Dr Jeni Harden shares how she developed her role as a panel assessor for the Edinburgh Teaching Award. Jeni is a Senior Lecturer in the Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics. This post is part of the Learning and Teaching Enhancement theme: “Gaining recognition for teaching: The Edinburgh Teaching Award”.
I became an HEA Fellow after completing a PG Certificate as part of my first lectureship appointment at Napier University in 2002. It was not until years later, by which time I had moved to The University of Edinburgh, that I became aware of other fellowship categories, and that there was a route to do this within the University. While slightly kicking myself for not knowing about this sooner, I was immediately excited by the opportunity that the Edinburgh Teaching Award (EdTa) offered as a developmental and reflective process. I became a Principal Fellow in 2019, have mentored several people across the fellowship categories, and am really pleased to now also be a panel assessor, reviewing submissions.
I only recently joined the review panel and have been involved in three meetings – one as an observer and two as an assessor. I initially shadowed an experienced panel member, as part of which we both reviewed the applications and met to discuss them. I was heartened by the fact that we had come to the same decisions, and shared views about the strengths and weaknesses. I then observed at the meeting, during which those, and the other applications, were discussed. This was a really helpful introduction to the process, and how the criteria were applied. Despite this introduction, I still felt a little anxious as the next round of applications arrived and I was fully on board as a panel assessor.
Reading the submissions was a fantastic experience, and I really enjoyed seeing the range of styles, the different experiences, and the enthusiasm for teaching and learning that shone through. There were also some challenges; I spent a long time on one submission that was particularly difficult for me because the views expressed were very different to my own, and I was trying to ensure that my assessment was grounded in the criteria and not my own preferences.
Prior to the panel meeting, assessors receive a summary of decisions, at which point we can see whether the other assessor (each application is reviewed by at least two) came to the same or different decisions. At my first meeting, there were differences on a number of the applications I had reviewed (including the one that had concerned me) and I found this particularly nerve wracking; it felt like a judgement on my ability as an assessor. Despite being a Principal Fellow, imposter syndrome is always lurking close by! During the meeting, however, any such feelings were quickly dispelled. The process of discussing differences of opinion is incredibly open and supportive, with a real sense that everyone’s views are valued.
Becoming the assessor who is being shadowed was also a little daunting, as I felt that I was only just beginning to get to grips with things myself. However, just as teaching is often the best way to learn, explaining how I approached the submissions and the basis for my decisions, to someone else, was really helpful for me in reinforcing the expectations of being an assessor.
We all struggle for time, and it can be difficult to commit to roles such as this when there are so many other demands that may be hard to manage. There are moments when I receive the submissions that I worry about how I am going to find the time. However, I have found the experience of being a panel assessor for the EdTa incredibly rewarding. It allows me to feel connected to the wider teaching community, to support the career development of others, and is a genuinely insightful experience that enhances my own practice.
Jeni Harden is a Senior Lecturer in the Usher Institute of Population Health Sciences and Informatics at The University of Edinburgh.