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.

References

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

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6 thoughts on “Is being uncomfortable bad for us? #SLEC2012 (week 1)

  1. Hi Chrissi
    I’m reading your reflections…
    1. About your time issue: Can you speak to your line manager and negotiate some study leave each week to work on this qualification?
    2. About being a ‘people person’: what I’m learning is that being a people person doesn’t just mean smiling, listening, and having a positive outlook, but seeing an issue from the other person’s point of view before even introducing it, to understand and anticipate the audience as much as possible. I used to do this with my undergrads who hated the research methods module – I’d diffuse the situation in the first week by starting with ‘So, why do you all hate this module?’. I found that showing that I understood their concerns, giving them a chance to express their views, and respecting their position helped me build a rapport and create a more positive atmosphere. As per Stefani, once the students understood the purpose of the module was to help them complete the dissertation the following year, they were much more open to learning.

    • Hi Joelle,

      Thank you for stopping by and for commenting. My line manager is very flexible and supportive of this course. However, there is so much work that needs to be done and there are not enough hours in the day. I think I probably am doing already too much, but like I said in the Moodle, more is coming our way and it feels like I am going to crash with an iceberg very soon. I will, however take your advice on board and make time on a weekly basis and block out all other work (which is exciting, I have to admit!) and focus on this course because it is important to me too.

      Regarding your second comment about people-person. I agree with you it is far more than smiling and being nice to people. We need to show and feel empathy for others but also develop reflexivity and be able to understand our own bias, misconceptions and be able to step in somebody else’s shoes. What you say is very important ‘to understand their concerns’ but in order for this to happen we need to open up, develop an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect, in other words a learning community, then anything can happen, anything good, I mean. What are your thoughts on this?

      Speak again soon.

      Chrissi

  2. Great post Chrissi. Thanks a lot. I’m tempted to take up your plea for a buddy. I share much of what you expressed… I’m not an evening person so this course is costly in that area, but mornings are already taken up by research and that’s sacrosanct… Happy to discuss, motivate, inspire (where I can) and generally support though, if you’d like.
    Alison

  3. Hi Alison,

    How wonderful. Very happy to give it a go. I work with anybody who wants to work with me.

    Maybe it would be good to have a Skype chat some time soon and see how we can support each other ;o) Do you use Skype? If not, happy to try any other technology or even the phone. Whatever works best for you.

    Speak again soon
    Chrissi

  4. Hi Chrissi,

    thanks for your post.

    I like your definition of Academic Developers as “people-people, risky at times (or always?) and (…) [who] 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”. I believe this could also be seen as a good definition of “lecturer” and the resonance that your “risky” approach has had with some of us is a testament to this. Thanks and keep up with the good work : )

    Fabrizio

  5. Hi Fabrizio,

    Good to read that you can relate to some of the stuff I am thinking about and wrote in this post.

    If we, Academic Developers, would be doing what everybody else is doing, why would we be needed? I love the challenge, to challenge and be challenged but everybody involved needs, I think, to be open, honest and respectful (and all the other things I mentioned above). Then we can achieve great things together and most importantly understand each other and learn together towards a common goal.

    Do I ask for too much? :o)

    Chrissi

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