Dr Rosalind Duhs is the Founding Director of the UCL Arena Professional Development Scheme at University College London. In this article, she offers advice on how to best support members of staff applying for Associate Fellowship with Advance HE (AFHEA), including suggestions for ways to use the PSF-aligned resources of University Teaching: Core Skills, the online programme for which Rosalind is an Expert Advisor.
I’ve been lucky enough to work in partnership with Epigeum on University Teaching: Core Skills alongside my role advising a variety of universities in the UK and internationally on Advance HE Fellowship schemes. My experience providing guidance on teaching and learning at University College London (UCL) has also enriched my insights into the challenges faced by new academic staff. I’ve seen how much Fellowships mean to early career teaching and support staff. Focusing on approaches to inspiring high-quality student learning from the start of your career is an effective springboard for continuing professional development and progression.
This blog aims to guide staff who support early career teaching and support staff, to ensure that they make successful applications for Associate Fellowship. There are around 28,300 Associate Fellows (as of December 2019) in over 80 countries, so the ‘AFHEA’ postnominal signifies membership of a thriving international community. Increasing numbers of new academic staff are applying for AFHEA as the Fellowship indicates that they are interested in developing a professional, evidence-informed approach to their educational or learning support role. This makes their job applications more attractive in the competitive world of academia.
Applying for Associate Fellowship – the basics:
Early career academic staff, those with a limited teaching role (for instance research staff) and those who support student learning will all be able to work towards an application for Associate Fellowship. Nearly all universities in the UK, and many in other countries, run Fellowship Schemes which are accredited by Advance HE, enabling institutions to award their own Fellowships. If applicants qualify for Associate Fellowship through an institutional accredited Scheme, that will entitle them to the award of an Advance HE Fellowship (individual institutions may vary the format of their applications, but this blog refers to the format used for direct applications to Advance HE, as all applications use this format as a reference point).
Your institution will probably offer a range of options to help those preparing for application. Some offer a series of taught sessions for early career staff and there may be workshops on teaching, assessment, and learning support. Participants enjoy the chance to meet peers from across the university and find they gain fresh perspectives from colleagues with different disciplinary backgrounds. There may also be a mentoring system and opportunities for feedback on drafts.
The PSF, at Descriptor 1, Associate Fellow, is the foundation of an application (PSF 2011, p.4). When it comes to the application, applicants need to select the two Areas of Activity which are most relevant to their practice for their AFHEA application. At this stage, you may wish to explore the University Teaching: Core Skills materials on those Areas and enable applicants to consider how they apply to their own discipline and practice. You could also invite them to consider how their Professional Values and Core Knowledge underpin their work with their chosen Areas of Activity. Suggest that they create a narrative about their practice (see the top tips below), so they can detail how their Core Knowledge and Professional Values shape their approaches. Make sure you encourage them to articulate their Professional Values where appropriate, and to explain how they influence their practice.
Providing practical resources for applicants:
Engaging with the resources in University Teaching: Core Skills puts staff in a strong position to gain AFHEA. Advance HE has worked closely with the programme’s team as they developed its resources and guidance. Firstly, each module in the programme has been meticulously mapped to the PSF. A dedicated ‘PSF’ screen for each module provides specific detail on alignment, enabling you to select the appropriate areas for individual applicants to focus on:
There is also a useful diagnostic tool in the introductory strand of University Teaching: Core Skills, in which learners are presented with a series of scenarios, each one mapped to the PSF dimensions. There are three different sets of scenarios enabling learners to select those most relevant to their role (teaching assistants and early career academics; staff who support learners; lab assistants who support lab work or run practicals). Feedback directs the learner to the relevant part of the programme to develop their professional practice and evidence base for that particular Area of Activity, Core Knowledge, or Professional Value. This will help applicants to choose which areas to focus on for their learning and give you an indication of their readiness to apply for AFHEA.
Additional downloadable portfolio activities throughout the course have also been aligned to the PSF, providing extra opportunities for applicants to reflect, and to gather evidence to support their application for AFHEA.
Focusing on practice and boosting confidence:
When you support the development of early career staff, it’s important to remember that it’s challenging to start facilitating student learning. New teachers may feel vulnerable and uncertain. They tend to focus on themselves – their knowledge (or lack of knowledge), their looks (are they too young to gain respect?), or their presentation style. The earlier they can be encouraged to focus on the students and learning activities and try to forget about themselves, the better. Introduce them to concepts of student-centredness. Provide them with a wide choice of helpful tips for their first sessions – if you are looking for inspiration, there are plenty of examples of best practice and case studies from other institutions included in University Teaching: Core Skills – and remind them that the students are probably more nervous than they are.
If staff would like to gain recognition for their achievements teaching and/or supporting learning through an Associate Fellowship, they’ll need to begin with their own practice. They should draw on examples of their educational activities to demonstrate their ‘understanding of specific aspects of effective teaching, learning support methods and student learning’ (PSF 2011, p.4). The portfolio activities in University Teaching: Core Skills create an important reflective space for early career teachers. They learn to look back on their facilitation of learning, and to analyse how things went and how their approaches might be modified to enhance student learning. This contributes to the development of reflective practitioners, who continue to improve their practice throughout their careers.
Applications can focus on a selection of educational practice, from a range of types of teaching – from one-to-one feedback to students to lecturing to hundreds. Examples of applicants’ engagement with the PSF Areas of Activity could also include supporting learning in libraries or labs, or ensuring students benefit from the best possible conditions, safeguarding their wellbeing or giving advice on coping with a disability. The demonstration of ‘successful engagement’ in these activities, underpinned by ‘a commitment to appropriate Professional Values’ and specific ‘Core Knowledge’ dimensions (1 and 2) (PSF 2011) will entitle applicants to Associate Fellowship.
Preparing to submit a written application:
Written applications for AFHEA – an ‘Account of Professional Practice’ – are just 1,400 words. Applicants select two of the five PSF ‘Areas of Activity’ and write around 700 words on each. Here, it is useful to refer to Advance HE’s guidance on the ‘Dimensions of the Framework‘. It’s important that applicants select areas where they have enough experience to provide reasons for the way they teach or support learning. If they’ve encountered challenges – as all teachers do – they can write a compelling account of how they met those challenges and succeeded in facilitating high quality learning amongst their students.
It’s also important that applications are scholarly. Provide guidance on the relevant literature to enable applicants to refer to research into the aspects of teaching, assessment or learning support which they decide to focus on. They should explain how that research has informed and/or harmonises with their practice.
Top tips for supporting written applications:
- Encourage applicants not to ‘go it alone’! Set up peer support groups for them; online and face-to-face discussions with other applicants will benefit all concerned and are fun.
- Ensure that applicants write in depth. They shouldn’t try to include everything they do. They should focus on a few areas of practice relevant to their chosen Areas of Activity. They should write a rich first-person narrative on their individual practice (practice which may be guided by others).
- Check that narratives include essential features. These include: the context, their role, any challenges or dilemmas, how they met those challenges, the reason/s why they chose the strategy they adopted, referring to the literature, how they managed to facilitate effective student learning leading to successful outcomes, and concrete examples of the positive impact of their practice.
- Applicants should get their final drafts checked by an experienced mentor.
You’ll see from the points above that a description of what applicants have taught is not enough. They will not gain Fellowship if they simply write something like: ‘I designed three sessions on [topic]. Feedback from students was favourable’. They need to answer more than the ‘what?’ question on their practice. They need to explain the ‘why?’ and ‘how?’ of their practice.
The style of Advance HE applications is both personal and analytical, an unusual combination, so it’s worth encouraging applicants to take advantage of all the support which is on offer – whether that’s through using the comprehensive resources of University Teaching: Core Skills or taking advantage of in-house guidance at their institution. Also, refer to the Advance HE resources, but remember that institutional application templates may be different from the Advance HE direct application template.
You will now be well on the way to supporting early career and professional staff to make a successful application for AFHEA. Applicants find the process rewarding and affirming as they’re able to take stock of what they’ve done and see how much they’ve achieved, and the guidance you provide will make a positive difference to new teachers and their students.
University Teaching: Core Skills provides flexible and comprehensive training to ensure that new and early career members of teaching and learning support staff have access to consistent, high-quality training, addressing current scholarship, best practices, quality standards, and professional values.
Advance HE acted as a consultant in the development of University Teaching: Core Skills, conducting thorough reviews, providing expert guidance to ensure best practices, and approving the resources as accurately aligned with Descriptor 1 of the Professional Standards Framework (PSF).