Seven Roles of Highly Effective Lecturers


Atmospheric Set and Lighting for the Royal Exchange Production of ‘Around the World in 80 Days’

At a recent visit to the theatre, I reflected about how theatre and performance can help to develop skills necessary for lecturers. There are many roles involved in producing a performance – it’s not just the actor on stage. Some roles are behind the scenes, but all are essential. I know a bit about this having been involved in many theatre productions over the years. So, here is a quick guide to the seven roles of highly effective lecturers.

1. Scriptwriter – the playwright determines the material delivered to the audience. However, there are many ways that the same content can be delivered. Some lecturers use active methods, getting the students to do things and discover for themselves. Other lecturers are more formal where students sit and listen to a lecture. Knowing your audience is vital. How many students in the class and What do you know about them? What previous knowledge do they have? This information will help you to structure your lecture and organise the material to tell a story and keep the students’ interest. The output of this stage is the ‘script’ which you use to run the session. The script could be a session plan backed up a set of PowerPoint slides or a written task for students to complete in class.

2. Stage Manager. The job of the stage manager is to make sure all the resources are available and that everything runs smoothly during the performance. Being your own stage manager means specifying or booking the room required, checking out the room in advance to familiarise yourself with the layout. Testing any equipment that you plan to use (e.g. Computer and software) is also essential. You also need to think about the props or resources needed during the lecture. Remember to bring a timer so you can keep to the session time. If you do being a phone, make sure it is silent. With all of this, you may need something to transport your equipment and ‘props’ to the classroom. Wheely bags have prove particularly useful for ferrying handouts for 300 students.

3. Wardrobe and Costume. This is a simple reminder that what you wear creates an impression on your audience. Most lecturers that I know wear semi-formal business clothing for lectures. These create a professional image. Others find an informal style works for them. Whatever costume you choose, it should be one that you feel confident in and allows you and your students to focus on the message you want to get across. Remember that first impressions count and your clothes will help establish that first impression. Don’t run into the classroom dishevelled unless this is actually part of the performance.

4. Usher – theatres usually have a couple of these to direct people to their seats and deal with any latecomers. Managing the space of the classroom is very important. If you have a large classroom and all your students sit at the back, it is difficult to establish a rapport from the front of the room.  Give some thought as to how you will manage the arrival of latecomers so as to avoid distracting other people in the classroom. How are you going to distribute any notes? How will you manage the interaction with the students? Do you stand at the front or roam around the room? Ultimately, there is no single ‘right’ answer on this, it is a question of personal preference and style. However, being aware of the policy of other lecturers is useful and helps to manage expectations.

5. Performer. Now, your preparation done. The students in the classroom and your audiovisual material loaded up, it’s time to make a start in giving your lecture. lights, camera, action….. If you struggle with this part, then training in public speaking may help you. The best training is practice and getting feedback on your performance. Always take the opportunity to get feedback from students or colleagues. Try to do this early enough in a course so you can change and improve. Consider introducing variety in the lecture to maintain interest, using activities and video clips for example. A one hour monologue can be challenging to the best of performers.

6. Producer / Director With a ‘flipped classroom’ approach, students study the online material then come to the classroom with the necessary background knowledge. In the classroom, they can then engage in active exercises. It no longer needs to be a solo performance in the lecture time. Perhaps your skills are more in organising tasks and directing the students, so they can learn themselves.

7. Administrator. Whereas a theatre will have admin staff in the booking office, you need to deal with this yourself. This may include taking a classroom register and responding to student queries outside of lecture times. Responding to enquiries promptly and in an appropriate manner is part of your role. Some queries are best dealt with face to face or in class. Being approachable means the students can bring queries to you and can help clarify difficult issues for all students.

Juggling all the seven roles – Exhausting? Yes, but also exhilarating. The variety keeps you on your toes and it is always challenging and engaging. I would also recommend going to the theatre, not just to relax and unwind but to get ideas and see how the experts do it.

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English Summer Micropoem14

An article that I came across this week talks about the benefits of side projects and creative activities. We can get weighed down by day to day work and creative activities replenish us and improve our performance in other areas of our lives. It can be difficult to find time for these creative activities but we benefit when we engage in them.

Recently, I rediscoved that I enjoy writing as a side project – one which is just for leisure. I entered in the Centre for New Writing’s Micopoem competition. This was a competition for a Tweeted poem on the theme of ‘English Summer’. Poems were tweeted between July 7th and 14th with the hashtag #micropoem14.

I was delighted to learn (via Twitter of course) that my micropoem had won joint third prize. The winning poems are published in the excellent online journal the Manchester Review. I enjoyed reading the other entries and the winning entries are really excellent in conjuring up images of Summer. Interesting that two of them feature rain and the other two include pools.

I have really enjoyed reading the other poems and making contact with the poets. Josephine Corcoran put together this hilarious recording of her micropoem – as in ‘how not to record a poem’. It really shows that there is no substitute for hearing the poet reading their own work.

Inspired by this, I have created a video of my micropoem here. Only 17 seconds – Enjoy!

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Wonderful Science Poetry

I am fortunate to work in an environment where communication between arts and science is valued. My colleague, Peter Fenn has run a ‘Science Poetry’ competition for the past three years. This is a poetry competition for students in the Faculty of Engineering and Physical Sciences at the University. Every year, it attracts more than 160 entries. Peter’s experience with this has led him to question whether the Science / Arts ‘two cultures’ divide actually exists and look for new ways of fostering links between them. Peter is supported in this initiative by three poets: John McAuliffe at the Centre for New Writing Wendy Cope and Lachlan McKinnon.

In 2012, I worked with some of the student poets to record their poems here. The poets are students of Engineering, Maths and Science at the University of Manchester. Although the poems written in English their readings are strongly influenced by the cultures of the poets. The voices  remind me of what an international environment we work in. It is inspirational to think these students are writing poetry in what may be their second or third language. The styles are very different and I had some great conversations about the meaning of the poems.

One of the Science Poets, Tom Day-Goodacre  identifies ‘wonder’ as a common root of Science and Poetry saying: ‘Science is Wonder understood, while poetry describes it as nothing else could.’ This conversation between engineers, scientists and poets is definitely something wonderful, long may it continue.

This year, students were allowed to view and comment on the other poems – on the custom built website here. Some of the student poets also submitted recordings of their poems. The winning entry was by Holly Jones, who as well as being a scientist and a poet is also a talented cartoonist. Her illustrated poem is a tongue in cheek take on the trials and tribulations of postdoctoral life and can be found here. She’s got a little list…. I would like to hear someone record this poem.

Tony Walsh and Peter Fenn with the sponsor and winners of the EPS Poetry Competition 2014

Tony Walsh and Peter Fenn with the sponsor Michael O’Shea and winners of the EPS Poetry Competition 2014

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National Women in Engineering Day 2014

National Women in Engineering Day 2014 Manchester

National Women in Engineering Day 2014 Manchester

NWED And Concorde

On June 23rd, I attended a celebration of the first National Women in Engineering Day. About sixty of us gathered together to visit Concorde at Manchester airport. This was a fantastic visit which we all enjoyed. We then had a networking event and a range of talks from inspirational women engineers. One well known senior engineer had a rather unusual career path. Her undergraduate degree was in Physics, she told us but she subsequently went ‘to the dark side’ and now works in Engineering.

This comment made me think about our use of language to describe Science and Engineering and how this affects career choices of young people. Walking on the dark side is only part of the story. If you are a girl choosing engineering you will probably be asked at some stage for reassurance that you ‘don’t mind getting your hands dirty’. Is Dirty and dark appealing as a career choice? Could these misrepresentations of engineering  be part of the reason that the representation of women in engineering is still so low? How can we change perceptions and shed some light on the subject, so that young girls get more encouragement to enter the engineering profession?

In teenage years, when young girls are so concerned about how they are perceived, subtle hints and language used is very powerful. This powerful video advert by Verizon emphasises how subtle messages can have a powerful cumulative effect to discourage young girls from their interest in science technology and engineering.

As engineers, we need to step out from the darkness and shed light on our profession by communicating more what we do.  How we take the discoveries of ‘pure science’ and maths and implement them to give benefits in the real world. Although we are ‘hands on’ and practically minded, professional engineers rarely have dirty hands. Engineers are ‘do-ers’ and ‘makers’, planners and shapers. So, if you are thinking of a career in engineering, Don’t be afraid of getting your hands dirty. In fact, don’t be afraid of anything…it’s fun on the dark side 🙂


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Stepping in to Engineering

Wow !!!

Wow !!!

Last week, we had some visitors to the University – boys and girls from a local school on a Maths experience day. For most of them, it will have been their first time at a University, the first step on a journey. In a few years, they will have choices about subjects to study at school and college and we hope the experience they have with us will inform these choices. It is interesting to think about the starting point of the engineering career journey. When do young people decide to take this path? What inspires and supports them?

Recently, I met Bill Harvey who decided to be an engineer when he was seven years old and was inspired by the magnificent Clifton suspension bridge. After that ‘nothing else would do’. On hearing that he wanted to build bridges, Bill’s grandfather advised ‘you need to become a Civil Engineer and you need to go to University.’ He encouraged Bill’s ambition and guided him in taking the next steps. Almost 60 years later, Bill is still inspired by his work as a structural engineer, expert on masonry arch bridges. In 2010, he became one of the engineers responsible for the care of the Clifton suspension bridge.

I was impressed that at such a young age, Bill made a conscious choice to pursue his interests and that this fascination with bridges remains to this day. On the engineering career journey, encouragement and guidance helps but this is not always available. In recent years, Engineering has something of an image problem.  A survey reported by Professional Engineering Magazine reports that although almost a third of young people would consider a career in engineering, many had incorrect assumptions about the industry. These included thinking that it was mostly about physical labour or just about the car industry.

How do young people find out about engineering? Some may have friends or family members or attend an inspiring outreach event. There are many initiatives such as Tomorrow’s Engineers which provide more information and resources to guide young people.  Social media also allows engineers to engage and communicate about their work. A really interesting initiative is ‘My Day Engineering’ this is a Facebook group and Twitter account which encourages engineers to share their daily work experience under the hashtag #mydayengineering . By following this, potential students can see the diversity of what engineers do all day and be encouraged to step in and find out more. Twitter is a surprisingly good meeting place for engineers. Perhaps the 140 character limit appeals.

As engineers, we need to think about communicating and encouraging others starting out on the journey. What can we do to encourage those first steps?

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How many academics does it take to work a smartphone?

The  caption suggested itself when I saw the photo of my colleagues working together to resolve an issue with the camera settings on the phone. The capabilities of modern communication devices are truly astounding and seem to be only limited by the imaginations of the developers. Technology and engineering has given us so much. Learning about the functionality of these devices seems to be largely a social process with users explaining to one another what is useful and how to use it. Sometimes we happen upon new feature that we didn’t know was there. As we learn to use it, we adapt our practices to include it. Soon we wonder how we managed without it.
In the photo we see three academic colleagues comfortable with working together and collaborating. What is not obvious from the photo is that two of the  colleagues are based in Manchester and the third at the British University in Dubai. We have a close collaboration with BUiD and frequent discussions on postgraduate teaching and research. Such close collaboration relies on great communication enabled by  everyday miracles of modern technology. Online library resources, Flights between Manchester and the UAE, satellite communications, video links, Skype, email, internet and mobile phones have all played their part in allowing us to develop a close working relationship.
In the background, a portrait reminds us of the academics who have gone before. The smartphone is a product of collaborations, research and development involving countless academics and industrialists from fields such as electronics, computing, user interface design, communications, materials, manufacturing and supply chain management. Research contibutions leading to the development of the smartphone includes the work of Alexander Graham Bell, Alan Turing and hundreds or thousands of others.
How  many academics does it take to work the phone? We need to acknowledge not just the academic colleagues in the photo but the countless researchers and academics who contributed in so many ways to making the phone work. Not only do we stand on the shoulders of giants we carry their work in miniature form with us enabling us to form and sustain international collaborations.
How many academics does it take to work a smartphone?


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