We spoke to Director of Teaching and Learning in Biology and Programme Lead for Zoology, Medical Genetics and Biology, Dr Sally Faulkner. She touches on her journey to becoming a lecturer from studying BSc Zoology at Queen Mary, as well as an innovative new Peer-Led Team Learning (PLTL) initiative she has been championing.
I am the Director of Teaching and Learning in Biology and Programme Lead for Zoology, Medical Genetics and Biology. I care a lot about these programmes and the department I work in, so I enjoy this role as it allows me to help develop the programmes while supporting staff and students. I really enjoy working with enthusiastic students, and I am lucky to be in a position that I can help facilitate and challenge some of that energy!
I teach on many modules, from our foundation level Diversity and Ecology, right through to Project Skills in the Life sciences and Savannah Ecology with our third years, and many in between. I am lucky to see students across modules, years and programmes.
I did a bit of teaching when I was working in the veterinary industry, I started mentoring student veterinary nurses and then I got a job working at a FE college in Winchester teaching students about animal husbandry. I also did a lot of demonstrating throughout my PhD. I do remember sitting in a lecture in my second year, watching the lecturer and thinking – ‘that is a great job, I would really like to do that’. I never really thought it was an achievable goal at that time though!
PLTL is a teaching method that utilises near-peers to facilitate workshops that are an integral part of the course. These workshops are meant to add-on to any contact hours with academic staff members and are not a replacement for seminars/tutorials.
The PLTL workshops aim to boost student confidence and create a sense of community as the workshops of 8-12 people stay the same throughout the semester. Students are also able to feel more comfortable with a near-peer and can construct their thoughts better and enhance their learning in the “zone of proximal development”. In this way, PLTL aims to boost student outcomes, reduce attainment gaps, improve retention and increase students’ sense of belonging.
Peer leaders delivering the workshops get training and are coached/supported throughout the process. This gives them various transferrable skills and enables them to develop a deeper professional relationship with staff members. They are also rewarded with multiple recognitions on their HEAR transcript. Students benefit by having regular contact with a near-peer who was in the same position very recently and most students who engage with PLTL outperform their peers who did not. Staff benefit as students will be more engaged in the module content and have a deeper understanding of the topic.
I enjoy spending time in nature, whether it is on safari in South Africa or walking my dog in the local park. Spending time outside in the fresh air is extremely important for my mental health, and the thinking time I gain from doing this helps put my work demands into perspective.
In 2009 I started my undergraduate degree in Zoology here at QMUL. I was a mature student and didn’t really know what to expect. I had given up my career in veterinary nursing to pursue this degree with no real understating of where it might lead. I started on day one planning to keep my head down and get through the degree. I couldn’t have had a different experience. SBCS, as it was then, welcomed me with open arms. There was no chance I was going to keep my head down, there were so many opportunities to go on field trips, get involved with activities, learn lab and writing skills. This sense of community is the reason I am still at QMUL, and in the same department of SBBS.