Professor Matthew Almond: award-winning teaching
Professor Matthew Almond realised he wanted to be a chemist the moment the subject "clicked" for him, thanks to a very good A level teacher. Today, it is Matthew who is helping the subject "click" for others through his award-winning contributions to Chemistry Education.
Matthew received his first taste for teaching as a PhD student at Oxford University running tutorials. He enjoyed it so much that after he completed his postgraduate studies he looked for a university teaching position and found it here at Reading.
“Ever since beginning my career at Reading, I have realised the importance of teaching. It is of equal weight to research, because it is only through high-quality teaching that you train the next generation of researchers.”
For 30 years, Matthew has been sharing his enthusiasm for Chemistry with each new cohort of Reading undergraduates. Every year presents an opportunity to work with a new group of people and it is this personal interaction that Matthew enjoys most about teaching.
“The personal interaction with students means that my work is never boring. It's also extremely rewarding. I will start to teach individuals in their first year who make me think 'Hmmm, they're not really sure about this' and then some years on they are high quality research chemists. Watching that transformation over just a few years is the most rewarding aspect to teaching.”
Students as partners
Matthew subscribes to the philosophy that teachers should work in partnership with students as often as possible. He has found that students are more engaged in their learning with this approach, but also that better decisions are reached when they are actively involved in the decision-making.
“The students as partners philosophy didn't really exist when I was an undergraduate at Reading, but it's now a mainstream idea. I involve undergraduates in my research as often as I can. I think sometimes people underestimate the quality of research undergraduates are capable of.”
Thoughts on technology in the classroom
Matthew was an early adopter of technology in the classroom, but he insists that it should never replace the face-to-face interaction of teaching.
“Technology is there to support and enhance the teacher-student interaction. It's a communication tool that allows me to interact more with my students and get feedback about how they are doing. I think students really appreciate very clear and timely communication and this is something that technology can help us with.”
Insights from other disciplines
As Dean of the Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences, Matthew has been involved in projects that have looked at course curriculum across very different disciplines. This has enabled him to take best practices in teaching from one discipline and apply them to others.
“I think Reading is very good at supporting communities of practice. The University Teaching Fellowship Scheme and Directors of Teaching and Learning are mechanisms that help build communities of people, who might not otherwise meet, who can get together to discuss teaching. I think that's how you disseminate the best practices in teaching.”
Matthew's commitment to education across different academic disciplines has earned him recognition as an outstanding higher-education practitioner. He was awarded the Reading University Students' Union Student-led Teaching Award in 2010 and 2013, earned a University Teaching Fellowship in 2010/11 and in 2014 was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship. He is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.