Natalie McGuinness: My Roehampton online experience

Natalie McGuinness, one of the students on University of Roehampton’s new online course, shares her experience

Natalie McGuinness always knew she was destined to teach but didn’t realise how much she would embrace it until she saw how fast-moving the delivery of education was becoming. 

“I have been brought up with teachers,” explains Natalie. “My mum, stepdad and brother are all teachers, and I knew I wanted to follow suit but I wasn’t sure what age group I wanted to work with.”

Following a brief spell in marketing after she graduated from her degree in business and performance, Natalie changed her career direction and chose to complete a Postgraduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) to get her into teaching.

Her first experience in education was through a study-support role for children with various learning impairments at The Sixth Form College Farnborough, and in due course, Natalie became a full-time teacher of economics and business at the college.

I love working with 16-to-19-year-olds as there’s a lot of variety. You have no idea what mood they’re going to be in – Natalie McGuinness, University of Roehampton online student

“I love working with 16-to-19-year-olds as there’s a lot of variety. You have no idea what mood they’re going to be in,” she says. “The students are also very different, varying from high-achieving economics students to students who have had a troubled schooling experience. Adapting my teaching style to suit each individual is the exact type of challenge that I love.”

The education sector is all too familiar with challenges, including legislative changes in the UK that have led to Natalie’s department’s budget being cut by nearly half in the past year. Like many schools and colleges in situations like this, her department knew they had to look at ways to minimise costs and they saw opportunities through technology that would help them to deliver the same standard of teaching for the 4,000 students that attend the college. 

“We’ve had to learn to be more adaptive and a lot of our courses are now delivered purely online to minimise the cost of printouts,” says Natalie, who, along with her colleagues, is now embracing Google platforms to deliver programmes across a range of subjects. 

The result is a different approach to teaching – the flipped classroom. Students access the basic materials they need online, and traditional classroom time is used to develop concepts further and talk about what they have read at home. In addition, the online platform requires teachers to stay connected with each other and their students.

Having seen first-hand how the design and delivery of education was changing, Natalie wanted to make sure she was able to offer the best possible outcome for her students. Wanting to study something that incorporated technology with education, in 2015 she enrolled on an online MA in Technology and Learning Design at the University of Roehampton

“My friend studied on campus and had a great experience at Roehampton but I didn’t realise that the university, which I’ve always known to be quite prestigious, offered programmes online. I knew I wanted to continue teaching so studying online was a good option but I didn’t really know what I was looking for until I found the programme at Roehampton.”

Now more than halfway through her programme, Natalie says she has really seen the benefit of being able to apply her learning to her sixth-form classes at Farnborough. Inspired by an exchange of ideas with her Roehampton classmates from across the world about implementing an online course, Natalie developed a baccalaureate in finance; a purely online business and accounting qualification for advanced sixth-form students who want to study finance at university or are looking to go into a career in the field. 

Despite being available for less than a year, the baccalaureate has 24 students enrolled to date, and Natalie is already very confident about its success: “In addition to teaching them about finance, I’m also trying to train them for the future. I have taught them the Harvard referencing system that explains how to research and how to extract information to support their arguments, which they need because I regularly set them a very general question and get them to make their own way to the answer.” 

Natalie is implementing other learning approaches from her Roehampton Online experience. “The course I designed really prepares my students for university as I encourage them to blog about their findings on an online profile. This is something I, as an online Roehampton student, was asked to do myself. I found it really helped me and my peers and so I have passed this down to my students at Farnborough. It clearly works and has made them more ambitious; a few of my baccalaureate students have now applied to Oxbridge.”

Empowered by the programme at Roehampton, Natalie feels that her job as a teacher has changed significantly. “I feel my role now is that of facilitator rather than traditional teacher. And in the ever-changing world of economics, this ongoing thinking and questioning is vital for developing the professionals of the future.”

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