Having recently completed the SEDA course Supporting and Leading Educational Change (snappily called SLEC), I thought I would share some reflections that might be of interest to those of you considering it. You might, for example, be actively involved in educational development as a member of a central teaching and learning unit, you might offer postgraduate teaching-related programmes to academic staff, and/or you might lead a team that implements funded projects of a technological and pedagogical nature. If you are toying with the idea of gaining a professional qualification for this type of work, then read on to explore if this course might be a good fit for you.
First, some basic facts. This is a 12-week online course that as the website goes is “designed to accredit and advance your work in supporting and leading educational change in further or higher education”. It is divided into two six-week blocks before and after the Christmas break. Successful completion of the course leads to Fellowship of SEDA (FSEDA). SEDA is the UK-based Staff and Educational Development Association, a professional body that seeks to promote innovation and good practice in higher education. Established in 1993, the overall mission of SEDA is to offer members professional learning opportunities, professional recognition, and practice-oriented publications with the ultimate goal of supporting student learning.
As someone who has worked in academic development for a number of years, but who did not have a qualification in that specific field, I felt it was time to give time to probe and more deeply reflect on the way I have been approaching my role. I wasn’t looking for CPD that focused primarily on the science and craft of teaching, I wanted something that was tailored to a role where you are supporting and hopefully enabling other staff to develop as teachers. To my mind the distinction is important and the big questions for educational developers are very different: Are there better ways of evaluating the impact of various initiatives we are spending time and money on? How are other institutions designing and offering their CPD for maximum gain? Are we doing the right thing as regards the opportunities in place to support the sharing of teaching practice? Am I doing what I really should be doing in my job? These were the types of questions I wanted to explore and develop more confidence in through learning from an international community of peers.
What is involved
Thus in late October 2017, with the support of my manager Mark Glynn, I started the course which very broadly involved:
- Weekly readings on a variety of academic development themes, many drawn from Advancing Practice in Academic Development by Baume and Popovic (2016) which is the core (but not exclusive) text
- Participation in weekly online discussion forums, followed by reflection activities
- Development of a case study/case studies to demonstrate achievement of specialist outcomes supported by evidence
- Mapping of current practice and thinking to SEDA values
- Describing my current role
- Development of an ongoing CPD action plan
- Development of a learning portfolio to capture the learning from above
- Exposure to the academic development literature: I found the course to be an excellent way to develop a better understanding of the scholarly literature of this field and source quality research on approaches that have been tried and tested at other institutions. Yes, we can all say we will “read more” but having a structured and timetabled commitment to read each week is for me, the only surefire way it will actually happen.
- Superb self-assessment tools: The quality of diagnostic tools and reflective prompts throughout the course was excellent. At the risk of confirming my crushing descent into middle age, I find it can be tricky to remember all activities I have undertaken and why I have done them in a particular way. Certainly digital evidence helps but I still noticed that I needed to draw from memory and I suspect that will be the case for most. No matter how reflective a practitioner you may be, I think it nigh on impossible to write down or capture everything that goes on in this role. So the prompts in the form of questions, sample case studies, and sample portfolios were absolutely pivotal to drawing these (sometimes forgotten) conversations and activities out.
- Extensive peer review opportunities: As you might expect, there was a strong emphasis on peer review, particularly in relation to the development of the practice-based case study. This offered a super way to compare notes and I’m glad to report that even since finishing, I am hoping to collaborate further with University of Roehampton colleagues that I met through the course.
- Opportunity to interact with an international audience – several of the UK acronyms and organisations were new to me, and there are a lot of them, but the opportunity to interact with 20 or so participants from the UK, US, New Zealand and Canada was fruitful. The diversity of backgrounds was striking (for example, staff came from central units, from eLearning backgrounds, from research units, and from regular lecturing roles), which is very much in line with Green and Little’s (2016) study profiling educational developers from around the world.
- I’ve worked out that the course requires a minimum of 7,000 scholarly words. Add in the extra writing for discussion posts and other activities and by my calculations you will probably need to write well in the region of 10,000 words to complete the process.That’s a fair bit of text and reluctant as I am to link word count to workload (I’m with Scott (2008) on the limitations of word count as a workload metric), it might give you some sense of what is expected.
- Unless you are very lucky indeed, it does require weekend/evening work. The course takes place in two six-week blocks and I think that’s a fair way to run it as it is highly likely that one of those semesters will be lighter or heavier for you in the day job.
- Not all of the readings and activities will be directly relevant to your role or context – but they might be in future. It’s just a fact that some of the readings will speak more to you than others, depending on your area of professional responsibility and your own context.
Overall, even though it wasn’t easy, I am delighted that I did this course and I’m looking forward to the day I can smugly flash my FSEDA letters. It did help with my confidence and confirmed that while I am doing a lot of the right things, some areas could be further improved (eg evaluation approaches), and that we all face many similar challenges in our diverse contexts. The readings (the Baume & Popovic (2016) book especially opened my eyes to the breadth and depth of activity in this field. The chapters on identifying needs and opportunities for academic development (Chap 2), ‘Is it working?’ (Chap 10), Working with networks, microcultures and communities (Chap 11) and Managing & Leading Change (Chap 13) were particularly relevant to my role and I’ll be revisiting and citing those, I’m sure, many times to come. It is interesting to note too that SEDA fellowship is not simply a once-off – to maintain fellowship you need to complete a yearly CPD report in order to “remain in good standing” – so there’s definitely an ongoing aspect which I think is important. Looking to the future, and more locally, I am also considering the National Forum’s PACT initiative as a valuable CPD opportunity in the near future too and look forward to hearing more from colleagues about that process also.
Baume, D. (Ed.), Popovic, C. (Ed.). (2016). Advancing Practice in Academic Development. London: Routledge.
Green, D. A., & Little, D. (2016). Family portrait: a profile of educational developers around the world. International Journal for Academic Development, 21(2), 135-150.
Scott, S.V. (2015) ‘Quantifying the assessment loads of students and staff: the challenge of selecting appropriate metrics’, Journal of Further and Higher Education, 39(5), pp. 699-712.