As a new Senior HEA Fellow, I thought I’d share my personal experience of navigating HEA application and my thoughts on the process while they are fresh in my mind.
What HEA is and is not
When I first heard about HEA fellowships, I assumed that, if successful, I’d be upskilled by HEA (workshops, mentoring, a structured program of some sort, maybe even a grant 😉…). In other words, I expected HEA to ‘show up’ at my doorstep and make me a ‘world-class’ learning and teaching professional. As often happens with expectations, the reality turned out to be a bit different.
Being a UK-based organization, HEA currently has limited training opportunities in Australia. Most HEA events, like workshops, seminars and reading groups, take place in the UK. And while there is a ‘virtual reading group’ that anybody regardless of their location could potentially participate in, it’s scheduled for 12:30 London time, which happens to be 23:30 Sydney time. Having a toddler who wakes me up around 5 am every morning, that is simply not feasible for me.
So when it comes to Australia, HEA Fellowships are currently more like accreditation or a ‘seal of approval’ for your practice. You essentially need to prove to the HEA that you already meet requirements for one of their 4 levels of fellowship. And you do it by writing a story about your work, your values and, in the case of a Senior Fellowship, by adding two detailed case studies.
At first, I was disappointed with the current lack of workshops in Australia, but I thought I’d apply anyway. I’ll admit – my motivation was somewhat dodgy to start with. A little bird told me that HEA is getting so big worldwide that, for example, it’s now impossible to get a teaching position in the UK without having a fellowship. Thinking Australia might be next, I expressed interest in the program and went to MQ’s HEA workshop.
The workshop was run by one of the HEA-accredited assessors/trainers who talked us through HEA framework. The framework seemed both simplified and refreshing at the same time, as it was the first time I saw a complex topic of teaching at Higher Ed broken down into a finite number of specific categories.
For some time, I couldn’t decide whether I liked the framework or found it too general in important (to me) areas. For example, a category of ‘how students learn, both generally and within their subject/disciplinary area(s)’ still seems a bit broad to me, but…
The surprising power of the checklist
As time went on, I noticed something interesting. To my surprise, thinking about my teaching and other work in terms of HEA framework gave me an unexpected feeling of comfort. After all – here it was, in black and white – the agreed and sealed by lots of Higher Ed experts list of what I’m supposed to be competent in, which, for a perfectionist like me, is most helpful.
It IS helpful because it liberates me from a nagging doubt that I may be missing something important and that there is never ‘enough’ (ever felt that way?).
So armed with the HEA framework, I set off writing my application.
It took me probably 1-2 months to draft it. I started with creating a table with every single criterion in one column and specific examples for this criterion in the other column (see a small snippet below of how I did it). Brainstorming this table was the battle half won.
The next step was to decide on the overall style of my application. Some people break their HEA applications into specific points while others tell their story. I chose the latter approach as I find it easier to be reflective in a narrative.
However, it was a ‘strategic narrative’, as I needed to include (and reference!) all the criteria. Once I finished my draft, I sent it for internal review. It took longer than I anticipated and came back with comments like ‘reference HEA criteria more consistently in your application’, which were easy to address. I then got the green light from my referees (people who vouched that what I wrote is not a ‘fable’ or ‘wishful thinking’), and sent my draft to the HEA. 2-3 months later I got an email confirming my fellowship.
The whole process took me around 6 months.
As HEA doesn’t allow the sharing of examples of successful applications electronically, I’m happy to meet with anybody who’s interested. Just drop me a line any timeu and we can meet up for a HEA chat.
By the way, if you are stuck for ideas on how to write reflectively, I shared some writing tips in this Cracking the HEA code Teche post. Happy HEA applications, my friends!