Please note this post is a draft.
For Anderson (1995) Academic Developers are peer-consultants. Elton (1995) calls us strategic agents for change and Roche (2010) refers to us as agents of transformative change. There definitely seems to be a ‘change theme’… and everybody seems generally to agree that our role is to support academics and other 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. But developing people is not a passive state and can not happen if the people are not actively involved and deeply engaged. I can’t develop anybody and maybe the word ‘developer’ is not the right one to describe what we do… Processes are designed and implemented by people, so the same applies to developing these.
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).
At the heart of these interventions are people and I can see very clear links between this approach and coaching. If we want others to transform their practice, we need to have them on board. We can’t change anybody… we can only change ourselves if we really want to and this applied to everybody else to and our practices. What we can do is to find ways that enable individuals and teams to envisage how success looks like but also how this would feel for them. We need to make people 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 behaviours 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. But it is not just me, the literature also emphasises on these. For example, Shrives and Bond (2003) state that “the educational development unit, […] needs to maintain its good relationship with the rest of the institution over the long term, prefers to avoid confronting, so as to prevent damage to that relationship.” (p. 62) And educational development unit consists of people so Shrives and Bond actually talk about people’s relationships. Peter Kahn also reminds us that “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, innovation and transformative change, development and learning.
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?
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 ages. 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.
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, to develop people and processes, we need alias.
Andresen L (1995) Accredited Courses in Teaching and Learning, in Bashiran, A. and 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 http://www.lpt.fi/pblconference/full_papers/07_full_papers.htm [accessed 22 Dec 2011]
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, pp. 171-191.
Scott, G. (2003) Effective Change Management in Higher Education, EDUCAUSE review, Nov/Dec. pp. 64-80.
Shrives, L. and Bond C. (2003) Consultancy in educational development, in: Kahn, P. And Baume, D. (eds.) A Guide to Staff and Educational Development, SEDA, Oxon: Routledge, pp. 61-75.