Senior Learning Designer Rachelle O’Brien in the Durham Centre for Academic Development (DCAD) is a well-deserved recipient of the prestigious National Teaching Fellowship this year.
The National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS) showcases and celebrates individuals who have made an outstanding impact teaching or supporting learning within the UK higher education sector. Established by Advance HE in 2000, 55 Fellowships across the UK are bestowed each year and recognise significant contributions at departmental, institutional, and national levels.
As well as representing a personal success for Rachelle, recognising her nationally as a Teaching Fellow, and as an international mark of quality, her award reflects positively on DCAD too. There are now five DCAD staff who hold this honour, showcasing Durham’s support of individual teaching excellence and the impact that this has on student outcomes. Rachelle’s newly-awarded Fellowship adds to a high level of collective expertise within DCAD, to the benefit of academic colleagues and students.
Rachelle has worked for over a decade in the education sector across the North of England as a volunteer, independent consultant, Higher Education expert and also in the commercial sector.
As a passionate transformer of education, she develops playful and inclusive learning opportunities which prioritise access for all. Inspired by her neurodivergent nephew, Rachelle’s career focus is to understand how technological affordances and online environments can facilitate a divergent, holistic approach to learning, effectively producing curious, innovative, valued, independent and playful practitioners and students who are empowered to become the master of their own learning journeys.
In her current role as a Senior Digital Learning Designer within DCAD, Rachelle champions the integration of digital pedagogy, inclusivity, and playfulness into curricula. She spearheads the design and development of learning, teaching, and assessment practices that are more inclusive, and which enhance engagement and student experience through the incorporation of her expert leadership. Her approach encourages educators from across the University to explore new practices in non-traditional ‘no-risk’ environments which advocate learning from failure.
Of particular note is Rachelle’s work within the wider University on the following two courses - DCAD’s Postgraduate Certificate Module on Enhancing Academic Practice (PGCAP), which she leads on; and shaping learning materials for the University-wide Transition to Higher Education course.
In 2022, she was a recipient of Advance HE’s Collaborative Awards for Teaching Excellence (CATE) for her work with the #creativeHE community.
On learning of Rachelle’s award, Professor Nicola Whitton, Director of DCAD said: “I’m delighted that Rachelle’s innovation and adventurous nature within learning design has been officially recognised by the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme. She is a greatly valued member of the DCAD team, and this will propel her to greater heights, to the ultimate benefit of our students and academic staff.”
Rachelle commented: “Being awarded a National Teaching Fellowship was a surprise! I’m so grateful for the recognition of my work in the sector, but more importantly celebrate the acknowledgement of the importance of working divergently to create an inclusive and playful learning experience.
Some thank you’s – for the continued support and championing from colleagues, I wouldn’t be here without you. To those who’ve engaged with me, my work and my sometimes bonkers but well-intentioned ideas. Especially to those who’ve tested new ideas with the intention of making education better.
Finally, to my incredible family. I couldn’t do what I love without you, thank you for pushing me to keep trying, trusting my ideas and playtesting my games, even if they seem bonkers!”
Please join us in sending congratulations to Rachelle for this achievement.