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Reflecting on how and why we teach

02 Dec 2019 | Advance HE Academics at Macquarie University who have achieved Fellowship share their thoughts on the process along with advice for those thinking about applying and reflections on the support the university offers.

In 2018 Macquarie University in Sydney embarked on a project to accredit academics with Advance HE. As the director of Learning and Teaching in Macquarie Law School, I am proud of the learning and teaching provided by our staff and I was very keen to be part of the initiative.

With the support of Dr Karina Luzia, Program Coordinator for Professional Learning, of the Learning Innovation Hub at Macquarie University, we set out to gather a group of teaching staff from the Law School who were interested in being formally recognized for their teaching skills.  

This was a great experience for us. We formed a 'Shut Up and Write' group for preparing our applications.  We met up to discuss our teaching practices and to share our experiences as we prepared our applications. I was particularly pleased that quite a number of our sessional staff took up the opportunity to apply for a Fellowship and were part of the process. Personally, it was a great opportunity to reflect on how and why I teach and to articulate my teaching philosophy and experiences. I've since drawn on this reflective process as part of Performance Review discussions and promotion activities.  

Across my department, nineteen staff members in Law have applied for a fellowship since 2017 and 8 have been successful to date: 5 SFHEAs, 2 FHEAs, 1 AFHEA and I look forward to more of our staff becoming accredited in the future.

Dr Lise Barry is the Deputy Dean, Learning and Teaching, Macquarie University.
 

Dr Lise Barry

The thought of applying for formal recognition of my professional practice in higher education first started to brew back in 2017. Our learning design team were keen to engage with the process however, I was not too keen on the thought of writing reflectively or writing at all. My fears of tackling the task dissipated with the wonderful support offered by Karina Lutzia from the Learning Innovation Hub here at Macquarie University. With opportunities to attend formal workshops, informal #SUAW (shut-up and write) sessions to hear from other applicants across campus and also with the one-to-one support Karina offered the process didn’t feel so unattainable. After all, I was meant to be celebrating all the hard work I had done in my role as a Senior Learning Designer even if the work felt like we were building the runway as we were landing the plane. 

Writing my application forced me to stop and think about everything I’d achieved and surprisingly I was confronted by a sense of comfort that I was doing a good job. Although my imposter syndrome didn’t leave it was quietened in the knowledge that the things I was doing linked to a framework designed by people who know a lot more about higher education teaching practices than I did. It's been 18 months since achieving my Senior Fellowship and the ongoing process of reflecting on my design work is still with me. Looking for areas that went well and areas of improvement play a prominent role as I go about supporting staff and students.

Sherrie Love is a Senior Learning Designer, Senior Fellow (SFHEA) at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, Macquarie University
 

Sherrie Love

Before applying to an Advance HE fellowship, I hadn’t really thought about getting recognition for the quality of my practice. Teaching is something most academics have to do, but whereas the research side of academia is replete with performance metrics and indicators, there are very few ways to prove the quality of your teaching, other than perhaps student feedback forms. Therefore, having an Advance HE Fellowship was a great way to add teaching experience and quality to my CV, and it allows me to claim my Higher Education expertise to potential employers and funding agencies. 

Equally as important as having the fellowship, the whole process of applying for it was extremely beneficial to me. Producing the reflective writing required in this application was an enriching experience where I was surprised to learn a lot about my teaching practice — there were intuitive and personal aspects of my teaching that I only became more aware of while writing my application. I also gained further insight into problems and specific issues that I had to address in my teaching, which made me a better lecturer.

Bruno Alves Buzatto is a Lecturer in the Department of Biological Sciences, Faculty of Science and Engineering, Macquarie University
 

Bruno Alves Buzatto

As a casual teacher at various Universities for years, I had many qualifications and memberships in leadership and management, but nothing formal in the field of education. I had been considering a post-graduate qualification in "University Teaching and Learning", but it was both expensive and time-consuming. As a casual/sessional academic I would be required to do it all myself, rather than through a University supported program.

When I heard about the Fellowship, I was excited at the prospect of different pathway for gaining recognition for teaching and learning. With support from Macquarie University to prepare my application, and from colleagues at Western Sydney University providing references, the process turned out to be a very positive experience. 

Being able to reflect on 20 years of casual/sessional work in higher education through the lens of the UKPSF was very rewarding. This framework provided an inclusive definition of what it means to be an educator, which was great. Placing students at the heart of the reflection process was a welcome approach and meant that I felt my time in preparing an application (evidence) was well spent. 

The process of writing up the evidence was a demanding reflective process, but it made me reconsider what I did in my classes, as well as how and why. I was also challenged to consider how I had improved my practice and what I could do to continue improving.  Perhaps one of the most enjoyable aspects of preparing the application was going back through the things that students had said about my classes and my teaching over the years - a great reminder of the importance of what we do and why we do it. 

The award of Fellowship in 2019 reminded me that teaching excellence is (as many have suggested) a journey, rather than a destination, so I need to keep revisiting, and reviewing!

Dominic McLoughlin is a former academic at Macquarie University and now teaches at Western Sydney University. 
 

Dominic McLoughlin

I may have laboured longer than most under the assumption most careers progress logically, if not inevitably. However, that’s not how I arrived in my current role as an academic writing specialist. Although I hold a PhD in Cultural Studies and Rhetoric, I’d charted a circuitous (others might say messy!) path through editing, business writing and surgical education before returning to Macquarie University seven years ago to research the First Year Experience.

Preparing my Fellowship application gave me both space and, oddly, permission to explore how this background has informed my work as a university educator. In writing about pedagogical successes, design failures, unhelpful teaching philosophies and the joy of working with Students as Partners, I was also engaged in the existential work of synthesising a personal narrative about vocation. As Parker J. Palmer notes in The Courage to Teach, good teaching is more than technique; it arises from “the identity and integrity of the teacher”. Fellowship invites us to reflect on who we are as teachers. It reminds us that our biographies matter in the classroom at least as much as our theoretical knowledge and practical skills.

We achieve professional standards in higher education through work that is often familiar and sometimes prosaic. However, evaluating our teaching practice is not simply a matter of elaborating what we do regularly; it’s the active contemplation how we engage with students and why we (re)make pedagogical choices. As I drafted my application, I was curious to note that my explanations of success often turned on the acknowledgment of missteps and imperfections in my personal practice. To me, this speaks to the richness of the Advance HE process. It serves to celebrate our achievements in teaching and learning while encouraging attentiveness to those transformative situations that enable growth and change.

Fellowship is both a pathway to professional recognition and a model for reflective practice as professional development. I’d highly recommend the experience to you.

Palmer, P. J. (2007). The Courage to teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. 10th Anniversary edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass.

Dr Robyn Westcott is a Learning Adviser at Macquarie University.

Dr Robyn Westcott

Fellowships are embedded in the UK and have been adopted by increasing numbers of higher education institutions globally, from the Americas to Australasia. Find out more about the range of benefits Advance HE Fellowship offers. 

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