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Reflections on Principal Fellowship from a professional services perspective

02 Feb 2024 | Julie Voce Julie Voce, Head of Digital Education and Deputy Director, Learning Enhancement and Development at City, University of London, describes her Principal Fellowship application through her institution’s accredited scheme.

I have been a Fellow since 2005 following completion of a PGCert in Academic Practice. As Head of Digital Education, I focussed initially on further accreditation through the Association for Learning Technology’s Certified Member (CMALT) scheme, achieving CMALT in 2015 and progressing to Senior CMALT in 2022. Following completion of Senior CMALT, I thought that it would be timely to revisit Fellowship, especially as I had developed a reflective portfolio of examples and evidence through the Senior CMALT application process.

One of the first challenges was to identify the right category of Fellowship (Senior or Principal) and I revisited a webinar that the Heads of e-Learning Forum (HeLF) had run with colleagues from Sheffield Hallam and Reading talking about their experiences. I was inspired by peers who had obtained Principal Fellow (PF) and thought this might also be achievable for me. In my role as Head of Digital Education, I lead on a range of areas related to digital education. This has included the expansion of lecture capture, including contributing to the development of a new lecture recording policy, the strategic development of new areas of activity, such as digital accessibility and digital literacy, and contributing to key strategic projects related to digital transformation. I also actively support others in the sector through my own research and involvement in sector groups such as UCISA and the Association for Learning Technology. 

One of the tasks I had when preparing my application was finding examples applications from people in professional services roles. While my institution provides comprehensive guidance, with examples from previous applicants, for PF these were all from academics, and I wanted to find parallels with their examples. I put a call out to the Heads of E-learning Forum (HeLF) to see if anyone was willing to discuss their application or to have a chat about their experiences of applying for PF. In response, I received several emails from others in a similar role who were also working towards PF or who were considering it and would welcome a chat. And so, the HeLF PFHEA support group was formed.

The group started in February 2023 with a presentation from Matt East from Perlego about his experiences of applying for PF. Matt talked about the examples he used for each descriptor [NB: as per an application for via the UKSPF 2011]; this was useful in seeing how he had interpreted them and what evidence he had used. He also encouraged us to think about what our ‘golden thread’ is - the key theme or guiding principle that runs through our application. 

In June, Professor Rachael-Anne Knight from University of Essex, formerly City, University of London, shared her perspective as an assessor and introduced us to her DRIVE model for writing about educational impact

In addition to guest speakers, we have had two sessions dedicated to giving feedback on someone’s draft. This format was suggested by Julian Bream from the Bloomsbury Learning Exchange who has been facilitating the group with me. As I was due to submit my application in April 2023, I volunteered to share my draft with members of the group, and they provided feedback during the session. This was a valuable experience and helped me to reflect on several areas:

  • What to include – As noted, my role has quite a wide remit with a range of projects/services (e.g. learning analytics, lecture capture, digital accessibility, digital literacies). One of the challenges was trying to work out which examples to include and which to leave out. The temptation is to put them all in, but then missing out on the depth of the example. In the end I focussed on the examples that demonstrated the most strategic impact through the provision of new and enhanced services, reviewing organisational support structures, supporting CPD across several institutions and my leadership across the sector.
  • Evidencing impact – Through these conversations I realised that it was often difficult for me to evidence direct impact, so I had to think about the indirect impact that I have and where to find that evidence. For example, student feedback via the National Student Survey and the reduction in complaints about lecture capture provision or testimonials from staff and students about the impact of LinkedIn Learning.

The role of the community – sharing my draft was also a valuable opportunity for me to share my work with others in the group and helped me to identify areas where I have influenced and been influenced by colleagues from across the Digital Education community. For example, my sector research activities and leading a regional support group for digital education professionals have supported institutions with shaping their organisation of digital education support and provision, leading to high quality student learning and ultimately improving outcomes for students. 

In May, I received the news that I was successful in my application and was awarded Principal fellowship. I feel that reaching out to the community, alongside support from my mentor and colleagues, really helped me to develop and refine my application. Following success from another member of the group, who acknowledged the important role that the support group played, I am committed to keeping the group going to ensure that others in HeLF and those in similar professional services roles can benefit from peer support. 

Inspired by achieving Principal Fellow, I used my application to develop nominations for both the City Staff Excellence Awards and for the ALT annual awards. As a result, the Digital Accessibility project that I have overseen was shortlisted in the 2023 City awards in the category of Outstanding Contribution to Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. In the 2023 ALT awards, I won the Leadership in Digital Education award, whilst my team were winners of the Team of the Year award. The process of reflecting on my practice and writing the application has definitely been an inspiring one and I would encourage others to consider how their application can be a springboard for further recognition both internally and externally.

Principal Fellowship is suitable for highly experienced individuals whose practice involves a sustained record of effectiveness in strategic leadership of high-quality learning. Find out more.

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