily (and with no pressure) take part in an explicit language exercise from the book by Feminist author Inga Muscio (1998). The laughter was heard well outside the lecture hall.