Talking Teaching: Why I became a HEA Fellow…..from an Australian perspective

“The HEA is gathering momentum in a big way in Australia.”
Ruari Elkington, Associate Lecturer in Film, Screen and Animation at the School of Media, Entertainment and Creative Arts, Queensland University of Technology 

The Higher Education Academy’s recent Talking Teaching series of blogs focused on the UK. But that’s not to say the HEA’s influence stops at these shores. We hear from Ruari Elkington, Associate Lecturer in Film at the Queensland University of Technology – and an HEA Associate Fellow – about his teaching CV and why he, not to mention many others ‘Down Under’, are getting involved with the HEA.

Before I entered the world of academia, my professional practice was in screen distribution. I worked for Brisbane-based documentary film distributor Antidote Films for five years, then branched out into the digital content acquisition work that I still consult in. Six years ago I handed in my Honours thesis which drew heavily on my screen distribution work. My PhD research developed from that, and in my second year I began tutoring in Documentary History. I found that I really enjoyed the teaching aspect of academia. I built up my teaching from tutorials – or ‘tutes’ as we call them in Australia – to guest lecturing to now coordinating units and developing curriculum and assessment items. Distribution is an area of the screen industry currently experiencing significant disruption, so it’s a dynamic field to teach in. It’s also an area of film studies which still holds a lot of question marks for students and faculty. Operating across the screen distribution industries and academia is a great place to address some of those questions, while also posing some myself.

I enjoyed the tutoring and lecturing aspect of my work at Queensland University of Technology from the start. A nice multiplier effect was soon established – I found I was good at teaching, so I enjoyed it; because I enjoyed it, I became a better and more engaged tutor! My university also offers excellent professional development for sessional academics through internal programmes such as Sessional Career Academic Development (SCAD) and the Teaching Advantage programme. Through these programmes I further developed my teaching skills and learned about the opportunity to benchmark my teaching practice against the international standard of the HEA. Once I knew about the Associate Fellow category, and could see there was a rigorous process to get there, I wanted to hit that mark. To date, I am one of only a few academics in my discipline at QUT to have their teaching practice recognised by the HEA. That’s something that I, and my university, really values.

The HEA is gathering momentum in a big way in Australia. There is a good understanding of the challenge involved in reaching Associate Fellow. The bar is high and there’s a growing recognition amongst Australian academics of what is required to reach that bar. Lecturers really want an additional form of feedback and professional development, and the HEA provides that. QUT is really out in front in this regard. HEA Principal Fellow and Associate Professor Abby Cathcart now heads up the newly formed QUT Academy of Learning and Teaching. QALT, as it’s known, is open to all QUT staff members who teach and/or support learning. We already have more than 100 members, all of whom achieved Fellowship through the Australian National University Educational Fellowship Scheme in 2014/15. QALT members now mentor and support other QUT academics to review further applications for HEA Fellowship. In other words, you will be seeing a lot more HEA activity from this little pocket of south east Queensland!

I have always taken my teaching seriously. However, being recognised as an Associate Fellow has given me some validation of where I’m at, what I’m doing, and how I can improve. It’s heartening when fellow academics approach you for advice on their applications or on their teaching practice in general. I’m now planning how I can approach my full Fellowship application and gather evidence in the semester ahead.

Blog work area: