This article is a reflection on engaging with the HEA from a TNE perspective to highlight some of the successful practices I adapted while teaching at the Academy of Design Colombo (AOD), a partner institution of Northumbria University, Newcastle, which delivers a franchised three-year BA design programme in Sri Lanka.
I am an Indian communication designer currently based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. My design education and training has been in India and the UK. After completing my undergraduate studies (I have a professional diploma in Visual Communication Design from the Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology in Bangalore, India), I worked with renowned Indian product designer Michael Foley to expand my knowledge base by working in multidisciplinary teams and getting exposure to spatial design, brand extensions, and visual merchandising. After a year of working in the industry, I wanted to explore design research and critical discourse and relocated to the UK to take the MA Graphic Design program at Edinburgh College of Art, University of Edinburgh. After graduating in November 2013 I joined AOD as the Assistant Head of the BA (Hons) Graphic Design department. My experience in Sri Lanka has motivated me to pursue a PhD in design education and I am currently in the process of writing my proposal.
In 2015 the academic staff at AOD were encouraged to apply for HEA fellowships and it was a welcome opportunity for me to engage with a global community of practitioners, consider the work I was doing to overcome the challenges of transnational education in context of UKSPF, and get accreditation to show my commitment towards delivering a high quality learning experience as an academic facilitator in Sri Lanka. There were several benefits to applying for the HEA fellowship, mainly because it made me reflect on my teaching practices as a new academic, take note of positive interactions and achievements, and chart a path for further professional development.
The core academic staff at AOD came from a variety of nationalities and educational backgrounds, this allowed for alternative points of view and discourse on shaping the design curriculum to build on the diverse experiences of the student body and the regional requirements of Industry. My pedagogy and communication style stem from my research and reflection on teaching methods practiced in the UK and a continuous process of trial and error in content delivery. Developing locally situated project briefs was a really interesting part of my work. In 2014, for example, I facilitated a live packaging design project for second year BA students with an organic produce company Saaraketha Organics and in 2015 we offered two live projects for the same module; one with luxury brand Spa Ceylon and another with the Sri Lanka Aquatic Sports Union, I expanded the briefs to provide more options to get students to critically evaluate the development of their design portfolios. The module proved to be successful with employers and we were given positive feedback from sponsors of the briefs. In 2015, one of the student’s designs was taken forward by Spa Ceylon for commercial production and provided valuable exposure to the selected student in terms of industry experience and the company Saaraketha Organics now has a position of in house designer which has been taken up by AOD alumni. I found that starting their second year of design education with a live project invigorated the students as they were able to see themselves as future professionals. The fellowship application process provided clarity of my understanding of learning styles conducive for South Asian students and aided my professional practice in delivering a high quality learning experience.
As part of staff professional development, AOD faculty made annual visits to Newcastle to engage with academic staff at Northumbria University and be part of a broader academic community of practice. The primary aim of the trip was to discuss course structure and execution to ensure the quality of education was in line with UK Quality standards, but we worked collaboratively to avoid blind standardisation of the courses when they are taught in Sri Lanka. The HEA Fellowship process made me reflect on the context of the course that I was delivering and evaluate the effectiveness of methods that I had developed to support student development.
In 2014, I participated in final year project grading prior to the Northumbria degree show. My experience of observing my UK peers helped me understand the standard of work expected from Northumbria University students and allowed me to make informed decisions while grading final year projects at AOD. We also had Northumbria University faculty (our link tutors) come to Sri Lanka annually during the year end assessment period to moderate grades given by the module tutors to ensure the grading criteria and work standards were adequately met. Having a dedicated link tutor for each department allowed for easier communication via email as well as collaboration between the two institutions since the tutors were clearly aware of the context and facilitates of the partner institute.
Writing the HEA Fellowship application helped provide clarity on the collaborative relationship we shared with our link tutors and the insights gained allowed me to facilitate interactions that took advantage of the close working relationship. In 2016, I collaborated with our partners in Newcastle to facilitate a Skype show and tell session for students to share and compare work created for a design competition. The experience was effective in motivating students and brought out the competitive spirit in them to fine tune their final presentations based on the quality of work shared. The course was also successful in the fact that students in Newcastle won internships to the JKR studio in London and one of the students at AOD won an internship at the JKR studio in Singapore. Incidentally, the opportunity in Singapore was introduced to me by our link tutor who knew procuring visas to the UK is difficult from Sri Lanka. Working collaboratively with our link tutors in Newcastle, we built communities of practice that could deliver a positive transnational education experience. The close working relationship between the two institutes and a clear understanding of the local constraints allowed us to design an academic experience that students in both institutes could benefit from.
My engagement with the HEA and the UKPSF was an opportunity to internationalise my professional development and a way to further develop a shared language with colleagues at Northumbria. It also facilitated the recognition of work being done at a relatively small educational institution that is strategically working towards providing a bespoke transnational learning experience which is rooted in the local context.
AFHEA, MA Graphic Design
Journal of Education for Teaching: International research and pedagogy
Improving learning and teaching in transnational education: can communities of practice help?
Jeanne Keay , Helen May & Joan O’ Mahony
University of the West of Scotland, Paisley, Scotland
Higher Education Academy, York, England, Published online: 24 Apr 2014.