Category Archives: reflective practice

'Louder voices for people in the middle of things': Reflections on the HEA 'Beyond Fellowship' conference

I spent yesterday at the HEA's 'Beyond Fellowship' Conference at Aston University. As well as catching up with old friends it was a chance to meet new people. Like me, most of those present support others in obtaining their HEA Fellowships and/ or teach on PGCert courses. I have shared here a summary of the key lessons I took away.

Going above and beyond
Claire McCullach, Eileen Hyder and Cherry Bennett, University of Reading

An occupational hazard of these conferences is that you meet like-minded people – in this case people who think teaching in higher education is important and that it is important for all staff to develop their teaching and gain recognition for the skills and knowledge they have. The tyranny of Key Performance Indicators can mean we are apt to measure success in terms of counting people who have a fellowship of the HEA rather than the process of becoming a fellow, and, perhaps more crucially, the responsibilities of being a fellow. Wouldn't it be great is every fellow took it upon her/ his self to mentor others through the fellowship process?

Digital portfolios for good standing
Chrissi Nerantzi and Kate Botham, Manchester Metropolitan University

We have recently submitted our re-accreditation documentation to the HEA and like many institutions we plan to offer a digital e-portfolio route alongside our 'written' route. I went into this session hoping for a sense of what an e-portfolio might look like, but I left with another challenge-- how do I document my own CPD? I need to record my own development more systematically and this was the challenge I left the session with. This blog is part of that process, but I am not always consistent in the way I record my reflections.

Beyond compulsion, KPIs and targets: an optimistic look at an alternative based on authenticity, prestige and expectation.
Martyn Kingsbury and Huw Rees, Imperial College London

The key lesson of this session was to build your practice on the 'prestige economy' of your institution. As Imperial is very very very research intensive, the speakers had developed an approach to their academic development which centres around valuing the research-based 'prestige economy' rather than fighting against it. Interestingly they found that motivation and demand for PGCert courses and other development increased when the programmes were no longer compulsory. Imperial is an outlier in terms of its research profile, even amongst research-intensive universities. I am still trying to think through the implications for my own situation.

Leading the Leaders and the Laggards: how Senior and Principal Fellows can support institutional and individual goals to enhance the learning experiences of students
Sue Eccles, Bournemouth University

In this session we had to do some group work. A collective sense of 'Why do we have to do this?' went around around the room for the few seconds it took for everybody to recognise their hypocrisy. We are always going on about the value of group work, working in teams, student as producer, student as knower etc. etc., but even we have a tendency to want to sit back passively and listen to someone talk about something or other for 40 or 50 minutes. Anyway –back to the session– as academic developers we are in the middle of things. We don't write and decide strategies (at least not directly), but we are expected to make them happen. In my notes I wrote 'Louder voices for people in the middle of things'. When senior mangers set targets for things like HEA Fellowships it often appears that meeting this target is the responsibility of a handful of people who are not senior managers. Teaching staff have all kinds of targets, aspirations, expectations and ambitions and we can often be frustrated when these conflict with our own targets, aspirations, expectations and ambitions, especially when it is our job to implement strategy. At a time when we are about to launch a new strategy at the University of Brighton, the question of who owns and is accountable for its contents is a crucial one.

A final plenary of the all the speakers (including those from the parallel sessions I didn't make) started with a discussion of 'ethical stealth'- terms which had emerged from one of the sessions. A sense of doing unseen work is very prevalent in my line of work, 'helping other people look good' as a colleague has put it. Ethical stealth is a problem though. One speaker noted that we need to be demonstrating our impact and we need to be confident that what we do has value. Doing good work which is unseen might please God, but not university senior managers.

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