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How Senior Fellowship enhanced my practice

19 Mar 2021 | Sharon Smith As part of our Senior Fellow Month celebration, Sharon Smith, from the Centre for Academic English, Imperial College London shares her Senior Fellowship journey and reflects on how that journey has continued through the recent challenges faced by higher education in lockdown.

The needs-driven approach explored in my application

At Imperial College London, I developed a suite of Effective Speaking courses for doctoral students, which became one of my Senior Fellowship case studies. In particular, I described how I consulted supervisors, ran focus groups and spoke to ex-doctoral students to find out the fundamental needs of doctoral students. 

In essence, they need to be able to interact spontaneously within and across departments, to talk flexibly and effectively, not only about the content of their research, but also its impact on the field. They need to be able to talk about their work in a range of circumstances and with a range of people, so those principles became the backbone of my courses. The fact that I responded directly to College needs and that the courses, from conception through to delivery, supported staff and consequently students in achieving core skills, strengthened my application significantly. This needs-driven approach has been fundamental to me as I redeveloped my provision for online learning.

How reflection during the SF application impacted positively when lockdown hit

Soon after receiving my Senior Fellowship in October 2019 I began to focus my attention more on the tech available out there to better support students. This was just in time (and in just enough depth) to springboard me onto the steep learning curve that I was to face in moving to the Microsoft 365 Teams platform adopted at Imperial when lockdown hit. Along with the gains from addressing this technical gap, the Senior Fellowship application allowed me to develop a more in-depth understanding of how I worked, and to evaluate the courses I designed and delivered.

Altogether, this meant that I could make decisions quickly to give my students the best possible experience as we moved to online provision. I used Microsoft Teams and Class Notebook to tailor learning environments for each class, as it was important to me that each class had bespoke house materials that could be accessed asynchronously and was at the right pace for the individual student. This renewed determination to provide 360 degree support for students so that they can truly become effective speakers has been part of the next steps on my journey.

Seeing through opportunities for further development

There were a few areas, raised through the application process, that presented opportunities for further growth and development, particularly with the arrival of online delivery. 

I was keen to build in more space and time for constructive and meaningful reflection and feedback. I had received positive comments from colleagues and students on how I had built in opportunities for this in the original doctoral speaking courses as well as during our summer pre-sessional courses. Colleagues I had trained up valued my input and support in this regard and students saw the value of this practice.

The move to online delivery last year allowed us to make some changes to this aspect of course content and delivery, so we embraced the range of tech at our disposal to ensure this could happen: recording practice in rooms to promote reflection and allow for asynchronous feedback; encouraging students to use the personal space in Class Notebook for meaningful reflection.

In short, taking advantage of the platform selected to develop provision in a meaningful way. I am convinced that the Senior Fellow application process of the previous year contributed to this growth perspective, in contrast to the often-seen ‘just put the same materials online’ approach that understandably occurred in some institutions.

Another area identified through the application process that clearly needed further attention was reach. It became apparent that we needed to expand the reach of the courses that I am responsible for so that more could participate. Indeed, embedding our provision within departments and developing courses that could reach a greater number of the college cohort were already department aims. Moving online facilitated this, but by ensuring that much of any course could be accessed asynchronously helped considerably. 

We also have to make sure that the student body knows what’s available and that’s been a large part of recent work, including contributing to newsletters and embedding some doctoral speaking courses within departments. I have also ensured greater reach to colleagues around the college through participation in a Talking Teaching session and in-house discussion.

Gains from the Senior Fellowship process

Applying for my Senior Fellowship gave me the critical space to reflect on what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. I believe that process, or better, the opportunity, had a significant impact on the success of our move to online delivery and I expect it to have further impact on our return to face-to-face delivery in the future. I’m interested to hear how the Senior Fellow application impacted on your practice, perhaps particularly during the significant challenges of the last year.

In celebration of Senior Fellow Month, we will be sharing stories from Senior Fellows and applicants over the course of March. 

Are you an individual able to provide evidence of a sustained record of effectiveness in relation to teaching and learning, incorporating for example, the organisation, leadership and/or management of specific aspects of teaching and learning provision? Then Senior Fellowship may be for you.

For further information, resources and and guidance on applying, visit our dedicated Senior Fellowship page.

We feel it is important for voices to be heard to stimulate debate and share good practice. Blogs on our website are the views of the author and don’t necessarily represent those of Advance HE.

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