Academic development is about quality enhancement and as such it should involve active experimentation and action research (Cowen, 2003) and scholarly activities with colleagues and students to inform practice. Curiosity didn’t kill the cat! Curiosity drives creativity, scholarship, drives, research and learning. Creative and critical thinking together with creative expression and innovation are vital part of what we do.
This is indeed what attracted me to become an academic developer. I challenge myself and others and I love that my job is full of surprises, full of learning opportunities and rich in experiences and co-development. It is about being innovative and pushing the boundaries, experimenting and evaluating interventions to improve practices further. Not just challenging others, but also our own ideas, perceptions, behaviours, views, knowledge and skills.
Sometimes, however, I feel that we are lost in policies and strategies and measures… do we always know what we try to measure? Why do we measure? Also, do we perhaps confuse evaluating and measuring? Or is it the same thing? I don’t know and I would welcome any comments on this. Wisker (2006) reminds us that “evaluation is increasingly important to our work, our status and effectiveness” (p. 2) and Baume (2003) also says that “monitoring and evaluation are an integral part of good practice right from the start of any development activity, rather than optional add-ons;” (p. 77) Baume (2003) continues by saying that there is a need “to make monitoring and evaluation as natural as breathing” (p. 93). This sounds all really good and useful and necessary for what academic development stands for and what can be achieved. But I do feel that Quality Assurance it increasingly occupying or taking over our work… and limiting time for Quality Enhancement, which would enable us to adopt a more enquiry-based approach to evaluating academic development. But then Thew (2003) notes that there is “a strong movement in HE to achieve quality assurance through quality enhancement.” (p. 239) and if this is the case, these are good news for all of us.
I found the following very powerful and meaningful:
“Change, development and learning belong to the same family of concepts; as such, staff in higher education might properly have a professional interest in their relationship and in acquiring skills to purposely change the activities and contexts in which they operate. The important point is that we learn these skills ourselves and we continue to refine them through reflection on self-managed action.” Pennington (2003, p. 19)
And if this is true, or one way of looking at things, how can we or should we measure impact? Bums on seats seems to work for number crunchers. But where lies the real impact of staff development? Stefani (2003) says 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.” (pp.10-11) Anf this would be helpful, what can we achieve and how do we know that we have achieved it?
I would say that our work can be measured – or better, evaluated, by looking at the application and transformation of practices – through evidence-based practice and collaborative peer reviewed pedagogical research and scholarly activities conducted within learning communities that include staff and students. This is something that I am doing but am not emphasising or ‘selling’ openly with my students. I generally, don’t like talking about the research that I am doing, I just do it. Perhaps I should talk more about it in order to gain more credibility especially since I usually adapt high-risk strategies.
Part of being a professional in academic/educational development but also a teacher in HE more widely, means to recognise and accept diversity as an opportunity to enrich practices; enable and deepen stimulating engagement for all; motivate and enthuse and create learning communities and communities of practice. Also, we need to be continuously alert of our own positionality and pre-conceptions and beliefs and become reflective and reflexive practitioners who recognise and seize opportunies for further and continuous professional development to evaluate and enhance our own practice further through engagement in research and other scholarly activities and have the freedom to pursue our professional interests linked to learning and teaching that might not be linked to institutional priorities.
We also need to remember that we will enjoy the journey more if we go with others, so making professional friendships and participating in communities of developers (Kahn, 2003) will enrich us and define who we are, who we want to become, how and why.
Comments on the above are very welcome.
Baume, D. (2003) Monitoring and evaluating staff and educational development, in: Kahn, P. And Baume, D. (eds.) A Guide to Staff and Educational Development, SEDA, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 76-95.
Cowan, J. (2003) Learning from experience, in: Kahn, P. And Baume, D. (eds.) A Guide to Staff and Educational Development, SEDA, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 192-211.
Kahn, P. (2003)Developing professional expertise in staff and educational development, in: Kahn, P. And Baume, D. (eds.) A Guide to Staff and Educational Development, SEDA, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 212-226.
Pennington, G. (2003) Guidelines for Promoting and Facilitating Change, Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) Generic Centre.
Stefani, Lorraine (2003) What is staff and educational development? in: Kahn, P. And Baume, D. (eds.) A Guide to Staff and Educational Development, SEDA, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 9 – 23.
Thew, N. (2003) Personal and professional development: strategies for coping and for growth, in: Kahn, P. And Baume, D. (eds.) A Guide to Staff and Educational Development, SEDA, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 227-240.
Wisker, G. (2006) Educational Development – How do we know it’s working? How do we know how well we are doing? , Educational Developments Issue 7.3, pp. 11-17.