Building academic community through professional development: The value of reflection and motivation

Images used as prompts for an activity within reflective writing workshop

In this post, Daphne Loads, Academic Lead for the Edinburgh Teaching Award (EdTA), a developmental route leading to HEA Fellowship, and Susan Greig, a Learning and Development Specialist, who runs the University’s Certified Membership for the Association for Learning Technology (CMALT) scheme, have been collaborating to offer a community of support to colleagues in their continuing professional development…

Increasingly, colleagues in a range of academic and professional roles are required to think and write about the understandings, skills and values that are part of their work. How are they developing? What do they know that they didn’t know when they started? What can they do now that they couldn’t do a year ago? What are the values that really matter to them? How will they need to grow and move on in the future? These are not easy questions to address.

Both the EdTA and CMALT require candidates to produce a reflective written submission supported by evidence. Both require an extended period of work and consideration from applicants over a number of months or years.

We identified two key areas common for candidates on both schemes:

  • Understanding what is meant by reflective writing.
  • Sustaining the motivation to complete a substantive portfolio for assessment.

The EdTA and CMALT portfolios require written reflections on practice, showing the learning process of the candidate and how they have developed. If candidates have not previously attempted to write reflectively this concept can be hard to grasp and they tend towards descriptive writing. For CMALT portfolios, lack of reflection is the most common reason that submissions are returned to the candidates for further work. EdTA candidates may also find reflective writing challenging, particularly if this is not a familiar part of their own discipline.

For this reason we developed a two hour workshop, Practical Strategies for Writing Reflectively, in which we help participants too:

  • Clarify their understanding of both “reflective writing” and “development”
  • Practise free writing
  • Practise reflective writing using images as prompts
  • Practise reflective writing using questions as prompts
  • Share a piece of reflective writing
  • Identify next steps…

This workshop is practical – offering a range of approaches to reflective writing and including writing time within the session. Feedback from participants has been positive: participants say they appreciated:

“The demonstration of different strategies for reflection” and that they “came away feeling much more able to approach sitting down and writing reflectively”.

CMALT candidates can complete this accreditation within a few months but often when balancing this with work and home commitments take up to two years, and likewise EdTA candidates are recommended to complete in six months to two years. We wanted to encourage candidates to think about what motivates them to complete a large CPD project. For this we used arts based activities to explore personal motivation in a workshop titled “Getting Started and Keeping Going” with the following aims:

  • To manage our own development activities and support each other.
  • To be aware of the helps and hindrances in our lives.
  • Discuss experiences of working on professional development.
  • Share insights and tips.
  • Help people feel less isolated.
  • Recognise that motivation is different for everyone.

The arts based activities were creative and conversational, they encouraged introspection which lead to personal insights from participants. Participants gave the workshop good feedback and valued the art based activities:

The unfamiliar methods you used really did get to the crux of the issue quickly.

I found making the collage really useful – it helped me think more about my motivations and how I felt about my current role and what was stopping me from making changes.

Creating a collage from found images helped participants gain insights into their motivations.

Collaborating to support these professional development schemes helped us to identify core areas that underpin successful completion of both programmes. Developing and delivering these workshops together brings each of us in contact with a broader group of staff at the University and leads to wider groups of staff in the room, in academic and professional services roles – which encourages networking and discussion. Both workshops are run as part of the Practical Strategies series and are applicable to staff undertaking other accreditation options: we invite participation from any staff who would find them useful. Upcoming sessions will be posted on the IAD’s ‘Practical Strategies’ webpage.

Daphne Loads

Daphne Loads works in the Institute for Academic Development and is academic lead of the Edinburgh Teaching Award and convenes the Principal’s Teaching Award Scheme.

Susan Greig

Susan Greig is Learning and Development Specialist within the Digital Skills Training team. She runs the University of Edinburgh CMALT (Certified Membership for the Association for Learning Technology) scheme.

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