Posted Thursday 30 August 2018
A publishing expert from Kingston University, who pioneered an award-winning shared reading scheme and developed an industry-focused approach to learning, has been recognised with a prestigious National Teaching Fellowship.
Associate professor Dr Alison Baverstock has become one of 54 new National Teaching Fellows announced by Advance HE, as part of an initiative celebrating individuals who have made an outstanding impact on student outcomes and teaching in higher education.
Following a career working in the publishing industry, Dr Baverstock joined Kingston University in 2002 and has gone on to play a leading role developing publishing studies, integrating academic thinking with professional practice and championing inclusive learning during her 16 years at the institution.
She also founded the University's Big Read initiative, a shared reading scheme that sees a special edition copy of a book sent to all new students ahead of arriving at the University. It launched in 2015 and last year won the sector-leading Times Higher Education's Widening Participation Initiative of the Year award.
Having initially worked at the University as a senior lecturer in direct marketing, Dr Baverstock jointly established the MA Publishing course in 2006 and has developed an approach to teaching that provides students with the expertise and skills to flourish in the industry. "I'm a strong believer in life-long learning and feel that, as teaching staff, we should always be learning ourselves," she said. "I always start my Monday morning lectures with a discussion of what we have all learned in the past week – I want my students to be curious, challenge themselves, and look at what's going on in wider society.
"I see teaching as a combination of theory and practical application and encourage students not to view discipline boundaries as defined, but rather to appreciate how different forces can range across society. As publishers they need to be able to interest themselves in all aspects of life. I try to involve my students in whatever I'm working on, from securing tickets for them when I'm speaking at a conference to involving them in research initiatives so they become co-authors on papers."
Drawing on her background as a publisher, Dr Baverstock has enriched the curriculum for the MA course by recruiting industry professionals as dissertation supervisors as part of a desire to involve the wider community in higher education. "I was the first in my family to go to university and strongly believe in the civic engagement role of higher education institutions," she said. "Bringing people from the industry in to supervise gives our students that vital real world experience and also delivers an important service back to the creative economy. Our students can carry out research and analyse issues and processes the industry doesn't have time to look at and, together, we create graduates who can be the problem solvers of the future."
In 2010, Dr Baverstock founded Reading Force – a project grounded in her own experiences of being an Armed Forces spouse, which aims to connect Forces' families through shared reading. "As an army wife, Kingston has been important as a point of consistency when moving due to my husband's postings," she said. "It's meant I've had to be very flexible adapting to new surroundings and that's something I try to instil in my students – being prepared to take on new challenges. Reading Force has also created opportunities to increase military families' awareness of higher education, which is very important to me."
The success of the Big Read initiative at Kingston – the first university in Britain to establish and analyse a shared reading scheme on such a large scale – has now led to collaborations with other institutions across the globe, including the University of North Florida, the University of Mississippi, Malmo University and the University of Wolverhampton.
"Literacy is one of the most fundamental skills. It's the basis of engaging with society, being able to develop yourself," Dr Baverstock said. "Books can play such an important role as community connectors and seeing the impact of the Big Read has been enormously satisfying – how it has brought our staff and students together throughout the institution and become truly embedded in campus life."
Advance HE's chief executive Alison Johns said the award of a National Teaching Fellowship was an outstanding achievement. "I know the whole sector will join me in congratulating the 54 new National Teaching Fellows," she said. "Advance HE is very proud to run these awards on behalf of the sector. A key part of our role in this programme is to work with National Teaching Fellows to showcase their work so others can learn and benefit from their success."
Advance HE was formed earlier in the year following the merger of the Equality Challenge Unit, the Higher Education Academy and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education.