in the state of upside down #SLEC2012 (week 4)

I just love that song. It makes me feel good whatever mood I am in and especially when I am feeling down. So uplifting! Full of energy!

I think we would all benefit from the state of upside down for a bit or a bit longer than just a bit to be able to see and experience things from a completely different perspective. How does the world look like upside down? How do we look like upside down? How does everybody else look upside down? And since we can’t all be astronauts and experience what that means literally, maybe we could attempt to explore it at least metaphorically.

Well, as academic developers or agents of change (Elton, 1995; Roche, 2003) I am wondering which changes we promote most. Does it really matter, if these changes are coming from the top, the bottom, outside, inside or from our own individual and collective professional  shopping basket? I think it does even if some try and put us into tiny little shoeboxes with little fresh air to breath, no space to run, no water and sun to grow. Boud (1995) states  that developers should also be able to pursue personal professional interests which are not necessarily aligned with institutional priorities – so pleased that somebody else feels too that this is important – and Eastcott and Thew (2003) remind us also there is a need to  juggle priorities with sensitivity. In the shopping basket of priorities are internal, external and our own agendas. We need to identify ways to be more strategic. We are often told and reminded, to make bigger impact and ‘infect’ as many as possible. This does sound like a war scenario… and it might even feel like one at times…  But even if we loose a battle, we haven’t lost the whole war. I don’t like wars. I don’t like fighting. I think there are other ways to achieve greater things. Could we focus more on construction instead of de-struction? Building bridges that have the power to connect people, ideas, concepts and visions?

So what could we do? Well, we live in turbulent times, as Eastcott and Thew (2003) predicted almost 10 years ago. Today, our times are more turbulant than every and everything is in constant flow. Time never stops and things change all the time faster and faster these days. Just go and watch a movie. What do you notice? Well, I noticed that they are all high-speed. Everything is in zooooooming mode. It is hard to keep up. But what does constant and rapid change mean for our work? What does it mean for the alliances we are forming, re-forming, co-forming? Is there a need to be strategic?

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?

Let's fly together

Let's fly together

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 donkeys. 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.

Am I worthless?


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 but we need alies. This is my personal view on this.

Something else before, I finish this post which is disconnected with all the above, well not completely but it is in a way. My thoughts around teaching real students triggered a discussion with other academic developers in Moodle recently. Some of them also recognise the value in teaching ‘real’ students and I thought to include their observations below:

“Needing to maintain the value of our ‘currency’.  To be able to say to our colleagues “well, when I was teaching students last week…” etc.  That seems very important, now you’ve pointed it out!”

“I agree with you both about the value of maintaining contact with ‘real’ students – without this, we are perhaps too removed from the ‘coal face’ to appreciate the effects of development activities.”

“Somewhere else on this course people have talked about getting currency by working with students and I am becoming aware that after 27 years of teaching I am really, really missing by teaching practice with undergraduate students. I am involved in the educational development of students, but these students are colleagues who are studying on the PgC, and they are very different to work with.”

“I also agree that it is helpful if we maintain contact with ‘real’ students – ie other than our colleagues on PG Certs and the like. Colleagues in Health, such as nurses and midwives, have to maintain their practice by ‘getting their hands dirty’ on the ward with real patients if they want to keep thier professional standing-  I wonder if SEDA should consider including this as a condition of Fellowship.”

“Yes, I’d go with that too, not only on the grounds that so many of you have indicated already, but also because I think it would communicate something to the academic colleagues with whom we’re working most of the time: i.e. that we’re ‘real’ teachers. At the same time it would be quite daunting. Imagine if a teaching educational developer got poor student feedback! Or if colleagues were really not impressed… or were so impressed they succumbed to professional jealousy or intimidation… I sense a minefield to be negotiated, but I would still support the idea. ”

“I agree – seems very logical, so why doesn’t it happen more? Is it because Ed dev is an “HR function and what’s that got to do with students…?” (as many would say). On a pragmatic note (or perhaps as devil’s advocate), how many of us would have access to opportunities to teach ‘real students’, unless we have a foot in two camps (i.e. one ed dev, and one in discipline x or y).  I used to be in that position (it was exhausting), and I know many of us still are, but would enforcing it only serve to emphasise the (false)argument that educational or academic development isn’t a proper disciplinary field in its own right?  So I find myself coming round in a circular argument to the point that all students are real students – even if they are our colleagues on PGCerts etc (or would-be SEDA fellows on an online learning programme!)  Yes, let’s seize opportunites to teach as wide a range of students as possible, but perhaps we shouldn’t worry too much about categorising them.”

I would really be interested to find out how our current PGCAP students feel about the above and if it would indeed make a difference to them if we, academic developers, also had the opportunity to teach ‘real’ students.


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.

Eastcott, D. and Thew, N. (2003) Working creatively with national agendas, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A guide to Staff & Educational Development, Oxon: Routledge.

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.