Home » SFHEA


The abbreviation SFHEA is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy; which I’m applying for through Oxford Brookes University. <Edit: I was successful, I am now Mark Childs, SFHEA. Thanks to everyone who supported me in the application by writing something below or by giving me a reference, and especially Liz Falconer for doing both.>

To get this I have to meet the criteria of the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF). The process of attaining it therefore requires lots of evidence and personal statements about the experience I’ve gained and the impact it’s had. I thought I’d make the application public while I’m compiling it, as it might be valuable for other people to see what’s involved, as well as helping with the self-promotion purpose of this site. Also, if anyone who knows about anything I’ve done wants to contribute through the comments, then this would help enormously in indicating the impact I’ve achieved.

Through the process I’ve been helped by my peer coach, Mary Deane, and between us we’ve identified three themes that summarise my experience in HE. These are linked to below.

These are then subdivided into examples of my practice, from different points from my career. These subdivisions, and where I think they match the criteria of the UKPSF, are laid out on the Standards Mapping page. As a general introduction, I’ve also answered a few questions about my practice (below).

1. What is your discipline or specialism, and what is your current professional role?

I’ve focused on how technology can help improve learning and teaching, and what skills and practices are required for its successful implementation. My current role is a Senior Lecturer in Technology-Enhanced Learning in the Oxford Centre for Staff and Learning Development.

2. Can you explain your teaching philosophy and give two or three examples where it comes through in your work?

There are three things I think above all that teaching must avoid, those are insulting your audience, excluding your audience and boring them. I think it essential that a teacher does not use their experience, or their specialism in the subject material, to elevate themselves above that of the learners. I try, as much as possible, to demonstrate my own areas of inexpertise, and indicate how the learners’ contribution is of equal value. This approach translates to my research, which mainly draws on the student experience as data. Throughout this research I aim to include students as research partners, not subjects, explaining the goals of the research, bringing in their ideas about research agendas and making the process of use of them too. Tolley and Mackenzie (2017) describe this approach in one of the projects I co-designed. “Insulting” also includes patronising; and I also aim to make demands on learners that may exceed their own expectations of themselves.

Being as inclusive as possible within TEL involves all the usual diversity issues, adherence to which is a matter of course. However, the use of technology also raises additional issues.  Many learners are unused to technology, and alienated by the use of it. Much of my work is about removing as many barriers to use as possible, not assuming any prior knowledge, ensuring that learners are aware that unfamiliarity with the terminology is OK and that doubts about its efficacy are relevant. I have also researched and published on the roots of resistance to technology (Childs and Peachey, 2013) particularly the importance of realising the disadvantage for those learners who experience limited or no embodiment when learning online. Most recently this was a key message of my fifth book on online learning (Childs and Soetanto, 2017). The role of identity and the importance of permitting pseudonymity is also a persistent element of my work, both teaching and writing, particularly with participants exploring personal issues of body-identity dichotomy (Childs and Knudsen, 2012).

As far as my goal of avoiding boring learners; this is covered in more depth on the page about engagement.

3. How do you work with your colleagues to enhance teaching, learning or assessment practices?

There is a range of ways in which I’ve done this:

Through consultations about learning provision as an adviser and critical friend,

One of the most direct ways to enhance colleagues’ practices is through one-to-one conversations about their programmes and projects. One of my first roles in HE was in gathering content for inclusion in the Virtual Learning Environment that was being created at Wolverhampton. Throughout that process I made suggestions about the form of the content and how it could be presented. In following posts at Warwick, Coventry, Worcester and Oxford Brookes Universities I’ve often sat with tutors and talked through their aims for their courses, as an academic adviser and as an MA tutor, and I have presented various ways in which options involving pedagogical and technological solutions can help enhance their teaching. This may also include dissuading them from a technological solution where one isn’t appropriate.

I’ve worked as a critical friend for Jisc’s Transformations Programme and in that acted as critical friend for nearly 20 TEL projects. Through a series of conversations with the project teams I helped guide their projects, pre-empt pitfalls and help design evaluation strategies.

Through accredited courses at universities.

I’ve worked in a staff development capacity at Warwick, Coventry, Worcester and Brookes universities, and have taught on postgraduate certificates for academic staff in programmes titled variously academic practice, learning and teaching, education. In all of these I’ve usually been responsible for the technology-enhanced learning aspects of the course, or, where there have been more than one TEL specialist tutor, the synchronous technologies parts of the TEL parts of the course. Most recently I have been a tutor on Teaching Online Open Course at Brookes.

Through one-off seminars, webinars and workshops.

I’ve done these both at the university I was employed by at the time, and also as an external contractor. These were based around making use of a technology; for example a series of workshops on how to teach using videoconferencing, based on the findings of research projects exploring this, and another series of workshops on teaching using virtual worlds, both presented in face-to-face situations and in-world. My most recent overseas workshop was held in Singapore in 2014 as part of the Mobilearn conference and was on the subject of immersive technologies in education, particularly games and augmented reality.

As an evaluator and examiner. 

I have worked as an evaluator on many projects, usually as an internal evaluator occasionally as an external evaluator, such as for the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago. In this capacity I have helped colleagues identify effective practice, through discussions with their students, and used these findings to design guidance materials and improve teaching programmes.

As an examiner of PhD candidates I am in a position to advise the students about how to improve and revise their thesis, but sometimes find that this role also calls on me to advise colleagues about what is required for the proper presentation or structuring of the student’s work, as often an external role provides a distance and perspective on the work that is inevitably difficult for a supervisor or mentor. I also aim to make the examining process as little as an adversarial process as possible, using the viva as an opportunity for the student to discuss and display their prowess, rather than judge their competence. By adopting this approach I also hope to model good examining process.

As a reviewer, writer and editor.

I am a regular reviewer of papers for two journals, these are Interactive Learning Environments and Research in Learning Technology (formerly ALT-J). I am also occasionally a reviewer for PLOS ONE as well and have been a reviewer of bids for ESRC and the Leverhulme Trust. I was also on the editorial board of Innovate: Journal of Online Education. Although it is important to establish a minimum standard for publishing I take the approach that the main role of a reviewer is to support colleagues to find a route to publishing. With this aim in mind I identify for the authors where the presentation of the work can be improved, and how the data analysis (or justifications for flawed data) can be made as convincing as possible, recommending revision rather than rejection wherever possible. I have been complimented by both editors and authors for the supportive nature of my feedback. With bid reviewing my approach is more stringent, and with these I aim to be as meritocratic as possible, not favouring established academics over early career researchers: I am more interested in what the applicant will do rather than what they have done.

Although publishing journal papers as a result of my research I prefer to publish books and conference proceedings, the books can be viewed on my Amazon author page. All of my books are co-edited and co-authored hybrid books; “hybrid” in that they have a proportion of the content that is written by me and/or my co-authors, and accompanied by chapters submitted by other authors. I prefer this format as this means the publications have a coherent and focused approach (that is, my approach) but also encourages and supports other academics to publication, as well as widening the perspective of the book. Where authors are inexperienced with publishing, this means as with the reviewing role, that the editing role is a supportive and developmental role in developing their practice.

As a researcher.

Although I have worked with a range of different technologies throughout my career, all of  my research has addressed at its core the question “how can this technology be applied to enhance learning and teaching?” The results of this research always feeds into the content of webinars, workshops and courses that I have run. For this reason, my research and practice as a developer have always been inextricably linked: the developmental work has provided a rationale and focus for the research, and the research has meant that the content of the developmental work has the authenticity of being drawn from my own experience and observations. Because much of my research has been using technologies in new practices and new contexts, this has meant also that the support and development I have been able to provide for colleagues has had newly-acquired knowledge that is not generally available in the TEL literature.

4. Where do you know that you have had influence outside of the delivery of your own programmes?

I’ve left this for the HE community to answer. I’ve sent out requests through various social media for people to comment on this site with their own views, the results of which you can see at the bottom of this page. I do have a few unsolicited comments from the last six months (previous work email accounts are no longer accessible).

“thank you for your tremendous contribution in the planning and implementation of the project. You were leading project activities in your domain responsibly and created great documents including the evaluation report. I hope that there will be a chance to work together again in some other projects.” – Gordana Jugo, Croatian Academic Network

“it is all possible because of your continuing support (from all of you, in the BIM-Hub and HP projects), particularly Mark, who has been extremely committed since I started this initiative in 2010. ” – Robby Soetanto, Loughborough University

“Mark has a great depth of knowledge and interest in virtual worlds. In second life he was quite a shape shifter at the education group meetings which used to take place quite regularly a couple of years ago, he has been involved in a number of interesting projects that focus on virtual spaces and pedagogy in the past.” – Christa Appleton, Jisc

“For the past eighteen months I have been involved in researching technology in the classroom; the project has now finished and you can read the outcomes and the development of the project here (under Teaching Innovation Award Recipients 2015). Thank you to Annie Morrad (and) Mark Childs for their input and generous contributions to various stages throughout the project.” – Lee Campbell, Loughborough University

I would not have been able to make sense of what I wanted to write about or hang these thoughts on any established theories without one or two academics being prepared to give me access to their research, so I would like to acknowledge the support of Doctor Mark Childs and Anna Childs (née Peachey)”Bex Ferriday, MA dissertation, University of Plymouth

Some solicited feedback on the support I’ve given to colleagues has also been sent to me and is included below.

“Your impact on my practice has generally been through you modelling good practice – so I can choose two examples of your supportive, informal ‘mentoring’ approach:

“The feedback you gave me after the peer observation at Newcastle University was really useful for a number of reasons. First, your observations were a good balance of giving me confidence whilst highlighting areas for improvement. Second, your approach to peer observing a colleague had an impact. Your learner centered approach came through when you mixed with the participants and got their perspective in the coffee break, this provided really good evidence for your feedback to me. Your feedback was very motivational – it made me want to carry on the good stuff, but seek out ways to improve. I was so impressed with your approach I immediately adopted elements of it into my own practice.

“On another piece of work, the Jisc Transformations Programme you modelled how to be an effective critical friend to the Jisc funded projects. Being able to contact you and get your perspective on some of the challenges we, as critical friends, were encountering was valuable. Your approach to this had an impact on how I developed my role as a critical friend – particularly the organizational advice you shared with me at points when I contacted you. During the two years you were keen to develop a sense of community and shared endeavor between the critical friends, culminating in the networking event at the end of the programme.” – Sarah Chesney

5. Can you tell me about a significant external factor that is affecting teaching and learning in your disciplinary area at the moment, and what your response has been to this?

Although the pedagogy should always remain at the centre of any learning and teaching process, this can be informed by the technologies that are used and applied. In the field of technology-enhanced learning changes that are altering the possibilities of the learner experience are new developments in the field of virtual and augmented realities (VR and AR respectively). These technologies enable learners to experience information, artefacts and other learners in new ways, and indeed blend these together seamlessly.

Where the opportunities have arisen I have made the educational sector aware of the potential of these technologies, and striven to encourage interest and preparation for these new forms of learning. The possible new borderless classrooms made possible by VR and AR are described in the concluding chapter of Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds (Childs, 2013a), and I made it the subject of my invited presentation at Mobilearn in Singapore (Childs, 2013b). I continue to follow developments in the field and pursue potential funding of research in order to apply these ideas in learning situations. I am preparing a book proposal to bring together the work of colleagues that will inform the VR and AR field.

6. What reflections do you have on your ongoing professional development with regard to learning, teaching and learning support?

There is a lot of further things I want to achieve with my life and career. Thinking about my answer to this question while listening to my music collection on shuffle, a particular song came up that summed this up perfectly, and this was such a serendipitous piece of mp3mancy that I’ve quoted it here.

“My life is going all right up ’til now. Even so there’s something missing; more truth, more intelligence, more future, more laugh, more culture, don’t forget adrenaline, more freedom.” – Matlock and Osterberg, Jr. 1980

My aim for any professional development opportunities is that they would  help to achieve at least one, if not most, of those qualities in my future career.


Childs, M. (2013a) “The Future of Virtual Worlds”, in M. Childs and G. Withnail, Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds, Inter-Disciplinary Press, UK: Oxford

Childs, M. (2013b) “Perceptual and Psychological Immersion: Making Sense of Virtual Worlds and Augmented Reality”, Mobilearn Asia 2013, Suntec Singapore Convention Centre 2-3 October 2013

Childs, M. and Knudsen, A. (2012) “Singing the Body Electric: The Role of Embodiment and Identity in Creating and Performing Telepresence” Twelfth International DIVERSE Conference, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, 3rd to 6th July, 2012

Childs, M. and Peachey, A. (2013) “Love it or hate it: Students’ responses to the experience of virtual worlds” in M. Childs and G. Withnail (eds.), Experiential Learning in Virtual Worlds, UK Oxford: Interdisplinary.Net

Childs, M. and Soetanto, R. (2017)  Online Learning for STEM Subjects, Taylor and Francis, UK: Abingdon, forthcoming

Matlock, G. and Osterberg Jr., J.N. (1980) “I Need More” from Iggy Pop: Soldier, Arista, USA: Los Angeles

Tolley, H. and Mackenzie, H. (2017) “BIM-Hub Project Evaluation: Principles, Protocols, Methodologies and Outcomes”, in M. Childs and R. Soetanto (eds)  Online Learning for STEM Subjects, Taylor and Francis, UK: Abingdon, forthcoming.

7 thoughts on “SFHEA

  1. From my perspective as a practitioner, tutor and researcher in virtual worlds and learning enhancement through the use of technology, Mark is, for me, one of the most influential practitioners and researchers in the field. For example, his work on presence in virtual worlds has had a direct impact on my practice as developer and leader of the MA Education in Virtual Worlds at the University of the West of England. I now have more than 500 hours of teaching and supervision experience in virtual worlds and I have drawn upon Mark’s work on forms of virtual presence in the design of learning activities for my students. They have also studied Mark’s work as part of their curriculum and have demonstrated their increased understanding of the nature of virtual presence as a result.

  2. Mark is, and has been, a producer of valuable learner-oriented research in the use of virtual worlds. Whereas many other researchers, research projects and initiatives have taken a technology-oriented focus, Mark’s publications, implicitly and explicitly, have been learner-centric. This includes quality research and consideration of learner identity (especially), the needs of participants and users, and how they are enhanced and inhibited by aspects of virtual world technologies. In an academic climate where a significant proportion of virtual worlds in education publications are repeating and retreading the same themes, Mark’s approach to research has been a unique, necessary and essential contribution to the accumulation of useful knowledge. For the betterment of the evidence base concerning the learner within virtual worlds and environments, I hope Mark continues to have a long and productive research track within this field.

  3. I met Mark at a series of conferences on virtual worlds. It was quickly apparent to me that Mark was one of those people that when he spoke, it was important to listen to him. His understanding of education in a virtual medium transcended the too-often seen rush to technology as a solution. His understanding of pedagogy and the necessity of placing it before the simple adoption of technology caught my attention. Since then, I have read much of his writing and use it to inform my own work. For example, Childs & Peachy 2013 is one of the few direct examinations of student preference regarding virtual worlds in education. His research is timely and addresses a range of issues in learning. I always walk away informed after reading or conversing with this expert in our field.

    Paul Jerry
    Professor, Athabasca University

  4. I have had the pleasure of working with Mark in two different venues: the ReLIVE conference and editor of “The Future of Virtual Worlds.” In both situations Mark was professional and encouraging, bringing forth the best within field of educational technology and using virtual worlds for learning.
    Mark is a leader in the use of technology in education and I appreciate the association, his wit, and the quality research that he produces.

    Brian Burton
    Associate Professor of Digital Entertainment Technology
    Abilene Christian University

  5. Mark Childs has been a major influence on my work in virtual worlds. Because of his emphasis on avatar customization as a route to immersion, I have opened up a shop in Second Life with virtual clothing for educators and other professionals. His research on the importance of virtual world education motivates me to publicize the efforts of many groups in this area. I look forward to this thinker and scholar’s future efforts, as I always learn something new from Mark.

  6. I have long been familiar with Mark Child’s work including through acting as external examiner for this PhD thesis. I believe his work has been extremely useful in extending our understanding of the diversity of reactions by students to virtual worlds. He researched without imposing pre-existing assumptions as to the cluster of phenomena known as “immersion.” A lesson from his work is that no matter how skilfully we may think we are creating scenarios with virtual worlds (or other kinds of virtual realities) then people will react in diverse ways and we must take account of this.
    He is also extremely knowledgeable about other contemporary empirical and theoretical work in his area.

    Julia Gillen
    Director, Lancaster Literacy Research Centre and Senior Lecturer in Digital Literacies, Dept of Linguistics and English Language, Lancaster University

  7. Mark and I worked on companion projects in two Jisc-funded programmes: Design for Learning (2006-8) and Learners’ Experience of e-Learning (phase 2) (2007-9). He was an enthusiastic and active colleague in both programmes, and hosted one of his ‘Design for Learning’ workshops at Oxford, bringing a new perspective on design practice to the attention of our institution. More recently, the reflections by Mark and his fellow members of the 52Group on the concept of the ‘post-digital’, both in 2009 and 2015 (https://markchilds.org/2015/02/04/post-digitalism-an-evolutionary-perspective/), have proved influential in shaping my own perspective on the concept in preparation for a forthcoming conference presentation.

    Mark is also playing an active role in a new (and long overdue) initiative to bring together learning technologists, researchers and teaching staff working in the TEL field at Oxford’s two universities to share research and practice, and to find ways to forge closer links.

    Liz Masterman
    Senior Research Officer
    University of Oxford IT Services

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