When I was first appointed as the Head for the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETaL) at my institution, I had zero knowledge about what are the things that I suppose to learn and what are the things that I suppose to do. CETaL in addition was a recently established center looking at improving the T&L at UTP and I had no idea how this particular center should be running.
You see, I just completed my PhD in Chemical Engineering in May 2014 and I was appointed to be the first Head of CETaL in September 2014.
However, I noticed that the management offered me this position because they saw that (and I admit too) I have a strong passion in teaching and learning and how badly I want to transform the teaching and learning experience at the university and how badly I want to shape my future generation. I want to make sure that the students are not spoonfed even they have been doing this for the past 12-13 years of their formal education. I want them to become human with humanities and values, and not just an intelligent robot. I clearly mentioned to the management about this during the interview session.
So I took up the challenge. Initially, I tried to garner important information such as who are the key important people in this area, something like well-renowned professors who are good at this area. I consulted them, I went to the trainings of modern pedagogy. I approached these experts to be my mentors. There is a professor who is good at engineering education and modern pedagogy like Prof Khairiyah from UTM, another few who are the expert in enabling technologies for T&L like my sifu Prof Abd Karim Alias and Dato Prof Amin Embi, another one who is excellent in Scholarships of Teaching and Learning like Prof Raja Maznah. These mentors are highly instrumental to me and to CETaL and now they are still our CETaL advisory panel members.
On top of that, I went to several trainings on technology for T&L. Then, before I imposed or preached others on how good is this and that pedagogy and technology etc, one important thing that I do is I tried it in my class. I ensure that I perfected my skills in T&L. Whenever I ventured into something new from the trainings that I attended, I must make I sure I tried and experienced it first before others. Only this I believe that, I can convince others to jump the train with me. I showed to my colleagues the evidence that I gathered when I made even small changes in my class.
I knew that there are other faculty members at my institution who are equally passionate to T&L. I seeked for help like from Subarna Sivapalan and Emy Elyanee Mustapha to be the cluster leaders of CETaL. Within the first few months, I roped almost 20 faculty members from different departments in and appointed them as the founding members of the center. They are also instrumental to the center to help me steering CETaL.
From time to time, we had more and more faculty members joining us. More numbers during the sharing session and community of practice. I called myself as Dora the Explorer. I have to wander around looking for the best practices in T&L, bring the speakers in and train us. I’ll be the one who must sit in that seminar room to listen for the first time from these speakers.
Once the management had decided to transform the T&L using a dedicated roadmap, I have my team ready to train others. From no one knows what is active learning all about, we have now 20 trainers who are actively training other lecturers, graduate assistants, lecturers from other universities and the teachers at schools because only that we can make change, not only at our institution but to the whole nations. We’re also now will be having additional 20-30 trainers in cooperative learning, problem based learning and flipped classroom, for which we are developing our own modules by next year, Insha Allah.
The journey is still long. From a tiny space that we have, now we have a dedicated building to conduct all the transformation plan needed to be done. Now, we received many submissions of SoTL grants proposal, and the lecturers are creative and innovative in their own classroom, Alhamdulillah.
Additionally, I have a strong support team consisting of my clerk and executives even they are not many, who ensure the planning will go on as planned. I want them to believe that they have their own strength that need to be nurtured, and I’ll make sure their strengths and passions are aligned with their job role.
If in the near future I would not hold this post anymore, I’ll still championing and advocating for the changes in T&L not only at the university, but also to the society to make then aware that our education has to change. This position makes it easier for me to advocate for changes, but it doesnt have to be perpetual for me.
As a career advice for a new hired manager, I can summarize my experience holding my managerial post as follows:
I. Take the post if you are passionate on it
Ii. Lead not manage- be the one to see the possible dangers before others.
Iii. Own it
Iv. Empower and nurture trust to others to make the changes with you, and dont do it alone.
V. Identify others strengths and leverage it
Vi. Seek help from the experts
Vii. Empathise others and listen to your colleagues
I still have more to learn, and more to improve. Please make do’a for me, to be successful in dunya and akhirat.
Thanks for reading this!