Thoughts on Chapter 1 of A Guide to Staff & Educational Development

A Definition

Development definition image from dictionary

Development Definition

Stefani (2003) argues that the complexity of the role of Ed. Dev. coupled with a general lack of common understanding of the development aspect means we might better focus our attention on articulating why and how we do things instead of what be do. I agree with the focus on what we achieve but feel that our key stakeholders such as PVC academics don’t really care about the why or how. They want action and results. This has been highlighted to me recently by our move into Human Resources. We seem to be fighting a battle to articulate why we are different from HR and that how we do things does not always sit easy with how things are done from a HR perspective. One of the bigger issues in on the use of online toolkits. Having done many of them myself, they are very much in the compliance / tick-box type of e-learning. For me this is not what Ed Dev is about. It appears to be more important to see big numbers of staff completing such toolkits rather than being concerned with whether we actual bring about changes  in staff that benefit the student experience.

So have we failed to articulate the why and how or does it just not matter in the current climate?

An Approach

I like the ideas mentioned from Hicks (1999) who offers 3 key ideas on Ed Dev which are pedagogically sound, discipline relevant & impact on the students’ learning. These are noble ideas which resonate with me.

This prompted me to think of our new feedback policy. Good pedagogy suggests that timely feedback is crucial and yet it also needs to be ‘high-value’ (Hounsell 2007). The university where I work has implemented a policy for reducing the time taken to give feedback to students with the aim of improving students learning (or possibly more cynically improving the scores the students give in the NSS!) Yet anecdotally there are suggestions that whilst the speed has gone up the quality has gone down which I would suggest will lead to poorer student learning. As Ed developers we know from experience and the literature that there are ways of speeding up feedback and retaining the quality but the policy is a big stick and we are but small carrots!!! The hope is that the policy and the attendant challenges to the quality of the feedback will give us an ‘in’ in terms of being able to develop this area with large numbers of staff. Is this how we must operate; influence the policy first then pick up the work that falls from this?

Training?

On Page 17 Stefani unfortunately falls into denigrating my own most recent discipline area. She writes “educational developers are, one hopes, adopting a scholarly rather than a training focus” This seems to imply that training is not scholarly yet I spent 7 years convincing training professionals that their work should be scholarly and that is was pointless if it was not based on sound pedagogy and research. If I seem over sensitive to this it is because of the messages I hear in my own unit in relation to Human Resource Development (HRD). “We don’t just do training”. As though training is some lesser endeavour not worthy of our intellect. Should we not be equipping our  lecturers with the skills to teach more effectively through training and development underpinned by pedagogic research. It is the training aspect that often provides the ‘in’ and the motivation that allows us to then draw this out into helping staff to understand the pedagogic underpinnings.

Conclusions

This is all a bit random at the moment and possibly it won’t start to take shape until I have the chance to interact with peers and read their posts. So no conclusions as yet but watch this space…

References

Hicks, O. (1999) Integration of central and departmental development: reflections from Australia, International Journal for Academic Development, vol.4 no.1 pp 43-51

Hounsell, D. (2007) ‘Towards More Sustainable Feedback’ in Boud, D. & Falchikov, N. (2007) Rethinking Assessment in Higher Education, London: Routledge

Stefani, L. (2003) What is Staff and Educational Development? in Kahn, P. & Baume, D. (2003) A Guide to Staff & Educational Development, Abingdon: Routledge

A Switch in Roles – from Teacher to Student

I have been asked to write a short story illustrating some aspect of my role in educational development. The obvious thought for me was how difficult it can be to switch roles from being the teacher / lecturer to being the student. Anyone who has worked on a PGCert in HE will have come across the reluctant lecturer, who is probably in our session on a compulsory basis, who seems to absolve themselves of adult sensibilities and seems to want to behave like the worst of students (and that is probably being unfair to students!) Here goes:

“Is it the equipment or the user?” The voice, dripping with sarcasm and unspoken contempt, piped up from the floor. Just loud enough to be heard by all but quiet enough not to be directly addressed by the lecturer. The animosity from the student is becoming palpable. No-one responds. The response comes later; in private; in one to one meetings. Some students are dissatisfied with such comments from a peer. The lecturers discuss how to tackle the negative and unprofessional behaviour. “Why would staff exhibit such behaviour?” they ask. “How would they feel if their students did the same to them?” The answers are obvious but the resolution is less so.

Hopefully, we don’t find this situation happening too often but it prompts be to reflect on my own responses when placed in the role of student / learner on a formal course. It also illustrates the broader challenge in my role and I’m sure your roles as well of developing people who don’t want to be developed! If we are to meet organisational goals there will always be an element of compulsory development and it is the challenge of addressing the ‘unwilling’ that is both fascinating and frustrating!

Starting a course

My thoughts on starting a new online course.

1. Getting to grips with a new VLE (in this case Moodle) is frustrating. I can’t seem to post to most of the forums and I don’t know why – is it me or is it something to do with how it is set up?

2. I am keen to get ahead of the curve in order to stay on top of everything in terms of the workload. Got intentions maybe but how realistic is it. How many of our students start with the same intentions and then life gets in the way!

3. Writing – I have no problem with reflective writing but I am really rubbish at writing stories (one of the tasks we have been asked to do). And yes I know practice helps but my previous attempts have never been successful. Should we keep trying at things we are not good at or accept our weaknesses and work to our strengths? For me the answer depends on the weakness. I can’t imagine ever needing to be a good story writer so feel less inclined to worry about my skills in this area. However, if it was a skill more pertinent to my work or life then I would be inclined to work on it. I guess this chimes with two of Malcolm Knowles’ assumptions of adult learners – ”

3. Readiness to learn. As a person matures his readiness to learn becomes oriented increasingly to the developmental tasks of his social roles.

4. Orientation to learning. As a person matures his time perspective changes from one of postponed application of knowledge to immediacy of application, and accordingly his orientation toward learning shifts from one of subject-centeredness to one of problem centredness.” Knowles 1984:12

(Knowles, M. et al (1984) Andragogy in Action. Applying modern principles of adult education, San Francisco: Jossey Bass.)

4. I am also considering myself as a learner in formal settings. I enjoy reflecting and learning from my experiences and life in general. As someone who teaches, I always find it difficult to transition to the role of student / participant. My comments  are always along the lines of, “I wouldn’t have done it this way”, although I do of course appreciate that there are many valid and useful ways of teaching the same thing. However, it is difficult to escape the being in that ‘meta’ role of not just learning the material presented but also evaluating the teaching that is occurring. Occupational hazard I guess and at least it shows the ingrained habit in my own practice to evaluate everything I do and to reflect on it.