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MDX maths lecturer who champions interactive approach to learning wins esteemed teaching fellowship award

31/08/2018
Outreach lead Dr Alison Megeney seeks to break down barriers to address people's fear of maths

Associate Professor of Mathematics at Middlesex Dr Alison Megeney has received a prestigious National Teaching Fellowship award.

The award recognises and celebrates individuals in higher education who have made an exceptional impact on student outcomes, and on the teaching profession.

Middlesex's Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Learning and Innovation Andrea Dlaska, who nominated Alison, hails her passion and commitment and the creative way she demystifies the subject, inspiring new generations of mathematicians. "We are exceptionally proud of Alison's achievements and delighted that she has received national recognition for her practice", Andrea says.

Dr Megeney is Middlesex's Director of Undergraduate Design Engineering and Mathematics Programmes, and Mathematics Outreach and Public Engagement Lead. She feels passionately about her discipline, how it is communicated and how people engage with it, believing everybody is capable of having a valuable mathematical experience no matter their background or prior knowledge.

"An inspirational and exciting lecturer. She finds unique ways of embedding the latest educational developments into teaching subjects that are generally taught very traditionally"

Dr Zainab Kazim-Ali

She joined Middlesex as a Lecturer in Mathematics straight after completing her PhD. Throughout her long career, she has taken on a variety of roles, teaching both specialists studying BSc/MMath Mathematics and non-specialists on a variety of Business and Management programmes.

For non-specialists, it's often a matter of "breaking down barriers and addressing people's fear of maths", and demonstrating how useful maths is to their subject and future career. For specialists, it's about finding ways to help students to further develop and deepen their understanding of the subject, then finding a way to communicate their passion to others effectively.

In both cases, Alison says, "it's really important to have students actively involved in the learning of mathematics. Interaction and engagement is key, developing an emotional involvement with the topic". She seeks to create interesting and useful interactions through a variety of methods, whether by building mathematical objects, through mathematical games and puzzles or group activities.

She encourages students to become mathematics ambassadors at local and national outreach events, including the University's STEM Festival, interactive science festival SMASHFestUK, WorldSkills UK at the NEC Birmingham and New Scientist Live, at which they work with members of the public on mathematical activities and discuss the ideas behind them. “Explaining a concept to others develops deeper understanding and enables students to apply their knowledge” Alison says.

She has also developed this approach with collaborative projects at Middlesex, such as bringing together students from across university faculties to build a mathematical sculpture, Sword Dancing, awarded Best Sculpture by the American Mathematical Society for 2016.

She is "really committed" to the university's mission of recognising the potential of students from disadvantaged areas and putting in place whatever's needed for them to succeed. "Come graduation, there's nothing to be prouder of than when you see them going across the stage and chatting to their proud parents" she says. And she has thrived through the support Middlesex has offered her to develop as an educator. "The University is very supportive of you trying new things, even when there is a risk", she says. "If they see you're doing a good job, they're very happy for you to be creative and think differently".

One of Alison's students says that volunteering for outreach work from her first year onwards "has added something different and exciting to my studies. Taking part in SMASHFest was a nice experience for me, it gave me a chance to come out of my comfort zone and interact with some maths in a different way and with different people too... I was able to develop and improve my confidence".

Another student was so inspired by being a maths ambassador that she pursued every outreach opportunity available to her, set up a Mathematics Society in partnership with two fellow students to promote engagement across the university, and received the national sigma Network Student of the Year award 2016 before graduating with First Class Honours.

A colleague, Dr Zainab Kazim-Ali says that "having observed Alison, I have always found her to be an inspirational and exciting lecturer. She finds unique ways of embedding the latest educational developments into teaching subjects that are generally taught very traditionally. The ideas and examples which she brings into her teaching are new and dynamic".

The National Teaching Fellowship scheme was launched in 2000, and is run by higher education sector capacity-building organisation Advance HE. On receiving the award, fellows play an ongoing role enhancing teaching within their institution and in the HE sector. There are now more than 815 National Teaching Fellows, with previous Middlesex winners including the University's Director Organisation and Leadership Practice Mary Hartog.

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