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Craig Burston: applying for Senior Fellowship (SFHEA)

Craig is Year 1 Coordinator, Core Design Languages and Skills, for BA (Hons) Graphic and Media Design (GMD) at London College of Communication (LCC). 

AdvanceHE Fellowship demonstrates a personal commitment to teaching, learning and the student experience. It provides formal recognition that can be used for career planning and progression. UAL’s Professional  Recognition Programme provides staff with structured guidance to prepare an application for Associate, Fellow, or Senior Fellow. 

Whether you are starting out, want to move in a new direction or have significant experience managing teaching and learning activity, Fellowship recognises the professional status of your existing expertise.

The categories of Fellowship don’t necessarily coordinate with specific job titles, roles or seniority.  Use this series of case studies to understand the variety of experiences that may allow you to gain Fellowship. 

Good afternoon Craig.  To start with, what’s your role at LCC? A little extra info beyond your job title to understand the scope of your role would be helpful. 

GMD is a highly respected course. Dating from the 1960s, it was the first of its kind to combine typography, photography, image making and commercial illustration. It now continues this progressive legacy by including coding, moving image, narrative, interactivity and emergent technology. GMD also tests the relation between art practice and design, considered by many to be separate entities. 

In terms of teaching and learning, the challenge of coordinating GMD Year 1 is ensuring that the learner experience is at once focused and accessible, yet hints at the breadth of opportunity and practices further into the course.  
With such a popular and large course (150+ annual student intake) running the first year includes the management and coordination of a large teaching team. The team has diverse experience levels, their own professional practices and sometimes divergent approaches to teaching. I’ve been a course leader and subject leader in several institutions so the scale of the operation doesn’t concern me, but it is still a challenging role.  

I contribute to pedagogic leadership in the Design School. I learn new skills and ways of thinking about the subject from newer tutors, and they get to experience diverse ways in organising course structure and content sequencing.  

My job is to ensure the tutors teach as well as they practice. As I was taught on my higher education (HE) teaching qualification, we are dual professionals – half tutor, half practitioner. If we want our disciplines to be taken seriously, to be viewed as contemporary, relevant and useful, we must ensure we treat the craft of teaching with the same respect. 

What’s been your journey to Senior Fellowship (SFHEA)?  

A previous colleague reminded me a couple of summers ago that I had been ‘teaching graphics’ for nearly 20 years. A lot has changed in HE in that time. When I was presented with the SFHEA opportunity I knew that I wanted to use it as an opportunity to take stock of my formative experiences, including those who mentored me. To collate those experiences and assess how they enable me to do what I do today. 

What was the spur for your decision to apply for SFHEA at the time that you did? 

I wanted something concrete to demonstrate my commitment to leading on teaching and learning. Creative university education is under so much scrutiny nowadays and I wanted to prove my worth to myself. That I’m not just ‘keeping on’ because it’s what I’m paid to do, but that my methods make a contribution to the progression and development of the subject itself.  

And then the pandemic happened, and the world changed forever. I had to work extremely hard to transform how we delivered Year 1 and that took up nearly all of my time. Six months passed, then 6 more, and it became a bit of a ‘now or never’ challenge. Once I had committed myself to applying for the SFHEA, I worked very quickly to complete it to its fullest. 

How long did it take you to write your application? How was the process for you? 

I told very few people that I was applying. Only those that I interviewed and 2 others who gave feedback on my draft application. At the last moment I told my line manager and department lead. I had a short conversation with Neil Currant. I said I wanted to submit at the earliest opportunity and he reminded me that the impending deadline didn’t give me much time. I had attended SFHEA sessions the previous academic year, so I dug out my notes and got started.  
I enjoy writing (thank goodness!) and I’m disciplined when it comes to finding the time for it. From start to finish, I wrote the first (too long) draft over 5 evenings. The editing process took longer. And a final long weekend to structure the content, making the evidence as clear as possible. On which point, thank you to my colleagues Sam Gathercole and Trudi Esberger for reading the drafts and their editorial feedback. 

Given the timescales you set yourself, how did you cope with finding colleagues to record statements supporting the impact of your work?  

Being candid, I was pretty lucky. I had already approached one person prior to the lockdown, some time earlier. The other was someone I’d worked with on a number of projects. Both were incredibly supportive given the timeframe.

Did your thinking about your teaching and learning practice change whilst making the application? 

The application happened so fast that I can’t say that it impacted on my teaching and learning at the time. However it had one unintended but invaluable positive effect, which was to make me consider everything I was doing at that moment in detail.  

We were making strategic changes to the curriculum delivery methods as we moved from in-studio to online remote learning, and then to a proposed blended model. What had we learnt from lockdown teaching? What new ways of teaching worked well and should be developed further? What had we lost and how do we get it back? Everything I discussed with the tutors in semi-formal conversations or in planning discussions was fuel for the application. 

What was the biggest challenge to overcome? Did you have any setbacks? 

The biggest challenge was the timeframe, because I didn’t want to wait for a future deadline. I knowingly put myself in a position that our students face, whilst studying or when working professionally. A looming, immovable deadline that must be met.  

My only setback was with 2 days to submission. I was re-checking the evidence matrix and ensuring that my mode of writing was not going to undermine the application. Every section needed to be relevant, useful and not repetitive. I had doubts about my approach but it was too late to change it, so I had to keep faith in my writing strategy and just submit it. 

Did anything surprise you about going through the process of creating and making your application? 

I wasn’t surprised as such, but the process of reflecting on my academic journey was as fulfilling as I hoped it would be. It helped unlock specific memories, for example around leading others and developing courses. It was a really useful exercise to appraise my prior experiences to see how relevant and/or useful they were for future goals. 

Now you’ve achieved SFHEA, what impact has it had, for you, if any?  

It has impacted positively, absolutely. My immediate colleagues were genuinely pleased for me which was lovely. I don’t take my job for granted, so I feel validated, when at times I’ve questioned my value. It’s changed the way I see myself and perhaps also the way others view my contribution too. And as a father to two school age boys, I was really pleased to share my success with them too. 

I’ve been asked by 3 colleagues so far to review their Fellowship applications which I take as a huge compliment. Since achieving the SFHEA, I have now become the Teaching and Learning coordinator for the LCC Design School alongside my role as Year 1 GMD coordinator. I would never have applied for that position were it not for the SFHEA. 

What advice would you have for others looking to make an SFHEA application? 

Make sure you want to do it rather than feeling coerced into it to prove something to anyone else. And don’t be afraid to consider the emotional self-reflective aspect of the application. Anyone can list achievements or impact. You decided that HE teaching was a ‘thing’ that you could do, so what has it meant to you? How has it felt to make change and influence in your field?

Read case studies for other levels of Fellowship

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