It’s that moment at a conference when during polite conversation someone asks “..and what do you do?” I’ve recently struggled to answer this question but I think the process of gaining SFHEA recognition has helped!
I’ve been employed in the HE sector as a Senior Technician, a Visiting Lecturer, a Blended Learning Advisor, a Lead Tutor, and now refer to myself as ‘Advisor, specialising in e-Learning and Learning Space Design’. My current role as Advisor in the College of Learning and Teaching, University of Wolverhampton is ever-changing and multifarious. On a single day I might advise a staff member on approaches to learning and teaching, host a staff development session, lead on a project workstream, tutor on an online course and write some copy for publication online (as I’m doing today)! All hugely exciting and interesting but not easy to encompass in a short sentence while holding a sausage roll, a conference agenda and querying where the next ‘break-out’ session might be.
When it was suggested that I might like to consider applying for Senior Fellowship my first thought was “ooh, here’s an opportunity to sit down, evaluate and reflect upon everything I’ve done,” in the hope that by undertaking this process I’d better understand what I might do in the future. As the College of Learning and Teaching is a new development at the University I’m keen to support as best as I can and help define the College’s role in the Institution. Finally, and somewhat selfishly, I saw Senior Fellowship as an acknowledgement of my success across a broad range of pedagogic discipline areas and an opportunity to gain recognition amongst peers. I’m not just “the guy who advises on distance learning” or “that’s the one that showed us those ‘fancy’ chairs.”
When I began evidencing my professional practice (to produce the reflective account and case studies), it became apparent pretty early on in the process that key themes were emerging. By evaluating these themes and aligning with the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF), it was possible to highlight ‘best practice’ and the ‘lessons learned’ that might positively impact approaches to learning and teaching in the Institution. Importantly, it also enabled me to isolate areas that I felt I could investigate further and develop my practice to become a better, more rounded Academic staff member. As close colleagues were also applying at the same time, it was an opportunity, for us all, to collectively assess and plan, to support and encourage. We slavishly adhere to the academic calendar or strict project timelines with little chance to recognise what has been achieved and doing this as a team was hugely rewarding and a real fillip at a time of change for the Institution and the sector as a whole.
If I were to offer any advice to someone applying for recognition, I’d suggest they ensure they secure the necessary hours required to complete the application. It is an incredibly rewarding process but the many different phases of collating evidence, evaluating, reflecting, producing a final document, requesting references, uploading to the HEA platform, etc., all take time. I found value in each of these phases and garnered real insight from completing each element in turn and revisiting; especially reading my referees’ references which seemed to distil my approach to education not just ‘what I had done’.
So, reflecting on my fifteen years working in the Higher Education sector and having recently gained recognition, do I still I question “how do I explain what I do?” “What am I?” And “how can I best share what I do with others?” I certainly have a better understanding of what I’ve done, can articulate this to others more clearly and have a better idea of what I’d like to do in the future. I’m also immensely proud of being recognised as a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and being a part of a community of likeminded individuals. I’d strongly recommend to others to consider applying!
In conclusion, I’d ask how would you choose to describe what you do, what you are and might gaining accreditation help you answer those questions? At the very least it’ll be an interesting topic of conversation at the next conference you attend.