Celebrating HEA Fellowship at Swansea University – applying UKPSF standards while teaching online

Mae’n ddrwg gennym ddim ar gael.

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Anthony Charles, SFHEA

Some Introductions…

I am Dr Anthony Charles, a Senior Lecturer in Criminology and Criminal Justice. I am programme director for the MA in Applied Criminal Justice and Criminology and I am a Senior Fellow of the HEA and a UKAT Senior Recognised Advisor. I teach in Criminology, with a focus on my specialist subjects which are youth justice and children’s rights. I have been employed at Swansea University for more than 18 years (although my initial role was in research).

and Anthony’s Top Tips

1. Be honest and undertake an audit

2. Work with your mentor

3. Discuss your application with colleagues

4. Don’t leave the application until the last minute.

Why did gaining Senior Fellowship recognition matter to you? Why apply?

I believe that teaching is one of the most critical activities that we undertake at Swansea University. Through teaching, we help to form the minds of future leaders, share and progress our discipline, create channels through which our research can inform and inspire and ourselves develop. I gained my HEA Fellowship in 2017 and found the reflective process underpinning it very helpful. As I have grown into a programme management role, in which I lead a teaching team and a growing PGT programme, I wanted to take that personal reflective process a stage further. I therefore undertook the Senior Fellow application to challenge my practice, my leadership role and to reflect upon what I have done and could improve upon. It is really important that we do not ‘stand still’ in our teaching journeys: HEA recognition helps us to remember to evidence what we do, reflect and, where appropriate, make changes.

How have you continued to apply the standards of the UKPSF in your work since gaining that recognition during the Covid-19 pandemic?

Without doubt, the pandemic has created a number of challenges for teaching practitioners. However, it has also created opportunities. As I reflect on what I and the team have done, we have: optimised digital learning approaches; thought hard about what students will need in the new working environment; challenged syllabi; modified teaching practice; diversified teaching sessions; and revised approaches to assessment. In doing so, arguably all of the 5 core areas of activity have been realised, new ways of sharing knowledge have been designed and a greater emphasis than ever been placed on our professional values. Both as a teacher and someone who leads a team, I saw incredible dedication across the University towards continuing to provide quality teaching and an excellent student experience and the real passion for teaching which characterises Swansea University became so visible.

For me personally, the pandemic also led me to think acutely about related teaching and student support practice and thus, in addition to a Senior Fellowship application, I made an application to UKAT for recognition as a Senior Recognised Advisor and fortunately, this was successful also. This allowed me an opportunity to focus specifically on my mentoring and advice roles (and my leadership of these), elements of practice which are now more critical than ever. Although a separate recognition, the Senior Recognised Advisor accreditation complemented my Senior Fellowship and allowed me further engagement in reflection on my professional activities.

 

What top tips would you offer to someone delivering blended teaching in HE?

The three top tips that I would offer are based on my personal experiences:

Firstly, invest in more initial preparation than you are used to. This is not a bad nor negative thing. Blended teaching requires forward thinking around delivery, which is more intense than if we were in the classroom. Such things as IT can create challenges and ensuring that students are advance briefed and prepared become incredibly important. However, done right, blended learning can be a positive experience for teachers and students.

Secondly, be prepared to move away from the status quo and embrace change. Certainly, when I have taught on-line and diversified my approach, my existing PowerPoints and Prezi’s were reshaped, the familiar structure of lectures, seminars and workshops were amended and new ways of promoting interaction had to be constructed. Were these a little daunting to begin with? Of course. At the end of term, had I learned new skills and become more confident in my ability to teach in a blended manner? Yes. At the conclusion of the module, did students say that they had enjoyed blended learning? They did. To make the most of blended learning, we have to be agile and willing to change. Actually, this is an exciting aspect of teaching practice and something that we should not forget.

Finally, listen to the students. Blended learning presents its own, unique challenges, notably a shift in participation away from that which we are used to. There is less human interaction in the sense of not always being together in a classroom and being able to ‘read the room’. Yet, students are, in blended learning, as in face-to-face approaches, our partners. So, what I have found useful is to do something that I would do in a face-to-face context – build in honest evaluation and feedback opportunities, discuss changes with students, assess jointly ‘what works’ and manage expectations appropriately (both staff and students). Throughout the changes effected by the pandemic, I have found simply talking with students (which is what we do anyway) is the best way to move forward and they have been understanding and generous in terms of their understanding and support of staff.

 

For someone not sure about applying for HEA Senior Fellowship recognition what words of encouragement could you offer?

I would simply say, ‘go for it!’. I have seen such great teaching practice across the University and am shocked sometimes when people become anxious applying for Fellowship and Senior Fellowship recognition. Teaching staff spend so much time thinking about, planning for and delivering teaching – I cannot think of a single lecturer who does not want to be an excellent teacher. So, with that in mind, it is important that teachers get the recognition that they have earned.

The Senior Fellowship though is not just about recognition (as important as that is). It is, as I suggested above, another way to develop – for me, that was very important. I have never seen my HEA journey as a tick box and I would encourage others not to either. Rather, think of it this way: teaching matters, it is a critical aspect of our core business and we all want to get it right. More than that, for many of us, teaching is our vocation, and it is something that we want to excel in. Using the UKPSF, central elements of teaching practice get discerned (as also the areas in which we can improve). Through case studies, leadership and innovation is revealed (as well as challenges for the future). Through recognition, both individual staff members and the University gain pride and status and as a learning community we grow together. All of these things matter and really underscore why everyone who teaches should take that first (or second or third) step on the HEA journey.

I did want to add one further point. Thanks to the way that Swansea University has approached its HEA route, no-one is left unsupported. We have dedicated professional staff who provide incredible support, and each applicant gains a mentor. Also, our Schools are supportive. The HEA journey is therefore one that is shared. I personally think that this is an innovative and positive thing. To any aspiring or potential applicant, I would recommend you to download Senior Fellowship information and attend the next Swansea route briefing. I have found my HEA journey to be incredibly positive and I hope that you do too.

What top tips would you offer to someone preparing a HEA Senior Fellowship application?

 

My tips would be:

Firstly, be honest and undertake an audit. Spend a bit of time working through the UKPSF and write down the ways (and there will be many) that you meet the areas of activity and demonstrate key knowledge and professional values. I guarantee that applicants will be surprised by the good practice that they already do – this can be a great start to the HEA journey. This will also help you think around the evidence that you need to provide.

Secondly, work with your mentor. Swansea has set up a system of HEA mentors. Please, make the time to contact your mentor. Discuss any concerns with them, discuss too your successes. Do not think of mentoring as an add-on to the process: it can be critical.

Thirdly, discuss your HEA application with colleagues. I find that many colleagues are a bit shy about the good work that they do. If individuals discuss their developing applications with others, they can get reassurance about their teaching, be reminded of positive things that they do and simply excite support from their team. All of these things are important.

Finally, do not leave your HEA application until the last minute. We should all invest in our development and, when it concerns such an important role as teaching, arguably the investment should be strong. So, I would recommend, in addition to the above, that applicants try to get their applications done in advance, reviewed and give themselves a little time to reflect. Through the HEA recognition process, the successes and achievements of teachers can sing – let us all seek to make Swansea University resound with the chorus generated by those recognised by the HEA!

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