If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Isaac Newton, 5 February 1675
For me personally, 2019 has been quite a year. In January, I graduated with a Doctorate in Education (EdD), which took place inside the awe-inspiring Canterbury Cathedral. In May, I became a Senior Fellow (SFHEA) with Advance HE, and officially received my certificate at my University’s Learning and Teaching Conference in June. It is with some pride that I am the first member of professional services within my institution to have gained a Senior Fellowship.
Back in 2011, I gained an Associate Fellowship (AFHEA) and found it to be a powerful process on reflecting upon my achievements as a Learning Technologist within a higher education institution. After submitting my EdD thesis back in January 2018, I was keen to achieve the next level of Fellowship. Initially I was looking to apply for Fellow, but an academic colleague suggested that the Senior Fellowship route would be achievable to me and fitted my role more closely. They suggested that in my role as learning technologist I had plenty of good examples to demonstrate my leadership skills. I have to say that when I hear the phrase “leadership skills”, I tend to think of managers, directors and people holding very senior positions within an organisation. As a learning technologist, I don’t necessarily recognise that what I do can qualify as demonstrating leadership, influence and impact.
Professional practices and conversations
My institution had developed a paper-based UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) self-assessment tool that enabled me to record my activities and evidence against the UKPSF dimensions of practice at Descriptor 3 (D3). I used the UKPSF self-assessment tool interchangeably with my CV (which I regularly keep updated) to trigger and recall memories that enabled me to reflect upon my role in supporting learning and teaching, and more specifically around those areas where I can demonstrate and evidence leadership. More importantly were those professional conversations (both offline and online) that I was having with a range of colleagues about learning and teaching. In sharing those stories of triumphs and failures around the metaphorical campfire engendered a great sense of solidarity. It made me realise that there is one particular area of leadership where I derive a lot of satisfaction from, and that is around mentoring colleagues, both professional services and academic.
Oddly enough, I found writing the 6,000 word Senior Fellowship application more challenging than my 50,000 word EdD thesis as I tried to get to grips with thinking and writing reflectively and “blowing my own trumpet”. The latter I found particularly difficult to master with confidence. There, too, seems to be an assumption that reflective writing is a comparatively easy thing to do – for some, it can be an extremely difficult exercise. For me, I can hold my own, but I am by no means an expert at it. I used the UKPSF self-assessment tool to help map my claim against the appropriate UKPSF dimensions. It also enabled me to thread a leadership narrative throughout my Senior Fellowship application.
Much like my EdD thesis, Senior Fellowship required a lot of drafting, revising and support from my mentor assigned to me by my University who kept me on track and gave me vital support and guidance. I very much valued the formative assessment stage, which provided me with invaluable feedback from an assessor that enabled me to make corrections and adjustments to my claim before submitting it for final assessment.
Looking back at my SFHEA application journey, I am mindful that I am deeply influenced by British educational and academic systems, processes, cultures, and ways of thinking and doing. I am a passionate believer of lifelong learning and had the privilege of standing on the “shoulders of giants” in the form of fantastic mentoring from my teachers, managers, peers and colleagues over the years. From my EdD thesis, I have started to develop a sociomaterial sensibility, and I am now conscious that I am influenced by a constellation of technologies, objects, discourses, ideas and spaces which have facilitated and enabled my own professional learning.
The Senior Fellowship route is not just for our colleagues in traditional academic / teaching roles. For those of us who occupy non-academic or academic-related roles that support, and more crucially can influence, learning, teaching and the student experience (e.g. learning technologists, librarians, learning developers), a Senior Fellowship recognises the influence and impact we can make to learning and teaching in higher education.
Is it about time you become the giant to enable others to stand on your shoulders?
Dr Wayne Barry is an experienced learning technologist and academic developer at Canterbury Christ Church University. He is an HEA Senior Fellow and a Chartered IT Practitioner with the British Computer Society. He has taught on his University’s Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice, and is mentoring staff applying for HEA Fellowship.