Dr. Georgina Blakeley, formerly Director of Teaching and Deputy Head of School at the Open University (OU) in the United Kingdom, is the winner of the 2019 European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities. The award is given by Central European University (CEU) and accompanied by the €5,000 Diener Prize.
“My passion for teaching has always found expression in widening access to higher education,” wrote Blakeley in her personal statement. She joined the Open University in 2006 “drawn by its mission of social justice and its aim of providing education opportunities to all regardless of background.”
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the OU boasts the largest university student body in the UK. It is unique among higher education institutions for its focus on providing distance learning to part-time students, many hailing from low-income backgrounds and with no or low previous educational attainment.
At the OU, faculty are required to develop course materials specifically for the university’s virtual learning environment as well as to engage directly with students both in-person and online. “Dr. Blakeley has excelled and shown leadership in both of these roles, being both a University leader in the production of outstanding modules and an inspiring teacher who insists on teaching and engaging directly with students. I know of no other colleague who has excelled in these roles in the way that Georgina has,” wrote Michael Pryke, Politics, Philosophy, Economics, Development and Geography Head of School at OU, in his letter of support for Blakeley.
Blakeley’s development of two entry-level interdisciplinary social science courses taken by approximately 6,000 students at the OU every year transformed the student learning experience and provided a roadmap for other courses throughout the university. Her innovative approach to these widely attended courses involved the creation of bespoke online activities for distance learners, original animations that encouraged thinking like a social scientist and learning analytics that enabled individual students to excel in the online learning environment.
Blakeley’s pedagogical approach involves starting with where her students are in order to stimulate intellectual curiosity and build confidence. Even when her academic role at the OU did not require actively teaching courses, Blakeley spent four years as an associate lecturer in order to continuously evaluate how students experienced the teaching materials she prepared. “This was above and beyond my core academic role, but one I regarded as essential, as I consider listening to student voices a major part of my development,” observed Blakeley. “Above all, my experience of teaching OU students taught me never to make assumptions about a student’s prior knowledge and to begin from the student’s starting point.”
Chair of the judging panel, Marvin Lazerson, praised Blakeley for her brilliance in connecting complex ideas to compelling teaching methods in ways that have global resonance.
“I am honored to receive this prestigious award not just because it is a recognition of my work at the OU but, most importantly, because it is a recognition of the work of the OU in providing educational opportunities to all regardless of background. In that sense, the award belongs to all of my colleagues at the OU and to all of our students. I am especially grateful to the students who nominated me for this award,” said Blakely.
The European Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Social Sciences and Humanities was initiated by CEU Provost and Pro-Rector Liviu Matei upon CEU’s 20th anniversary in 2011. As a part of CEU’s commitment to excellence in teaching within the institution and across Europe and beyond, the award is administered by the University’s Center for Teaching and Learning (CTL). The Diener Prize is made possible by a generous gift from Steven and Linda Diener in memory of Ilona Diener. For further information on the award and past winners, visit: http://ctl.ceu.edu/news/recipients-european-award-excellence-teaching.
Blakeley will receive the award and accompanying Diener Prize from CEU President and Rector Michael Ignatieff at the university’s opening ceremony in fall 2019.