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DMU's 'Paperless Professor' hailed as one of Britain's best teachers

De Montfort University (DMU)’s ‘paperless professor’ has today been named as one of Britain’s best teachers.


Professor of Shakespeare Studies, Gabriel Egan, is one of 55 higher education staff to be awarded National Teaching Fellowships by the Higher Education Academy in recognition of excellence in teaching and learning.

DMU has now had 18 National Teaching Fellows since the initiative was launched - one of the highest numbers in higher education.

Prof Egan has been entirely paperless since he was a student in 1990 and now produces electronic learning materials for his students and scans copies of Shakespeare’s folios for his research.

He said: “Shakespeare, as usual, said it best: "Thou hast most traitorously corrupted the youth of the realm . . . thou hast built a paper-mill" (Shakespeare Henry 6 Part TwoIV.vii.30-35).

“He might easily have been talking about how universities are drowning in paper. To adapt another famous line from that play, ‘The first thing we do let's destroy all the filing cabinets’.”


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Prof Egan has been paperless since he started his undergraduate English degree in 1990. 

“Rather than taking notes on paper in lectures, I keyed them into one of Clive Sinclair's less-successful devices, a Z88 portable computer, and then at the end of each day I downloaded my notes to a desktop PC,” he said. “When reading books, rather than annotate them to make my notes, I would create notes files on my PC. The point of all this was to be able to find the notes again by searching all the files.

“I have worked this way ever since and never kept my notes on paper, never used a filing cabinet. I can still search all my undergraduate notes and everything else created ever since (including all my emails ever sent or received) with a simple command.”

He has scanned all his books, journal articles and course copies. “Now, wherever I am, I have with me 3000 books, 5000 journal articles, and every word I've ever read or written, with me on my laptop. Geography makes no difference: I'm as well (or as little) able to answer any question when I'm in my office as when I'm on an aeroplane.” 

Prof Egan, director of the Centre for Textual Studies in DMU’s School of Humanities, has built computer models of the theatre for which Shakespeare wrote, the 1599 Globe.

He has also made available a large collection of digital materials including an interactive map of early modern London, a smartphone app and a hour of documentary film, collectively called Shakespearean London Theatres (ShaLT). When training research students to become academics, he introduces them to advanced techniques for creating and curating one's own large digital databases of teaching and research materials, and in teaching undergraduates he uses open source and open access principles to show just how English Studies can be transformed by the new technologies for storing, analysing, and disseminating writing.  

The successful National Teaching Fellows (NTFs) were chosen from more than 180 nominations submitted by higher education institutions across England, Northern Ireland and Wales. 

Each will receive an award of £10,000 to support their professional development.

Professor Stephanie Marshall, Chief Executive of the HEA, said: “Our students deserve the best possible learning experience and it is colleagues like those we celebrate today who can make a real difference to their futures. I congratulate all the successful Fellows and wish them every success in their own learning and teaching experiences.”

Successful nominees were nominated by their institutions and had to show evidence of three criteria: individual excellence, raising the profile of excellence and developing excellence.

Posted on: Thursday 12 June 2014

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