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Professor David Oderberg: Reflections on the FLAIR CPD Scheme

Professor David Oderberg

Many academics, especially those who have been in the profession for a long time (for me over two decades, all spent at Reading) there is a tendency to think that professional recognition is somehow ‘beneath’ us because of our vast teaching experience. We also sometimes think that getting it is a poor expenditure of time that would be better spent in actually – well, teaching and everything that goes with it, such as preparation and assessment.

I would be lying if I counted myself an exception to this tendency, at least when my colleagues first started encouraging us all to seek HEA Fellowship - in line with the University’s plan for the vast majority of its teaching staff. I figured, though, that I should jump before I was pushed. Moreover, being the sort of person to throw myself head first into any task I take on – if I’m going to do it, I’ll do it properly – I decided to apply for a Senior Fellowship and to take the process seriously from day one.

I have to say that my initial cynicism about the process was allayed at the very first meeting with the FLAIR staff to show us exactly what was involved. They understood clearly the kind of innate resistance they would receive from many academics, making it clear from the beginning that the whole process was designed to be as painless as possible and a genuine learning experience.

For me, that’s exactly what it turned out to be. For the first time in my career I was moved to reflect on my teaching skills and achievements, as well as on the ways I could improve my service to colleagues. Note that Senior Fellowship requires being able to demonstrate your impact primarily on your peers – sharing best practice, mentoring colleagues, ‘closing the loop’ from feedback or initiatives to execution and implementation. The Professional Activity Table must and will inevitably contain examples of teaching excellence, but for D3 (Senior) status it must be weighted towards evidence of impact on fellow academics at departmental level and above.

The same applies to the all-important case studies, which need to show that you have used your skills and experience to, as it were, spread professional values horizontally. For D3 status you need to be an ‘influencer’ to some degree, and thereby to have improved teaching and learning across the board. To me it sounded daunting: I knew I had the experience and impact, but how to prove it, at least to the satisfaction of the assessment panel?

The FLAIR staff were fantastic at putting this all into place for me. They walked me through the process from beginning to end. If only, they insisted, I thought for once about what I’d done over the years and how I had done it, then the story I needed to tell, and the evidence I needed to back it up, would become clear. And it did. For me, the case studies focused on electronic resources in teaching, learning and assessment – where I am a known zealot – and on my management of our flourishing PhD programme, first as Director of Research, then as Director of PGR Studies.

By thinking long and hard about my work in these areas – and by exploiting the invaluable ‘writing retreats’ that gave me the space to put my narrative together – I slowly, and I mean slowly, developed my application, putting all the pieces into a coherent whole. I read a fair bit of scholarly literature on higher education and learned that the challenges and opportunities I encountered over the years were part of a shared experience. This too encouraged me in preparing the application.

Having recently been awarded SFHEA status, I am still basking somewhat in the glow of having achieved something I thought I would end up avoiding for as long as possible and only doing as a penance. In the end, it turned out to be a hugely rewarding experience. I cannot thank and commend the FLAIR staff enough for their moral and practical support, up to the very last minute before submission. Were it not for them and the structure the University has put in place to support HEA applications, I would no doubt still be twiddling my thumbs and wondering how on earth I was supposed to find my way through the process. 

I strongly encourage all colleagues, of whatever standing, to take the plunge. You won’t regret it.

David S. Oderberg, Professor of Philosophy and Department Director of Postgraduate Research Studies, University of Reading 

>>>Find out about FLAIR at the University of Reading

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