Friday, 18 March 2016

PebblePad - ing my way to Fellowship

This is the second in a  series of blogposts on gaining Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy.
The route I am taking to gain Fellowship is through my work and is called APEX Open. This involves creating an electronic portfolio comprised of the following:
  • A 2000 word Reflective Assessment Portfolio (RAP)
  • Two 750 word case studies
  • A 500 word Professional Development Portfolio (PDP)
  • Two teaching observations
  • Two references
  • and a Student Evaluation Summary (SES)
We will be using a web-based portfolio system called PebblePad, which will be accessed through Blackboard, the University's Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). This tends to be used by cohorts who need to produce evidence of a journey and is used mainly by Education students and those completing the APEX courses. The last time I had to do anything like this was for my CILIP Chartership portfolio in 2012 and at the time they still had a paper system. I did have a brief foray into Mahara in a previous job but since then I have never had to use any sort of electronic portfolio system. It does look a little fiddly but with a little playing around with it does get easier.
One of the advantages of using an electronic portfolio like this is that it can easily be shared with mentors. Participants in APEX are strongly recommended to have a mentor (more of which in my next post), although it isn't required in order to be validated directly by the HEA. My mentor for Chartership had to rely on what I was saying to them and only briefly saw my portfolio once it was about to be submitted, whereas with this my mentor will be able to view it as I go along. This means they will be able to view it in advance of meetings so hopefully they will be more productive.
One of the best bits about PebblePad I have discovered so far is that the front page is customisable. I have set mine in a wood; I love walking in them whenever I get the opportunity as they clear my head and make me feel calm. it's the first thing I see when I log in so I'm hoping it will help put me in the right frame of mind to fill it in!

Monday, 7 March 2016

Embarking on Fellowship

"The road must be trod, but it will be very hard" -   J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring.

As mentioned previously in my 2015 Reflection blog post, I am beginning the process of gaining FHEA accreditation. This means I would become a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). I have been teaching in the academic sector for almost six years and I want this to be recognised, especially as it is becoming a prerequisite for many jobs. It means I would be on an equal footing when discussing teaching and learning with my academic colleagues.and, although it is not currently mentioned, there's always the possibility it could be one of the criteria for the proposed Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) in future.

I do have a PTTLS teaching qualification but this is different in that it is not teaching you how to teach but is recognition that you teach at a standard that befits the Higher Education Academy. It is very similar in practice to other professional bodies who want a Masters, professional work experience and a portfolio before providing professional recognition. The portfolio process is very similar to that of CILIP Chartership, for those who have done that.

A seal of approval ;) Found on

I'm going to be blogging my progress of working towards the accreditation mainly for my own reflective purposes, but also for anyone else who might be considering doing it and wonders what it is like.

The HEA describes itself as 'the national body which champions teaching quality'. It provides a 'benchmark for standards' called the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) and it is made up of four categories designed to match a person's level of knowledge and teaching experience within Higher Education.

  • Associate Fellow (AFHEA) - for those who don't teach much but do support students
  • Fellow (FHEA) - for those who teach, on average, about six hours a week
  • Senior Fellow (SFHEA) - for those who impact on students' learning through management of teaching teams
  • Principal Fellow (PFHEA) - for those with substantial strategic responsibilities for teaching within higher education

There are several ways to gain accreditation:

You can apply directly to the HEA by completing an essay based on your professional practice, paying a fee, and including two references. Or, you can follow a route set by an accredited institution - which is what I am going to do.

My workplace is an accredited institution and it has a route called the Academic Practice and Professional Excellence Framework (APEX), which has several strands to choose from:

  • APEX 1 - a one year programme for research postgraduates with a significant and ongoing teaching commitment. Participants are required to attend compulsory workshops and create a portfolio of evidence, including reflections on practice; reports on teaching observations; a case study; and a development plan. 
  • APEX 2 - a two year programme for probationary academic staff who attend compulsory workshops and are required to produce a portfolio of evidence.
  • APEX Open - for those who already contribute to learning and teaching - there is no set time-frame for this route; no compulsory workshops; and the same portfolio of evidence is required.

The APEX Open route to Fellow is the one most suitable to my experience and what I currently do so this is the one I have chosen and will be writing about. I have had my induction which broadly explained the purpose of APEX and the HEA. There weren't many attendees as new staff will choose APEX 2 and others already have the qualifications - we were told there are already 66,366 total UK fellows at September 2015, so I will be joining a very large cohort.

I have high hopes for this programme. I found that CILIP Chartership, and subsequent revalidations, helped me to raise my game and to continue with professional development in all the right areas, not just the ones I find easy. I trust that this, alongside recognising my current practice, will do the same.

Every time I think about Fellowship, I think of Tolkein's. The quote at the top seems fitting as I'm at the beginning of this journey (and I still remember what Chartership was like) but I've gone through a heck of a lot worse than creating a portfolio so I'm sure it won't be that bad!