Dr Alison Daniell and Dr Victoria Yuskaitis

A Lifecycle Approach for Learning Development Accreditation at the University of Southampton

A lifecycle approach to supporting students in the Widening Participation and Social Mobility (WPSM) Directorate at the University of Southampton impacts how the Enhancement team approaches professional development through accreditation with ALDinHE and/or Advance HE. We view continuing professional development (CPD) not just as desirable for career progression, but as a way of ensuring we too are continuing to engage with the learning process alongside our students.

Victoria yuskaitis

Dr Victoria Yuskaitis works in the pre-entry team, supporting sixth-form students from state schools with high proportions of widening participation students completing research-based qualifications like the Extended Project Qualification (EPQ). This includes delivering interactive academic and research skills workshops as well as 1:1s and other interventions. Current scholarship demonstrates that higher proportions of students with an EPQ achieve first class and 2:1 degree awards compared to those students that do not have an EPQ. Exploratory analysis of University of Southampton’s most recent research indicates that the EPQ may also contribute to reduced awarding gaps for students from underrepresented backgrounds in Higher Education.

alison daniell

Dr Alison Daniell works in the post-entry team, supporting students at all stages of their university education. This involves delivering one-to-one support (both in-person and online), teaching workshops, and working with academic colleagues to ensure students are equipped with the skills they need to meet learning and assessment outcomes. She is currently leading on a project to embed core academic skills in module-level teaching, ensuring all students – particularly underrepresented students at greater risk of educational inequity – are able to reach their academic potential and that our current awarding gaps are reduced.

The lifecycle approach we adopt in relation to our students means that we support them for the entirety of their academic journey. At the pre-entry stage, students need support navigating opportunities that will lead them towards university, an apprenticeship or a career. Scaffolding their academic, writing, and research skills through EPQ support ensures they can confidently approach undergraduate study if this is their chosen path forward. At the post-entry stage, when students have enrolled as students at Southampton and started their courses, they continue to need targeted skills support to thrive during their time with us. Additionally, the so-called ‘transferable skills’ they learn as students will continue to work to their advantage in the next stage of the student lifecycle when they leave university, allowing them to develop a fulfilling career. Both the pre- and post-entry teams work together to ensure they provide seamless and continued support to students before and after they arrive at university.

After expressing an interest in continuing their own professional development, Alison and Victoria were asked by their line manager to create a CPD programme for their wider team that would allow everyone to assess and enhance their teaching and/or learning development practice. This included exploring why individuals teach the way they do, and examining what skills they wish to develop – with accreditation through ALDinHE and/or Advance HE as a natural outcome of this. Formal recognition of the Team’s teaching and learning development skills is an essential element of the programme because a substantial proportion of the work we do is with other educators – in Victoria’s case, the pre-entry team work with teachers in schools, whilst Alison and the post-entry team work with academic teaching colleagues. It is important that our own expertise as educators is both recognised and visible.

We began the professional development programme by implementing a shadowing scheme across the pre- and post-entry teams. This involved colleagues volunteering activities for others to shadow, or expressing interest in shadowing an element of a colleague’s workday. This part of the programme was enthusiastically embraced and had a high participation rate, with the following goals achieved:

  • Enabling a better understanding of colleagues’ roles in WPSM;

  • Encouraging further collaboration and dialogue between the pre- and post-entry teams;

  • Promoting reflection on current practice in relation to other colleagues’ approaches;

  • Drawing connections between shadowing activities across the team and developing skill sets to successfully gain accreditation.

The shadowing scheme is still available for new starters or for current members of the team who want to explore learning development or teaching practice from the perspective of other colleagues.

After this, Alison and Victoria ran a workshop explaining the different routes to accreditation available, including:

  • Associate Fellow of Advance HE (AFHEA) or Fellow of Advance HE (FHEA) accreditation.

This could be obtained by three different, but complementary, routes. Firstly, as the University has institutional membership of Advance HE, staff can complete their accreditation programme directly. However, as Southampton also runs fully accredited programmes which staff can access for free, this is not the most cost-effective route. Instead, we recommended colleagues gain accreditation either through the taught, three-module Post Graduate Certificate in Academic Practice (PGCAP) course, or by submitting a reflective portfolio evidencing their experience for the Professional Recognition of Educator Practice (PREP) qualification. These were both originally designed for academic teaching staff, rather than for those involved in the learning development. However, with support from CHEP (Southampton’s Centre for Higher Education Practice), we were able to troubleshoot a few initial difficulties in providing the evidence that was needed to gain the qualifications. These were not insurmountable as a flexible approach and supportive colleagues meant that suitable teaching opportunities were made available to those who needed them. Both Alison and Victoria have now obtained FHEA status through the PREP route as a result. Two colleagues are currently coming to the end of the PGCAP course, with another due to start in the autumn, and multiple colleagues are working on portfolios.

  • ALDinHE Certified Practitioner (CeP) or ALDinHE Certified Leading Practitioner (CeLP) accreditation.

The University of Southampton is an ALDinHE member, so our colleagues do not require individual membership to submit applications. Most of our colleagues were more familiar with Advance HE accreditation, but Victoria attended the 2022 ALDinHE conference and fed back the many benefits of CeP or CeLP. One of the major differences is that ALDinHE focuses on Learning Development (LD) as a distinct field. Advance HE is a qualification very much designed for teaching from a traditional academic background, and often fitting our experience as Learning Developers into this format is challenging. On the other hand, ALDinHE embraces the diversity that characterises the LD landscape, and many of our members find their work in teaching and learning is better represented through these qualifications. Victoria also learned in one of the conference sessions that ALDinHE and Advance HE applications are often complementary, as both qualifications are asking for a similar reflective approach to teaching, albeit with different emphases. Victoria and Alison are both currently working on their CeP applications, alongside another interested colleague.

In our initial coaching session, we emphasised to our team that accreditation was not mandatory, but that it had many benefits, including allowing our learning development and teaching activities (which can be undervalued or overlooked in our field) to be appropriately acknowledged. We also explained that the routes to accreditation would vary according to the needs, goals and experience of individual colleagues, developed in current or previous teaching or learning development roles. So, for example, those who had come from an academic/research background would be more likely to have the experience needed to complete the PREP portfolio. This might also prove more useful to them in the long term as they might wish to transition back into a mainstream academic career at some point. However, colleagues who had entered the team by other routes, perhaps via a career in the library or another area of professional services, would find ALDinHE accreditation or PGCAP more suitable, especially if they intended to develop their career further as a Learning Developer. We also stressed that in order to start an application, a colleague didn’t need to already have all the skills and experience required—the point of the shadowing scheme and the CPD process was to help individuals reflect on the skills they would like to improve or gain, and provide avenues to achieve this. The applications could absolutely be, and were encouraged to be, works in progress.

Importantly, we did not want the CPD process to become an extra burden to colleagues who were already working hard. In order to support those who wished to gain accreditation, our line manager instituted Friday morning reflection and research days running bi-weekly from 9:00AM-12:30PM, providing time built in to our workloads for progressing accreditation applications and reflecting on our practice. Those opting to take PGCAP also qualify for time away from their normal duties to attend the seminars and obtain the teaching experience necessary for completing the course. More widely, the Enhancement team is responsible for developing theory of change documents to support and evaluate the interventions we deliver to students. Reflecting on the how and why behind our teaching through theory of change has had the additional benefit of contributing to the development of the reflective mindset needed for these qualifications.

Having two members of the Team (Victoria and Alison) who have successfully navigated the process provides the whole team with valuable feedback and examples of successful applications, from colleagues with similar experience and working in similar roles. Alison and Victoria are now also qualified as mentors and peer observers for teaching, and we are able to support anyone within the university who wishes to pursue PREP or PGCAP accreditation. As well as the collegiality of being able to support mentees from across the university, this is also a vital step in ensuring our team – which is still fairly new – becomes known as an essential part of the teaching and learning support available to staff at Southampton.

Whilst the process of ensuring there are suitable accreditation and CPD options for colleagues in the Enhancement team has not always been straightforward, overal this has been a rewarding and productive process. By exploring the different options available, colleagues have been able to mix and match professional development pathways to suit their own practice and experience – and undertake these at their own pace. We have also seen an uptick in the numbers within the team pursuing a professional development goal of some sort, and a majority have either now gained accreditation or are currently pursuing an application. It is also important to emphasise that, even with the extra time that has been ringfenced for the process, a level of commitment from the individual undertaking accreditation is still required. However, with the support and encouragement of the whole team, and recognition of the importance of these qualifications from line managers, it is much easier for individuals to maintain the momentum needed to complete their chosen route. Raising the profile of formal professional accreditation as a desirable attribute is good both for individuals, who see their own experience and practice recognised, and for the team as a whole, who have been able to connect with others across the wider university, raising our collective profile and enhancing understanding of our roles with academic colleagues. We are currently looking forward to beginning our support sessions again in the autumn and very much hope that others in our team will continue to benefit from the opportunity to have the important work that they do fully recognised as we go forward.

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