Celebrating 500 Fellows at Swansea University – Why recognising teaching is important for all staff who teach

Yamni Nigam is a Professor on the Enhanced Innovation and Engagement strand and has been working at Swansea University for over 20 years.  She teaches on the broad multidisciplinary topic of Biomedical Sciences – specifically covering anatomy, physiology and pathophysiology – in the College of Human and Health Science.  You may also know her through her research into maggots (recently supporting the production team of the BBC hospital drama Casualty) and she’s been recognised for her work through many local and national awards.

It has to be said that Yamni Nigam is a real powerhouse of enthusiasm for her research and also her teaching.  It’s clear to see when you speak to her and also see her Office where bugs abound! She exudes energy and passion and it must be infectious to those she encounters.

Read more about Yamni through her profile page: https://www.swansea.ac.uk/staff/human-and-health-sciences/allstaff/y.nigam/ and her “Love a Maggot” campaign: https://www.swansea.ac.uk/humanandhealthsciences/research-at-the-college-of-human-and-health/research-impact-college-of-human-and-health/love-a-maggot/

So, with all this recognition for her work, being a Professor and many years of teaching experience, why would Yamni bother to gain HEA Fellowship?

“Whatever you are doing, you want to know that you are doing it well.  Teaching is a brilliant profession and HEA Fellowship demonstrates that you’ve satisfied the professional standards – it’s a real ‘Pat on the Back’.

Finding out about the UK Professional Standards Framework was a real eye opener.  To be honest, I hadn’t known it had existed and was really pleased to review it and see that it is a rigorously thought-out framework to enable teaching in higher education to stand out as a profession in its own right.

In preparing my application, I was able to refer to a series of baseline standards in the UKPSF and academic research literature for teaching which had been new to me.”

So what has been the impact of applying for recognition?

“In terms of the impact of preparing my application, I’ve always tried out different approaches to teaching.  I’d been previously quite didactic as a teacher, probably including too many slides because I just wanted to impart my knowledge for the students.  But over time, I’ve learnt to reduce the content and apply active learning techniques.  But I always felt I wasn’t doing enough and didn’t understand the different approaches to teaching.

So I took some of the CPD courses and they gave me fresh ideas and I considered different approaches to my teaching, such as flipped learning and using Virtual Reality (VR).  Not all however are appropriate, but I know what will work.  The concept of different approaches to learning – VARK was so important to me.  Bringing in the kinaesthetic aspects into anatomy teaching made so much sense.

I explored the use of VR at the SALT Conference[1].  We now teach anatomy using a number of VR headsets and it enlivens what could be quite a dull, dry topic and enables greater interaction – the students love it.”

What’s the most important aspect of the UKPSF Dimensions for you?

“Core Knowledge.  It’s absolutely essential.  I feel you cannot educate learners well if you don’t know your subject inside out.  It’s vital to attend whatever you can to keep developing your knowledge. It changes all the time – in my field e.g. for example new techniques and research reveal much more on how the body responds to certain conditions including ageing.  It’s important to always be on top of your game.

Learning about everything I didn’t know about teaching approaches was both a positive and challenge in the application process.  I enjoyed the aspect of learning about the theories, but the time to sift through the relevant literature was the most taxing aspect when you have a million other things to do.  Using Pebblepad[2] was fun though I know others didn’t feel the same way!”

How are you keeping on top of your teaching game?

“I’m continuing to improve as a teacher by being far more consistent in asking what the students have understood (or not) in my lectures.  I pass round a paper-based short evaluation form where they can tell me what they’ve not understood; after the class, I review those, go back and adapt my lesson for the next time and amend my teaching accordingly.

Attending peer observations is a great opportunity to learn from others…everyone has different approaches.  I observed one of our newer members of staff recently.  I was enthralled with his motivation and engagement with the students…I might even ‘steal’ one his ideas to ensure all students engage – letting students choose topics out of a hat that they then research and prepare a brief presentation on in 15 minutes within the lesson.  Great way of promoting learning for the whole group.”


OK, you mentioned that staff have a million others things to do.  What encouragement can you give?

“It’s really important to do it.  It’ll give you the recognition that you’re good at what you do.

But, you have to plan it through and you need to give yourself time.  You need to plan, consider what you’ve done over the last few years, prepare well, and think about what approaches have been good for you and for your students.

Teaching is so valuable.  To be able to break down your very complicated topic into something that is understandable.  It’s incredibly rewarding to be able to do that.”

[1] Virtual Reality talks and workshops delivered as part of the 2017 SALT Conference: https://saltconference2017.wordpress.com/programme/

[2] Swansea University used Pebblepad portfolio software between 2015 and 2018 as the means to submit a claim for recognition as an HEA Fellow (all categories)

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