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Gaining a Broader Perspective – the value of being an assessor

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Questions and Ideas

In the HEA Fellowship blog, we’re continuing to measure the impact that HEA Fellowship has on teaching practices, on students and on the practices and approaches of peers. 

Mariolino Carta recorded a blog interview with Darren Minister from the Recognition Team on 26th October 2022. He discusses the value that being an assessor gives to enhancing his practice:

Mariolino Carta, FHEA

…I’m assessing some of the HEA Fellowship applications and this gives me this extra perspective I was talking about. Sometimes I get very good tips from sound applications.

Darren Minister: Okay, So question one: would you like to introduce yourself? Who you are? Your discipline? And how long you’ve taught in HE or in Swansea.

Mariolino Carta: Okay, so I am a senior lecturer at the Department of Chemistry at Swansea. I joined Swansea, and basically it was my first proper HE role, when I taught properly. I joined Swansea in 2017, in the past, I used to be a postdoc in Edinburgh. I started doing some teaching in Edinburgh, this is where I got my PGCert, so I joined the Higher Education Academy in Edinburgh. When I moved to Swansea I was already a Fellow, and I started teaching, let’s say properly; properly, I mean all together: So, lectures, workshops, exam preparations, and etc. and skills.

I’m an organic chemist. I teach, I prepare, we use flipped content I’d say for five years at the moment. I’m sure you’re familiar with the flip content now after Covid, almost everyone did it. But we pioneered this kind of way of teaching at Swansea, because we have two years in which we did completely flipped learning. I prepare short videos for students to watch prior to my class and then in class we do exercises connected to the topic of the video. How long for,

Darren Minister: So why did gaining HEA Fellowship, getting it through the PGCert, why did gaining Fellowship recognition matter to you? And why did you apply for Fellowship, and also, going through the PGCert, how did that help you as well?

 Mariolino Carta: It helped me quite a lot, I did it voluntarily, this is something that some of my colleagues don’t believe is possible. So, I did it when I was a post doc in Edinburgh, because I wanted to know a little more about academic practice basically. I was hoping, because I really like the academic career, I liked being a researcher, but I also liked to be a teacher. I decided to do that to basically preparing myself for a role like the one that I eventually got. I never thought it would have been so useful. I think the PGCert as a whole and the HEA environment can really help people to get a perspective and a point of view that you wouldn’t have otherwise if you just focused on your discipline.

So why apply? It was to have a more, let’s say, holistic view of the way people teach and I really gained that, I really gained a different perspective let’s say, instead of just being stuck on how chemists teach chemistry and so on.

Darren Minister: How have you continued to apply the standards of the UKPSF in your work since gaining that recognition, and also during the move to online teaching and support for learning as well?

Mariolino Carta: I keep using them quite a lot, and the fact that I’m assessing some of the HEA Fellowship applications [internally at Swansea University] and this gives me this extra perspective I was talking about. Sometimes I get very good tips from sound applications. I assess some people who, I believe, are better than me on teaching, so I got a lot of insight from that. I keep having a look at the UKPSF general guidelines, also via assessing, so assessing the applications really helps.

Regarding online teaching, we pioneered the flipped classroom a little bit at Swansea, at least I think everybody knows now that is something we cannot go without. We did it before Covid, and we carry on doing it, so for us the, general approach, new approach after Covid to exploit the online resources it was not a big leap, we did it already. But I think everyone knows now that it is fundamental so we have to adapt to the system. There are pros: everything we can do in a traditional way can be done online. Cons are sometimes it’s not that easy to adapt that kind of traditional lecture completely online, but overall, I think we’ve managed.

Darren Minister: I suppose, then, this is maybe less of a challenge for yourselves in chemistry, because you mentioned you flipped learning before Covid, and you mentioned as well how you’ve adapted back to flipped learning after the pandemic as well. But, if you could go into a bit more detail, and maybe how you adapted the resources you produced during the pandemic as we return to face-to-face teaching, or more to the sort of flip style of teaching.

Mariolino Carta: When we moved completely online, despite that we used the videos for the flip content for the classroom, before the pandemic. Most of the job was done in class, the big difference for me from doing this kind of lecture in class or doing online was that there is less engagement with the online one. In class I like to roam in the room, I like to see what the students are doing, I like to engage with them, and they engage with me. That was very difficult online only. So, when we went back from online to face-to-face, still using the flip content it became much easier again, although some of the students, after two years of just online, they found it difficult to come back or especially students in the first year and second year who started online only, going to the traditional way was kind of weird.

There are advantages and disadvantages, pros and cons like we were saying before. I think everybody, especially the students, but also me, like the traditional face-to-face teaching. Workshops are better in class, and when I go back to face-to-face teaching, some students hate me for this, but when I’m in class with them in a PC Room let’s say, I refuse that they carry on doing online assignments and upload the results online. I want paper. It sounds very old fashioned, but I want paper especially because that prevents them from just copying and pasting from slides. That is also very, very true for the exams. For instance, I resume doing the workshops completely on paper because I want to prepare them, and I tell them I want to prepare you guys for what happens in the exam. The exam is going to be two hours, one exam paper, and at the end you have to hand it in. When I went back to the traditional way, let’s say in class, that was the big difference for most of them.

Darren Minister: You mentioned already that you are an assessor for our internal route for HEA Fellowship applications, you mentioned how that has helped you gain some tips from reading applications. Is there anything else that you feel you or your teaching practice has gained from being a HEA Fellowship assessor?

Mariolino Carta: I think I said that before I gain a lot because of the different perspective. It’s fantastic assessing people from, I don’t know, humanities or nursing or engineering. Engineering is probably the closest one to what I teach. But when I assess it’s completely different. I don’t know it might be quite different sometimes, and sometimes I get something really good which can be applicable for my teaching. Sometimes I don’t, of course, because not all those topics in some fields have to be taught in that way. So, forcing myself in applying something that worked very well in humanities, but it’s difficult to be applicable to me. Sometimes I don’t, but I have to be honest, sometimes I get really good ideas for assessing these applications

Darren Minister: Thank you. And for someone that is not sure about applying for HEA Fellowship recognition. What words of encouragement could you offer?

Mariolino Carta: This is what I keep encouraging all my colleagues who didn’t finish the PGCert or haven’t done it yet. I think some people find it, especially in science, we are very practical people, so sometimes the holistic approach that people from humanities or psychology, or sociology have is very, very different from what we do, the way we do labs, the way we do exercises and workshops. I keep telling them that I get a completely different perspective, and sometimes it’s very refreshing. I get a lot, sometimes it is time consuming to find a way to fit your stuff with, to get tips, to refresh your courses applying some of the new ideas. But overall, I think it is, I would say, refreshing. It helps me a lot, and I try to encourage them and to convince that it actually works.

Darren Minister: And the last question is, what top tips would you offer to someone preparing a HEA Associate Fellow or Fellow application?

Mariolino Carta: That’s a difficult one from my approach. When I see different applications, the most recurrent error is doing a list of things just to tick boxes. I keep telling them when I’m giving just, informal, feedback or not properly assessing some of these applications, I found that the most recurrent mistake is, people just want to tick boxes something like name that particular area, that amount of time, but without getting into why you are doing this. So, don’t do just box ticking, but try to connect different parts one to another, and try to explain to the reviewer or the assessor what did you gain actually? Not just I did it and full stop. This is my main tip. The narrative should read, should flow, the same way as we do papers, for thesis, this is what I tell students when they produce their thesis. Don’t just put your stuff in your work: I ate, I drank, full stop, just tell me. What did you gain? Perspective? Future work? Anything like that? I think that applies very well for all HEA Fellowship applications. Like I’m saying to all my colleagues, I think getting the HEA Application is not just a new certificate. They can really gain, so if I can encourage people to do that, the more people I can encourage to do that the better. So that’s my main message.

For Further Details

Visit SALT’s webpages for details of the internally accredited programme leading to Associate, Fellow or Senior Fellow and for links to Principal Fellow resources.

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