Value 3 Working in and developing learning communities or together #SLEC2012


“Good teachers possess a capacity for connectedness. They are able to weave a complex web of connections among themselves, their subjects, and their students so that students can learn to weave a world for themselves.” (Palmer, 2007, 11)

I agree with Palmer and his observations. Creating connections and links to people is the way forward. Carol Yeager reminded me recently, “if you want to go fast, go on your own, if you want to go further go with others” (African proverb) – this is so true and reflects my approach to what I do as an academic developer. Neame (2011) states that at the heart of academic development are people, networks and communities. Our role is to create opportunities for communities of practice to emerge, support and grow as defined by Wenger et al (2011). Kahn (2003) recognises that we gain credibility through participating in communities of practice. Democratic approaches have the power to make this to happen. Democratic means working together, creating together, learning together but also changing together. Imposed change, doesn’t work. Pennington (2003) says that “professionals and technical staff will tend to resist changes which are perceived to threaten their core values and practices, and which have a negative impact on individuals and which diminish group autonomy” (p.7). Especially in the HE context this is so true but I am sure it applies to all other professional groups as well. And by the way, does forced change last? Academic developers are not vampires (Shrives and Bond, 2003) but they do have to assist the implementation of policies and strategies and need to find ways to make this happen and the way forward is through “building up a relationship based on mutual trust and respect.” (p. 65).

Wandering around without direction? Who says so?

Wandering around with(out) direction? Who says so?

Pennington (2003) notes that “commitment to self-identified and self-initiated change is always greater than change deemed necessary by others or imposed from external sources.” (p. 5) So where are institutions going wrong? Could it be that organisations feel that imposed strategies have the power to make change happen more rapidly and on a bigger scale? Is it about wanting results now now, as I would say? Are quick fixes the answer? Shrives and Bond (2003) actually remind us that “quick fix solutions that many sought in the 1980s often failed.” (p. 61) So, what kind of quick fixes can actually work? Does any of them really work? How can academic development appeal to the masses over night? Is there a magic formula? Pennington (2003) doesn’t think that this can work and reminds us that “where processes have failed, the change agents have frequently rushed […] and pushed ahead too quickly with operational issues, such as ‘how do we do it?’. It’s an obvious point, but clarity about the rationale and objectives of a change should lead and shape practicalities of future activities and new procedures and structures.” (p. 8) He suggests “where rapid change is required, create urgency and momentum – but not of the magnitude which causes destabilisation.” (p. 11)

a helping hand

A helping hand?

We academic developers are not vampires but can be seen as intruders – in reality we are not. We are people keen to help others develop and grow and infect our passion for teaching and learning to transform practices and the student experience. In order to make this happen we need to understand the people we work with, accept and respect our differences and identify opportunities to connect with them to make necessary change a shared owned activity in a community of practice that has a clear purpose and benefit for all so that change becomes motivational and meaningful.


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.

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.

Palmer, P. J. (2007) The courage to teach. Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher’s life, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Pennington, G. (2003) Guidelines for Promoting and Facilitating Change, Learning and Teaching Support Network (LTSN) Generic Centre.

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.

Wenger, E., Trayer, B. and de Laat, M. (2011) Promoting and assessing value creation in communities and networks: a conceptual framework, Rapport 18, Ruud de Moor Centrum, Open Universiteit, available at

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