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The Union has now been running our awards for UCL staff for nine years, and in 2021 we received a record 1482 nominations for the awards, covering 731 different staff members. These awards help us not only recognise a huge number of staff members for various aspects of the work they do within the UCL community, but also enable us to highlight what students value most in these staff members who play a pivotal role in their UCL education.

Just as it is important to highlight areas of improvement within education at UCL, it is equally as important to highlight examples of excellence which have inspired students, passing on the aspects of their education which students love. Whether it be through inspirational teaching, creating meaningful student partnerships, being an excellent personal tutor or any of the other areas covered by the awards, analysing the qualities that students have highlighted in their nominations help to identify and share innovative practice, encouraging the whole UCL community to continue and expand in these areas that students most appreciate.

For both staff and students, this has been particularly challenging year. Moving the vast majority of teaching and learning for this academic year online has had a huge impact on teaching, learning and student support, and many if not most students are anxious for a return to normal as soon as possible. However, despite these challenges, or perhaps because so many were able to rise to them, students highlighted countless examples of how UCL staff continued to support and inspire them through difficult circumstances.

For each of our eight award categories, this report summarises the different characteristics and practices students have told us they appreciated the most. We hope the report will be informative for all those who read, and that it plays a small part in helping to spread these examples of best-practice throughout the UCL community.

Most importantly of all, to every member of staff who has inspired a student to write in and tell us how brilliant they are – thank you.

The award for Active Student Partnership recognises staff who are committed to listening to and working with students and their representatives to improve and change education in their module, programme or department. It recognises staff who are responsive to students, engage openly and honestly with student comments, and proactively involve students in addressing issues.

It is essential that students are given a voice in reflecting on and improving their educational experience, and this has become more crucial than ever this year given the shift to online learning, which requires effective feedback and communication by staff and students in order to avoid negatively impacting on students’ education.

Students expressed appreciation for staff for were proactive in reaching out for student feedback, and were then responsive in dealing with these issues in a timely manner when issues were passed on to them. Staff who were transparent in how they dealt with student feedback, as well as developments within teaching and learning during this difficult year, were also singled out for praise.

During this academic year, students were grateful for staff who asked for feedback at an early point in the academic cycle, enabling them to deal with any issues with the new environment for teaching and learning that was necessary because of the pandemic. As well as these issues being dealt with quickly, so that they could feel the benefits or any improvements immediately, students highlighted staff who involved them in co-creating solutions as being particularly effective, especially given the unique challenges of this year for both students and staff.

Most Valued Practice

Acted on feedback in a timely manner

Nominations show that students value staff who act quickly on feedback received, enabling them to feel the benefit of any changes and for the necessary adjustments to be made in unpredictable circumstances.

“Recently it was raised with him that students would like some teaching / revision input in Term 3 and he has shared that he has already spoken to departmental staff to try and arrange some revision sessions and drafted a provisional schedule - all within the week.”

Remained open and transparent to receiving feedback

Students appreciated staff who were open with students regarding their feedback, engaging them in an honest dialogue and keeping them up to date with potential developments as the teaching and learning environment changes.

“She is always transparent, open and honest about what is feasible and what is not, but she always tries her best to find a compromise that everyone is happy with.”

Empowered student-led change

Students singled out staff for praise who involved students in finding solutions, making sure that student input did not end after feedback had been communicated.

“Requests and suggestions from students are taken seriously and he actively looks for ways to support student led changes.”

“Leslie is easily one of the best and most engaged course convenors I have ever had. She clearly works extremely hard to create a positive, welcoming and supportive environment for her students to feel like they can raise any concerns or thoughts. I have never felt worried or dismissed when I’ve raised something with Leslie and she has always immediately acted on mine - and others - feedback. I’ve particularly appreciated her flexibility and empathy across this year where things have been overwhelming at times.”

The award for Amazing Support Staff thanks staff who are not in teaching roles but still make a huge difference to students’ learning at UCL through help, patience and care. The award recognises staff members who show an active interest in helping students get the most out of their learning, are understanding and responsive to students, clearly and consistently communicate practical advice and opportunities, and provide clear and reassuring support during challenging circumstances.

As in previous years, nominations came in for a wide range of roles; administrators, admissions officers, technicians and others, and the award showcases how important these staff members are in supporting students during their academic journey.

Nominations for this award highlight staff who provided students with relevant and up-to-date information as circumstances changed for students throughout the year, answering student queries in a clear and timely manner and giving regular updates regarding the latest developments across UCL .

In addition, students were appreciative of staff members who supported them during difficult times, taking an active interest in their wellbeing and helping them to deal with both any personal or mental health issues by providing support and guidance.

Most Valued Practice

Supported student wellbeing

Students appreciated staff members who provided them with support and reassurance during an extremely challenging set of circumstances for student mental health, signposting students to relevant services and being understanding of any issues.

“He follows up on you even when you haven’t interacted with many teachers or support groups recently, and takes the time to walk you through any mental or physical health concerns.”

Facilitated effective communication

Nominations often highlighted support staff members who communicated regularly and effectively with students, providing them with clear updates on essential ongoing developments both within their department and across UCL.

“Not only does she clearly and effectively communicate with students, but she also shows an active interest in checking in on how everything worked out for us after some time has passed between last communications.”

Passed on useful information

Many nominations singled staff out for praise who provided them with useful and up-to-date information regarding additional opportunities for students to enhance their learning and development.

“He’s always emailing or posting about really interesting opportunities like social seminars, careers fairs and PhD opportunities, which is great because that takes some of the weight off of us to find that information.”

“Fiona has been fantastic in looking after students, making sure to chase us up and ensure we’re doing okay or checking if we need any support with anything from resources, to equipment, to anything else. There have been occasions where I emailed her multiple times in a single day about separate issues, and she still responded to each of those quickly and in a very reassuring way. Doing a PhD can be a very stressful and daunting experience, especially during the pandemic when everyone is isolated, but Fiona has made things so much easier.”

The award for Brilliant Research-Based Education is for staff who educate students about the latest, cutting-edge knowledge, or who enable taught students to create knowledge by conducting their own research. The award recognises those staff members who incorporate the latest research into their teaching, enable students to learn through conducting their own research, and provide supporting materials which help students explore the frontiers of knowledge and produce exciting and innovative research. 

Research students valued staff are passionate about sharing the latest research in their field, informing students of current research priorities in different parts of the world. Nominations highlighted that students liked to be exposed to new research, especially when given the opportunity to engage in debates or experiments and come to their own conclusions. With this making students feel that they are truly benefiting from being taught by experts.

Students also appreciated staff who delivered a research-based education that helped them challenge the status quo of their field, praising staff members who showed them how to critically appraise, use and present research findings.

Most Valued Practice

Supported students’ research projects and innovation

Students appreciated opportunities to develop and enhance their own research skills and praised staff members who engage students with their current research projects, providing constructive and one-to-one advice on personal research projects.

“We all have truly had the opportunity to explore every broad area of speech and hearing science and conduct small experiments about each of them that contributed to a better understanding of each topic.”

Prepared students to use evidence appropriately

Students praised staff members who used research findings to critically appraise theories and teaching from other parts of the course, allowing students to use evidence constructively and with confidence.

“By challenging the students, he enables them to think critically of evidence presented in academia and non-academic sectors.”

Encouraged students to challenge the status quo

Students enjoyed when staff presented a wide range of cutting-edge perspectives on a topic and then explained how research findings refuted or supported them, especially when such research uncovers connections with other fields.

“She uses her research to question the status quo and challenge students to do the same…her video lectures did not merely focus on her own research, but presented the research question in the context of what was already been proposed in the literature.”

“Alessandro’s course looks at the study of history and temporality, a discipline that is extremely new, yet he goes to great lengths to ensure he shares with his students the newest and most interesting works in this field. He encourages us to ask questions of which there often is not an answer, and is excited about our thoughts, which he supports us push even beyond current knowledge and scholarship… Overall, Alessandro goes above and beyond to support his students to produce amazing research-based work.”

The award for Diverse & Inclusive Education highlights staff members who work to ensure their curriculum or research recognises marginalised scholars, and shines a light on diverse perspectives. This award recognises staff members who ensure that curricula have a truly global perspective incorporating non-European voices, making active efforts to incorporate the voices of a diverse range of scholars into students’ learning, as well as sharing knowledge with students that crosses cultural boundaries.

Students who submitted nominations for this award celebrated staff who exposed them to global and diverse perspectives within their field, inviting them to question their own biases and assumptions. Nominations also highlighted that students prefer curricula which represent a wide range of voices, and staff who carefully considered the implications of their taught content selections.

Nominations also reflect that students appreciate attempts to ‘decolonise’ specific areas of the curriculum or provide opportunities to explore the mechanisms through which marginalisation happens. Students also highlighted situations during which staff members provided safe spaces for honest communication about discrimination, diversity and inclusion, which has been particularly challenging this year given that most teaching and learning has taken place online.

Most Valued Practice

Included a wide range of voices in their teaching

Students appreciated when lecturers included a diverse range of authors, especially when they did so carefully and creatively, taking their time to discuss the impact of their work and wider implications.

‘‘The care she has taken in both discussing the works themselves, but also the circumstances of how the authors became marginalised voices, has been unbelievable.”

Empowered students to discuss difficult issues

Students appreciated staff members who provided them with practical skills to navigate sensitive topics and undertake sensitive conversations within a safe environment.

“She has made it possible for us to meet multicultural families who had a family member with a diagnosis of ASC, which were not only most relevant to our course but allowed us gain a better understanding of the value of being culturally sensitive.”

Created open and honest communication channels

Students praised staff members who actively stimulated discussions around the topics of diversity and inclusion, particularly when these there was an honest and relaxed atmosphere for these spaces for discussion.

“She prompted robust, sensitive, and engaging discussions… fostering a relaxed academic environment that encouraged students, regardless of usual participation level, to contribute to the discussion.”

‘‘Helene has constructed the module ‘Anthropology and Literature’ to reflect the diversity of the literary canon, in a way I had not encountered before. She has amalgamated a global perspective not just across literature, but across disciplines, and shone a light on the underrepresented communities within these fields. Across the ten weeks, her module covered a vast array of material; from Senegalese women’s literature, to Afghan poetry – there was always something new to be encountered in her teaching. Particularly, her teaching incorporated these voices into contemporary debates, and made the subject matter even more pertinent.”

The Excellent Personal Tutoring award recognises members of staff who are always there to provide students with pastoral support and academic guidance. The award seeks to highlight staff members who are empathetic to the issues that students face, establish positive relationships with students based on mutual trust and respect, contribute to the development of students, and provide clear and reassuring guidance during difficult circumstances. 

Students expressed their appreciation for staff who expressed a genuine interest in how students were getting on, building a trusting tutor-tutee relationship and enabling open and honest dialogue. Many students liked how their tutors had provided guidance and support during difficult circumstances, maintaining a focus on student wellbeing throughout the disruption that this academic year has brought.

The ability to mix academic and pastoral support was also identified as a key characteristic of an excellent personal tutor, with the best nominations praising staff members to adapt to the individual needs of the student in question. 

Most Valued Practice

Supported student mental health

Students consistently praised tutors who provided them with the support they needed with their wellbeing, ensuring a high level of pastoral care in challenging circumstances for student mental health.

“He spent a lot of time speaking with me and following up to ensure that I had the support I needed to continue in my students and balance my mental health.”

Developed a trusting relationship with their tutee

Nominations frequently highlighted staff members who established a successful bond with their tutee, enabling problems and concerns to be shared more easily and solutions found to any outstanding issues.  

“We have established a trusting and respectful relationship from the very beginning, and at no point did I feel alienated or uncomfortable.”

Balanced academic and pastoral support

Despite the heavy focus on student wellbeing in the past academic year, students also appreciated personal tutors who provided academic support in addition to pastoral care, supporting them to achieve their goals both inside and outside the classroom.

“He shows a genuine concern in my welfare, not only making sure that I am coping with any troubles or anxieties, but also helping me understand what pathways may help me achieve my goals.”

“Considering the turmoil that 2020 wrought on systems, decisions, and general student life at UCL, my discussions with Fargher always left me at ease with a clear path of how to move forward in my own decision making and assignment writing.  She balanced the notion of being firm and maintaining UCLs academic rigour, while understanding the contexts her students find themselves it.  Her careful approach led to my investing my trust in her as my tutor, because I knew she had my best academic interests at heart and she had proven she takes an interest in her students.”

The award for Exceptional Feedback is aimed at staff who provide constructive and useful feedback on students’ assessment and learning., helping students to progress and succeed. The award recognises staff members who provide tailored written or verbal feedback designed to support students as individuals, give timely feedback which enables reflection and improvement, and provides either detailed feedback or the opportunity to discuss work. 

Nominations for this category praised staff who provide detailed feedback on assignments, outlining what they have done well and what could be improved for the next assignment. In addition, students praised staff who gave feedback on formative assessments, giving them greater direction and enabling them to do their best for summative work. Staff who provided feedback in a timely manner and in a positive tone (to help students improve) were particularly praised, especially during this academic year as teaching and assessment often faced significant disruption.

Most Valued Practice

Delivered constructive feedback

Students valued feedback which was delivered in a constructive manner, highlighting both positives and areas for improvement in an encouraging tone.

“The feedback discussed where I did well and what I needed to do to enhance my work which really helped me feel confident about the work I was producing.”

Returned feedback in a timely manner

Students valued feedback which was provided promptly, particularly while teaching took place online and students lacked the ability to see how they were doing compared to their peers, so that they could use this information to improve their future assessments.

“Her efficiency is nothing short of heroic, as we have received our formative assessments (which are lengthy pieces of work) back with thoughtful and constructive written comments within days of the submission deadline.”

Provided detailed feedback

Nominations show that students valued detailed comments on essays and other assignments, especially when tutors took the time to provide feedback in a personalised way.

His feedback was personalised and constructive, having zoom calls over 30 minutes for an individual student to receive feedback on an essay.”

“She was great at identifying our individual strengths, the singularity of our ‘voices’, and she pushed us to transcend ourselves. She also encouraged us to not only write, but also to reflect on our writing, “What were you trying to do with this piece?”. Her method allowed me to identify and develop ideas I was having without being able to fully grasp them, and so she allowed me to improve the quality and the depth of my writing so much.”

The award for Inspiring Teaching Delivery recognises staff members who deliver exceptional teaching using innovative and engaging methods to hold students’ interest and help them learn regardless of the circumstances. Staff members are recognised who deliver teaching with enthusiasm, tailor teaching to students’ interests and feedback, create a supportive teaching environment, and use innovative teaching methods to effectively engage with students during difficult times.

Students value staff members who are approachable, dedicated and enthusiastic, and when delivering online learning go above and beyond to make this teaching interesting and accessible. Nominations demonstrate an appreciation for carefully crafted teaching materials within well-structured programmes, delivered by staff who attempt to get to know their students and stimulate meaningful interaction.

Students also appreciated teaching which was delivered with examples, clear assessment guidelines, and opportunities to challenge themselves and apply the content covered during the course in a practical way. Due to the disruption caused to teaching and learning this year, online interactive tools played a very important role in the enjoyable delivery of inspiring course content this year.

Most Valued Practice

Provided opportunities to apply new knowledge:

Nominations show that students appreciated staff members who provided them with creative opportunities to utilise the material they learnt during classes, through creative material such as online quizzes and games to help fill in knowledge gaps.

“His lesson methods are creative and varied, ensuring that we aren’t completing the same weekly monotonous activity.”

Used innovative teaching methods to adapt to online learning

Students appreciate staff members who made the content of modules easy to digest by using a wide range of teaching methods and materials such as Mentimeter, Gather, YouTube videos, Jamboard and other electronic whiteboards.

“She has found so many ways of engaging students online, making what can be a tiresome online lecture situation much more energising and interactive.”

Created inclusive discussion spaces

Students praised staff members who tried to properly get to know students on their course and navigated sensitive discussion topics with care, taking into consideration the wide range of backgrounds in each course.

“He created a safe and open environment for everyone to voice their opinions which allowed for fruitful discussions and debates.”

“Due to the current situation we are not able to do the placement as usual. Gwen substituted this by weekly lecture activities that make up a part of the module’s grade. These activities required us to apply the lecture content and were fun to do… Furthermore, we are not able to collect the data for our coursework. Gwen did an amazing job, working together with our academic tutorials, to adjust the experience to the current situation. As part of that, we learned how to create our own experiment in Gorilla (really useful) and we are going to use the data of the past years. Even though we can’t collect the data, Gwen adjusted the coursework so that we have a (nearly) normal experience.”

The award for Outstanding Research Supervision recognises staff who help postgraduate research students to succeed, balancing providing support and fostering independence. The award highlights supervisors or other staff members who demonstrate enthusiasm for their role, challenging students whilst being exceptionally supportive of planning assessments and the PhD viva, and offering constructive employment and career advice.

Students highlighted supervisors who were patient, approachable, and supportive, but who were also able to challenge and critically appraise students’ projects. Students appreciate supervisors who provided honest feedback, especially when this encouraged them to think creatively and outside the box.

Students also praised supervisors who provided useful career advice, helping students network within their field or publish their work, as well as general mentorship. The highest-quality nominees also provided pastoral care when students experienced adverse personal events and strived to create a virtual community, despite the limitations inherent with teaching and learning this year.

Most Valued Practice

Offered timely and constructive support

Students highlighted staff members who offered constructive feedback, especially when this helped them in the next stages of their academic careers.

“I believe that the work I am conducting this year is the start of my career in academia and this is work that she has enthusiastically supported.”

Remained approachable and inclusive

Nominations show that students appreciated supervisors who scheduled regular meetings and kept themselves generally available for queries, as well as including students in relevant discussions and social events within the wider research team.

“She is always available to provide feedback, a reference or just a supportive comment, and she never gives the impression that she’s too busy for anything.”

Provided professional development advice and guidance

Students praised supervisors who gave them a sense of direction, encouraging them to participate in knowledge sharing opportunities such as seminars, conferences or collaboration with other students.

“He has given me many opportunities to contribute to the field, beyond the scope of my PhD work, which I am very grateful for.” 

“In a time when a PhD can feel even more isolating that normal, Manni found a simple way to help me feel connected to my department and fellow cohort, as well as feel motivated to tackle another week. Manni’s messages often contain useful tips for conducting or reporting your research, helpful advice for preparing for life after a PhD and copious fun scientific facts.