This blog was originally posted on the former Higher Education Academy website.
What’s Fellowship all about? For me, it’s very much about being part of a community of shared passion and interests – in my case about teaching, assessment, learning and feedback. I guess I’ve been a Fellow of the HEA for longer than the HEA has existed!
I was one of the very first batch of Members of the Institute for Learning and Teaching (ILTM), which morphed to FHEA when the Academy was first formed from its root organisations. Then I was among the first group to become SFHEAs, and in 2012 among the early PFHEAs (having also become a National Teaching Fellow in 2007). Being a Fellow in whichever category means having people to talk to, email to, Tweet to, and benefiting from the sharing of a great deal of relevant experience, expertise and enthusiasm.
I’m quite an old Fellow. I’d taken early retirement in 1995 from my job as Professor of Educational Development at the University of Glamorgan (now the University of South Wales), and moved to my native North East England. So throughout my various Fellowships of the HEA, I’ve been an independent educational consultant, sometimes with a couple of days a week ‘foot in an institution’ (Firstly Northumbria University for 11 months, then University of Durham for four years, then the University of Leeds for five years, then Leeds Metropolitan University for five years, where I reached the age of 65 and (in those days) had to ‘retire’. From the details above, ‘retirement’ since 1995 has been quite a failure, and I’ve enjoyed the happiest and most fulfilling period of my life as a Fellow since then.
I didn’t always talk about teaching. My originating discipline was as a research scientist. I had to be a scientist as I’m left-handed, and my handwriting is awful, and I got terrible feedback about this from teachers of English, History, French and so on, but Chemistry, Maths and Physics teachers didn’t care about my bad handwriting, so my BSc and PhD were in science. My first 20 publications were research ones in a couple of very esteemed journals in the field of interfacial electrochemistry, no doubt read by at least seven like-minded researchers around the world! But at the end of my post-doc, I had to seek a real job. The first job I was offered was to teach Physical Chemistry in Wales. I’d never been to Wales before, and went down by train from my native Newcastle on a day when the first new decimal coins appeared.
They offered me the job, and I said ‘yes’. Running me back to the station at Treforest for the first leg of my long rail journey home, the Deputy Principal who’d chaired the interview panel explained the ‘by the way Phil, we’re also looking for a Warden of our Hall of Residence on campus – might you be interested in doing this alongside your job as a lecturer, at least until you find your feet and get to know the area?’ ‘Why not?’ I replied, in what turned out to be the most significant moment in my life until then – my learning from students really started with this.
Although I’d been a demonstrator and tutor during my research career, I’d never ‘taught’ as such, and the only lectures I’d given were when awarded a medal by the Newcastle section of the Society of Chemical Industry, and when I volunteered to lecture to the Student Union Music Society on the symphonies of Shostakovich. (I should just mention that classical music has been the other part of my life ever since my dad took me as a kid to watch Sir John Barbirolli and the Halle in Newcastle). The prospect of teaching students physical chemistry scared me rigid. In those days, there were no postgraduate certificates to help fledglings like me learn to fly. Later, I was to realise how important it could be to be helped through such early fears.
However, living with 100 students opened my eyes to their problems, needs, energy, talents in a way that nothing else could have done. I saw their faces pale and stressed as assessment loomed up, and started to give little chats in the television lounge of the Hall to make them feel more confident, until the lounge overflowed, and being on campus I commandeered lecture theatres for study-skills sessions which grew and grew. I also did an in-service PGCE at what is now Cardiff University over a couple of summers, which fanned the flames of education within me, and the rest – as they say – is history.
In 20 years at the same institution, I gradually morphed from a Lecturer in Physical Chemistry to Professor of Educational Development. I founded and led a Postgraduate Certificate in Educational Development at Glamorgan – the second such programme to be accredited by the Staff and Educational Development Association.
During all these years, I travelled on trains a lot. I was Secretary of the South Wales Section of the Society of Chemical Industry for several years, and served on the Wales Rail User’s Consultative Committee for many years, but was also sent to meetings and conferences of an organisation which evolved into the Staff and Educational Development Association, and felt at home with the early pioneers in educational development who inspired me further. I also started to be invited to universities and colleges from Aberdeen to Aberystwyth and Paisley to Plymouth to work with people who were developing open and distance learning materials and systems, so found myself spending even more time working with staff than with students, but by now both with a passion for making learning happen, and ensuring that assessment was valid, reliable and authentic. I continued to write a lot and publish – but now in education. My very first Fellowship (still extant) was in fact that of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.
All this had happened before my early retirement and return to Newcastle, and before the ILT, then ILTHE, then HEA were born. The processes leading me to ILTM, then FHEA, then SFHEA, National Teaching Fellowship and PFHEA all caused me to reflect and take stock of the various stages in my life in educational development and enriched my thinking, and increased my resolve to keep trying to make learning happen (for staff and for students) as well as I could.
Little could I have imagined in my early days as an educational developer that one day the HEA would exist, with over 100,000 Fellows and an international reputation for being at the heart of best practice in teaching and learning. Nor could I have imagined how wonderful it would become to have all the expertise, enthusiasm and wisdom of so many keen practitioners to share.
No-one in their teens is likely to say ‘my ambition is one day to become an educational developer’. Such a thing just happens to people, through all manner of circumstances and happenstances on our way through life. Moreover, such things happen because of people – their ideas, their wisdom and their energy. With 100,000 Fellows, the HEA can now justly claim to have opened to doors to helping a huge number of practitioners to make learning happen so much more successfully for countless students.
Find out more about Fellowship.