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.
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.
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.