In 2018, the Aga Khan University (AKU) became the first international University in the developing world to be accredited by Advance HE to award Fellowships at Associate Fellow (AF) and Fellow (F) levels through an in-house CPD Scheme called Teaching Enhancement Accredited Certification of the Higher Education Academy (TEACH). This was an enormous step in helping to entrench the nascent teaching culture at AKU that the Network of Quality, Teaching and Learning (QTL_net) had been tasked to develop since 2014 when the unit was established.
This journey which commenced with small steps has now resulted in the establishment of an interdisciplinary Teachers’ Academy (TA), the first of its kind in Pakistan and East Africa. The TA is a move to reward and recognise teaching excellence in higher education and is a home ‘of and for faculty.’ It will serve to continue enhancing the teaching culture at AKU. The AKU TA mission is to create an institutionalised professional teaching culture of excellence at the University through faculty mentorship activities as well as engagement in faculty development activities.
The foundational principles of the AKU TA are best captured by its logo which depicts a ‘home’ comprising a foundation, two pillars and a roof. These signify the four-fold purpose of the TA: (1) rewarding and recognising excellence in teaching; (2) developing a Community of Practice of teaching leaders; (3) enhancing Interdisciplinary Scholarship of Teaching and Learning; and (4) creating a pool of peer mentors to enhance teaching.
Becoming a Member
The TA members are an elite group of outstanding and talented AKU teachers, who are recognized for their teaching excellence in higher education, and who are expected to raise the status of teaching within the university as well as inspire and mentor their peers. The 14 inaugural members of the AKU TA comprise of 12 Fellows of Advance HE that include, one Associate Fellow, nine Fellows and two Senior Fellows.
The application process for membership was a competitive and rigorous peer-reviewed process which drew upon the UKPSF to establish standards to be met by applicants. In addition to other criteria, applicants were expected to demonstrate excellence in teaching.
The applicants claimed to have found the whole application process reflective and transformative to their teaching. A TA member from Medical College, Pakistan said: “I got accepted into the American Dental Education Association’s Allied Dental Faculty Leadership Program shortly after I submitted my applications (Fellowship and TA).
“The reflective writing really made me think and it’s been a lot of fun teaching, learning and writing. So much of my interest came from all the CPD and the reflective writing exercises I prepared for Fellowship/TA. As you can see, these are some of the outcomes of that particular exercise.”
Our QTL_net team is a global faculty development support team comprising 13 staff members and we support over 500 faculty members across three continents in which AKU campuses are located. The TA members are a welcome addition to the QTL_net team as they have doubled our resource pool and mean we will be able to reach out to more faculty members.
In particular, members of the TA are expected to mentor their peers across the university thereby helping to contribute to the development of excellent teachers within the wider university. Together with our other 32 Fellows, we are advocates of promoting teaching and learning activities at AKU and supporting the university’s teaching mission. The inclusion of TA members and teaching Fellows contributes towards a more sustainable faculty development support plan for the University.
Our TA members feel privileged and honoured to be part of this prestigious group and excited to make their headway as mentors on this journey: “Becoming a TA member was an extremely gratifying moment in my professional career, and a recognition of the effort and dedication that higher education requires. I hope to collaborate with members to improve the quality of teaching and learning at the university.”
Another TA member, from the School of Nursing and Midwifery, East Africa said: “As a TA member, I will champion the use of teaching and learning approaches/strategies which transform nurses/midwives enabling them to lead change and improve the quality of care in the healthcare system. These will include approaches which improve students’ ability to translate and utilize knowledge to deal with complex health problems in our context. I will mentor colleagues in designing curriculum that evidence best practice so as to enhance this transformation.”
In our part of the world, research is still a developing arena and competing with leading global institutions in this field brings mixed results and feelings. However, good teaching is something we can engage in, especially if professional development opportunities are made available to faculty members. Through this initiative, AKU faculty members will have access to more in-house professional development and peer mentoring support which we envisage will lead to increased visibility, value, and status of teaching at the University.
We are proud of the strides we have made in establishing a Teachers’ Academy and look forward to exciting times ahead in the teaching and learning landscape of the University. We would like to know what you think about the role of mentors drawn from faculty members in growing the resource base of educational development centres.