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Marking the milestone of 110+ Fellowships at DCU

08 Jul 2024 | Clare Gormley As our Global Fellowships Relay – #FellowshipsRelay2024 – reaches Ireland, Senior Academic Developer, Clare Gormley, reflects on how Dublin City University (DCU) has embedded Advance HE fellowship and how the process is strengthening teaching and learning in various ways.

Student-focused, open, inclusive, collegial, collaborative, ambitious. These are the values that underpin the current DCU strategy 2023-2028 and that define the university’s mission to transform lives and societies. The continued enthusiasm for Advance HE fellowship from Dublin City University (DCU) staff highlights those values in practice, moving them from words on a website into the fabric of the teaching and learning experience. 

It is important that the philosophy of fellowship is visible within the fabric of the University and aligns with University strategy.

"In DCU, the pillars of our strategy, such as pioneering a transformative student experience and valuing and developing our staff and community, align with many elements of the Professional Standards Framework. This also helps us to map the future direction of fellowship at DCU, how it can facilitate professional development in other key areas and be a catalyst for that development.”

Dr Martina Crehan, Head of DCU Teaching Enhancement Unit 

The DCU Supported Journey 

Since 2019, 110+ staff from five faculties have achieved Advance HE fellowship across all categories at DCU. Mindful of how difficult it can be to juggle multiple priorities, a tailored Supported Journey to Fellowship has been created for DCU employees. This supported journey, taking in 1-2 cohorts a year, has been designed to offer practical support and guidance on fellowship application alongside collegial advice and insights from former applicants. Guidance on application writing, the Advance HE vernacular, and evidencing practice are all included, along with an opportunity for an internal review that offers constructive feedback on a first draft. Discussing the most helpful aspects of the Supported Journey, one recent Associate Fellow applicant said:  

“The workshops, resources, and support from the Teaching Enhancement Unit made the application process much clearer and more manageable. The workshops helped me break down the steps involved and stay on track by using them as milestones to complete certain sections before the next one. The sample applications were particularly useful as they showed exactly what was expected from a good reflection in the category I was applying for and included some useful readings I could apply to my own reflection. Additionally, the opportunity to submit draft applications for feedback is very helpful, allowing me to address any gaps and improve my application before making the final submission.” Recent Associate Fellow Applicant 

Clearly, an internal review process is resource-intensive and so to make the process more sustainable, we have recently introduced a pilot scheme to extend the internal review panel.  Several members of the DCU Advance HE community of fellows have generously volunteered and received training as reviewers so that they can contribute to the internal review process. 

 Key impacts so far 

One of the most striking and frequently-cited statements of impact relates to the renewed appreciation for reflection that the application writing process affords. For many it seems to foster a new or deeper awareness of the importance of reflecting on teaching practice and reminds educators of the (often underestimated) time involved in creating a considered reflection.

The Fellowship gave me the personal space (without guilt) to think about the teaching activities I carry out in my classroom. I really had to ask myself why was I doing that, what was the benefit of this apart from the way it had always been done. This questioning and thinking about my teaching helped me develop a personal routine of reflection which I believe enriches and enhances my teaching to this day. I also very much enjoyed the networking and learning from my peers. The sense of belonging and community was wonderful and especially welcome during the Covid period.”

Dr Julie Bertz, Fellow and Winner of DCU President’s Awards for Teaching Excellence 2024

It pushed you into reflecting on why you are teaching and how you teach and why you think things work and whether you can support that or not…I think that’s good for your practice and I have found that I am clearer about why I do what I do and where I want to focus my efforts teaching-wise as a result.”

Dr John McMackin, Senior Fellow

Another impact of Advance HE recognition relates to its influence on increased staff confidence about their teaching abilities. It offers an external validation of good practice that feeds into internal benefits: 

“I think I can contribute significantly to the development of teaching skills in the school…I don’t think I would have had the confidence to position myself for that without the external badging.” Dr John McMackin, Senior Fellow

Within their applications, staff have discussed how they have employed innovative and inclusive teaching, learning and assessment approaches ranging from UDL-related changes to Challenge-Based Learning to Interactive Oral Assessment and much more. 

Many have referred to the professional learning opportunities they have drawn on at DCU and the supported journey helps to highlight what is currently available. For example, in 2024, an option to participate in Peer Observation of Teaching was built into the scheme so that participants could try that out as a bonus extra, if interested. While the timing of such additions can be difficult to navigate, feedback on the observation process has been positive with some applicants calling for it to be a regular initiative, either annually or biannually. 

Plans for the future 

According to Donaldson (2022), 100% of respondents considered the Supported Journey to Fellowship a positive or very positive experience and the supports embedded in the process were highlighted as key. That is not to underplay the challenges of motivating staff to complete - for some, it takes longer than expected and the unpredictability of timeframes can be challenging for all involved. Also in recent years, managing this process on top of all the other curveballs that may be thrown - looking at you, GenAI and Pandemic - has been no easy feat. 

Along with recognising and rewarding excellence in teaching practice, we are conscious that we need to conduct further research into the impacts that have occurred. But there is no doubt that as the community of fellows continues to grow and we head into our 7th rollout of the Supported Journey at DCU, there will be more reasons to celebrate. 


Clare Gormley (Senior Fellow, FSEDA) is a Senior Academic Developer with DCU Teaching Enhancement Unit.  She has been developing the professional learning of academic staff since 2010 and is currently leading the Advance HE Supported Journey at DCU, faculty supports for Challenge-Based Learning, and The Sipping Point professional learning community. 

Reference: Donaldson, Lisa (2022) "Damocles' Sword But It Served To Remind Me Of What I Love Doing: A Supported Journey To Advance HE Fellowship At Dublin City University," Irish Journal of Academic Practice: Vol. 10: Iss. 2, Article 5. doi: Available at: 

Find out more about the Global Fellowships Relay – #FellowshipsRelay2024

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