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'What am I?” - How Senior Fellowship helped define my role

 

Jon RhodesJon Rhodes, e Learning advisor

It’s that moment at a conference when during polite conversation someone asks “..and what do you do?” I’ve recently struggled to answer this question but I think the process of gaining SFHEA recognition has helped!

I’ve been employed in the HE sector as a Senior Technician, a Visiting Lecturer, a Blended Learning Advisor, a Lead Tutor, and now refer to myself as ‘Advisor, specialising in e-Learning and Learning Space Design’. My current role as Advisor in the College of Learning and Teaching, University of Wolverhampton is ever-changing and multifarious. On a single day I might advise a staff member on approaches to learning and teaching, host a staff development session, lead on a project workstream, tutor on an online course and write some copy for publication online (as I’m doing today)! All hugely exciting and interesting but not easy to encompass in a short sentence while holding a sausage roll, a conference agenda and querying where the next ‘break-out’ session might be.

When it was suggested that I might like to consider applying for Senior Fellowship my first thought was “ooh, here’s an opportunity to sit down, evaluate and reflect upon everything I’ve done,” in the hope that by undertaking this process I’d better understand what I might do in the future. As the College of Learning and Teaching is a new development at the University I’m keen to support as best as I can and help define the College’s role in the Institution. Finally, and somewhat selfishly, I saw Senior Fellowship as an acknowledgement of my success across a broad range of pedagogic discipline areas and an opportunity to gain recognition amongst peers. I’m not just “the guy who advises on distance learning” or “that’s the one that showed us those ‘fancy’ chairs.”

When I began evidencing my professional practice (to produce the reflective account and case studies), it became apparent pretty early on in the process that key themes were emerging. By evaluating these themes and aligning with the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF), it was possible to highlight ‘best practice’ and the ‘lessons learned’ that might positively impact approaches to learning and teaching in the Institution. Importantly, it also enabled me to isolate areas that I felt I could investigate further and develop my practice to become a better, more rounded Academic staff member. As close colleagues were also applying at the same time, it was an opportunity, for us all, to collectively assess and plan, to support and encourage. We slavishly adhere to the academic calendar or strict project timelines with little chance to recognise what has been achieved and doing this as a team was hugely rewarding and a real fillip at a time of change for the Institution and the sector as a whole.

If I were to offer any advice to someone applying for recognition, I’d suggest they ensure they secure the necessary hours required to complete the application. It is an incredibly rewarding process but the many different phases of collating evidence, evaluating, reflecting, producing a final document, requesting references, uploading to the HEA platform, etc., all take time. I found value in each of these phases and garnered real insight from completing each element in turn and revisiting; especially reading my referees’ references which seemed to distil my approach to education not just ‘what I had done’.

So, reflecting on my fifteen years working in the Higher Education sector and having recently gained recognition, do I still I question “how do I explain what I do?” “What am I?” And “how can I best share what I do with others?” I certainly have a better understanding of what I’ve done, can articulate this to others more clearly and have a better idea of what I’d like to do in the future. I’m also immensely proud of being recognised as a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and being a part of a community of likeminded individuals. I’d strongly recommend to others to consider applying!

In conclusion, I’d ask how would you choose to describe what you do, what you are and might gaining accreditation help you answer those questions? At the very least it’ll be an interesting topic of conversation at the next conference you attend.

Build on your teaching successes

Kudos Case Study photo: Paul Hooley

Paul Hooley, Senior Lecturer in Cell and Molecular Biology

‌The Higher Education Academy fellowship scheme gives the opportunity to build on your teaching successes to acquire an internationally recognised award.  Science is an intensely practical experience and comes alive when experimental evidence can rigorously test and explore hypotheses. In essence, my philosophy of science teaching is very simple. At all levels, the teaching of science has to be informed and driven by practical work with scientists carrying the obligation to explain their research to a wider audience well beyond their own discipline. In particular, at level 4 and above there is no clear divide between teaching and research.

For example, revealed by the winter storms of 2014, is a 5,000 year old oak tree on a Welsh beach. This ancient victim of climate change is a timely reminder of the consequences of rises in sea level in our own time caused by global warming. Salt water kills virtually all plants with currently 6% of the Earth’s land area being affected by salinity caused by seawater incursions or from evaporation of irrigated land. These marginal lands are largely found in developing countries with hungry, growing populations. Mechanisms that organisms use to tolerate salt and strategies for breeding salt tolerant crops have been at the heart of my research work over 25 years at the University of Wolverhampton. A central theme of my Senior Fellowship application was the integration of research and teaching. In science all students on an honours degree are involved in a real research project and it has been my pleasure to supervise several hundred students now on salt tolerance projects. Around 10 PhD students have worked with me in this area and some of their work is built into the undergraduate “Plant Biotechnology” module.

Analysis of large data sets using computers is a direct consequence of the genomics revolution with exciting opportunities to build the original analysis of DNA sequence data into teaching. These bioinformatics techniques are now essential currency for students seeking careers in healthcare such as the pharmaceutical industry or hospitals. We teach these methods on a number of modules and in projects. As a particularly rewarding example of the integration of teaching and research, Lawrence Eagles as an M.Sc student here achieved his first publication with our research group by using bioinformatics to examine the distribution of a candidate target protein for new antibiotics in bacteria.

Practical laboratory work also offers valuable opportunities for pedagogic research and outreach. For many years, in concert with colleagues from local schools and colleges, we have run molecular biology masterclasses. Using a one day format, college students work in our labs and are introduced to a typical level 4 undergraduate experience. This helps them meet curriculum targets but also acts as a welcome to higher education. We build up long term relationships with the teaching staff and visit schools and colleges to talk on exciting aspects of our research.

At a time when some universities have sought to hide research away in an ivory tower and downgrade the status of teaching, we have the opportunity to engage the wider population in the exciting adventure of science by building research topics into teaching. Fellowship of the HEA provides an excellent vehicle to support and guide your teaching and to network with colleagues.

 

Hooley P., Cooper P. and Skidmore N. (2008) Molecular Biology Masterclasses – developing practical skills and building links with higher education in years 12/13. Bioscience Education 11 1 - 6.

 

Whitehead M.P., Eagles L., Hooley P. and M.R.W. Brown (2014) Most bacteria synthesise polyphosphate by unknown mechanisms. Microbiology 160 829-831.