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.

time never stops #SLEC2012 (week 2)

zoooooooooooooming through time

time never stops

This week was mad. I remember myself running around on Tuesday morning – Monday has been erased from my memory completely – like a headless chicken to fit everything in, get everything ready, get organised, before leaving for Brighton. I wish I had some heelys or roller skates or could make things happen by pushing a magic button!!! – but this wouldn’t be fun… Most of my week was spent at the ECEL2011 conference in Brighton, which was very useful and I am glad I could go, but did take me away from my weekly activities linked to the PGCAP (planning for next sessions and supporting students) but also the SLEC course – I missed the contact with my own students but also the opportunity to engage with the SLEC course online.

The wifi was highly problematic in the hotel (was it the sea?) and I couldn’t follow fresh conversations in Moodle. However, I just managed to read some of the stuff on the train, this also didn’t work very well because I started feeling dizzy. I just wish I wouldn’t be dizzy so easily…  I am hopeless! The good thing was that I did get some fresh sea air (really had missed the smell of proper sea wind) and had plenty of opportunities to think about my practice. So in fact I was engaged but in a different way this week in spirit I was actually there. I know it is not the same and I hope to catch up next week.  I am conscious that I need to provide feedback to some of my students and that this has been delayed more than I wanted to because of this trip. I must do this my top priority now that I am back.

Of all the readings this week, one phrase by Scott (2003) stayed with me and reminded me of  something very important:

“Taking what looks like a potentially relevant, desirable, and feasible change idea and making it work in practice is by far the hardest part of quality improvement and innovation process.” (p. 70)

At times, I have to admit, I am impatient with myself and want everything to work first time because I feel so excited when I have an idea and am curious to find out how it will work in practice. Then disappointment fills me when it doesn’t work and criticism arrives… but I do pick up myself again and more forward. I have managed to do this so far. In the whole process, however, I need to remember to see my ideas more like work-in-progress material and understand that ideas need time to develop into concepts and become something useful and of value. But I think I also need to tell students that this is the case and that we are learning on this together.

Roche (2003) notes 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). Is this easily done? It is a useful perspective to have and one that will help you overcome some of the barriers we are facing when doing risky things. All  criticisms is of course useful, even the most extreme one! We learn by doing and from making mistakes and observing others mistakes too. The person who doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t usually do much… this is a fact. And the more we do the more mistakes we make, this is another fact. Roche (2003) states “Change comes from seeing possibilities, creating opportunities from mistakes and unexpected experiences (often negative ones).” (p. 173) To contextualise this a bit, I guess, I could mention briefly the creativity game idea that I have tried in various settings for a few years now and I kept making changes to improve it. It was just this semester, however, when this idea matured and turned into a real concept. The “Sell your bargains” game. There were loads of bits woolly (too woolly?), before defining more clearly the pedagogical rationale and I think for the very first time all players recognised the value of this game for their practice.

A thought from Moodle follows which was posted in response to somebody else’s posting. These few lines made me think a bit more, a bit deeper and in different directions too.

“In my experience many educational developers feel passionately about what they do, but this can be evidenced either as trying to persuade by sharing that passion – heart- or blinding with evidence, theories (brute logic?) – mind. or both. I like your description of being there at the right time and asking the right questions – can be difficult to know what is the right question sometimes.


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

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.


Is being uncomfortable bad for us? #SLEC2012 (week 1)

A break, what break?

A break, what break?

Well, week 1 of the Supporting and Learning Educational Change (SLEC) Programme run by SEDA is coming to an end and while I see teaching as an opportunity to learn, challenge myself and others, it is different when you become a learner on a formal course. Not so long ago, I completed my second Masters qualification fully online at Edinburgh Napier University and have only good memories and learnt a lot.  I am sure the SLEC programme will be equally beneficial and help me develop further as an Academic Developer.

Now it is time again to study within pre-defined structures and I can appreciate and empathise how it feels for our students on the PGCAP. People naturally learn in more organic ways, I would say, and are resistant to anything that is too prescriptive. I have found the Emergent Learning Framework by Fred Garnett useful and enlightening in this aspect and it does raise the question of the purpose of education, how it is offered today and where we should/could be heading. Learning will emerge out of necessity. But is this always the case? What other factors make learning happen? The social environment plays a vital part in this.

A question that follows me around for a while now is “Is learning changing?” and I thought that it would be a good idea to ask Fred about this and I did in the summer when he visited us.

And if learning is changing, what does this mean for teaching?Can we afford to do the same things year after year and ignore the changes around us?

People seem to find too pre-scriptive environments re-strictive. Well, I do anyway. Others, I am sure feel safer when there are boxes and structures. But is this linked to our desire to have control and be in control? To be and feel safe? Something to think about. A new programme can be overwhelming, especially at the beginning, when we try and make sense of things, so many things at the same time, and develop an effective way to learn within the given framework. Learners want to enjoy the freedom of enquiry, to have the time and space to learn. But is this always possible? When we study towards a qualification on a formal programme, there are constraints and we need to learn to learn in this way too. It is challenging I have to say. Currently, I am so busy at work (was there every a time I wasn’t? – is time a typical student excuse?) and work is already taking over my personal life (I am reminded of this regularly). This is how it feels for a while now. Finding a balance between personal and professional life, especially, if you are passionate about your job and your job is more than just a job, is difficult. I need to learn how to do this properly, somehow.

I have found this SLEC week interesting but had to fit study in late in the evenings when I am brain-dead and this is not good. So when could I find or make time for this course? I need to work this out very soon so that I get the maximum out of this course and use this great opportunity to connect with colleagues from other institutions.

Reading the stories by other educational and academic developers on the SLEC has been fascinating and I could easlily relate to most of them and have included some of their voices below.

A: “an element of ‘resistance’ from colleagues who were then ‘required by their line manager/Institution’ to undertake what amounted to undertaking the professional qualification to do the job.”

B: “I see my role as a change agent like ‘Castrol Oil’ getting to all those nooks and crannies and difficult places of an engine. I agree with Chrissi in that we need to unblock, unlock and be the ‘grit in the oyster’ with others we work with but I believe the way we should do that is through creating connections and collaborative relationships across the silos of academic departments and break down some of the ‘tribes and territories’ that exist within Universities.

C: “part of my job as Educational Development Manager [is] to expose staff to the possibilities for change.”

D: “Changing a fundamental process […] across an institution is a risky business in an environment governed by league tables and the national student survey. Academic views are positively hostile to this change.”

E: (Talking about taking over a disasterous PgCert programme) “It was hard work and used every ounce of creativity, coaching, facilitation and negotiation skills I had, but was worth it in the end. And as a result I gained a lot of friends and supporters from amongst the academic community who couldn’t believe that they had actually finished the programme. They still work with me and support me today even after I have left !

F: “understand the context. […] we needed to understand what motivated the people in the room to be there. Only then could we hope to understand why we were there.”

G: “it was inspiring to work with people who see the role of education in (re)building a sense of community, purpose and identity, and who value therefore, not only their own work, but the work of those of us who can help them develop it.”

Reading the above, the full stories by others and reflecting on my own experiences, I would say, that being an Academic Developer is so rewarding when we can make it work, especially if we win over all the people (or at least some of them) who initially don’t see value in our work or way of working. Yes, we do alienate some… and many feel uncomfortable with our approaches… The negative connotations our work has are also mentioned in Stefani (2010) who also highlights 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” (10-11). Academic Developers are, or should be, in my opinion, people-people, risky at times (or always?) and work hard to build bridges to communicate and connect with others, to create opportunities for collaborations and partnerships (Stefani, 2010) that will lead to mutual understanding, acceptance, trust, learning and change based on a sound pedagogical rationale which is not always shared explicitly but this does happen for a good reason. Can you work it out?

Anyway, I wish I had made more time to engage this week but next week will be even harder… unfortunately. What will I do? I think I would benefit from peer learning and might look for a buddy on this programme so that we can motivate each other. Anybody interested to learn with me?

Usually it is me who provides feedback on reflections completed by our PGCAP students. I am now wondering if any of my students will comment on my reflections. I hope somebody will, so that we can discuss some of the things I am thinking about and am capturing in this post.


Stefani, L. (2003) What is staff and educational development?, in: Kahn, P. and Baume, D. (eds.) A guide to Staff & Educational Development, Oxon: Routledge.