Principal Fellowship of The Higher Education Academy (PFHEA)

I gained Principal Fellowship of The Higher Education Academy (PFHEA) in February 2022*.

It took me a long time to write because it is a very fiddly process of mapping each section, and statement within section, against not only the heading of the section, descriptor levels, and also the numbered items, core areas and required knowledge in the multiple themes of the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF). And there’s an aggressive word count.

I actually started writing my application in 2019, and gathered some advocate statements in support, but never completed the task and then some other stuff happened which pushed it further down my to-do list. I have been a fellow of the HEA since 1999. When I first started teaching I was a member of the ILT and of LTSN, when they merged I submitted my portfolio of evidence for HEA Fellowship.

I decided in 2019 that it was time to apply for Principal Fellowship based on my ongoing, sustained engagement with the activities, knowledge and professional values  of the UKPSF across my career, and evidence of my impact within and outwith my institution.   I am now working with Advance HE as a member of their Learning and Teaching Strategy Board so my new year’s resolution for 2022 was to get it sent, and I give thanks again to the people who wrote letters of support.

It’s a fiddly process for several reasons. I have to assume it is easier to complete if you are in a senior academic role rather than a professional expert. The references to use of technology  for teaching in the UKPSF are a bit sparse (possibly not surprising as it hasn’t been updated for many years) but it is not difficult for a good learning technologist to demonstrate a thorough understanding of effective approaches to teaching and learning support as a key contribution to high quality student learning.

The evidence needed for Principal Fellowship includes:

  • Successful, strategic leadership to enhance student learning, with a particular, but not necessarily exclusive, focus on enhancing teaching quality in institutional, and/or (inter)national settings;
  • Establishing effective organisational policies and/or strategies for supporting and promoting others (e.g. through mentoring, coaching) high quality teaching and support for learning;
  • Championing, within institutional and/or wider settings, an integrated approach to academic practice (incorporating, for example, teaching, learning, research, scholarship, administration etc.);
  • A sustained and successful commitment to, and engagement in, continuing professional development related to academic, institutional and/or other professional practices.

Once again, I was grateful to myself for the time I spend writing this blog.  I use my blog in several ways: as a reflective diary, as a notebook and aide memoir to record events, a place to develop ideas, a place to gather resources, record and share progress and as a tool for creating  a community and conversation with fellow practitioners and leaders.  I have done my research in an area where previously there has not been a lot of published work available so even my early thinking attracted some attention from my industry peers and I was invited to present my work at a number of practitioner conferences. My work as an insider researcher has been combined with what I have learned and how I have adapted my approaches to real world problems.  My blog records my journey as a scholarly, and reflective practitioner and as a way for people to contact me if they invite me to speak at events.

I am grateful for the studies I’ve done (many moons ago) in gaining a Masters in Education and the time I spent (also many moons ago) as module leader on the PGCert LTHE at University of Leeds. That course really was ahead of its time and it’s fun to see how many ‘alumni’ of the programme now hold senior jobs in institutions.


The HEA application requires particularly evidence that one continues to ‘champion the UKPSF’ at all levels. Here is some of what I wrote:

During the pandemic year we recruited a dozen new learning technologists and in order that they were all able to join our community with a shared understanding of the technologies we have on campus, we put together a training programme to ensure that new recruits were quickly up to speed as expert users of the university systems.  More than half of my educational design team have teaching qualifications and I sponsor research projects to ensure that ‘Edinburgh experience’ is reflected in scholarship of teaching.  Their grounding in educational scholarship brings benefits to the university when we teach academic staff as learners through our staff development programme, which covers all aspects of digital pedagogy. 

I am one of the authors of ‘Butcher, C., Davies, C., & Highton, M. (2019). Designing learning: from module outline to effective teaching’ which is widely used to support teaching in PGCert Learning and Teaching in Higher Education courses and I take care to ensure that the scholarship I undertook in writing  that book underpins the services we offer. The work of my learning technology staff development teams, instructional designers, media producers and learning design teams directly aligns and embeds the UKPSF elements in subjects/disciplines and their pedagogy, (A5, V3)

I am a mentor as part of the University of Edinburgh’s ‘Mentoring Connections’ programme, which I find rewarding and interesting as a way to support others in their career progression. I believe that an important part of establishing strategies for supporting academic colleagues in delivering high quality teaching (A2) is to ensure that the professional learning technologists in our organisation are supported in their ongoing professional development. Their increased professionalism ensures that teaching and learning is better supported (K3).

I champion the UKPSF as a framework everyday through its alignment with CMALT -the framework for certifying the professional development of learning technologists . CMALT for learning technology staff is a key component of our staff development activity at University of Edinburgh. The more the learning technology staff can show that they understand how students learn and the use and value of appropriate technologies, the better. CMALT helps them to evaluate the effectiveness of tools for teaching and understand the implications for academic practice (A5).  In order to ensure that our teaching support staff understand the UKPSF framework I offered a university-wide bursary scheme which provided support for CMALT applicants from across the university. The impact can be measured by the result that University of Edinburgh has a more professionally accredited learning technology staff than any other institution in the UK and the fact that our online programmes attract the highest level of satisfaction from students of any mode of delivery. 

My teams design and plan learning activities and programmes of teaching. This work is a large part of the organisational strategy for supporting and promoting others in delivering high quality teaching and learning (A1, A2).  In any given year my learning technology and digital skills teams will offer more than 700 pedagogical training sessions to academic staff and students. We review and evaluate that provision each year (K4 K5) looking at the data about uptake and engagement. We take care to ensure that our staff development courses for online teaching are mapped against the UKPSF and that they contribute as evidence for colleagues working towards FHEA.  

I am happy to share the other bits of my application if that would be helpful. The generosity of my advocates and friends who shared theirs with me made a huge contribution to my success.

*actually on the memorable date  22/02/2022.

One comment

  1. andy penaluna says:

    Just doing mine – and my first version was written 2013!!! It is quite a task and as I have left my old University, quite an expensive one too. Whilst there is no certainty that I will get it, the time spent on reflection was helpful in so many ways. I see pathways of intent that I had missed, successes that at the time I was too tired to celebrate and I became very aware of the wonderful teamwork I have been lucky enough to have been involved in. Practical experiences such as my education work with the UN, OECD and European Commission have been trawled for evidence, something I’d not really done before. All in all I think it is worth it on that level alone – so fingers crossed I am in with a chance 😉

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