HEA & Professional Values

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I mentioned several times that I am undertaking this additional qualification, part of the qualification is to engage with professional values that are part of the Professional Standards Framework (Higher Education Academy). These values are notoriously difficult, and my ‘homework’ lacks the integration of the practical dimension for those. However, I thought in the interest of inter-cultural sharing I put up my last homework anyway. The first part of the reflective process was participating in a blog. The second part was to condense these blog posts in a reflective assignment.

Professional Values and Blogging—Part One

The UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education provides three dimensions as scaffold: Areas of Activity, Core Knowledge and Professional Values (Higher Education Academy, 2012). The framework suggests four professional values, which were subject to reflection and discussions on the course blog. The values are defined as:

  • ‘V1 Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities,
  • V2 Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners
  • V3 Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development
  • V4 Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice’ (Higher Education Academy, 2012, p. 3)

My difficulties reflecting on Professional Values originated in the vagueness of the value descriptors, and in the prescriptive nature of the discourse we are obliged to follow. The four values are prudent in providing a positive and successful learning experience for the students. The system of higher education, our career progression as academics however, does not take into consideration how good we are as teachers, how much we ensure there is for instance respect between the students and us. The focus is on bringing in funding, and publishing, teaching is still treated as marginal aspect for career progression, instead of being an integral part of it.

I am inserting segments of my reflection on each value as they stand on the blog. The core learning incidents for each of the values was bridging the cultural gap between my German liberal arts upbringing, and experiencing postgraduate studies, turned academic in Scotland.

Professional Value One (PV1)

‘Respect individual learners and diverse learning communities’ (Higher Education Academy, 2012, p. 3)

A kind of respect

Why do we equate respect with catering for the learners learning styles or exciting classroom activities? I keep making that assumption and keep wondering why it always pops up—Despite my best intention to nip it in the bud. Funny enough the side-remark to chivalry in the Wikipedia article made me wonder about the wider context for respect as fitting into the values and norms (culture) (Geertz, 2000) we act in.

[…] What do learner needs mean? Does it mean to provide accessibility, support additional needs, and offer information in various ways on various platforms? Or does respect mean the learner has to be happy at all times within a learning environment?

I try to teach student centred, engaging the students in communication and even disputes. That does not mean the students always agree with me or like what I am doing […]. My aim is to encourage the students to engage with the subject matter, with the idea, the principle of what I try to convey, then take it up and reshape it into their own knowledge. Short: make them think. For me this is respect. For me there is nothing more prudent (important—little lost in translation here) I could give to my students than the ability to be critical, make educated choices and be aware of how the systems they act in impact on their engagement with them. …

Respect as fundamental component in teaching, could be considered axiomatic, if there would be a concise understanding of respect. However, respect’s forms of expression are culturally dependent (Thomas, Kinast, & Schroll-Machl, 2005); to come to a consensus about respect it might be valuable to refer to Kant’s ‘respect-for-persons’ understanding people as an end in itself and not a means. Second, it is not human beings per se but the ‘Humanity’ in human beings that we must treat as an end in itself. (Johnson, 2013) This understanding justifies my student centred pedagogy that aims at scaffolding learning experiences that enable the students to take ownership and control of their learning (Jeffrey, 2006). Continuously being involved in discussions with colleagues, and keeping my reflective diaries and blog about my pedagogy, will help to keep this value in perspective.

Professional Value Two (PV2)

‘Promote participation in higher education and equality of opportunity for learners.’ (Higher Education Academy, 2012, p. 3)

Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast

I had to quote Goethe here, I think Dr Faustus struggle between, what I would for all intents and purposes translate into the struggle between systemic restrictions and open access to knowledge seems very suitable—or totally out there not sure, which one you would agree with. I am going to elaborate a bit:

The German system assigns a high status to apprenticeships, guilds and guild masters as well as social recognition, I cannot understand that drive for herding everyone into higher education in the UK and USA. It seems as if here professions such as car mechanics, photographer, hairdresser are nothing to be proud off. The public discourse seems to emphasise the need for having a university degree to be successful. On the other hand, having undertaken research in the UK with children who have never learned possibility thinking, for whom even a job was an unlikely future, I very much value the widening participation activities as way of providing possibilities and creating access. Very much in line with bettering one self and bettering ones future.

I think my job is all about lowering thresholds, building confidence and being a gatekeeper for bridging social capital (Field, 2007), enabling students to access and negotiate within the institution university, learning the language and using it to achieve their goals.

The CPD I am undertaking in consideration of this value, is participating in seminars and workshops, as well as being active in our team’s biweekly policy working group. Example: Yesterday (27th January 2014) I attended the launch of GCU’s College Connect strategy, and have become aware that I need to inform myself in greater detail about the Recognition for Prior Learning and other pathways and policies that now enable non-traditional learners access to Higher Education.

Professional Value Three (PV3)

Use evidence-informed approaches and the outcomes from research, scholarship and continuing professional development (Higher Education Academy, 2012, p. 3)

PV3 Reflecting on Evidence

[…] I find this topic particularly difficult, because I am feeling utterly disjoined from research at the moment. Most of the last 2 years were spend recovering financially from the PhD and trying to get any job at all. While, I love teaching, and in fact all my teaching is informed by research I conducted, or discourse in the field (attending conferences, reading research papers etc) I feel like missing a limp not being involved in research in my field at the moment—can you actually crave data analysis? I lost confidence in my professionalism, because I am so busy chasing money and feeling financially secure that I could not focus on research. So all I can come up with is whining a little on this blog […]

I belief research is fundamental to a successful pedagogy. My aim this year is to get involved in educational research again, subsequently I am currently collaborating on three different funding applications. I am also privately paying for coaching to develop my career, which has reached an impasse in my current role.

Professional Value Four (PV4)

Acknowledge the wider context in which higher education operates recognising the implications for professional practice’ (Higher Education Academy, 2012, p. 3)

PV4 Wider Context

  • There could be a much wider and comprehensive linkage between universities and public and private sector. Unfortunately a lot of these communities, community groups, small businesses and companies who would benefit from collaborating with university on a much wider scale, don’t make for prestigious media worthy projects. Most would not even have the £5000 match founding for the innovation voucher scheme, because they are desperately trying to get to that point. Projects like Bobbies or mine (currently involved in a local historical group trying to help them jump from interest group to earning money as a SCIO, last year I initiated a pupil exchange programme) re much needed in austerity ridden communities.
  • Another side of wider context is the benefit of research (and I will under no circumstances go into the whole open access debacle.) but why are we doing what we are doing when we conduct research? Does it benefit the greater good?
  • Leaving the academic realm to engage with the public seems to be even more of a hurdle considering work-load and related tunnel vision. Using social media could be a vehicle for such engagement but does not solve the time issue…and then again, who is really going to follow? Mostly other academics as it appears (see Alison’s post on blogging academics).
  • Widening participation is a whole other story. I am not sure if it fits under wider context or is a theme all in itself.

The significance of wider context has become integral part to my professional identity, as early as my undergraduate studies. I always worked next to undertaking my degrees and therefore continuously had the opportunity to link my academic experiences with diverse context and various sectors. Two of the projects I am currently involved in links not only different sectors but also work across countries. Further, I was just elected member of the UCU Scotland Education Committee and will be able to develop my professionalism and understanding of the wider context in this role.

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