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Emily Lazerwitz: applying for Associate Fellowship (AFHEA)

Emily is Student Engagement Administrator within the Study Abroad team in Academic Enterprise. 

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 the series of case studies below to understand the variety of experiences that may allow you to gain Fellowship. 

Good morning Emily, thanks for agreeing to talk to us about your experience of applying for Associate Fellowship (AFHEA). Could you start by giving us an overview of your role(s) and responsibilities at UAL please?  

Of course.  I’ve been at UAL 5 years now.  I started out with the Short Courses team at CCW before moving to work with the central Study Abroad team in Academic Enterprise. 

We have students coming to us for up to 1 year, either to join the regular UAL undergraduate degree programmes or on our shorter Semester and Summer programmes. We deal with students in, for example, the USA, China, Brazil and India where we have no formal international exchange agreements. Our team acts as a combination of admissions and registry for the incoming students. 

In spring 2020 I began a maternity secondment as International Programme Co-ordinator, managing the LCF Study Abroad Semester programme. This coincided with the pivot to online teaching and learning during lockdown in March 2020, and it was this experience I used as a basis for my AFHEA portfolio. In hindsight I’m glad I had classes every day because that’s the only way I knew what day of the week it was!

What made you decide that applying for AFHEA was a good idea? How did you think it would benefit you? 

I signed up for the new Academic Enterprise staff development programme because it seemed like a good way to meet colleagues. We were put into groups of about 8 to do a skills exchange. We were pretty self-led, each giving a workshop chosen from a wide list of topics. Mine was 1.5 hours on data visualisation. 

Neil Currant (Educational Developer (Reward and Recognition)) came in to talk to us at the end to talk about AFHEA and encourage us to apply. It was then that I realised the work I’d done during the pandemic would actually fit quite well with the requirements for Fellowship.  I’ve previously done some teaching at secondary level, and I was thinking about getting back into it. This seemed like a good option to quantify my skills within a teaching and learning framework. 

How long did it take you to create your application?   

There are several different ways to make an application for Fellowship.  All of them require some writing, and I chose to create an online portfolio to include visual elements.  I think the other options are to write a longer essay or to have a dialogue (like an interview) instead.   

In terms of pulling together my portfolio, I attended an introduction session, plus Neil has a really helpful Professional Recognition Workflow site. I’ve been on a few interview panels and reviewed student portfolios too, so I used that experience to set my own portfolio up in a logical way. 

I picked online teaching as my subject area. I started with my conclusion and then worked backwards to create the portfolio around the required elements and to write the commentary. The limit was 1,300 words and it took a few weeks to put together.  The Professional Recognition team reviewed it for me too.

I heard about the programme in about November and made my application in time for the spring deadline. I was officially awarded Fellowship during the summer. 

Did your thinking about your teaching and learning practice change during the course of making the application? 

Definitely. I read about cognitive learning theory, which made me realise that there are reasons why certain layouts for online tools had worked (or not). I was then able to make tweaks to make the platforms work even better in future.  I started analysing everything I’d done and really questioning it. 

I also thought about how my job benefits the students. We have a tendency to think that as admin staff behind the scenes our work doesn’t affect students because we’re not teaching, but the way we set up a Moodle submission area or a shared Padlet does make a difference. 

I also noted the positive elements of online teaching that we could keep even as we get back to physical spaces.  For example, recording lectures was really beneficial for our international students, so they could pause and rewatch whilst taking notes.   

I reflected on community too. Because our students were all typing in the chat, some of them were interacting with us more online than previously in-person. I think they were more candid and it unexpectedly led to a closer-knit group. Our tutors entered the online classrooms early to catch up informally before the sessions started, and then we saw the students logging in early too. Students want to know we’re human and I think that unstructured interaction really helped to foster a sense of community. 

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

I’m not from a higher education teaching background so knowing some of the academic theories was a challenge. Neil really helped me with some pointers to texts. I read them through and it was great to know there was a specific name for the concept I’d been talking around! The word limit for the portfolio meant I couldn’t write much about them but doing that research for my own benefit was definitely helpful.  

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

How much I’d done!  When I took the time to reflect, list out tasks and quantify what I’d accomplished, it was a real confidence boost to see it all in one document.    

Going through this exercise to reflect on my experiences and achievements was also hugely helpful going into my PRA and as an assessment of my secondment. 

Now you’ve achieved AFHEA, what impacts has it had for you, if any?  

It helped me clarify what I want to do in my future career. I really enjoyed online teaching and working with students in this way. I hadn’t really thought about that until I sat down and really reflected on it so that was useful. I hope the qualification will open new doors. It’s still early days at this point, but having talked to different teams they seemed impressed that I have my Associate Fellowship. 

What advice would you have for anyone looking to make an AFHEA application? 

Don’t be frightened off by the criteria and their technical language, they’re much more general than they seem at first. And it’s such a useful exercise to sit down and reflect anyway, I think everyone should try to apply!

We are all in some way at the university working in teaching and learning. In Central Services it doesn’t necessarily always feel that way but having done this it reminded me that we do actually have a real impact on students. 

Read case studies for other levels of Fellowship

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