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Case Study: Higher Education Academy

Edith’s case study comes from Chapter 2: teaching, training, and communicating

What is the HEA?

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) is an independent UK organisation mainly funded by research councils and higher education institutions. Its goal is to improve the learning experience for students, and one of its main activities is providing professional recognition to academics and others involved in teaching and learning support. The organisation provides support and advice to individuals and organisations, and organises events and conferences to disseminate best practice. The HEA also gathers evidence based on both research and good practice, and disseminates it to encourage evidence-informed practice across the HE sector.

How does it differ from LIS membership organisations?

The HEA is not a professional membership body, so although it organises events for staff across HE, accredits courses and awards individuals for their learning and teaching achievements, it is not run by its members. Therefore it does not have a democratically elected council or executive body drawn from its membership, unlike many LIS organisations. Its activities are mainly targeted at HE academic and teaching staff, though some of their work is relevant to librarians and other information professionals working in HE.

What does becoming a member of the HEA involve?

The HEA has four levels of professional recognition: Associate, Fellow, Senior Fellow and Principal Fellow. The two main routes to recognition as an Associate or Fellow are a) via a qualification accredited by the HEA, for example a PGCHE and b) via making an application based on existing experience in teaching and learning.

When applying based on existing experience, individuals must demonstrate experience across two areas of learning and teaching activity for associate status, or five areas of activity for fellowship. Additionally a set of core knowledge must be demonstrated and professional values adhered to. These criteria are linked to standard descriptors 1 and 2 of the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education (UKPSF) . Experience is demonstrated by completing an application form containing approximately 600 words of reflection on each area of practice, incorporating a summary of professional development (e.g. attendance at events and conferences). The areas of activity in brief are:

• designing learning activities;
• teaching/supporting learning;
• assessment/feedback;
• developing effective environments and support;
• integrating research and CPD with teaching/supporting learning and evaluating practice.

Once completed, the application form is sent to two referees who vouch for its accuracy and add extra evidence of the applicant’s skills and experience, before the whole application is sent to the HEA for consideration with a one-off application fee. Fellowship or associate fellow status is awarded if the submission is approved. No annual subscription is required, and at present there is no revalidation process to demonstrate continuing professional development, though a commitment to CPD must be declared and is expected to be acted upon.

How has it benefited you in the workplace?

As a librarian who has taken a lead role in developing information skills classes for students and staff for several years, my institution agreed I was qualified to apply for fellowship status. My institution runs regular 2-day seminars for staff applying for HEA recognition; these involve staff considering their own work in each area of practice, then discussing their work in small groups and finally sharing their ideas and thoughts with the whole group, assisted by a facilitator. Attending such seminars gave me plenty of food for thought: as well as helping me to prepare my application, the discussions encouraged me to reflect on my current practice and compare it with work done by teaching staff across the institution. It also provided an opportunity to network with colleagues.

Achieving FHEA status demonstrates that I have a professional and reflective approach to teaching and that I am committed to improving and developing the library’s information skills sessions in partnership with academics and using evidence gained from best practice elsewhere. Purely attending the in-house seminars (with another librarian) helped to raise our profile with academic colleagues, as not all of them were aware of the level of teaching and support provided by librarians. Becoming a fellow allows use of the postnominals FHEA (AHEA for associate membership) – using these in written communications with teaching staff is a small but effective way of enhancing the status of library staff in the institution. I believe that academic colleagues will become more aware of the teaching capabilities of library staff as more library staff achieve Associate and Fellowship status.

How has it benefited your personal/professional development?

Putting together my FHEA application has given me space to reflect on my practice, both when directly teaching students and providing individual support or supporting study generally as part of the library staff team. It has encouraged me to delve further into the literature on learning styles, supporting learning and varying teaching techniques and in the process has given me further ideas to improve the service we provide. Gathering positive feedback from referees and independent validation from the HEA itself is very valuable for boosting confidence and affirming good practice, and I would recommend HEA accreditation to all eligible library and information professionals.

Contributed by Edith Speller

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