This #Take5 is brought to you from Dustin Hosseini who works at The University of Glasgow as an Learning Innovation Officer in the Learning Innovation Support Unit where he teaches academics how to create online courses such as MOOCs and microcredentials. He also is one of the co-leads of the University of Glasgow Decolonising the Curriculum Community of Practice.
In this post, Dustin shares the impetus for setting up a cross-institutional, transnational community of practice, called Fellowship Dialogues, for those interested in pursuing an AdvanceHE fellowship accreditation – especially if based in a PSD (professional services department). This piece is a reflection on practice that hopefully will help others in imagining and setting up such initiatives while letting colleagues know how and why they might join.
This initiative is underpinned by the a range of values that interestingly reflect those of the two institutions I am part of:
- engaging in curiosity and discovery (a Glasgow value)
- being collaborative (a Strathclyde value)
- creating/maintaining an inclusive community (a Glasgow value)
- being people orientated (a Strathclyde value)
Before I continue, I must also thank those on the SEDA list who encouraged me, with special thanks to Tracy Part from Goldsmiths University and Gordon Leonard from Stirling University who have been active mentor-leaders of the community since its inception.
Perhaps my hope for this community (and other endeavors) lies in the following quote from bell hooks’s Teaching Community: A Pedagogy of Hope (2003:xvi citing Parker Palmer):
“This community goes far beyond our face-to-face relationship with each other as human beings. In education especially, this community connects us with the . . . ‘great things’ of the world, and with ‘the grace of great things.’. . . We are in community with all of these great things, and great teaching is about knowing that community, feeling that community, sensing that community, and then drawing your students into it.”
A desire to share knowledge and experience
Many of us working in learning development (LD) arrive by circuitous paths. Many are placed in professional services departments – or in positions where there is no academic promotion possible. The same often applies to those in learning technologist roles (or their analogues) even though, again, ‘learning’ is in the title and the audiences of our work are often staff if not staff and students. Working without an academic or academic-related title or role can be limiting for those wanting to apply for, as an example, Senior Fellow of Advance HE. Before you protest, read on further.
My own professional development and career development has been a meandering one. I always had a desire to become a teacher, an educator of some sort but I didn’t know where I would end up. My educational background lies in modern languages (Russian and Spanish) and at one point I desired to teach Russian.
While I did end up teaching language this turned out to be teaching English. I started teaching English as a foreign language in earnest in 2005 and then later stepped into teaching English for academic purposes on summer and year-round pre-sessional courses. Later, I moved into learning development where I taught/delivered a variety of 1:1, small and large group sessions focused on any array of knowledge and abilities that students require for academic and research writing. Through developing professional relationships with colleagues, networking and engaging in literature my knowledge and practice of pedagogy deepened. My belief in education as a public good also drives this.
At the same time, throughout my early years of teaching, I was actively incorporating technology of some sort into my teaching: whether this was using cassettes and later CDs, to using snippets of TV shows and DVDs. I saw the value of bringing language and learning to life in a way that books alone simply cannot do, especially when it comes to teaching any language to speakers of other languages.
My usage and integration of technology into learning and teaching has developed over the years. Using portable media gave way to using virtual learning environments (e.g. Blackboard, Canvas, Moodle and others). Later, the advent of collaborative document authoring, such as tools like Google Docs which now forms part of the Google Workspace. These collaborative tools allowed me to enrich the learning experience of students by giving them a space into which they could actively create meaning with one another simultaneously.
Developing colleagues by design
All this knowledge, coupled with curiosity and a desire to learn and help others learn later grew into an interest in learning design. I moved from directly teaching and developing students of any level to teaching and developing academic and administrative colleagues from across the subjects. Learning design is the consideration of how we design learning on courses, through imagining and drafting out activities that enact learning outcomes on a weekly level and at a bird’s eye level. Diana Laurillard’s conversational framework and UCL’s ABC Curriculum Design inform much of my practice in this area.
Now, where am I going with all of this? As I mentioned earlier, my career has been a meandering one: I have developed from a shy teacher into an educator that people can and sometimes do come to for ideas, development and support. I have worked at several major universities in the UK which has given me a rich insight into not only how other institutions work but also how the different parts of UKHE works more generally. The pandemic added to my experiences by elevating the role that hundreds of colleagues like myself hold which frequently vary in title from ‘learning technologist’ to ‘learning designer’ to ‘digital education facilitator’ and many other cumbersome titles.
What I’m saying here is that I’m sure there are other colleagues out there just like me who have had a variety of parallel roles. We have many hats that we can/do wear on a regular basis depending upon the situation. However, often the support for evidencing progress for fellowship of an AdvanceHE is geared strictly towards those in teaching roles; teaching observations are often a requirement of programmes for example, however many of us do ‘teach’ just not students on credit-bearing courses!
Helpful community spaces
While the newest 2023 Professional Standards Framework from AdvanceHE launched earlier has changed to more directly address and include colleagues who teach/develop/support/mentor other colleagues, what has always been missing is a community of practice for colleagues with similar experiences and in similar roles, those who slip between and across TEFL/EAP – learning development and learning technologist – staff support and PSD. University structures across HE change slowly, and so I thought – why not create such a community of practice? I already had experience of co-leading for The University of Glasgow’s Decolonising the Curriculum Community of Practice, and so it made perfect sense to create a community of practice for others! Again, education is a public good, and I believe we can and should help one another.
After a brief query to test the waters on the SEDA professional mailing list, I decided to launch Fellowship Dialogues: a CoP and a space for the diverse support and development staff that roam the corridors of HE. We have had around 200 sign ups to date, of which around a third have offered to mentor others! This speaks volumes to the desire of others to learn, but also of the desire to help one another learn.
Although I have a lot of good colleagues who are happy to mentor me at my current place of employment when it comes to writing up an application for fellowship, I felt that I wanted a bigger community to draw on and contribute to. Now I am not saying that they don’t exist at every university, but there is something powerful about networking with people who work with you and alongside you at other institutions of higher education. It helps us gain insights into different, similar and like-minded thinking while understanding what’s going on over there.
This also chimes with my beliefs: I personally believe that no single university in the UK has all the answers, and like no single person or academic has all the answers (no matter their field, years of experience or expertise). Knowledge comes from the collective. I also believe that insights from other colleagues can help to spread the labour of coaching and mentoring while also allowing different takes on common questions. Sometimes these might be fresh takes, which can ignite the energy needed to start an application, and sometimes these might be re-affirming takes which do the same thing.
Perhaps intuitively, I believed that others might also like such a space, so after a few messages of support on the SEDA e-mail list, I decided to launch Fellowship Dialogues on Discord. I chose Discord at the suggestion (thanks, Sara and others!) that it would possibly be less cumbersome than using Microsoft Teams across different universities. As anyone who uses MS Teams knows, it’s annoying having to switch institutional accounts just to look at another team. Discord made sense, and although there was a slight learning curve, it is proving to be a good space for a community of practice that transcends the digital borders of universities which control access to collaborative tools.
Fellowship Dialogues: From false starts to a vision
A series of false starts and overall lack of vision and focus gave me cause to create a digital and borderless community of practice on Discord. This space, called Fellowship Dialogues, is for anyone interested in attaining any one of the fellowship levels offered by Advance HE.
While the start of the community was slow during the lazy summer days, with around 40 people joining initially, we had 10 people join for our first session given by Tracy Part from Goldsmiths University. This session, along with support from other colleagues who attended, was particularly invaluable for me personally as it gave me a crystal-clear vision – an imagination – of what I could focus on when writing my own application for Senior Fellow. It was particularly useful as it brought some focus to the scattered and seemingly disconnected yet valuable experiences that I have gained over the years from working in different roles across several different universities across the UK.
So far, we have had one session in July 2023 delivered with Rob Daley from Heriott-Watt University, and we will have six further sessions from December 2023 to February 2024 delivered by Tracy Part and other colleagues. These sessions cover the Professional Standards Framework dimensions and descriptors; understanding evidence-based reflection – and creating your own; to peer review workshops.
I found the first session incredibly rewarding as, according to my notes from what Tracy Part advised us, when moving from Fellow (Descriptor 2) to Senior Fellow (Descriptor 3) a lot of what we do is tacit in nature:
“It’s fuzzy, messy, happens between and behind the scenes as well as sometimes more overtly.”
It’s about evidencing those fuzzy, messy things that happen that can be incredibly powerful for bringing focus to not only the entire application, but for the two case studies as well. What has also been helpful is that we have had dozens of colleagues who have expressed a desire to mentor others. Another win!
Another colleague recently shared the following, too, which I found powerful and moving:
“I do want to say that how you have brought together colleagues from higher education across these islands is a real inspiration and shows that positive, cooperative attitudes and goodwill can really bring a community together and change challenges into opportunities.”
Conclusion and next steps
When you work in different professional services roles, even if you have held academic/teaching roles, it can be a little confusing when it comes to gathering evidence of positively influencing the educational practices of others.
People in professional roles like myself, the educative social glue so to speak, we do not have formal evidence in the same way that those who teach do: our evidence, as Tracy says, is tacit in nature. It is fuzzy, soft, in and around us rather than being something concrete such as NSS scores, a published, peer-reviewed paper and so on.
However, we now have a community of practice that is both cross-institutional and trans-national. This community is not for any of us that set the community up (myself, Tracy Part, Gordon Leonard), it is rather for you – anyone who wants to network and develop themselves in tackling what can be a somewhat time-consuming yet incredibly rewarding reflective process leading to an accreditation that reflects your knowledge/skills/abilities as an educator and, perhaps, budding leader in education.
We have helped people to come together literally across nations to help not only themselves but one another in understanding how to craft an application for their desired fellowship level, whether this is Associate Fellow, Fellow, Senior Fellow or even Principal Fellow.
You can find out more and sign up here. We have six sessions from December to February. We also highly recommend identifying any local writing retreats that will allow you the headspace to reflect, draft and reflect and write some more – ALDinHE’s CeP and CeLP Writing Retreats for example. You can find out more about our sessions here, but please do sign up to the community so that we can keep track of numbers.
Finally, I highly recommend that once you do join, you allow Discord to run in the background to keep updated and to connect with community members as this is our community space. If you find yourself struggling to get to know Discord, do reach out to us, a colleague and/or loved one. All it takes is to ask for help!
Dustin has a wide range of teaching experience from teaching English as a foreign language and for academic purposes, to developing technology enhanced learning in teaching on pre-sessional and credit-bearing courses/modules at UG, PGT and executive education levels. He has also developed CPD opportunities for staff and supervised students studying Master’s degrees in the UK. Dustin is pursuing a doctorate in Education at The University of Strathclyde.
Picture: Dustin Hosseini