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The road to recognition

05 Nov 2019 | Professor Neil Powell Professor Neil Powell is Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic) at Norwich University of the Arts. Here, he talks about how technician accreditation through Fellowship has re-energised Professional Services staff, enabling them to make changes to practice and enhancing confidence.

Teaching, practice and the student experience

At Norwich University of the Arts (NUA), we are aware that perceptions of quality of the student experience in creative arts are influenced by a wide range of scheduled and spontaneous encounters with a broad range of staff from academic teaching to Student Support, Alumni to Registry. To set this in an even more specific context, Art and Design course provision in higher education has, as much as any other set of academic disciplines, traditionally relied on direct technical support to students in practical workshop environments.

With this technical support in place and with progressively increasing autonomy, undergraduate students are able to engage in creative practice and produce coursework that may manifest as a film, game, graphic design, painting or architectural model. Within this text, I have chosen to narrate the experience of launching professional recognition for our technical support teams. One hopes that this will prove a useful reference for others in extending the UKPSF out from academic to student-facing professional services colleagues.

Illuminating the hidden curriculum

We know from experience that technical workshop staff at NUA are likely to be in post for some time and are equally likely to engage in types of professional development, which for very good reason, tend to focus on technical skills, health and safety and risk management. For experienced career technicians and workshop managers (many of whom already possess postgraduate qualifications), the implementation of our Advance HE-accredited provision and engagement with the Framework Dimensions became a way to revitalise some least visible discussions around the technician role as their part in the ‘hidden curriculum’[1].

The road to recognition

Workshop technical staff at NUA were part of the early adopter group, and as Pro Vice-Chancellor (Academic) with responsibility for student-facing technical provision, I was delighted to support the rollout of the PG CertHE and the individual recognition (CPD) scheme for this group of staff.

Inevitably, questions arose about how to engage with the Dimensions of the Framework given a perceived emphasis on academic teaching, and one recalls early conversations that focussed on the deciphering of the Dimensions and recalibrating our collective understanding of the applicability of the scheme to technical roles. It might be useful at this point to share the key elements of the Framework that were identified by this group as being recognisable and relevant during group discussions:

Areas of Activity: A4 Develop effective learning environments and approaches to student support and guidance; and A2 Teach and/or support learning.

Core Knowledge: K4 The use and value of appropriate learning technologies.

Professional Values: V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities

Whilst the above profile might not constitute a revelation, the quality of debate and challenge that surrounded the introduction of the UKPSF in such a concerted way provoked a dynamic discussion that built a considerable enthusiasm and greatly increased the demand from technician staff to embark on the road toward professional recognition.

Adding value

I recall some key moments in these dialogues where our technician staff, who are generally extraordinarily modest, came to the realisation that the process of remodelling their workshop spaces to be more user-friendly and inclusive fitted almost literally into A2. I highlight this moment as the point at which the Dimensions of the Framework, the process of reflection and staff realisation fell into place like some rare stellar alignment. It was also the moment that technical staff realised that what might have previously been perceived as an innocuous or prosaic spatial improvement, had actually come about due to their extensive experience and (previously subconscious) reflection of their professional roles. In short, their knowledge and professionalism became valued.

Framework integration

As a university, we have reached a point where some 90%+ of our academic staff and c. 60%+ of our student-facing professional services staff (at the time of writing) have achieved either a recognised teaching qualification or professional recognition. Some 78% of our technical workshop staff have also achieved this, and many of them now serve as experienced mentors, supports for internal writing retreats, recognition panel members and peer observers of professional practice[2]. Going forward the UKPSF as managed by Advance HE is an integral and highly valued part of NUA’s staff culture and a symbol of value for work.

Some history

Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) has been in existence in one shape or another as an independent provider of creative arts and design industry education since 1845. NUA has worked with Advance HE for an extended period, but a landmark for us came in 2015 when we successfully submitted our application for accreditation for three lines of subject-specific provision. The first accredited element was our Postgraduate Certificate in Higher Education for arts, design, architecture and media (PGCertHE: ADAM), and the second to enable mentoring and support for internal recognition (IRR) up to Senior Fellowship of the UKPSF. Whilst these two elements in themselves may appear unremarkable, as a university, we were determined to use the accreditation dialogue and subsequent structures to effect real pedagogic change and professional development for all student-facing staff within the context of the UKPSF.

For many early-career academics, or for those staff new to the University, their first encounter with the UKPSF at NUA occurs during induction and routine enrolment on the PG Cert HE. However, after many conversations between the Advance HE and ourselves, we were also clear that the greatest benefits of professional recognition might be gained by engaging (or re-engaging) some of our most experienced non-academic staff with the reflective processes and structured mentoring opportunities provided by the Framework.

Last words

The last word should probably lie with one of NUA’s many technicians and workshop managers who have successfully engaged with the Framework through our accredited provision:

“Working at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) within Professional Services, my role as a Digital Design Technician allows me to engage directly with students, staff and a range of projects that the University participates in. Achieving (whilst working at NUA) my Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: ADAM, along with being awarded “Fellow” status from the HEA, has opened doors to mentoring and working for the past two years on the HE Recognition Scheme as an Internal Reviewer.

“This experience has allowed me to understand the wider context of HE learning and teaching, recognise, reward and share great practice and embed these skills into my role whilst supporting students and staff.  I have gained experiences such as being involved in Standardisation events, reviewing and making fellowship judgements and attending Professional Recognition Scheme Board meetings, all of which has hugely accelerated my own professional development. I think for myself - and many of the technical support staff here at NUA - the UKPSF is has really opened up a whole new series of valuable professional debates.”

Sarah Kennedy

Digital Design Technician (FHEA)

Norwich University of the Arts

Find out more about Advance HE's Teaching and Learning Accreditation.

[1] Giroux, A., and Purpel, D. 1983. The Hidden Curriculum and Moral Education. McCutchan Publishing.

[2] In the light of feedback from professional services staff who wished to be included in peer observation processes, the University amended its Peer Observation of Teaching Scheme to become Peer Observation of Professional Practice Scheme to enable the inclusion and recognition of an extended range of NUA staff.

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