Fostering Transformative Mindsets: Innovation and Excellence in Teaching through the Global AdvanceHE Fellowships Scheme

The value and importance of investing in Continuing Professional Development (CPD) for those who teach has never been more obvious than over recent weeks in the global pivot to teaching online. Arguably, teaching has never been more complex as educators now have many more options to consider and technologies available to them in the learning design process. Hopefully, when our physical campuses open again, the legacy of the COVID-19 experience will be a generation of educators more aware of the range of online teaching and learning options, with a better understanding of why, when and how to more fully embed them to support a transformative curriculum.

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Dublin City University (DCU) is committed to a transformative student learning experience. It follows that our capacity to deliver on this institutional commitment is highly dependent on achieving our goal of fostering an innovative and transformative learning environment for our teachers and those who support teaching. An important part of cultivating such an environment is valuing the importance of teaching, recognising teaching excellence, sharing examples of good teaching practice and promoting the continuing professional learning of DCU staff. The University’s Strategic Plan and Teaching & Learning Strategy outlines a multifaceted approach to meeting this goal. One of the initiatives that we are undertaking to support our transformative mission is adoption of the AdvanceHE fellowship scheme.  

DCU.jpgAn AdvanceHE  Fellowship demonstrates a personal and institutional commitment to professionalism in learning and teaching in higher education. Across four categories, from Associate to Principal, Fellowship provides individuals with recognition of their practice, impact and leadership of teaching and learning. AdvanceHE Fellowships have been adopted by higher education institutions globally, with over 128,000 individuals from across the world who have become Fellows of AdvanceHE (previously Higher Education Academy). This global recognition of teaching expertise is particularly important in the university context as academic staff routinely work with international colleagues around the world. 

After visiting a number of universities in the UK and Australia highly engaged in the programme, DCU formally launched a pilot of the Fellowship Scheme in October 2019.  In the first phase, three staff members were nominated by each faculty to apply for a “Senior Fellowship” along with members of the Teaching Enhancement Unit (TEU). Five staff have successfully completed their fellowships with a further four expecting to hear good news shortly. The remaining staff aim to complete their submission by portfolio by the end of June. Furthermore, six graduates from our postgraduate certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education are finalising their submissions for “Associate Fellow” for May 2020.

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Phase two of the pilot is now underway with discussions through Associate Deans for Teaching and Learning (ADTL) to help identify the next cohort of DCU staff to participate in this internationally recognised scheme. The next phase also involves the development of a DCU Teaching Excellence Academy where in partnership with the TEU we can harness the experience of our Senior Fellows in supporting the CPD of their colleagues. This initiative recognises the importance of discipline differences along with the complex and distributed nature of teaching expertise, and seeks to build through the Fellowship Scheme transformative pedagogical mindsets for the design of transformative learning experiences. 

A Typical Teaching & Learning Day: Rob’s Story…

By Rob Lowney

Life in this pandemic is surreal and anxiety-inducing, so it’s perhaps unusual for me to say that I feel like my work life hasn’t changed that much at all.

rob_lowney_profile_pic_0.jpgPre-pandemic, my days would be filled with meetings, designing and delivering professional development (PD) to academics around learning technologies, responding to learning technology queries… and that’s still how my days are filled. The volume is now much greater, but strangely I’m grateful for that. A busy work day keeps me occupied and I forget about this pandemic for a while.

Each day I get up and make the arduous commute to my desk in the corner of the living room. While waiting for the coffee to percolate, I do a short breathing or meditation exercise, using the app Stop, Breathe and Think. I don’t miss travelling on a packed Dublin Bus every morning, but I do miss that time I have to myself to get my brain oriented, so I try to start my day off well each morning.

Working from home hasn’t been much of a change for me. Pre-pandemic, I could be working on any of DCU’s campuses any day of the week, so I’m used to going without an office. So long as I have my laptop and some wi-fi, I’m good.

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The first task is to scan my email and our helpdesk tickets to see if there are urgent issues to be addressed. If there are, I get to them straight away or contact my colleagues in the Loop VLE Support Team. At the other end of these emails is usually an academic who has little experience of teaching fully online. A query might seem small or simple to me but it’s of huge importance to them – and therefore their students – so I strive to treat it as such. Throughout the day my eye is on my email account, alert to anything that might arise. Not ideal – I should be focussing on just one thing at a time – but needs must.

EDTL_IUA-Logo-Master-RGB_A_Transparent-1.pngA core part of my role in DCU is acting as one of the project leads – with my colleague Suzanne Stone – for the IUA Enhancing Digital Teaching and Learning (EDTL) project, launched in 2019. Never a more apt time for such a project! Although most of my day is spent on frontline support and PD related to the crisis, it’s still important to keep ‘normal’ projects going. Our project focus is developing academics’ capacity in technology-enhanced assessment. Every day contains an EDTL task – a catch-up with the national project team, a virtual coffee break with our participating groups of academics, designing and delivering online workshops, evaluating our activities, and so on. Our participants have adapted nimbly to the online format for project workshops, and they too are glad to keep going with ‘something normal’.

The Teaching Enhancement Unit’s output of PD activities has increased dramatically during this crisis. Each day we provide up to three webinars related to remote teaching and using the Loop VLE effectively. Most days I deliver a webinar on a Loop tool that can be used for assessment, or co-ordinate with a colleague who presents. It takes time to prepare these each morning but it’s time well spent. PD for academics during this crisis is vital.

Each day usually involves a call with some other members of the Loop Support Team and our head of unit, Mark Glynn, to assess the situation, discuss issues, plan new PD activities, and as the semester draws to a close, to discuss alternative assessment arrangements.

I certainly feel spent by the end of each day, but looking out my apartment window I see St James’s Hospital and it puts things in perspective. My busy work day pales in comparison to the heroic duties our healthcare workers are fulfilling.

Rob Lowney is a Learning Technologist in DCU’s Teaching Enhancement Unit (TEU) in the National Institute for Digital Learning. Rob’s account of his typical day was first published in a special edition of the National Forum’s eZine.

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