In a Ceremony at Marylebone on 23 May 2017 the Sociology team at Westminster received a Teaching Excellence Award. Award holders make a significant contribution to learning and teaching at Westminster through contributing learning resources, promoting learning and teaching development at faculty level and more widely. Complementing the individual Teaching Fellowships awarded in previous years to Dr Celia Jenkins, Dr Ben Pitcher and Dr Naomi Rudoe, the Excellence Award recognizes the work of the whole team in developing an innovative and inspiring teaching programme.
Receiving the award on behalf of the team, Dr Hilde Stephansen gave some background to the Sociology team, the work we do, and our plans for the future:
Sociology at Westminster is one of three disciplinary groups within the Department of History, Sociology and Criminology. We have a diverse student body, the majority of whom are non-traditional students from local working class and ethnic minority communities, especially women. The application was based on the work that we do as a team to support our non-traditional students and deliver an innovative degree programme that responds to a diversity of interests, experiences and needs.
Our approach to teaching and learning is informed by principles of critical pedagogy and based on an understanding of sociology as a transformative discipline that develops students critical thinking and enables them to connect personal troubles to public issues, to quote the sociologist C. Wright Mills. Our non-traditional students are particularly affected by structures of inequality linked to class, ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and we use our subject expertise in these areas to develop research-informed teaching that links issue they face in their personal lives to sociological theory.
A key feature of our degree programme is the high level of support we offer to our students. Recognising that our non-traditional students have specific support needs, we have consciously integrated study skills and information literacy within our core curriculum – making sessions on academic writing, referencing, finding and evaluating sources part of our core provision. We offer high levels of support with assessments and we work especially hard to provide high-quality, constructive assessment feedback.
Finally, we take a holistic approach to the student experience and work hard to make students feel part of an academic community. We have a Facebook page and a blog, a student forum that offers an informal space for students and staff to discuss the course together, and we organise social events and fieldtrips to London museums and exhibitions.
We know that much of the work we have done is successful but we have also identified challenges. These include an apparent increase in the number of students experiencing mental health issues and a lack of confidence among some students in their skills and abilities. We therefore plan to use award for a student consultation exercise to identify support needs in areas including mental health, academic skills and employability, which will inform further improvements to our curriculum and teaching practice. We also plan to use the award to support our professional development as a team by drawing on the expertise of professionals working in these areas.