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External examining

External examining is one of those things that you don’t really get told much about when you’re doing your PhD. I knew that it happened, but because I didn’t sit on module/exam boards when I was at Glasgow, I had no idea really what external examiners did. So my first encounter with an external examiner at BCU was a nerve-wracking affair. Even though I had gone through the PG (Cert) in H.E. and had been a graduate tutorial assistant during my PhD, teaching was still a new thing for me, especially convening whole modules. Being my natural, pessimistic self, I expected to get pummeled on almost every aspect of my teaching, from assessment strategy to marking standards. Thankfully, it was fine, and I realised that getting frank and honest feedback about your modules is not only important to see what works and what doesn’t, but it’s also important to maintain and improve the standard of teaching students get.

I had only had one full year of experience with the whole external examiner process (albeit on the other side of the fence/table), so you can imagine my surprise when my Head of Department asked me if I would be interested in externalling for the Department of English at Worcester University. Since I had by this point figured out that external examining is a pretty important part of professional development, I accepted the invitation, even though I had only a limited idea what I was letting myself in for.

After a morning of orientation at Worcester University and a chance to meet some members of the department, I was thrown in at the deep end. The department was going through a period of restructuring and had plans to offer more core modules for the English Language and Linguistics route way. As such, they wanted my input on the modules they currently had as part of the course and to feedback on modules that would be introduced over the next few years. Having gone through an English Language degree at Glasgow Uni, I had a sense of what needed to be in and what didn’t, so I didn’t feel too overwhelmed by it all and was able to give some good feedback on their proposed plans, rather than just sitting and nodding during meetings.

While that was perhaps the main issues I’ve been involved in during my time at Worcester, there was also the more regular aspects of looking at assessed work from students. Here, my main role was ensuring that marking standards were being upheld and that things like marking criteria, assessment strategy and so on were all appropriate for the level. I got to see work from modules that I didn’t teach, like Multi-lingualism and Language and Power, and it was a great opportunity to familiarise myself with a wider range of undergraduate language modules.

What’s great about externalling is that you not only get to see how other departments structure their courses, but you also get a chance to think critically about teaching and learning strategies, helping develop your own teaching practice. You also get a chance to engage with more of the peer-review side of teaching, rather than just the marking and feedback side of it, something which I also think is really important in terms of professional development.

Anyway, today was my last board with Worcester University (hence the post), and I’ll be sad to say goodbye. It’s been a really great experience and I’ve learnt loads, much of which will stand me in good stead for (hopefully) future external examining gigs at other institutions. It’s just a shame that the whole process is learn-by-doing!

The Social Linguist

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