All learning comes from change! All learning is change!

potpourri of opportunities

We are social animals, said Aristotle;

the technology of writing is bad for us, said Socrates;

we learn so much more through play, said Plato!

These thoughts, I think sum up nicely our journey on this planet and beyond and also say loads about my life as an academic developer and our purpose to change  practices and the student experience in Higher Education. When I started writing this post, my thoughts took me to places which might seem disconnected but if you read this post carefully you will discover that it is deeply interwoven with thoughts about learning and teaching, and reveal how I see things and how these are inter-connected.

We are explorers, we use our curiosity and imagination for discoveries. We experiment, we use and make tools and we learn and evolve; we survive and thrive and push the boundaries and make the impossible possible!

And while we keep saying it is not about the tools, I would like to reflect on the importance of tools. We shape tools and the tools shape us said Marshall McLuhan. Humans were always resourceful. When we lived in caves, in big forests, in villages, in towns, in big cities, in hostile environments, in physical and digital spaces, in space. And we have mastered to connect these spaces and we are connected communities. Our brain grew because we started using it more and more; we pick up objects and use them as tools, we modify them and make our own tools and we make tools to make other tools. Progressively our tools have became more complex and sophisticated as we realised the significance of these for human kind and the potential and the places and spaces they were and are taking us. Our shopping basket of knowledge is full and expanding rapidly as we speak. Aesop said we are only limited by our imagination. Exchange and co-creation; learning from our own stories and experiences; our mistakes and misfortunes but also from our successes, connecting information, resources and ideas but also people, living, working, creating, learning and changing together. Playing too, is a necessity. Shaping and re-shaping who we are, what we know and imagining the future… shaping the today and tomorrow. The human web!

There will always be voices and actions to hold us back, boulders on our paths, some of them strategically or politically. The world is moving and we move on it and with it. Stopping is no option. We need to adjust and adapt to the environments we live in and make it a life worthwhile for us and future generations. Nothing can happen without learning. Learning is change! Change is learning!

We live in the digital age where opportunities for learning have exploded, literally. We live in physical and virtual jungles and try to make sense of it all. And we keep learning. We still love learning with others, we still love making stuff, we still love sharing. We always will… I dare to say. Digital technologies have ‘invated’ our lives, diversification, internationalisation and massification of higher education are on the menu. We express our hunger for creation and are now enabled to do so easily and quickly. We carry around with us smart devices that constantly link us up with information, resources and people. We learn how to navigate, communicate, co-operate and collaborate in vast networks. We learn how to harness digital technologies and create new opportunities for learning and teaching using these. Learning happens everywhere. Learning and teaching that happens exclusively within institutional walls, detouched from the world around is anachronistic and presents an utopic way of being. Opening-up, embracing change is vital to thrive and create new paths that will lead us into a brighter future. This is easier said than done and there is resistance… I have experienced this many time in my role as an Academic Developer. Kinash & Wood (2013, 184) wrote recently, and I can’t resist quoting it here, that “academic development means that people in these roles figuratively put their heads where bullets fly.” This is so true! Often we are indeed in the firing line! I have a little message hanging on my office door saying “only dead fish swim with the stream”. I think this says something about my approach to academic development, and learning and teaching more generally. We do need to learn to cope better with change and take advantage of changes. We need to take risks! We need to be the change we want to happen. After all learning comes from change! Learning is change!


Kinash, S & Wood, K (2013) Academic developer identity: how we know who we are, in International Journal for Academic Development, Vol. 18, No. 2, 178-189.

Linking own thinking, practice and readings #SLEC2012 (week 2)

everything flows

everything flows

The landscape of teaching and learning in Higher Education (HE) is changing. It has been changing for a while now. The student body has never been so diverse, rapid technological advancements and accessibility and usability of social and mobile media can no longer be ignored together with the socio-economical backdrop in our own backyard but also further afield. We talk about learning happening outside institutions in informal and non-formal settings. When referring to students, people often talk about customers. This worries me a lot! and universities are becoming businesses or factories but of what? Are universities today focusing on surviving or thriving? In Scott (2003) we read “If [universities) don’t respond appropriately, their present form, is threatened.” (p. 66) And if universities are indeed changing, or should change, how will they look like and what will their role be? What are universities for? Scott mentions that “it has been suggested that their distinctive contribution should be in developing the creative, social, critical, and intellectual capital of the nation and that they should not seek simply to replicate the work of vocational-training providers. “ (p. 68) Is this happening currently and to what extend? What are the opportunities and what the challenges to achieve this?

What does the current situation, the developments mean for teaching and Learning in Higher Education and for Academic Developers more specifically, if we are as Roche (2010) calls us agents of transformational change? Can transformational change be achieved at personal and institutional level and how, if this is what we desire to do? Mezirow (1997) has discussed extensive transformative learning through which a shift in attitudes and behaviours can be achieved far more than skills development and training and mechanical quick fixes which are bad for us as Roche (2003) states. Is this the way forward and if it is, how can transformative learning happen?

Lawson (2009) refers to learning through regular dialogue to improve teaching and Academic Developers play a vital role in creating the conditions and the opportunities for dialogue with academics on a day-to-day basis.

For Anderson (1995) Academic Developers are peer-consultants. Elton (1995) calls us strategic agents for change and in Roche (2010) we are agents of transformative change. However we are called, these are just names. The important bit is not how we are called but what we do, or should be doing. Everybody seems generally to agree that our role is to support academics and 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. Academic Developers also engage, or should have the opportunity to engage in educational research and enjoy the freedom to pursue their professional interests linked to learning and teaching that might not be linked to institutional priorities (Boud, 1995). This is indeed vital and can be highly motivational too. Too often we are reminded of institutional priorities that drive change. But is this really the right and only way forward?

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).

He also states “Change comes from seeing possibilities, creating opportunities from mistakes and unexpected experiences (often negative ones).” (p. 173)

Roche’s words helped me to understand and make sense of what I am going through at the moment, the dilemmas I am confronted but also where my focus should be to identify the most meaningful and productive way forward.

However, in order for change to happen or occur, if any of these words is the right one (what about achieve?) we need to feel empowered too. Too often academic developers, feel that they have to follow the leader instead of co-leading development activities and initiatives. Brungardt (submitted) states that leaderships is a relationship in which “all active players practice influence.” (p. 1) and this can only happen if the leaders take into account the voices of the followers (Rost,1991) How can this be practised within Academic Development Units?

unlocking is needed

unlocking is needed

At the heart of these interventions are people and I can see very clear links between this approach and coaching. If we want them to transform their practice, we need to have them on board. We can’t do their job for them. We can’t change anybody. They need to want to change and change themselves and their practice. We need to enable them to envisage how success looks like but also how this would feel for them. We need to make them 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 behavious 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. As Peter Kahn says “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 and innovation and transformative change and learning too.

I see coaching as a way to enable individuals and groups to fulfil their potential, grow and develop and am not sure why this has not been recognised more widely as an opportunity for academic development and HE more general, while coaching is used extensively in Business but also in other educational settings such as Primary, Secondary, Further Education and Adult Learning.  Within my own institutions I have started working with colleagues from HR Development to develop a coaching framework for the academic community and I am really pleased that there is great interest and support for this initiative.

Really pleased  that I read these articles provided on the SLEC2012 course, especially because I could draw parallels between these and my practice.


Andresen L (1995) Accredited Courses in Teaching and Learning, in Bashiran, A & 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 [accessed 7 Nov 2011]

Boud, D (1995) Meeting the Challenges, in Brew, A (ed.) Directions in Staff Development, Buckingham: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press, pp. 203-223.

Brungardt, C. (submitted) The New Face of Leadership: Implications for Higher Education, Horizon,

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.

Lawson, D (2009) The CETL Experience, in: Ramsden, P (ed.) Teachers as learners – the development of academic staff, HEA: Academy Exchange 8, August 2009, pp. 22-23.

Mezirow, J (1997) Transformative Learning: Theory to Practice, in: Transformative Learning in Action: Insights from Practice. New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education. no. 74, edited by P. Cranton, San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, pp. 5–12.

Rose, E. And Buckley, S. (1999) Self-directed Work Teams, American Society for Training and Development (ASTD), Alexandria (VA).

Rost, J. C. (1993) Leadership Development in the New Millenniumm, The Journal of Leadership Studies: 91-110.

Roche, V. (2003) Being an agent of change, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A guide to Staff & Educational Development, Oxon: Routledge.

Scott, G. (2003) Effective Change Management in Higher Education, EDUCAUSE review, Nov/Dec. Pp. 64-80.