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A day in the life of...Julian Park, Faculty Director of Teaching and Learning

Professor Julian Park

'Despite the on-going changes in Higher Education, as academics I believe we still have the ability to develop new methods of teaching and to explore exciting avenues of research, and that is a great position to be in!'

Professor Julian Park splits his time between the roles of Faculty Director of Teaching and Learning (FDTL) for Life Sciences, and academic in the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development.

How long have you been at the University?

I've been at the University for 18 years. I went to the University of Newcastle to study for my undergraduate degree in agriculture after taking a year out when I was 19, but on finishing, decided that academia wasn't for me! I spent six years running my own business, before taking a teaching qualification and teaching at a further education college. I have always been interested in agriculture and the industry as my father's family have been associated with farming for generations.

What brought you to Reading?

I did my PhD in my early thirties at Cranfield University whilst continuing to lecture part-time in an FE college, and got my first academic role at Reading in the then Department of Agriculture as a post-doc. Things developed from there and I ran the undergraduate Rural Environmental Science programme for seven years. I then became School Director of Teaching and Learning (SDTL), and FDTL for Life Sciences in 2008.

Can you give an overview of what your different roles entail?

As FDTL for Life Sciences, broadly I have to ensure that the Faculty meets the University's rigorous standards for teaching and learning, whilst encouraging colleagues to further enhance what we currently do to give our students a high quality learning experience.

It is also part of the FDTL role to spread good practice across the university by going out and talking to colleagues about new resources, and working closely with CDOTL to run events to encourage colleagues to develop new ideas and practice. I have also worked on a number of specific teaching-related projects, with a particular focus on using technology to enhance teaching and learning, including the use of video to provide feedback to students about their work, and the use of technology in field work.

There are two strands to my research - teaching and learning resource development and evaluation which is strongly linked to my FDTL role, and my subject-related interests which lie broadly in the area of sustainable agricultural systems. For instance I am currently work package leader on a large EU funded project considering the economic and environmental impacts of new crop technologies.

What was it that drew your focus to teaching and learning?

It was teaching agricultural mechanisation in a Further Education college (Norfolk College of Arts and Technology) that really sparked my interest in teaching, particular the concept combining theory and practice. I have also always enjoyed working with young people and particularly seeing them develop their understanding of a subject. That said, engaging students continues to be a challenge and I feel it is important to test and evaluate new methods of teaching and in particular to engage with some of the benefits that technology can bring in relation to learning.

How do you see research linking in with teaching?

The balance between teaching and research is a challenge for many academics. It is often difficult to maintain a balance between my disciplinary research and my teaching and learning responsibilities. In the past my disciplinary research has definitely informed my teaching and more recently I have been undertaking pedagogic research to enhance my own understanding of how people learn and to evidence the benefits of new approaches.

I believe encouraging students to undertake high quality research is also an important part of my role, and I was a founding member of the Bioscience Horizons National Undergraduate Journal which allows students to showcase their high quality research outputs. As part of the Applied Undergraduate Research Skills CETL here at Reading we also developed the Engage in Research website to support students undertaking research.

What do you find challenging in your role?

Continually finding time to explore new concepts and developments in teaching and learning is something which is very challenging at the moment. Even finding time to read about them can be a real challenge! At the same time there are many exciting developments happening in global agriculture in areas such as food security, sustainable systems and the impacts of new technologies. However, my biggest challenge is still, and probably always will be, sitting in a committee meeting for two or more hours...without completely losing the plot!

A typical ‘day in the life' scenario will probably be difficult to describe with your multiple roles, so can you tell us a bit more about what you're involved in at the University?

I think it is great to have such a varied and challenging post. My roles involve meeting with many interesting colleagues and students both within and outside of the University and that leads to many new ideas and opportunities to learn.

Working with fellow FDTLs and the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Teaching and Learning to help shape and implement the University teaching and learning strategy and enhancement priorities is both exciting and challenging given the direction of change within the sector. For instance, helping to embed work placements across the University to ensure our graduates have the very best chance of employment is a key priority at present, as is ensuring we deliver on the global strategy by further diversifying our student population, developing new links with overseas Universities as well as encouraging home students to take up study and placement opportunities abroad.

And what do you particularly like about working here?

The people, the campus and the general environment make the University of Reading a great place to work. Despite the on-going changes in Higher Education, as academics I believe we still have the ability to develop new methods of teaching and to explore exciting avenues of research, and that is a great position to be in!

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