Students Staff

16 June 2014

Recognising teaching excellence at the University of Essex

What makes a great teacher? Every year our Excellence in Teaching Awards recognise outstanding academics who are transforming the learning experience for our students.

We believe in challenging students, but we also aim to support them to become independent, insightful and critical thinkers. Those receiving the awards have to show individual excellence plus a commitment to sharing their ideas with colleagues and pursuing their own professionaldevelopment.

Dr Alexei Vernitski teaches in both the Department of Mathematical Sciences and the School of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, but the online tools he has been developing for testing and assessment are being adopted by other departments too.

He said the secret is “finding the right balance of several teaching and assessment methods” and believes this also prepares students for their future careers.

Dr Nicolas Geeraert constantly thinks about the best way to present teaching materials and engage students – even when teaching larger groups. “I like my teaching to be dynamic and interactive,” he said. He looks to use a whole mix of techniques from class demonstrations and short surveys to break-out groups. “I set a high standard for myself when it comes to teaching. That said, I have high expectations from my students too.”

Dr Jak Peake, lecturer in the Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies, believes in developing a co-operative learning environment which can draw on his own research into Caribbean literature. “I am convinced that students benefit from the insights gained by researchers who are involved in producing work in a particular field of study,” he said. “Not only do students gain an insight into the field as an area in which current discoveries are on-going, but also benefit from an insider’s knowledge of some of the most recent or significant findings, controversies or issues.”

Nathan Derejko is Director of the Human Rights Clinic and lectures on human rights. The projects he has developed through the Clinic are engaging students from all disciplines and from undergraduate through to PhD level with field trips including visits to Palestine and Kosovo. He describes the Clinic’s work helps “the development of both knowledge and skills necessary for students to become effective human rights practitioners.”

“I am a firm believer in experiential learning, and expanding the classroom not only towards clinical education, but also into field trips.”

Nicole Osborne in the School of Philosophy and Art History loves sharing her research into Dutch thinker Benedict Spinoza and ancient theories of hedonism with her students: “My research is really important to my teaching. The students are always interested in what I'm working on. They know I'm really passionate about philosophy and that I do it in my own time as well as in class. And of course everything we do in class is also helpful for my own research, and in that sense I think it's also obvious to the students that I'm learning too – which makes for a good dynamic.”

Mahmoud Fatouh from the Department of Economics believes the secret of good teaching is thinking from the perspective of the student: “I am always thinking about what my students expect,” he said. He adopts an ‘open door’ policy and is happy to speak to students about issues at any time both face-to-face and online. He argues the international character of Essex's diverse student community helps his teaching as he can draw on so many perspectives and experiences to show how economics has a relevance to people’s lives.

In the Department of History Jon Vallerius prides himself on creating an open atmosphere in his seminars “where students feel able to contribute”. He gives extensive verbal and written feedback to explain to students what works well and where they need to make improvements. He saw his students were keen to use online resources, but sometimes did not have the skills to assess the relative value of sources so he has developed targeted guidance to help them use the web more effectively for academic research. “You can definitely see how helping students become better researchers starts to show in their work,” he said.

Unaisa Khir Eldeen in the Department of Language and Linguistics said: "Being a student myself, I know how important feedback is to students; so, I make sure I provide students with useful feedback whether on their contribution in the classroom, their assignments, or their queries in emails. Feedback on assignments is extremely important to help students improve their writing for the next assignment, so I give them analytical feedback that underlines any point of weakness and I suggest ways to improve these points and praise their strengths. By this students feel more confident when writing their next assignment and have a clear idea about the assessment criteria."

Graduate Teacher Award

  • Mahmoud Fatouh, Department of Economics
  • Unaisa Khir Eldeen, Department of Language and Linguistics
  • Richard McGuire, Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies
  • Nicole Osborne, School of Philosophy and Art History
  • Jonathan Vallerius, Department of History

Early Career Award

  • Nathan Derejko, School of Law and Human Rights Centre
  • Dr Jak Peake, Department of Literature, Film, and Theatre Studies

Experienced Teacher Award

  • Dr Nicolas Geeraert, Department of Psychology
  • Dr Alexei Vernitski, Department of Mathematical Sciences

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