“We’ve been working very hard to enhance our student experience generally. Having a HEA accredited programme was a major way of demonstrating how much our staff care about their teaching, showing that they strive to be as professional as possible while increasing their skills and knowledge.”
Dr Catriona Bell, Reader in Veterinary Education, The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies.
The Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies is one of the oldest veterinary schools in the world. Founded in 1823 by William Dick, R(D)SVS is part of the University of Edinburgh located eight miles south of the city centre on the Easter Bush campus. It runs two undergraduate programmes – a four year programme for graduate entry students, and a five year programme – and attracts veterinary students from all over the world as well as the UK, with a cohort of approximately 170 per year passing through the School. The students benefit from the broad experience of 130 academics who are actively involved in teaching at R(D)SVS, an exceedingly high number of whom are HEA Fellows (the School has two Principal Fellows, five Senior Fellows, 27 Fellows and four Associate Fellows, together with four undergraduate student Associate Fellows). In fact Fellowship now lies at the very heart of the School’s whole teaching ethos.
For several years R(D)SVS has enjoyed a good relationship with the Higher Education Academy under the guidance of Professor Susan Rhind – Director of Veterinary Teaching and Assistant Principal (Assessment and Feedback), as well as the first Professor of Veterinary Education in the UK – and Dr Catriona Bell, Reader in Veterinary Education. More recently that relationship has been consolidated on a closer, more long-term level. In June 2015, in collaboration with the Institute for Academic Development (IAD) at the University of Edinburgh, the School launched its own ‘in house’ version of the University of Edinburgh’s HEA accredited teaching programme called the Edinburgh Teaching Award (EdTA). The EdTA differs from the more traditional HEA Fellowship route in that it is tailored specifically to meet the requirements of its teaching and support staff.
“The Edinburgh Teaching Award is what you might call a personalised, mentored educational development programme,” says Dr Bell. “There are three components to it – a reflective blog, a record of educational continuing professional development (CPD), and a record of relevant teaching experience, all of which are mapped to the UK Professional Standards Framework. When a colleague believes they have satisfied those components, then the application goes to an Assessment Panel for review. The CPD side has proved especially attractive. Colleagues can identify where the gaps are in their skills sets, what their strengths are, and then target their CPD accordingly. Helping colleagues to engage and reflect on their teaching is undoubtedly the programme’s big, big strength.”
There were several reasons why R(D)SVS was especially keen to offer an ‘in house’ Fellowship scheme accredited by the HEA. As Dr Bell explains, “We’ve been working very hard to enhance our student experience generally. Having a HEA accredited programme was a major way of demonstrating how much our staff care about their teaching, showing that they strive to be as professional as possible while continuing to increase their skills and knowledge. It’s a credible qualification in recognition of your dedication to teaching, a sign that teaching matters which is really important for us. Colleagues recognise the extra incentive to engage in learning-related CPD because they also know they will end up with a qualification that’s transportable to other universities, something that’s increasingly relevant internationally.
“Many of our staff are clinicians and having a programme running within the School that is ‘local’ and therefore both easy to access and relevant to teaching veterinary students has also really helped them engage with teaching and learning. They tell us that it makes them feel part of a community that is increasingly valued, respected and which speaks their language. For instance, we have found that some colleagues struggle to engage with educational terminology and literature. To counter that we direct them towards papers from veterinary and medical education journals that are directly relevant to get them engaged.”
Since being established two years ago, the Edinburgh Teaching Award at the R(D)SVS has proved to be an unqualified success, and the ongoing close collaboration and support from colleagues at the Institute for Academic Development has been key to this. Over 50% of R(D)SVS academic staff have now engaged with the programme and a total of 70 colleagues have either completed, or are currently participating in, the Award. Partially as a result of word of mouth within the School, the number of staff intent on achieving Fellowship has now reached the point where there is a waiting list for those wanting to participate in the programme. Publicity posters showing the names of those who have become Fellows – together with their level of Fellowship – are displayed around R(D)SVS to help raise awareness. What’s more, proactive leadership from the Head of School Professor David Argyle, Prof Susan Rhind and across the University as a whole ensures that learning and teaching is always to the fore. In the words of Professor Charlie Jeffrey, Senior Vice-Principal of the University of Edinburgh, “We need to communicate an unambiguous priority around learning and teaching through all levels of leadership in the university.”
“Once the programme was up and running we did realise that there were one or two areas of policy we particularly wanted to focus on,” adds Dr Bell. “For instance, we lobbied our senior management group and from January 2016 it has been mandatory for any new colleague joining the School to engage with the Edinburgh Teaching Award or an equivalent programme, if they aren’t already Fellows of the HEA. Our annual appraisal forms now also include a section where colleagues discuss plans to engage with the Edinburgh Teaching Award, so all line managers should be discussing it with their colleagues. More recently, we have also been successful in embedding it into our work allocation model.
“It’s not simply academics who are engaging with it either. We’ve also got our senior teaching technicians, veterinary nurses who work in the Hospital for Small Animals plus several postgraduate demonstrators who are all currently working towards Associate Fellowship. In essence, we try and engage anybody who has an involvement with our students at any level. They are all very welcome to join in.”