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A non-academic’s journey to achieving the Senior Fellowship

06 Dec 2021 | Roshan Kolar Ganeshan Roshan Kolar Ganeshan, Head of eLearning and Innovation at Majan University College, Oman, shares his Senior Fellowship story

I have been in higher education for the past eight years and in the field of educational technology development for six years. My work primarily revolves around EdTech innovation, instructional design and training. Even though these three areas sound simple, there is a great amount of planning and R&D that goes behind most of my initiatives on campus. I was introduced to Advance HE in 2017 and at that time I thought it was mainly aimed at academics and not for professional staff like me. The college I work at, Majan University College, Oman, is a member institution of Advance HE and almost thirty of our staff, both academic and non-academic, have received a Fellowship in one category or another over the past four years. This led me to find out more and whether I could apply.

My first goal was to get a clear idea of the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF). The UKPSF is a benchmark against which higher education professionals can plan, evaluate and reflect on their continuing professional development. I realised that if I could map my journey in higher education against the three dimensions of the UKPSF with the right evidence, I might actually have a shot at this! 

After I got a clear understanding of the UKPSF and its significance in higher education, my next goal was to see which Fellowship category was right for me. I explored three possible Fellowship categories: Associate Fellow, Fellow and the Senior Fellow. During this time, I also met and had discussions with a few academics who had already received their fellowship in order to understand the process better and learn from their experience. Firstly, Prof. Venkoba Rao, Director of Studies (MBA),SFHEA in our Postgraduate Centre, guided me through his fellowship experience. This was inspirational and helped me finalise my application category. George Louis, Sr. Lecturer, FHEA in our English Language Faculty was another guiding force. His confidence in me encouraged me to take my plans ahead confidently and he was one of my referees in the application process. In addition, Dr. Tahseen Arshi, Director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, UAE supported me by being my referee for the submission. Dr Tahseen and I had done a lot of innovative classroom activities together during his time at Majan University College and it was a privilege to reflect on all our initiatives as part of my submission.

After two months of reflection, I finally decided to go for the Senior Fellowship because after all that reading and research with colleagues, I was convinced that what I have done over the years, and continue to do, is in line with Descriptor 3 (D3) of the UKPSF. I knew that very moment that it was a long shot but that I would never know if I never tried. I was awarded my SFHEA on 20 October, 2021 at the first attempt, and for me it was a moment of sheer satisfaction. I would like this story of mine to be an inspiration to everyone who isn’t into mainstream teaching but who has been facilitating lecturers, supporting them online and offline, leading educational technology, supporting students, training staff, pioneering in instructional design, researching and sharing their ideas on international stages, be it physical or virtual.

I faced a lot of challenges over the six months it took me to get the 6,500 words down on a Google document, before I finally made the submission to Advance HE in August 2021. All the challenges I faced were self-reflective opportunities and it was worth the struggle. I noted down some tips in a notebook during my journey with the submission and I’m hoping that sharing these will help future SFHEA candidates to secure their fellowship.

●     First things first - Decide on a theme

SFHEA is all about meeting the criteria of Descriptor 3 (D3) of the UKPSF - which in simpler terms means your successful engagement across all five Areas of Activity, knowledge and understanding across all aspects of Core Knowledge and commitment to all the Professional Values of the UKPSF. Get your theme right before you start writing - in my case, I used a three-act structure for my application:

1. I started with my background: Education, Academic/Technical Training, Work Experience, Research, Professional Qualities and Passion.

2.  Continued with my Work Philosophy: Leadership, Training, Learning and Teaching Methods, Experimentation, Quality Assurance, Inclusivity, Mentoring, Supporting Staff and Students, Project/Initiative Management, Assessment Support and Planning, Conference Participation and Organisational Contribution.

3.  And concluded with my two best initiatives as case studies, referenced and appropriately evidenced. The cases were an amalgamation of all my experience and expertise put into action along with the associated outcomes. This completed my theme for my document and I had my own story to tell.

  • Note down the points - Plan first, write later 6000 words of reflective, evidence-based text is not a minor challenge; it is a significant challenge, if not a humongous one. Not everyone, especially in the non-academic field, is a good writer. Take a notebook (digital or physical) and start creating a plan for the Reflective Summary and most importantly take your time. The more time you think and plan, the better you can reflect on your claims in writing. Take a walk down memory lane and ensure that you have all that is required listed as bullet points under separate sections, for example: Professional Career, Work Philosophy, Operational Support, Classroom Activities etc. Once you feel you have them all listed, that is when you start with the writing part. Try starting it off on a Google Doc or Microsoft One Note - the easiest way to write on the go informed by reflective discussions with colleagues.
     
  • Evidence, Reference and be Honest SFHEA is all about self-reflection in relation to your thorough understanding of effective approaches to teaching and learning support as a key contribution to high quality student learning. To ensure your submission is meaningful, you need to be honest. Referencing is key; keep it consistent throughout the application. Add evidence of your work as examples wherever required. This will help the reviewer understand the ideas in action. And don’t overdo the evidence because you have a strict word count that you need to abide by. That is another challenge that you will figure out yourself if you have previously attempted scholarly or conference publications.
     
  • Connect to explain better If you are aware of the three-act structure you will know that a story is always interconnected. It is good to have informational hints and references of the cases that you plan to highlight along the way. You could also connect different sections in your literature through evidencing. This helps the reader understand your claims better because of the associations and cross referencing.

There is a common misunderstanding that SFHEA is for 'mainstream' academics who spend much of their time teaching students; or it is for those who have already received an AFHEA or a FHEA. But thanks to Advance HE’s very detailed SFHEA section, you will realise that if you meet the criteria of Descriptor 3 of the UKPSF - then you have a shot at Senior Fellowship.

I don’t teach students or publish scholarly articles regularly but I do train staff and students, I also present at conferences and write articles for the college website and external sources on what I experiment with and implement. I never received an AFHEA or FHEA prior to attaining my SFHEA and most importantly I got my SFHEA without a single revision. 

So, don’t mistake teaching to be a 100% student-lecturer experience when it comes to your Advance HE Fellowship; you are as important to your institution as the academic staff are. With the Senior Fellowship, I’m recognised for the work I have been doing and that is a euphoric feeling. This recognition will further motivate me to explore innovative teaching and learning through the lens of the Professional Standards Framework.

Fellowship demonstrates a personal and institutional commitment to professionalism in learning and teaching in higher education. Across four categories, from Associate to Principal, Fellowship provides individuals with recognition of their practice, impact and leadership of teaching and learning.
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