[Applying for HEA Fellowship] helps you to reflect on things and have confidence in your own teaching rather than just kind of doing the day job.
In late 2020, Darren Minister from SALT’s Recognition Team interviewed Nia Davies, Associate Professor and Senior Fellow of the HEA in Swansea University’s Medical School asking her about why gaining recognition mattered and how she adapted to online teaching.
Introductions – About you, Your Discipline, How long have you been teaching at Swansea?
I’ve been working in Swansea University since 2012, I started as a postdoctoral researcher and then moved over to a full-time research teaching contract in 2016 where I was the first lecturer employed on the new Applied Medical Sciences degree programme in the Medical School. Since then, I have developed the, at first, it was the foundation year for Applied Medical Sciences programme and as of 2020 we’ve now launched that as the Swansea University Medical School foundation year, so it now allows entry into all our undergraduate programmes and I’m the programme director for that. I lecture across all the undergraduate programmes in the Medical School and contribute to some of our postgrad teaching as well.
Why did gaining Senior Fellowship recognition matter to you?
I was quite a fresh lecturer when I first started, I went through the PG Cert programme and first applied for Fellowship. So, I got that as part of my PG Cert and that really helped me bring my ideas together and acknowledge the pedagogical framework behind teaching in higher education. It’s not just writing a lecture, but the actual thought process that goes into preparing my teaching. When I then got that [FHEA], I got really interested in the pedagogical side of it, but also the leadership. I applied for Senior Fellowship, because I thought that brings together my interest in the science teaching and pedagogical values. But also, I think everybody wants reassurance that they’re doing a good job, and [HEA] Fellowship sort of reinforces that for you. It helps you realize that what you are doing is meeting a framework and that you are. It’s a commitment to the learning and teaching in the school [of Medicine], and not just doing it as a day job, but developing myself as a professional teacher alongside that. So, I guess the Senior Fellowship brought together the fact that I now have responsibility for a programme. I just acknowledged my work and recognize my leadership in the Medical School, not just in teaching, but also in leading colleagues and then the impact of them on teaching. It just reinforces what I was doing as a day job, I guess, just give it a bit of recognition professionally.
How have you continued to apply the standards of the UKPSF in your work since gaining that recognition during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Wow. So, I’m still mindful of them and certain things like knowing the discipline, subject area and the knowledge values are obviously still very self-explanatory. But it’s also, it’s more the communication of them now that’s had to change. So, I’ve been trying to do a lot more peer observations, reviewing my module review and feedback to make sure that what I’m still doing is meeting the needs of the students. But I guess it’s just reviewing my own delivery and promoting the participation in different ways. We’re having to think about using online tools, as well as the practical teaching that I’m involved in, because we do have some students studying online as well as in blended learning. It is just trying to use some different technologies in my own teaching. I guess that has changed my own, and sort of, contributed to my own CPD, for example, two months ago if you told me, I’d have a YouTube channel by the end of November  I would never have thought it possible. So certainly, my own use of technology in my teaching has, I’d like to say, improved, but certainly increased. Also trying to use new online assessments and things like that, it is just maintaining awareness of the UK PSF but now trying to deliver in a different way. I am much more involved I would say now with some external organizations. I do a lot with the British Pharmacological Society, I’m involved in an organization called ‘Dry Labs Real Science’, as well as SALT [Swansea Academy of Learning and Teaching] just to make sure that what we’re still delivering meets the needs of the students and the UK PSF then as part of that.
What tips would you offer to someone delivering blended teaching in HE?
I guess the first one is to kind of be organized with it. It sounds easy, but I think you can be flexible with it, but you do need to be organized, it does take a lot of time to record the lectures and upload them and think about how to engage students a lot more. It’s different delivering a live performance because you don’t get the immediate feedback from students, so definitely think about how you’re going to engage the students. Perhaps a lecture that we’d normally deliver face–to–face, won’t translate as well online. We tell our students when they are doing presentations to think about the audience, I think that is very important in blended learning. Think about the students as an audience, think about their engagement, think about formative quizzes. Certainly, my students enjoy the discussions and use of them on Canvas or just using the technologies available to us. But just being organized with it, have time and try to organize things into smaller bite sized chunks, rather than recording full two-hour lectures, as they can get quite sort of daunting to students, think about having some sort of interaction with them. I try to have a weekly Q and A tutorial with my groups at some point. It may be a different year per week, just to maintain a bit of a touch point and allow them to have a bit of discussion, clear up any problems or issues they’re having or any confusion, open the discussion with them and trying to encourage that certainly helps the blended learning I would say.
For someone not sure about the applying for HEA Fellowship recognition, what words of encouragement could you offer?
I would say definitely think about doing it, it is worth it. It does allow you an opportunity to reflect on what you’re doing, and I think we can be so close to the day job sometimes that we forget about the greater impact of that. It is worth doing because it does allow you that recognition and definitely go for it, have confidence in your own teaching. In terms of putting together the application, I would say make a list of everything, so keep a diary of everything you do, everything you think, just replying to an email or holding another workshop or attending a seminar. It does contribute to that, so you are probably doing much more than you think of. If you make a list and map that to the UK PSF and the criteria for the different fellowship levels, you’ll certainly realize what you’re doing and just have confidence in yourself and in your own application.
What top tips would you offer to someone preparing a HEA Senior Fellowship application?
I guess it is again keeping a diary or a log of everything you do. But when you’re preparing the Senior Fellowship, rather than the Fellowship, I would certainly think about your influence on colleagues, how you would help develop the careers, developed other personnel, people and colleagues, rather than just the students. I have a lot of demonstrators, a lot of post grad students involved in my teaching and it’s just recognizing your contributions and some of them have now come on and are actually lecturers as part of our team. It is just recognizing your own leadership and acknowledging that it is leadership. We all see it as something we just do, but certainly recognize it is leadership and have confidence in that when you are preparing your application. Again, just keep a diary and think long term. It’s not just you are doing your Senior Fellowship to tick that box. Think about the criteria of your own job, your own career progression, think about how you want to influence students, how you do that via your modules and your colleagues, as well as your contact with the students themselves.
Anything else you’d like to add at all?
No, I think just to say that SALT are really supportive of this, the Fellowship Programme. I think certainly when I got to applying for Senior Fellowship, my own mentor from outside the Medical School was really supportive. And just yeah, I think it’s just really worth it for people to do instead of it’s not just a burden, but it is actually, I think it helps you to reflect on things and have confidence in your own teaching rather than just doing the day job.