Category Archives: academic development

'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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Were the noughties the golden age of teaching in UK higher education?

I started my academic job search around the Autumn of 2001, just as the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) was taking place. Those on the market a year or two before me may have a different take, but to me I couldn't have entered the academic job market at a worse time. [I appreciate that anyone entering since has probably had it much worse.] I applied for and interviewed for various geography lectureships and research assistantships without success, but in Autumn 2002 I landed an interview at the University of Southampton in the Modern Languages department; I was offered the job and started in January 2003.

The job I actually got, was at the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS), 1 which was itself part of a national network with 23 other subject centres collectively called the Learning and Teaching Support Network, which later become part of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). My job title was the Academic Coordinator for Area Studies and I was brought in to manage the Area Studies Project, which was collaboration of six subject centres. Despite the learning and teaching focus of the subject centres, I knew very little about teaching in higher education when I started off, and I knew I knew little about teaching in higher education. I thought I knew a bit about higher education policy, but it turns out I didn't know as much as I thought. Over time the job evolved and I led various projects on interdisciplinary teaching and learning, organised workshops for new academic staff in languages and related disciplines. I read lots of papers, I carried out a few research projects, published a few academic papers and reports, and met hundreds of people from all round the UK and beyond. No need to go on here-- I have a CV for all that stuff.

Fast forward to 2015 and, among other things I am teaching new lecturers at the University of Brighton aware they they have come into a greatly impoverished sector. In part I mean 'impoverished' in money terms, but also resource and support impoverished. In the 2000s there were 24 subject centres which provided workshops, research funds, subject specific expertise on a national level, a sense of community and, perhaps most importantly informative and up-to-date websites and publications. The HEA commissioned its own research, projects and reports into a range of matters. Separate from the subject centres was the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL), the National Disability Team, Jisc (still around) and the later on the Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs – there was some disagreement about whether it should be pronounced 'settles' or 'kettles' (See David Kernohan's post on 'Ghosts of Teaching Excellence past' for his excellent analysis)).

Most of these are dead now. The subject centres are gone; the HEA is a rump of its former self trying to work out how to be self-funded, and known to many academics as a sort of DVLA for HE teaching). Many of these projects are mere memories to those involved in them, their websites and resources deleted, hacked, destroyed or if we are lucky, archived.

Some CETL's have a legacy, ironically because they funded buildings and refurbishments; our Creativity Centre at Brighton is still in use for its intended purpose. Now teaching excellence is all about a thing called the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

I didn't realise it at the time, but I was actually part of the golden age of teaching and learning in higher education. Its easy to get nostalgic, and not all was plain sailing, but here I really have to acknowledge my privilege.

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Notes:

  1. Still going as a separate centre at the University of Southampton

Mary Willingham: the courageous and subversive act of pedagogic research

I hadn't heard of Mary Willingham until today. Her story has been the US education news for a few days now.

One of the risks of researching something is that you often find something out. When that research is into what actually goes on in a university the results can be unpalatable. Pedagogic research is often looked down upon, but in many respects it is the form of research that requires most courage.

Mary Willingham works in the Center for Student Success and Academic Counseling at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Over the course of her experience she came to notice that many student athletes were struggling with basic reading skills. She could have said nothing at all or merely harboured prejudice based on anecdote; instead her research into the reading levels of student athletes (and publication of the results) has brought condemnation from her university senior management, including according to CNN a demotion.

Those us in the UK (and elsewhere in the world) find it difficult to understand the concept of a university in which sports are such a great deal. Games are televised and watched by thousands of people. 80,000 plus seater stadia are not unknown. Athletics is seen as both a money spinner and community outreach. Some universities and college accept students who would not otherwise be qualified based on their abilities in particular sports. The [American] football coach is often the highest paid employee at the whole university. The Chronicle of Higher Education forums are a source of many stories about pressure from sports coaches to be lenient on students who have not done the work required or not done as much as they should.

But sports is not really my point here.

Mary Willingham’s experience illustrates that research into the activities of the universities, especially learning and teaching can be a courageous, even subversive act, which may have high personal costs. Real courage on the part of university management would be to encourage and applaud research into those things which happen every day in our universities.

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Ten useful things to remember when applying for HEA Fellowship­ (D1 and D2, Professional Recognition Route)

The following list is ten things I believe it is particularly useful to remember when applying for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, through the Professional Recognition Route. My thoughts are focused particularly on the  Associate (D1) and Fellowship (D2) levels though they apply to Senior (D3) and Principal (D4) as well.  Here at Brighton it is our aspiration that all teaching staff have, or are working towards, a recognised teaching qualification by 2015, and the HEA's Professional Recognition is likely to be the main route for more experienced academic staff.

  1. Remember the Fellowship is a teaching and learning in higher education award, not a qualification in being an academic. The Fellowships of the Higher Education Academy are concerned with teaching and learning in higher education. Other aspects of the academic role such as research, involvement in academic societies, administrations etc., may be relevant to the Fellowship application, but only in as much as they relate to learning and teaching in higher education.
  2. Remember the Fellowship is a teaching and learning in higher education award, and not a recognition for a long career. It is tempting to include everything you have done over the course of your career, but it is not a recognition for everything you have done over the course of your career. Teaching outside higher education and other work/ or outside work experience may be relevant, but only insofar that it relates to learning and teaching in higher education. This may involve leaving out the achievements of which you are most proud.
  3. Remember the Fellowship is a teaching and learning in higher education award, and not a reward for good character. Getting on well with colleagues, being liked and appreciated by others and being a helpful person are all good qualities. However, fellowships are not awarded for being a nice person or having people say nice things about you, but showing evidence of your learning and teaching practice.
  4. Remember to focus on teaching and learning in higher education. Other qualifications are awarded for teaching in (or learning to teach in) sectors other than higher education. These experiences may be relevant to your practice of teaching and learning in higher education, but they are not substitutes for learning and teaching in higher education.
  5. Remember that teaching and learning in higher education takes many forms. Academic development, developing teaching materials, pedagogic research in higher education and designing and delivering workshops are all suitable examples of teaching and learning and in higher education and supporting these activities. Assessment can be formative, as well as summative. Students can be colleagues or professionals as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students.
  6. Remember to explicitly reference the professional values, core knowledge and areas of activity in the UK Professional Standards Framework. These three areas of the UKPSF are central to the process and should be explicitly referenced in your application. Do not rely on the assessors to spot the relevance of each activity or case study to the UKPSF.
  7. Remember to be reflective. The fellowship application is not just about what you have done, but what you have learnt from that experience, and its impact on your future practice. 
  8. Remember to demonstrate that you are familiar with literature or theory on teaching and learning in higher education. Like any other scholarly field, there is a vast literature around teaching and learning in higher education. You don’t need to be an expert but evidence of engagement with the literature is important. This literature can ‘generic’ and/or specific to your discipline.
  9. Remember the Fellowship is an individual award. Teamwork is good, but the HEA fellowships are awards for individuals. If describing a team activity make your role clear. Be careful how you use the pronoun ‘we’ and how you write about “The department”, “The centre”, “The project team”, “My colleague” etc.
  10. Remember the references are an important part of the application. The referees you might choose when applying for a job are not necessarily the most appropriate for commenting on your teaching and learning practice. Think about which colleagues are best placed to provide your reference.

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Five good things about starting a new academic job

I’ve been in my new job at Brighton for nearly three weeks now. I thought I would write a few thoughts about the positives about starting a new job. It has been over ten years since I was the ‘new guy’, and so far I’m enjoying it immensely.

Five good things about starting a new job:

  1. I’ve let go: I find it easy to start getting involved in things, but difficult to stop doing them. After ten years in the job I was the ‘go to guy’ for lots of different things. I had accumulated a lot of roles and responsibilities I did not want to give up. Some of these roles and responsibilities were probably not that important, or they are less important than they were. Someone else has to do the stuff which is really important now. The rest of it doesn’t need doing.
  2. I’m ignorant and naïve: Usually this is a bad thing but for a newcomer it’s a (sort of)  strength. If I don’t understand how something works I can ask without sounding clueless. If there is an elephant in the room I can brazenly draw attention to it (if I want to).
  3. I can be known for something else: Past achievements can be an albatross. After a long time in a job, people can appreciate talents, skills and achievements you wish to move on from. You can become known and appreciated for the wrong reasons.
  4. I’m meeting new people and having new experiences: I was always meeting new people in my previous job, but it has been particularly nice meeting new people in my new job. Brighton has a very different subject mix to Southampton, so I’m meeting people who teach and research different subjects like sport, hospitality, fashion design and Youthwork.
  5. I’m really doing new things. I’m teaching on the Postgraduate Certificate course, working with students on the Peer Assisted Study Sessions (PASS) scheme, working on Brighton’s professional recognition scheme. All this is related to my previous role, but new enough to be exciting, challenging and daunting.
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SEDA Fellowship report 2012-2013

Introduction

For the second year running I have opted to put my SEDA Fellowship report on my website (last year's here). Although I am currently working at the LLAS Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies at the University of Southampton, I will be joining the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton in September. I was offered the Brighton job back in May so I am very much in a transition frame of mind at present.

Career development

After ten years at the LLAS Centre (counting the centre in its LTSN/ HEA subject centre forms) I felt it was now time to move on and undertook a UK-wide job search. The end result was an offer from the Centre of Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton. Last week I visited Brighton for the university’s internal teaching and learning conference and heard about a lot of the interesting things about some of the interesting things which are going on there. It was also nice to spend time getting to know some of my new colleagues as well.

Statistics for Humanities

twitter
Tweet referring to the Statistics for Humanities book.

This past year has been mostly project based. My Statistics for Humanities student ‘text-book’ is available in draft form and I am awaiting comments from the British Academy nominated reviewers.  The British Academy agreed that I could put a draft online for a crowd sourced review. This has led to receiving many helpful comments, and one academic in particular has provided some very extensive feedback. I have long been dissatisfied with introductory statistics textbooks. I hope that mine will reach out to students (and academics) who struggled in the past. The examples in the book come from the humanities and I have attempted to write a book which uses a verbal reasoning-based approach which should resonate better with humanities students than some other texts.

EU Quality Assurance project

University of Aveiro, Portugal. Venue for our third project meeting in December 2012.

We are coming to the end of the second year of this 2-year EU-funded project,  Sharing Practice in Assuring and Enhancing Quality (SPEAQ) which follows on from LANQUA (the Language Network for Quality Assurance). I didn’t work on LANQUA and hadn’t worked on an EU-project before. I was quite apprehensive about being involved in the project as I had seen colleagues undergoing the stresses of running a project which involves administrative complications (e.g. currency conversions and daily rates) as well as working alongside colleagues in other countries who work in very difference pedagogic, policy and quality environments.   Fortunately our assistant director (and my line manager) Alison Dickens is an experienced director of EU–projects and our senior administrator Sue Nash has worked on them before, so, fortunately for me, I have been able to concentrate mostly on content issues.

Delegates at SPEAQ workshop, Tallinn
Delegates at SPEAQ workshop, at European Quality Assurance Forum, Tallinn

In the first year of the project we developed a workshop in which staff, students and quality managers can participate together. I played a big role in this aspect of the project producing a dialogue sheet and writing facilitator instructions. Along with our Danish colleague Ole Helmersen from Copenhagen Business School I attended the EQAF Forum in Tallinn, Estonia where we tried out the workshop on a large group of quality professionals from a range of European countries.

As well as running the workshop the EQAF conference was a great staff development opportunity for me. As a QE person rather than QA person it was interesting the meet people who operate in very different QA systems. The UK seems to be fairly in the middle between those countries in which QA is very highly centralised and regulated through to countries where QA is virtually non-existent—at least in the way that I understand it. If there is one thing that all countries seem to have in common it is that QA appears very different from teaching. As one person I met pointed out, a poor teacher is not a quality issue as far as most university structures are concerned. Even at the Senior Manager level there is often a separation of roles between the person in which of QA and the person who in charge of teaching and the curriculum.

For the second part of the project each partner does their own small-scale project which meets a particular institutional need. At Southampton we decided to do a project on feedback, called "Getting the Most Out of Feedback" (GMOOF). The core principle of GMOOF is that everybody, whether a member of teaching staff, a student or a quality manager, is both a provided and recipient of feedback. The principles of good feedback: Relevant, Timely, Meaningful and with Suggestions for improvement (See Race online), apply to all feedback, not just feedback from teacher to student but also student to teacher, student to student, teacher to teacher etc., teacher to quality manager, teacher to professional body etc. etc. GMOOF is a website which focuses on giving good feedback and making the most of feedback from others rather than focusing on different job roles. (The website is under development at present). A workshop based on the project is being developed and will be piloted in Southampton in September – I’ll be in Brighton by then so will not be leading it(!) Additional material for the website includes a card sort (built using the free software nanDECK), a series of feedback videos with reflective questions (built in xtranormal and put up on youtube), videos of interviews about feedback with the project team and other colleagues at Southampton, and online quizzes for staff and students. There is also a section specific on how we at Southampton work to enhance the quality of teaching across the university.

Teaching

My teaching this year has focused in two major areas. I have been contributing to the interdisciplinary Curriculum Innovation module “Sustainability in the Local and Global Environment"). 2012-13 was the first time this module has run and I benefited greatly from working with National Teaching Fellow Simon Kemp. It has been some years since I taught undergraduates and the modules made extensive use of technology (including Twitter, Panopto, Blackboard) and had a variety of assessments including a presentation, conference paper and group film project.

My other teaching responsibility has involved teaching research skills to (mostly Humanities) doctoral students. I have run numerous sessions on everything from putting the thesis together, preparing for the viva, ethnographic methods, critical thinking and applying for funding. Most of my materials are available in the HumBox under a Creative Commons license. Students produce critical reflections on the sessions, which also provide me with feedback.

Other work.

I continue to undertake evaluation for Routes into Languages programme which is funded to increase the uptake of languages in schools. I was recently a keynote speaker at the conference Innovative Language Teaching and Learning at University: Enhancing the Learning Experience through Student Engagement at the University, which was held at the University of Manchester.

I also presented at the LLAS e-learning symposium about my online open access language teaching research website YazikOpen. I have also been preparing materials for the LLAS annual Heads of Department workshop, which is entitled “Thriving for the Public Good”

Future

At Brighton I am expecting to be involved in a variety of academic development activities including working with teaching staff to apply for the HEA Fellowships, blended learning and undertaking research. I will also being going to Plymouth in November to undertake PASS (Peer Assisted Study Session) Supervisor Training.

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Using xtranormal to create (serious) academic development videos.

I first came across Xtranormal on the Chronicle of Higher Education forums where people were making videos  recreating favourite (that is humorous) conservations with students. Xtranormal enables you to create films using stock actors and sets, but typing in a script for the dialogue. The actors are comical looking  and 'robotic voices' which encourages its use for humorous purposes.  However, I have been using it as part of Getting the Most out of Feedback (GMOOF) project which is a sub-project of the Sharing Practice in Assuring and Enhancing Quality (SPEAQ) project.

Screenshot showing the xtranormal dialogue and set.
Screenshot showing the xtranormal dialogue and set.

The  free service offers a fairly limited range of stock characters and scenes. This is good to get started with, but a subscription unlocks a lot more characters and functionality.  Xtranormal videos can be made online, but I would recommend downloading the desktop versions which I found was faster and enables the user to have up to 12 characters in their movie. (I understand this is only available for Windows at present). The videos are saved in .slate format. These can then be exported to other formats which enable the videos to be viewed in video player software or uploaded to the web.

I have uploaded the videos I made from the feedback project to youtube. The videos will form part of the resources on the GMOOF website. One of the videos in the GMOOF Youtube list is below.

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