in the state of upside down #SLEC2012 (week 4)

I just love that song. It makes me feel good whatever mood I am in and especially when I am feeling down. So uplifting! Full of energy!

I think we would all benefit from the state of upside down for a bit or a bit longer than just a bit to be able to see and experience things from a completely different perspective. How does the world look like upside down? How do we look like upside down? How does everybody else look upside down? And since we can’t all be astronauts and experience what that means literally, maybe we could attempt to explore it at least metaphorically.

Well, as academic developers or agents of change (Elton, 1995; Roche, 2003) I am wondering which changes we promote most. Does it really matter, if these changes are coming from the top, the bottom, outside, inside or from our own individual and collective professional  shopping basket? I think it does even if some try and put us into tiny little shoeboxes with little fresh air to breath, no space to run, no water and sun to grow. Boud (1995) states  that developers should also be able to pursue personal professional interests which are not necessarily aligned with institutional priorities – so pleased that somebody else feels too that this is important – and Eastcott and Thew (2003) remind us also there is a need to  juggle priorities with sensitivity. In the shopping basket of priorities are internal, external and our own agendas. We need to identify ways to be more strategic. We are often told and reminded, to make bigger impact and ‘infect’ as many as possible. This does sound like a war scenario… and it might even feel like one at times…  But even if we loose a battle, we haven’t lost the whole war. I don’t like wars. I don’t like fighting. I think there are other ways to achieve greater things. Could we focus more on construction instead of de-struction? Building bridges that have the power to connect people, ideas, concepts and visions?

So what could we do? Well, we live in turbulent times, as Eastcott and Thew (2003) predicted almost 10 years ago. Today, our times are more turbulant than every and everything is in constant flow. Time never stops and things change all the time faster and faster these days. Just go and watch a movie. What do you notice? Well, I noticed that they are all high-speed. Everything is in zooooooming mode. It is hard to keep up. But what does constant and rapid change mean for our work? What does it mean for the alliances we are forming, re-forming, co-forming? Is there a need to be strategic?

Where are the real opportunities to make a difference today? Working with the enthusiasts is great but what about all the other people who  keep ignoring us and don’t really see value in what we are doing… is there a need to win them over, or should we just forget about them? They are often reminded to work with us. Some are even forced and I see a danger in this… Will this approach de-value  academic development and turn it into a tick-box exercise  to please masters and number crunchers… I am wondering. Neame (2011) notes that interventionalist approaches can work at initial stages but should move towards democratic development and focus on the creation of learning communities. This rationale enabled me to see things from a different perspective, I have to admit. Initially, I thought that interventionalist modes of staff development would not work at all, but they can actually provide a useful way in. If we recognise that interventionalist modes are of temporary or transitional nature and use the time effectively to identify and offer some real hooks then there is hope, a lot of it!!! that what we do can actually have an impact, a massive one.

Sometimes (well, actually more than sometimes) I wonder, how we can motivate the de-motivated, the un-motivated to recognise what we could achieve together? And yes, I am probably very (too?) romantic and see academic development as a partnership between academics, students, institutional leaders and academic developers.  But is this really a bad thing? Too often human communications are seen as more de-personalised, de-humanised activities. But we are not robots. We are not machines. Is there a need to remember this a bit more and a bit more often?

Let's fly together

Let's fly together

Ok, so what could be a hook? I think is also to recognise that everybody contributes somehow to what we call the student experience and there is no academic with bad intentions . Everybody is doing something well. Some might have lost their interest in teaching over the years, others have not discovered it yet despite the fact that they might be teaching for donkeys. I think, in order to achieve anything through the work we, academic developers, are doing, we need to magnify all the good things that are happening at micro-level. Only then, will we be able to draw people in, attract the ones who look the other way when they see us. Recognising their strength is so important and will boost their will to do even more, even better. We all want recognition for what we do! It is human nature! If we keep saying “you should be doing this”, “you don’t do this right” etc. etc. we have no hope. I used to hear these phrases and my ears were hurting. I don’t think that people will actually switch-on. In the contrary, the will switch-off completely. Nobody will feel suddenly hooked on staff development, enthused or  motivated if we keep telling them how bad they are.

Am I worthless?


Achievements at macro-level in an institution are therefore only made possible when there is deep, meaningful and most of all wide-spread and infectious engagement at micro-level and academic developers can play a key role in this to happen but we need alies. This is my personal view on this.

Something else before, I finish this post which is disconnected with all the above, well not completely but it is in a way. My thoughts around teaching real students triggered a discussion with other academic developers in Moodle recently. Some of them also recognise the value in teaching ‘real’ students and I thought to include their observations below:

“Needing to maintain the value of our ‘currency’.  To be able to say to our colleagues “well, when I was teaching students last week…” etc.  That seems very important, now you’ve pointed it out!”

“I agree with you both about the value of maintaining contact with ‘real’ students – without this, we are perhaps too removed from the ‘coal face’ to appreciate the effects of development activities.”

“Somewhere else on this course people have talked about getting currency by working with students and I am becoming aware that after 27 years of teaching I am really, really missing by teaching practice with undergraduate students. I am involved in the educational development of students, but these students are colleagues who are studying on the PgC, and they are very different to work with.”

“I also agree that it is helpful if we maintain contact with ‘real’ students – ie other than our colleagues on PG Certs and the like. Colleagues in Health, such as nurses and midwives, have to maintain their practice by ‘getting their hands dirty’ on the ward with real patients if they want to keep thier professional standing-  I wonder if SEDA should consider including this as a condition of Fellowship.”

“Yes, I’d go with that too, not only on the grounds that so many of you have indicated already, but also because I think it would communicate something to the academic colleagues with whom we’re working most of the time: i.e. that we’re ‘real’ teachers. At the same time it would be quite daunting. Imagine if a teaching educational developer got poor student feedback! Or if colleagues were really not impressed… or were so impressed they succumbed to professional jealousy or intimidation… I sense a minefield to be negotiated, but I would still support the idea. ”

“I agree – seems very logical, so why doesn’t it happen more? Is it because Ed dev is an “HR function and what’s that got to do with students…?” (as many would say). On a pragmatic note (or perhaps as devil’s advocate), how many of us would have access to opportunities to teach ‘real students’, unless we have a foot in two camps (i.e. one ed dev, and one in discipline x or y).  I used to be in that position (it was exhausting), and I know many of us still are, but would enforcing it only serve to emphasise the (false)argument that educational or academic development isn’t a proper disciplinary field in its own right?  So I find myself coming round in a circular argument to the point that all students are real students – even if they are our colleagues on PGCerts etc (or would-be SEDA fellows on an online learning programme!)  Yes, let’s seize opportunites to teach as wide a range of students as possible, but perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about categorising them.”

I would really be interested to find out how our current PGCAP students feel about the above and if it would indeed make a difference to them if we, academic developers, also had the opportunity to teach ‘real’ students.


Boud, D. (1995) Meeting the Challenges, in Brew, A. (ed.) Directions in Staff Development, Buckingham: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press, pp. 203-223.

Eastcott, D. and Thew, N. (2003) Working creatively with national agendas, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A guide to Staff & Educational Development, Oxon: Routledge.

Elton, L. (1995) An Institutional Framework, in: Brew, A (ed.) Directions in Staff Development, Buckingham: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press, pp. 177-188.

Neame, C. (2011)  Exploring Models of Development of Professional Practice in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: What Can We Learn from Biology and Marketing? Educate~ Vol. 11, No. 1, 2011, pp. 9-19

Roche, V. (2003) Being an agent of change, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A guide to Staff & Educational Development, Oxon: Routledge.

Let’s infect! #SLEC2012 (week 4)

see, it works

See, it works, but only when we get close(r)

I just love how Charles (a colleague from another institution who is also currently on the SLEC2012 course, how cool is that), or should I say Neame (2011) ;o) visualises Academic Development and the impact it can have:

“In the context of Higher Education practice we might consider a new idea that affects teaching practice to represent the „virus‟. The rate of infectivity of the virus may be high or low, depending on how susceptible or resistant members of an academic community may be to the new idea. That „resistance‟ may be influenced by context, such as the influence of senior managers, or peers within their discipline, for example.” (p. 5)

The above started a mini investigation which took me to Wikipedia to find out how a virus is defined:

“A virus is a small infectious agent that can replicate only inside the living cells of organisms.” (source:

Key words for me here were replicate and live. Then I wanted to find out more about infectious agents because it did sound nasty… so I clicked on the hyperlink and got the following:

“A pathogen (Greek: πάθος pathos, “suffering, passion” and γἰγνομαι (γεν-) gignomai (gen-) “I give birth to”) or infectious agent — colloquially, a germ” (source:

Then I stopped my investigation because of the words ‘πάθος’ (passion) and ‘giving birth’. I no longer felt that the analogy sounded negative. I also remembered that passion can be infectious or has infectious powers and this is exactly what academic development could be or become or just be.

We were asked this week to look at Land’s (2003) orientations and reflect on the following questions. I thought to add them here together with my attempt to answer them. Please feel free to challenge if you disagree with any or all my replies, especially if you know me and the way I work.

Which orientations best describe the way in which you work as a leader of educational change?

It is definitely a mix and if I had to decide which one, I am, I wouldn’t be able to.

I think I am definitely romantic and am really keen to help others develop and grow. But I also spot opportunities easily for interventions and changes that have the potential to enhance practices. Also, challenging orthodoxy or current status-quo and more traditional practices is something I do naturally through modelling and being provocative at times. So so pleased to have read the phrase “Do as I do” rather than “do as I say” in Land (2003) and the acknowledgement that this “is seen as ultimately a more effective operational approach than the patient development and implementation of policy” (p. 3). This would be like the doctor telling you smoking is bad for you with a cigarette in his mouth!!! I also reflect on my practice and share these openly with others to encourage a dialogue and also challenge my own ideas and pre-conceptions.

Not sure about the managerial orientation and if this can actually happen effectively without a human touch and a clear understanding of how people function. But maybe I don’t understand it properly… I am sure it is me…

Which of these orientations are most effective in working on which national agendas?

Would it be the opportunitist and romantic one which will make it happen? I know what is expected here is probably more something linked to being political and strategic but I am not sure if this is enough. And I think, one can also be strategic in different ways especially since we work with people and not with robot or machines.

Do Land’s orientations represent a useful model for thinking about staff development and leading educational change?

The orientations defined by Land (2003) are useful and show that a mix of orientations is needed in staff development contexts to support and lead change. Many of us have a variety of orientations within us and within a team we complement each other, or should do this. However, there are challenges there and we need to learn, I think, to be more open and collaborative and recognise and use more effectively strengths within our own teams. We are so much more powerful when we work together… strategically and co-ordinated ;o)

Are there any implications of Land’s list of orientations for your personal work as a leader of educational change?

I can see more clearly what I am not. I am definitely not managerial! Maybe I am too much of a rebel. But can there be strategic rebels? Or, do we actually benefit from strategic rebels?

These orientations provide areas for personal professional development but also raise awareness of doing things differently and doing different things in different situations. This is how I see it. The same applied to learning styles, which I actually call learning habits. It is just too easy to keep doing what we are good at or comfortable with. Why not challenge ourselves to do things differently and do different things altogether. We can’t expect others to learn and develop, if we are not prepared to do the same.

Key for me is, as Neame (2011) states for academic developers to have choice to adopt approaches which they think are suitable in different situations and contexts. One size does not fit all. But we need to remember more democratic approaches enable communities of practice to emerge. Through these will we all start recognising the value and contributions of each other and want to grow to achieve common goals. Also, I was so pleased to read in this paper that at the heart of academic development are people, networks and communities and that we need to learn to learn and develop together.

Something I would also like to investigate further is the social identity theory – Tajfel (in- and out-of group, see and how this influences or if, academic development activities and impact.

By the way, do you remember that there was a time, not so long ago, when we were asking students not to use Wikipedia and Google? How (fast) things change…



Neame, C. (2011)  Exploring Models of Development of Professional Practice in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education: What Can We Learn from Biology and Marketing? Educate~ Vol. 11, No. 1, 2011, pp. 9-19

Land, R. (2003) Orientations to Academic Development in Eggins, H. And Macdonald, R. (eds.) The Scholarship of Academic Development, pp. 34-46. The Society for research into higher Education and Open University Press.

no magic = no discovery = no deep learning #SLEC2012 (week 3) @pgcap



Higher Education is changing and Academic Development is no different. While, in Wisker (2003) we read

“Ten years ago, we [staff developers] might have had to be self-starters who decided what to do in a very hands-on fashion, working with the few who turned up to lunchtime workshops and innovations sessions, and then went away and tried out good ideas in the classroom, perhaps never spreading good practice any further. Now we are much more central in our functions, much more likely to ensure that what we organize and deliver is in alignment with strategic priorities. We are also, however, in danger perhaps of addressing the needs of only a few stakeholders, serving the masters with their hunger for paper rather than working with the practitioners.” (p. 25)

… and this was written almost 10 years ago…

To work with practitioners and other stakeholders, including the students is indeed vital for academic developers. I am recognising the importance of this and am in ongoing conversations with academics and increasingly with students to co-design and co-deliver staff development initiatives which are tailored to specific needs.

One size doesn’t fit all! When will we recognise this and more importantly, do something about it? I would like to go a step further and suggest that it is also important, for us Academic Developers, to teach ‘real’ students and not just talk about teaching real students. This has been something I do miss within my current role and am currently exploring possibilities to do something about it. Also the plan is to engage academics further in the PGCAP programme and especially the core module and turn collaborations into partnerships and shared ownership. I can see benefits from such an approach for academic developers and the wider academic community. These initiatives, these relationships above all, have the power to really place academic development central stage in what is happening and finally move away from the grey-zone of an institution. Too often we are still excluded or play a peripheral role in what is happening linked to teaching and learning. Forced partnerships are like pre-arranged marriages… not sure if they can really work. We need the freedom to build relationships but we also need to know how to do this properly and effectively.

Resistance is there and will be there. The question is how can it be reduced. I would agree with Wisker (2003) that the deficit model, where the top identifies what is wrong and puts staff development in place to make it better, won’t work. Wisker (2003) reminds us that

“academics in particular are notorious in their distaste for and rejection of this kind of industrial and commercial problem-orientated model and can assiduously refuse it, ignoring the learning process that is supposed to be part of the development.” (p. 27)

and my experience confirms this but I wouldn’t say that it is the majority and maybe generalising this can be problematic. What is needed are joined initiatives, where academic developers, academics and students come together because they want to enhance academic practice and the student experience not just because somebody has forced them to work together. I seem to repeat myself but I have to say it again, I am afraid. It is all about creating relationships with people and working and learning together to achieve a common goal. I can’t see how we can achieve anything of value and that will have a lasting impact. Inspired also by the ‘steering group’ approach mentioned in Rose and Buckley (1999) and I would like to investigate this model further to identify how it can work in our institutional context.

my seat

my seat

Wisker (2003) also talks about how we, academic developers, do things and how easy it is, too easy?, to just do the things we like, we feel comfortable with without challenging, stretching ourselves and others. I am sure this is common in other professions too, but also in our private lives. How many times do we just cook the things we have cooked before? How many times do we keep sitting in the same seat in the train? How many times do we walk down the same road? I try to avoid this repetitive behaviour in my professional and private life (why should we let monotony govern us?) … placing myself in the high-risk or firing zone. Curiosity killed the cat is one of the idiomatic expressions I never understood or could relate to. I think curiosity is a vital characteristic of and for learning.

let's just have a look

let's just have a look

I feel that modelling plays an important role in Teacher Education and Academic Development is part of this. It is the perfect time, space and place to be experimental, risky and innovative in a safe and supportive environment. Do we understand what modelling is? For me, modelling has nothing to do with demonstrating. Maybe people think that modelling is actually demonstrating. Modelling is an immersive and highly participatory and active learning approach. It enables learning to emerge  through immersion in experiencing a particular approach. However, we need to remember it will never be the perfect version. Could there ever be such a thing?

My role is to make people think, un-think, re-think, co-think and consider alternative approaches, attitudes and behaviours but also to act, re-act, pro-act and co-act to make learning exciting and stimulating. Swennen et al (2008) defines modelling as an opportunity to learn, discover and make sense of specific approaches which academics could use with their own students, through experiencing, reflecting, identifying links to own practice and theory. It is much more valuable if all that thinking and discovery is generated by the academics themselves. The immersive experience acts as the trigger for all this to happen. If we take this magic away, and digest experiences for others, we remove opportunities for discovery, deep, meaningful and perhaps transformative learning.

I would be very interested to find out what you think about this.


Rose, E. And Buckley, S. (1999) Self-directed Work Teams, American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), Alexandria (VA).

Swennen, A., Lunenberg, M., & Korthagen, F. (2008) Preach what you teach! Teacher educators and congruent teaching. Teachers and Teaching; theory and practice, 14(5,6), 531-542.

Wisker, G. (2003) Carrying out a needs analysis: from intuition to rigour, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A guide to Staff & Educational Development, Oxon: Routledge.

Linking own thinking, practice and readings #SLEC2012 (week 2)

everything flows

everything flows

The landscape of teaching and learning in Higher Education (HE) is changing. It has been changing for a while now. The student body has never been so diverse, rapid technological advancements and accessibility and usability of social and mobile media can no longer be ignored together with the socio-economical backdrop in our own backyard but also further afield. We talk about learning happening outside institutions in informal and non-formal settings. When referring to students, people often talk about customers. This worries me a lot! and universities are becoming businesses or factories but of what? Are universities today focusing on surviving or thriving? In Scott (2003) we read “If [universities) don’t respond appropriately, their present form, is threatened.” (p. 66) And if universities are indeed changing, or should change, how will they look like and what will their role be? What are universities for? Scott mentions that “it has been suggested that their distinctive contribution should be in developing the creative, social, critical, and intellectual capital of the nation and that they should not seek simply to replicate the work of vocational-training providers. “ (p. 68) Is this happening currently and to what extend? What are the opportunities and what the challenges to achieve this?

What does the current situation, the developments mean for teaching and Learning in Higher Education and for Academic Developers more specifically, if we are as Roche (2010) calls us agents of transformational change? Can transformational change be achieved at personal and institutional level and how, if this is what we desire to do? Mezirow (1997) has discussed extensive transformative learning through which a shift in attitudes and behaviours can be achieved far more than skills development and training and mechanical quick fixes which are bad for us as Roche (2003) states. Is this the way forward and if it is, how can transformative learning happen?

Lawson (2009) refers to learning through regular dialogue to improve teaching and Academic Developers play a vital role in creating the conditions and the opportunities for dialogue with academics on a day-to-day basis.

For Anderson (1995) Academic Developers are peer-consultants. Elton (1995) calls us strategic agents for change and in Roche (2010) we are agents of transformative change. However we are called, these are just names. The important bit is not how we are called but what we do, or should be doing. Everybody seems generally to agree that our role is to support academics and professionals who support learning, individuals, groups and whole schools and departments, on a day-to-day basis, to develop and enhance academic practice, teaching and pedagogical research in order to provide a richer student experience to their students and grow as individuals and professionals. Academic Developers also engage, or should have the opportunity to engage in educational research and enjoy the freedom to pursue their professional interests linked to learning and teaching that might not be linked to institutional priorities (Boud, 1995). This is indeed vital and can be highly motivational too. Too often we are reminded of institutional priorities that drive change. But is this really the right and only way forward?

The challenges are enormous and the benefits are also of the same magnitude if we get it right. And when I say ‘we’ I mean us Academic Developers and the wider academic community. I feel that this is the best way to get buy in, maximise engagement and effectiveness. We need to focus our efforts to create shared ownership, collaborations and partnerships and I am so pleased that this also seen as valuable by Roche (2003) who also states that

“The change readiness period must be taken seriously, so that transitional stages such as denial, resistance and exploration are accepted as normal reactions to change” (p. 174).

He also states “Change comes from seeing possibilities, creating opportunities from mistakes and unexpected experiences (often negative ones).” (p. 173)

Roche’s words helped me to understand and make sense of what I am going through at the moment, the dilemmas I am confronted but also where my focus should be to identify the most meaningful and productive way forward.

However, in order for change to happen or occur, if any of these words is the right one (what about achieve?) we need to feel empowered too. Too often academic developers, feel that they have to follow the leader instead of co-leading development activities and initiatives. Brungardt (submitted) states that leaderships is a relationship in which “all active players practice influence.” (p. 1) and this can only happen if the leaders take into account the voices of the followers (Rost,1991) How can this be practised within Academic Development Units?

unlocking is needed

unlocking is needed

At the heart of these interventions are people and I can see very clear links between this approach and coaching. If we want them to transform their practice, we need to have them on board. We can’t do their job for them. We can’t change anybody. They need to want to change and change themselves and their practice. We need to enable them to envisage how success looks like but also how this would feel for them. We need to make them feel that they are in a safe environment and that it is ok to take risks. Not all ideas and intervention will work in practice and the hardest is actually to implement them (Scott,2003).

And this is where coaching can be effective. Coaching is usually a one-to-one development activity and some might think that this is not scalable and have organisational impact but we need to remember through coaching transformational changes for the individual have a ripple effect on a whole team, a whole school or organisation and change of behaviours and attitudes by one person will influence the behavious and attitudes of whole teams. The word ‘relationships’ comes in my mind again. This is a word I seem to use a lot but it does mean a lot to me in the context of academic development. As Peter Kahn says “tutors who adopt a process-focused approach see their role as creating an environment in which the students can learn. This may involve developing an effective relationship with your students and challenging their preconceptions of your subject.” (online) And this is definitely how I see things and would like to continue operating because I can clearly see that this works and can lead to fruitful collaboration and innovation and transformative change and learning too.

I see coaching as a way to enable individuals and groups to fulfil their potential, grow and develop and am not sure why this has not been recognised more widely as an opportunity for academic development and HE more general, while coaching is used extensively in Business but also in other educational settings such as Primary, Secondary, Further Education and Adult Learning.  Within my own institutions I have started working with colleagues from HR Development to develop a coaching framework for the academic community and I am really pleased that there is great interest and support for this initiative.

Really pleased  that I read these articles provided on the SLEC2012 course, especially because I could draw parallels between these and my practice.


Andresen L (1995) Accredited Courses in Teaching and Learning, in Bashiran, A & KADER, A (2005) Implementing PBL in Aikol, Iium: A paradigm shift?, in: proceedings PBL in Context – Bridging Work and Education,  International Conference on Problem-Based Learning, 9-11 June Lahti, Finland, available at [accessed 7 Nov 2011]

Boud, D (1995) Meeting the Challenges, in Brew, A (ed.) Directions in Staff Development, Buckingham: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press, pp. 203-223.

Brungardt, C. (submitted) The New Face of Leadership: Implications for Higher Education, Horizon,

Elton, L (1995) An Institutional Framework, in: Brew, A (ed.) Directions in Staff Development, Buckingham: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press, pp. 177-188.

Lawson, D (2009) The CETL Experience, in: Ramsden, P (ed.) Teachers as learners – the development of academic staff, HEA: Academy Exchange 8, August 2009, pp. 22-23.

Mezirow, J (1997) Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice, in: Transformative Learning in Action: Insights from Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. no. 74, edited by P. Cranton, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, pp. 5–12.

Rose, E. And Buckley, S. (1999) Self-directed Work Teams, American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), Alexandria (VA).

Rost, J. C. (1993) Leadership Development in the New Millenniumm, The Journal of Leadership Studies: 91-110.

Roche, V. (2003) Being an agent of change, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A guide to Staff & Educational Development, Oxon: Routledge.

Scott, G. (2003) Effective Change Management in Higher Education, EDUCAUSE review, Nov/Dec. Pp. 64-80.

fish ‘n’ chips and thoughts at the seaside down South #ECEL2011 #CMC11

playfulness exposed

playfulness exposed

This is Brighton where I attended and presented at the 10th European Conference of e-Learning. Not sure why we keep using the e- or distinguish between e- and non-e since it is, or should be considered, now part of normal learning. But what is normal learning? We seem to have lost and forgotten all about the playfulness of learning. The fun we have or used to have when we were jounger, when learning through play was and still is a reality and accepted.

  • What stops us from having fun in learning when we are adults?
  • Why do we stop having fun as adult learners?
  • Why do we stop playing when while learning?
  • What stops us from having fun when we are teaching othes and learn with others?
  • Why is it wrong to have fun and learn through play when we are adult learners and especially when we are in a university?

I would love to hear what others think about the above. So, please feel free to comment if you are reading this.

If Prof. Maggi Savin-Baden is right when she said during the ECEL2011 conference (paper by Savin-Baden, S. , Tombs C. and Wimpenny, K. Implementing and Evaluating Problem-based 3D Virtual Learning Scenarios) that playing with learning is important, as well as playing with and playing around and that

“We need to stop seeing the curriculum as a predictable, ordered and manageable space, but instead review it as an important site of transformation characterised by risk and uncertainty”

– why do we keep replicating what was always there, what we were always doing? Prof. Anne Boddington in her keynote “Designing Education and Reshaping Learning” provides her answer to these questions perhaps by saying that 

“we forget to question the structures we inherited, the frameworks within which we sit need to change.”

Anne also passionately noted that learning is an adventure but also a social activity and that we need to move away from ‘me’-learning towards ‘we’-learning and asked us all what universities are for. And if would agree with Prof. Grainne Conole’s keynote “Trajectories of learning – new approaches and directions” who stated that content and expertise is freely available now, what does this really mean for universities and what are universities really for? Anne defined universities as a place and a space to

  • sustain conversations
  • shape the future of human life
  • stimulate innovation
  • shape new structures of and for learning
  • shape new pedagogies
some food for thought

some food for thought

Learning, teaching and researching in parternship, in one community as Anne suggested?

And if this is indeed the way forward, how can we make this happen?

time never stops #SLEC2012 (week 2)

zoooooooooooooming through time

time never stops

This week was mad. I remember myself running around on Tuesday morning – Monday has been erased from my memory completely – like a headless chicken to fit everything in, get everything ready, get organised, before leaving for Brighton. I wish I had some heelys or roller skates or could make things happen by pushing a magic button!!! – but this wouldn’t be fun… Most of my week was spent at the ECEL2011 conference in Brighton, which was very useful and I am glad I could go, but did take me away from my weekly activities linked to the PGCAP (planning for next sessions and supporting students) but also the SLEC course – I missed the contact with my own students but also the opportunity to engage with the SLEC course online.

The wifi was highly problematic in the hotel (was it the sea?) and I couldn’t follow fresh conversations in Moodle. However, I just managed to read some of the stuff on the train, this also didn’t work very well because I started feeling dizzy. I just wish I wouldn’t be dizzy so easily…  I am hopeless! The good thing was that I did get some fresh sea air (really had missed the smell of proper sea wind) and had plenty of opportunities to think about my practice. So in fact I was engaged but in a different way this week in spirit I was actually there. I know it is not the same and I hope to catch up next week.  I am conscious that I need to provide feedback to some of my students and that this has been delayed more than I wanted to because of this trip. I must do this my top priority now that I am back.

Of all the readings this week, one phrase by Scott (2003) stayed with me and reminded me of  something very important:

“Taking what looks like a potentially relevant, desirable, and feasible change idea and making it work in practice is by far the hardest part of quality improvement and innovation process.” (p. 70)

At times, I have to admit, I am impatient with myself and want everything to work first time because I feel so excited when I have an idea and am curious to find out how it will work in practice. Then disappointment fills me when it doesn’t work and criticism arrives… but I do pick up myself again and more forward. I have managed to do this so far. In the whole process, however, I need to remember to see my ideas more like work-in-progress material and understand that ideas need time to develop into concepts and become something useful and of value. But I think I also need to tell students that this is the case and that we are learning on this together.

Roche (2003) notes that “The change readiness period must be taken seriously, so that transitional stages such as denial, resistance and exploration are accepted as normal reactions to change” (p. 174). Is this easily done? It is a useful perspective to have and one that will help you overcome some of the barriers we are facing when doing risky things. All  criticisms is of course useful, even the most extreme one! We learn by doing and from making mistakes and observing others mistakes too. The person who doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t usually do much… this is a fact. And the more we do the more mistakes we make, this is another fact. Roche (2003) states “Change comes from seeing possibilities, creating opportunities from mistakes and unexpected experiences (often negative ones).” (p. 173) To contextualise this a bit, I guess, I could mention briefly the creativity game idea that I have tried in various settings for a few years now and I kept making changes to improve it. It was just this semester, however, when this idea matured and turned into a real concept. The “Sell your bargains” game. There were loads of bits woolly (too woolly?), before defining more clearly the pedagogical rationale and I think for the very first time all players recognised the value of this game for their practice.

A thought from Moodle follows which was posted in response to somebody else’s posting. These few lines made me think a bit more, a bit deeper and in different directions too.

“In my experience many educational developers feel passionately about what they do, but this can be evidenced either as trying to persuade by sharing that passion – heart- or blinding with evidence, theories (brute logic?) – mind. or both. I like your description of being there at the right time and asking the right questions – can be difficult to know what is the right question sometimes.


Rose, E. And Buckley, S. (1999) Self-directed Work Teams, American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), Alexandria (VA).

Roche, V. (2003) Being an agent of change, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A guide to Staff & Educational Development, Oxon: Routledge.

Scott, G. (2003) Effective Change Management in Higher Education, EDUCAUSE review, Nov/Dec. Pp. 64-80.


Is being uncomfortable bad for us? #SLEC2012 (week 1)

A break, what break?

A break, what break?

Well, week 1 of the Supporting and Learning Educational Change (SLEC) Programme run by SEDA is coming to an end and while I see teaching as an opportunity to learn, challenge myself and others, it is different when you become a learner on a formal course. Not so long ago, I completed my second Masters qualification fully online at Edinburgh Napier University and have only good memories and learnt a lot.  I am sure the SLEC programme will be equally beneficial and help me develop further as an Academic Developer.

Now it is time again to study within pre-defined structures and I can appreciate and empathise how it feels for our students on the PGCAP. People naturally learn in more organic ways, I would say, and are resistant to anything that is too prescriptive. I have found the Emergent Learning Framework by Fred Garnett useful and enlightening in this aspect and it does raise the question of the purpose of education, how it is offered today and where we should/could be heading. Learning will emerge out of necessity. But is this always the case? What other factors make learning happen? The social environment plays a vital part in this.

A question that follows me around for a while now is “Is learning changing?” and I thought that it would be a good idea to ask Fred about this and I did in the summer when he visited us.

And if learning is changing, what does this mean for teaching?Can we afford to do the same things year after year and ignore the changes around us?

People seem to find too pre-scriptive environments re-strictive. Well, I do anyway. Others, I am sure feel safer when there are boxes and structures. But is this linked to our desire to have control and be in control? To be and feel safe? Something to think about. A new programme can be overwhelming, especially at the beginning, when we try and make sense of things, so many things at the same time, and develop an effective way to learn within the given framework. Learners want to enjoy the freedom of enquiry, to have the time and space to learn. But is this always possible? When we study towards a qualification on a formal programme, there are constraints and we need to learn to learn in this way too. It is challenging I have to say. Currently, I am so busy at work (was there every a time I wasn’t? – is time a typical student excuse?) and work is already taking over my personal life (I am reminded of this regularly). This is how it feels for a while now. Finding a balance between personal and professional life, especially, if you are passionate about your job and your job is more than just a job, is difficult. I need to learn how to do this properly, somehow.

I have found this SLEC week interesting but had to fit study in late in the evenings when I am brain-dead and this is not good. So when could I find or make time for this course? I need to work this out very soon so that I get the maximum out of this course and use this great opportunity to connect with colleagues from other institutions.

Reading the stories by other educational and academic developers on the SLEC has been fascinating and I could easlily relate to most of them and have included some of their voices below.

A: “an element of ‘resistance’ from colleagues who were then ‘required by their line manager/Institution’ to undertake what amounted to undertaking the professional qualification to do the job.”

B: “I see my role as a change agent like ‘Castrol Oil’ getting to all those nooks and crannies and difficult places of an engine. I agree with Chrissi in that we need to unblock, unlock and be the ‘grit in the oyster’ with others we work with but I believe the way we should do that is through creating connections and collaborative relationships across the silos of academic departments and break down some of the ‘tribes and territories’ that exist within Universities.

C: “part of my job as Educational Development Manager [is] to expose staff to the possibilities for change.”

D: “Changing a fundamental process […] across an institution is a risky business in an environment governed by league tables and the national student survey. Academic views are positively hostile to this change.”

E: (Talking about taking over a disasterous PgCert programme) “It was hard work and used every ounce of creativity, coaching, facilitation and negotiation skills I had, but was worth it in the end. And as a result I gained a lot of friends and supporters from amongst the academic community who couldn’t believe that they had actually finished the programme. They still work with me and support me today even after I have left !

F: “understand the context. […] we needed to understand what motivated the people in the room to be there. Only then could we hope to understand why we were there.”

G: “it was inspiring to work with people who see the role of education in (re)building a sense of community, purpose and identity, and who value therefore, not only their own work, but the work of those of us who can help them develop it.”

Reading the above, the full stories by others and reflecting on my own experiences, I would say, that being an Academic Developer is so rewarding when we can make it work, especially if we win over all the people (or at least some of them) who initially don’t see value in our work or way of working. Yes, we do alienate some… and many feel uncomfortable with our approaches… The negative connotations our work has are also mentioned in Stefani (2010) who also highlights that “attention might more fruitfully be paid not so much to what we do as to why and how we do it and what we achieve” (10-11). Academic Developers are, or should be, in my opinion, people-people, risky at times (or always?) and work hard to build bridges to communicate and connect with others, to create opportunities for collaborations and partnerships (Stefani, 2010) that will lead to mutual understanding, acceptance, trust, learning and change based on a sound pedagogical rationale which is not always shared explicitly but this does happen for a good reason. Can you work it out?

Anyway, I wish I had made more time to engage this week but next week will be even harder… unfortunately. What will I do? I think I would benefit from peer learning and might look for a buddy on this programme so that we can motivate each other. Anybody interested to learn with me?

Usually it is me who provides feedback on reflections completed by our PGCAP students. I am now wondering if any of my students will comment on my reflections. I hope somebody will, so that we can discuss some of the things I am thinking about and am capturing in this post.


Stefani, L. (2003) What is staff and educational development?, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A guide to Staff & Educational Development, Oxon: Routledge.