It is about time – scholarly conversations about leisure

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Dr Petia Petrova, Associate Director of Academic Practice, UWE Bristol

Becoming serious about leisure

I was a chronically overworked academic. Work was very important to me. My work being faultless even more so. I would take on as much work as I was asked to. Saying ‘no’ was difficult, if not impossible. I would come to my office on a Monday morning and participate in conversations about how many extra hours I have worked, with others similarly inclined. After over a decade of being chronically overworked, I suffered from a sudden illness that resulted in an emergency surgery. In hindsight, not that serious, in experience – quite traumatic – I had to seek help for post-traumatic stress afterwards.

This made me stop and reflect on my life. I was my work, but not much else. There was very little time for self-care, rest, fun and enjoyment in my life. I had become fully sucked into the vortex of working hard, trying to make a career. Work had spread like an amorphous blob and covered every aspect of my life. Something needed to change.

I went on a quest to find a hobby, I found one, and it transformed my life (that is indeed the topic of another blog). It became an important tool for my recovery from the trauma of sudden illness. I was still working hard, but I have made time and enriched my life with leisure, and I was serious about it.

Then Covid struck. In the weeks of the first lockdown, I thought about all the people experiencing traumatic health events, suffering from Covid, or losing loved ones. I thought how important conversations about (re-)discovering joy in our lives will become. What I did not anticipate was how long this Covid era would last. In a sector that is chronically overworked, and in a society experiencing collective burnout from living with a pandemic for so long, there is now a wide recognition of the importance of leading a balanced life.

Being serious about leisure

In those first weeks of lockdown, I reached out to a few colleagues to see what we can do to highlight the importance of leisure to our mental and physical health. We came with an idea of launching the Serious Leisure Podcast. I am now in a lovely and lively team of three podcast co-hosts with – Kat Branch who leads UWE’s Centre for Music and Sam Elkington from Teesside University. Kat brought her expertise as a musician supporting us all to bring the joy of music into our lives. Sam brought the theoretical perspective – having co-authored a book on the topic of serious leisure.

Personal stories and scholarly conversations

The podcast is a space for sharing stories about balancing our working lives with a serious commitment to leisure. Our guests tell us about their passions, hobbies, and interests – how they discovered these and how their lives (and their identities!) have been transformed as a result. There is laughter, there is joy, and occasionally there are tears. We do not shy away from discussing how difficult it is to find time, but we also attend to how rich the benefits can be when we do. The podcast is a scholarly space. We draw on the insights and evidence base from the vast literature on the topic of serious leisure.

In the words of a regular listener and a UWE colleague:

It’s good to hear the human in professional colleagues and is just as entertaining, interesting and professional as any other podcast I listen to. It’s worth my ear time!

You can find all our previous episodes on the SoundCloud App, and you can follow, like and subscribe to our podcast on the podcasting platform of your choice (for details check our Podbean site). If you have a hobby you have recently discovered or if you have a story about your serious leisure, please do not hesitate to get in touch. I can be reached via e-mail at petia.petrova@uwe.ac.uk

What do we mean by Research-informed Teaching?

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Catherine Hobbs discusses what she’s discovered about integrating research and teaching.

Education, Light Bulb, Idea Generation, Board, Space

We hear a lot about the vital links between research and teaching.  The argument is frequently made that in order to deliver high quality higher education, it must be taught by research-active staff.  But how in practice does this play out?  In what ways does a lecturer with a research background really enhance the student experience?  It’s a question I have wanted to answer for a long time.  When asked, academics often say things like, ‘I refer to my research when I’m teaching undergraduates so that they can see what I’m teaching is used in research,’, ‘I teach a final year module based on my research interests,’ or ‘In their final year projects students can have the chance to study a research topic.’.  I’ve felt that this is not enough, and that surely there must be deeper ways of integrating research and research skills into the curriculum if we are to justify the need for academics to be researchers as well as teachers.

I come to this topic as a typical academic.  My research background is in pure mathematics.  I came into academia because I wanted to continue my research, but found that teaching was a dominant part of my role for many years.  In fact, I discovered that I love to teach – I get enormous enjoyment from it and have ended up applying a lot of my research skills to improving the ways I teach.  This certainly seems to me one way in which being a researcher has informed my teaching.  I read the literature, think about how I can apply new ideas to my teaching, use the classroom as my laboratory and then evaluate the results.  But what do others do?

To address this question I teamed up with colleagues from across the University to explore how our different perspectives on the subject can produce fruitful cross-fertilisation.  Our team includes Dr Petia Petrova, who has expertise in the field of research-informed teaching, Dr Jeanette Sakel, a researcher in linguistics who now has a leadership role in teaching and learning, and Dr Emma Weitkamp, a science communicator whose practice-based research is integrated with her teaching.

Having found our own multi-disciplinary conversations interesting, we decided that a way to explore the subject might be through further conversations with other colleagues we know to be doing interesting things in research-informed teaching, both within UWE and externally, as well as some of our own students and to record these as a series of podcasts. So what did I learn?  Firstly, that I’m not the first person to have pondered this subject.  There is some excellent literature out there on the relationship between research and teaching eg [Brew, 2007].  Secondly, that there are many facets to the subject.  Ways in which colleagues integrate their research with their teaching fruitfully include:

  • Co-creation with students – even from first year, inculcating the ideas of posing interesting questions and seeking out the answers through existing literature, experiment and exploration.
  • Sharing research skills with our students – not just the basics of literature review, quantitative and qualitative analysis, but the concepts of formulating good questions and being rigorous in answering them.
  • Sharing the creative process of research with students – helping them to understand that not all knowledge is already known, and that what they read in a textbook may represent a highly refined description of what took years of research to establish.
  • Supporting students to understand that through research activities they are building skills that can apply in other areas (this is a useful point for researchers who become teachers themselves – you can use your research skills to become a more effective teacher!).

I’ve come away from this experience with lots of ideas to try out for myself.  I hope that listening to the podcasts may inspire others to do the same and to think about how the potentially deep relationship between teaching and research can be brought to the fore in their own practice.  A motto to live by is ‘Do what you love, love what you do’ – if you love research, think about how you can bring this joy to your teaching using the skills you already have and by learning from others – just as you would in your own research discipline.

Further reading: Brew, Angela, 2007 “Research and Teaching: beyond the divide”


Prof Catherine Hobbs is Associate Dean (Research and Enterprise) in the Faculty of Environment & Teaching at UWE Bristol, and is also a National Teaching Fellow.

HEPPP Research Network update

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The research network was launched at UWE’s Festival of Learning in June 2020. It’s purpose is to bring together colleagues across UWE, and beyond, who are interested in research related to higher education pedagogies, policy and practice, including the evaluation of teaching. Through providing opportunities for networking and collaboration, the HEPPP research network aims to support UWE’s Strategy 2030 in developing a practice-led, evidence-informed approach to its own higher education ambitions.

The network’s MS Teams space now has over 60 members. Funding opportunities, including UWE’s own Pedagogic Projects, are being promoted through the HEPPP website and a series of writing retreats have been set up. It’s first major event, the Expertise Symposium, was a resounding success, and more events and activities are being planned as the network gradually picks up momentum.

Contact the convenor, Helen King, for more information about the network, to join the Teams space or offer a contribution to the blog or series of activities.

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