Celebrating Swansea University’s 700th Colleague gaining a Category of HEA Fellowship!
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. We’ve also asked for some suggestions when teaching/supporting learning online!
Darren Minister from SALT’s Recognition team interviews Dr. Aled Singleton from the School of Biosciences, Geography and Physics to gain his reflections on his impetus for gaining Associate Fellowship (AFHEA) recognition as post-doctoral staff member. Aled offer tips for other researchers who have some responsibilities for teaching and/or support student’s learning in preparing their AFHEA claim.
(You can watch more tips from Aled and Marcos Quintela-Vasquez at our June 2023 Effective Practice seminar.)
Aled’s Top Tips – Give yourself time, attend seminars, come to the SALT Conference
Tell us about your discipline, the skills you teach, how long have you been teaching in Swansea and in HE
I’ve actually come to teaching sort of mid-career really. I spent most of my professional life managing place-based and regeneration projects. My discipline is Geography broadly, and about how our relationship with place and time. My first degree is actually in Computer Science, which is massively different to Geography, especially Human Geography, that I do now.
I came to Swansea to do a PhD which was about ageing and broadly about our relationship with places over our life. Studying these kind of emotional attachments to places led me more towards Geography as a discipline I wanted to concentrate on for the future, especially in terms of teaching. During my PhD, I did a bit of teaching on the Creative Writing Non-fiction course in English, because one of my supervisors is a writer. I did some tutoring during the pandemic on online tutoring, through the Brilliant Club.
In the last couple of years, I’ve taught workshops on research methods with Master students and PhD students. I also did a bit of work with Year Two geography students in 2022. But then this year I’ve taken up a role doing teaching and tutoring in Geography, so first and second year students. We’ve been covering subjects like globalisation and health, and different human geography techniques. Also, I have been tutoring 40 students in the first and second year. In March we went to Berlin on a lower carbon field trip. Plus, I work two days a week as a Research Officer.
You gained Associate Fellowship in November 2022 congratulations. You’re also a seven hundredth colleague within Swansea University to gain a category of HEA Fellowship. So why was gaining HEA Fellowship important to you and why did you apply?
As I was coming towards the end of my PhD, I started to realise more clearly that the University is not just about research. In fact, you can quite easily, as a researcher, just wander around the university campus and not even notice how many students there are. I know it sounds strange, but you operate in very different worlds. You go to different conferences and, especially in the pandemic, we weren’t here on campus very much.
A different motivation was that I struggled quite a lot in my first and second year as an undergraduate. After 20 years I guess that I thought a bit more clearly about wanting to do teaching. Moving to the Geography Department for a postdoc year meant that there was a lot more contact with students. I asked if I could do some teaching and they gave me some opportunities. Then last year I just realised that having the HEA Fellowship recognition was definitely going to be critical to taking my teaching forward. Also, I realised that I didn’t have any sort of formal recognition. The Brilliant Club was really good in terms of their training. They give you lots of guidance, and they make sure that you follow lots of online learning before they let you do any work with students. For example, when I got interviewed for the Brilliant Club they made me think hard about being in the classroom, and they even pretended to be young students when I had to give them a mock class. However, it doesn’t seem to be quite the same at university. You seem to just get chucked into things. The HEA framework was a good as it was structured, and it’s something which applies to every HE institution. I can talk a little bit more about the support here at Swansea, but the HEA framework felt like a structure, and it felt like some basic teaching principles to follow.
I think it was quite good that the HEA scheme does appreciate that people have to start somewhere, and the different levels mean that you can prove what you’re doing as you go along. It’s long-term commitment and a transferable qualification as well. Since getting the recognition I’ve done bits of teaching, not just at Swansea, and it’s been helpful to show that I’ve got that qualification. So, I think altogether it was something to aim for back in 2022. It took me a while to put together my application, and to plan ahead where I was going to gain my experience.
You mentioned online learning, so how have you continued to apply the standards of the UKPSF in your work since gaining recognition. Also, do you have any tips for anybody teaching online or supporting learning online?
I now spend a lot more time physically at the University. The Geography Department seems to be pretty good when it comes to arranging tutorials as one-to-ones and group tutorials outside of lectures. I can certainly see how that goes beyond what happens in the classroom, and particularly, offers more than an online scenario where you turn up and you deliver online and make a video recording there.
The tutoring helps to fulfil A4: supporting and guiding. For example, by creating different environments outside of the formal classroom or the online space. It’s been really good to help individual students and help them work together as well. The smaller spaces means that they’re a bit more confident. I can see how they’ve got more confident, certainly in terms of how to discuss ideas and help each other. For example, the first years looked at referencing and critical reading skills, and I think they’ve benefited a lot from that. It’s a very different scenario to standing up and delivering lecture that you have prepared. With the tutoring it’s a bit more directed by the students. This is now really apparent to me, having come away from the phase of teaching online.
One of the things that’s opened up for me is an opportunity to write a chapter for a book about Outdoor Learning. This was a link made by one of your colleagues in SALT, Louise. The book is being done through SEDA and will be published by Routledge. This is something that’s been chugging along in the background and means that I get to share some of the work that we do here at Swansea to the wider world. These scenarios, these opportunities, are helped by connections made through Twitter. In fact, the people I’m working with on the book, I’ve never actually met them in person, and it’s all been through online contact. This collaboration with others enhances what we do at Swansea and shares it with other people. Hopefully we will be able to bring in a lot of the other contents of that book to teaching here too. Did you ask about tips?
Is there anything that you learned about teacher online that you now apply in any face-to-face teaching? Or you are specifically supporting students as they get more used to face-to-face teaching again?
I found that using Mentimeter was really helpful when we were doing stuff online, because we could get the students to give some feedback and help shape the different teaching. Using Mentimeter in the classroom is something which I’ve carried on with since the pandemic. Also, it gives an anonymity to the students as, for some of them, it takes a while to get used to asking questions in class. It’s very visual as well, it goes up there on the screen during the lecture. This means that I can incorporate their feedback into the lecture recordings, and I also put it on Canvas afterwards. So that’s been really useful.
I think generally that Canvas means we can assemble lots of other materials, and not just the lectures. I think also, being able to offer online one-to-one meetings is a good thing as not all of the students live close to campus, nor the staff either. That’s been really helpful to be able to carry on using things like Zoom for the different meetings. I think one of the good things about Zoom, or whatever else people use, is you add links into the chat and incorporate resources straight away. Probably because I’m still ‘newer’ to teaching than lots of other people, the technology doesn’t daunt me: it’s all useful, plus, my first degree was in computer science, so I understand how it all works as well.
Sometimes when you are newer to teaching you are not as encumbered with as much ‘baggage’ as it were, so you are more willing to maybe try things which later on, as you get stuck in routines and everything, you maybe become bit less reluctant to do so, having that sort of mentality is really nice.
Yeah, I think things like using Panopto to record lectures doesn’t always work quite as we expect. Sometimes you get thrown by a room having different AV equipment to another room. But I think videos are pretty good; the way that we can just share stuff with students. Also, the deeper I get into teaching, the more I understand that students have got lots of work to do and other reasons, so digital recordings really help those students who, for whatever reason, can’t come to lectures. Furthermore, we can turn around the editing really quickly. I mean I generally just do lecture, come back, edit, get it out, and that’s something which I assume didn’t happen before the pandemic. I basically wrote my PhD Thesis during the pandemic, and finished my PhD in the pandemic, so working remotely wasn’t as big an issue for me. But I can see how it probably was for people who were used to doing everything in the classroom itself.
For someone not sure about applying for HEA Fellowship recognition. What words of encouragement would you offer?
I think, first of all, like everything in the academic world it is effectively based on peer review. So, it’s based on people reviewing each other’s work. Initially you have to get two referees to support your application and that involved one colleague coming to one of my lectures and giving an observation on my lecture. The other person was my mentor.
It is in the University’s interest to have more people go through this particular scheme and it is great, and actually quite surprising as well, to be the 700th person. In my case, applying for the Associate Fellow, set a direction for me in 2022. It made me think about what I needed to discover, what I needed to follow and it pushed me a bit harder. The thought of applying for full Fellowship this year is also pushing me harder as well; things like writing that book chapter, and any even things like writing a blog after the Berlin field trip. Thinking about made me think a bit more clearly about sort of what we could offer the students on that on that trip. Actually, one colleague, they’ve mentioned how students use things like Instagram as a way of telling us how they’re getting on with the field trip.
The process of applying for the Associate Fellowship was pretty rigorous. At times I did think is it worth it? Because it did feel like so much extra stuff to do. But they [SALT] did give you some useful guidelines, and it means that you can transfer these skills to other places as well.
So, what top tips would you offer to someone preparing an Associate Fellow application?
Tip 1 is about asking for help. I would say that the whole set up at Swansea is really well organised, and you can see which members of staff are behind it. The whole thing is devised as a Canvas course which takes you step-by-step through what you need to do, and the SALT team are very experienced. Sometimes it does feel a little bit overly structured, but having completed it I can see why now. Everything you need to find is on that Canvas course, which is useful.
Tip 2 would be to give yourself time to actually attend things like seminars. I went on quite a few seminars by BERA and I also went to the RGS (Royal Geographic Society) Geography Conference last year. There was quite a bit of content there which was about learning and teaching, some of them were recorded so you could listen to them again. I think each discipline will have its own sort of education angle. Like I said, for me, coming from that more research background and applying this education, it took me a while to find these things.
Point 3, I would go to the SALT Conference, and also pitch an abstract to the conference as well. I sent one last year, and it was really helpful for me to get some feedback from people and just make some useful connections. Quite a few connections have come from me doing that presentation plus I actually used it in my application as well. Make sure that you are part of what SALT does. Various members of stuff have been really helpful to me to take things further. And you know, like talking to you today, you can see that it is taken seriously by the University.
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.
This year’s SALT Conference is July 12th 2023 at the Bay Campus. Further details and to register, see SALT’s website: