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Oh, you teach French? How quaint!

17 Sep 2018 | Natalie Edwards Natalie Edwards, Associate Professor of French at the University of Adelaide, explains the reasons for applying for HEA Senior Fellowship, the process of applying and the main components of her application.

“Oh, you teach French? How quaint!” was how a lecturer from another university responded when I told her what I do. In an era of globalisation, in the midst of the largest migration since the Second World War, amid rising tensions between international powers and against the backdrop of Brexit, I think knowledge of languages and cultures is valuable, important, and more prescient than ever. But, I’m often struck when I meet colleagues from other areas of my own University that I don’t really know what they do. We’re all working towards similar things – advancing knowledge, furthering understanding, fostering skills – but we don’t necessarily know how others are going about it. While I wouldn’t describe someone else’s teaching area as “quaint,” I understand where this colleague was coming from. How can I really expect people in other areas to have any idea what I do? I’ve come to realise that one of the main ways to assert the relevance of my discipline is through recognition of our work, especially international recognition of the sort offered by HEA Senior Fellowship.

Natalie Edwards

I found out about Advance HE through the office of my Pro-Vice Chancellor for Student Learning. I’d won teaching prizes, including my University’s premier teaching award and a national award, an Australia Award for University Teaching. Due to these successes, I was contacted by the PVC’s office about applying for an HEA Fellowship. “What’s in it for me?” I thought. At first I wasn’t sure, since I didn’t know about Advance HE or how Fellowship could help me, my colleagues or my students. I went to an information session and thought it was an interesting opportunity but was in the middle of a heavy teaching load. Fortunately, at the end of the semester, two things happened; the PVC Office contacted me to encourage me again and a few colleagues who had gone through the process told me it was worth it. Being directly approached and encouraged by others made an important difference to me and I hope to encourage others in a similar way. At the same time, I could see Advance HE was gaining traction in Australia and, through my involvement in some hiring committees, I saw several applicants mention their HEA Associate/Fellow status in job applications.

Applying for HEA Fellowship status

So, I decided to have a go. Teaching is really important to me and, although I’m a committed researcher and see myself as a teacher-scholar, I spend a lot of time, effort and energy on my teaching. I had had consistently outstanding teaching evaluations and a demonstrated record of effectiveness in curriculum development for years before I applied for a teaching prize. I thought I was just doing my job and didn’t deserve any accolades. I see a lot of colleagues – especially female colleagues – who think the same way. Now, I think it’s important to recognise teaching, to make use of the recognition available to you, and to ask for what you deserve!

Fortunately, my PVC Office put me in touch with a mentor. It was invaluable to have the support of my University and of colleagues who had gone through the process. My mentor, Dr. Beth Beckmann, was fantastic. She had served as an assessor for HEA fellowship applications and had done extensive mentoring with colleagues at my institution and elsewhere. Beth read several drafts of my application and, in addition to plenty of encouragement, gave me concise, direct and meaningful feedback. I learnt a lot from Beth’s style of giving feedback and hope to emulate her practice in my own mentoring.

Drafting the application

When I started to draft my application, I felt daunted at having to write 6,000 words about my practice. Yet, when I broke it down into the introductory section and the two case studies, I realised I had plenty to say! There was an important difference between the applications for the teaching prizes I had won and the Senior Fellowship; while the first were for specific innovations in my teaching, the SFHEA application was more of a record of my career. I’d been teaching for 20 years when I wrote it – 6,000 words suddenly wasn’t nearly enough! I choose two very disparate areas of my professional activity for the case studies. The first was my curriculum development in French courses, focusing on First-Year French. In this case study, I narrated my teaching philosophy and explained how this forms the basis of my curricula, my classroom teaching and my approach to assessment and feedback. This was also an opportunity to articulate how I had led teaching teams and how my practice had impacted upon others. My second was at the other end of the spectrum: supervising and overseeing postgraduate students. I hold a leadership role in this area at my University, as I serve as Director of Graduate Studies for the Faculty of Arts. In addition to supervising my own doctoral students, therefore, I oversee the supervision of nearly 400 others. I crafted my second case study around this activity, explaining the initiatives I had developed to support both students and supervisors, thus impacting positively upon the practice of others.

A learning opportunity in itself

I found the process of writing the application to be a learning opportunity in itself. Narrating my career trajectory on paper was illuminating. I remembered things I’d forgotten doing – things that had touched students and/or colleagues but that never made it on to an official document or a CV, for example. I developed an ability to articulate more clearly how my practice stems from learning theories I had read or pedagogical innovations I had studied. I also realised some gaps in my practice – things I could reflect upon differently, aspects of my teaching I could improve on, or places where I could update my knowledge of pedagogical theory.

Overall, applying for Senior Fellowship has brought me several benefits, from gaining recognition for my work to helping me to narrate my career trajectory, pedagogical choices and leadership practices. It also helps me to think about possible avenues to improve my teaching, my leadership and my mentoring, and to how I can translate this recognition into something positive for others. Finally, to return to the beginning of this piece, I think that recognition from Advance HE has important benefits for one’s discipline, since an award at this level reverberates among one’s colleagues – both colleagues in the department and/or School, and those working in one’s field at other institutions. Some colleagues may still assume that what I do is “quaint” but I hope that international recognition of the kind offered by the HEA will go some way to disrupting this assumption.

For further information about Fellowship please click here.

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