Power to inspire

Innovative lecturer Dr Rosie Miles has won a prestigious national award for her inspirational teaching. The National Teaching Fellowship, awarded by Higher Education Academy (HEA), celebrates Rosie’s outstanding impact on the student learning experience. The Senior Lecturer in English has gained a national reputation for e-learning, inspiring hundreds of students and academics at both Wolverhampton and across the country.

How did you feel about receiving the National Teaching Fellowship?

I was very pleased. It sounds a complete cliché but it is a great honour to receive it. I was very impressed by the University’s support of all the candidates. You don’t enter as an individual - you have to apply with the support of your institution, and they helped us to do the best application we could. I would also not have received the award if it was not for the students and other colleagues in this University and beyond who gave me supporting comments and feedback. Almost the best part of entering was the feedback - you can hope you are doing the right thing but ordinarily you don’t get told what students think of your teaching. To have such nice feedback is lovely.The award recognises your exceptional contribution to learning and teaching, and in particular your national reputation in e-learning.

What do you think are the main benefits to students of e-learning?

On the courses where I use discussion forums in virtual learning environments (VLEs), it is no longer just about what we do faceto-face. There are discussions throughout the week extending what we have done in the classroom. I really do think it makes a difference to the students; to how they view the course and how they engage with the texts we are teaching. I would not go back to pre-VLE use. It has transformed the way I teach. Online discussion forums are places of learning and my students do serious work, but there is scope to try out things online that would not work if you were trying to do them face-to-face and we also have fun. Online there is always space for new things to happen.

So you have any plans to further develop e-learning for your English students in the future?

I am still developing some of the online stuff I am doing here. I don’t know if it will stretch into other areas in terms of trying out different things. I am not of the view that everything needs to be turned over to an online platform. What I am doing works and I am of the opinion that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. I think there will always be the ‘next big thing’ with learning technology, and I am quite sceptical about jumping on the bandwagon. But if it is going to create a great space for students to learn in, I’ll have a go.

Where do you get ideas/inspiration for your blog, Ms E-Mentor?

In part ideas come from my teaching. The VLE is a protected space for Wolverhampton sudents and them alone so it is hard to share exactly what is going on there, and it should not be shared. But I can use the blog to tell the wider world what we are working on, so it covers what I am doing as a teacher as the term goes through, how I am thinking about what I do as an e-tutor and a sense of what the students are doing. I am also quite a magpie with the blog and pick up things that I like, everything from what is happening in my life through to my literary and poetry interests and teaching reflections.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your work?

In spite of all the changes in HE, I do try and remember that I am very privileged to work with literature and books, and able to enthuse a new generation about some of the things that have excited me so far in my career. It is a particular pleasure when I see students graduating from the University of Wolverhampton and going on to do further study. We see them flourishing and getting the bug for learning and research and that has been something I have been keen to encourage in students. Students who come here are not always aware of that next step if, for example, there is not that tradition in their family and friends. Postgraduate study is something they might need encouragement to consider, and as academics we can tell them about that. To know a lecturer has thought about them in that way encourages them to think they can do it.

What makes the English department at Wolverhampton special?

I am one of a number of colleagues in this department who have tried out different activities in e-learning and we have become very well known for it. I think we should be proud that we are one of the most innovative departments in the country in terms of the e-learning opportunities here. Part of my National Teaching Fellowship application was about how I have gone to other universities and showcased what we do at Wolverhampton and people in other universities are impressed; I am very proud of that and I am very proud of the students. Other academics are increasingly interested in what we do in online spaces that really works.

Your research background is in Victorian literature. What do you enjoy about this genre and do you have a favourite book?

I love the Victorians. Even the rapidly changing 21st Century world we live in has a lot of its origins in the 19th Century. A lot of the changes that went on then influence what we do in our culture and society today. In teaching the Victorians, I try to make those connections for students. The communications revolution that is the internet has its origins in the 19th Century with the start of telephones. My favourite book is often the last thing I have read or something I have re-read for a class. Recently we have been reading The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde and I think it is the most wonderful and extraordinary book. There has been nothing like it before or since.

If you were at University today, which subject would you study?

I am happy with having done English but if I had my time again I would also like to study art history. I have taught myself about 19th Century art and use it in my teaching of the Victorians. I deluge the students with art and try to get them to read images and understand how the Victorians constructed narratives through painting.

You have written and published poetry yourself – do you have any tips or advice for budding writers?

Find yourself other writers or poets or short story writers in your community who you can share work with. You then get used to people looking at your work and others have more detachment on the work than you do. But they can also encourage you. I have been in a little group for about 10 years and it has been really important for me to have that. It is not about having people say everything you write is fantastic. Sometimes academics are solitary people and when students write critical essays they are not encouraged to show them to other people. But it is a very different approach in a creative writing world - that kind of sharing is encouraged.

Experiencing creative writing has changed my perspective on myself as an English academic. It has changed how I think about the subject and how I think about myself as a teacher.

Whom do you admire?

The percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie. She is one of the country’s top percussion orchestra and solo performers but she is deaf. I have seen her perform and she is so full of life. She often performs barefoot and hears the sound through her feet. To us it seems impossible how she can do it and do it so brilliantly. She has followed her passion despite what seem to be huge obstacles. I find that very inspirational for us all.