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SEDA Conference 2010: David Green keynote

Constructive realignment? UK educational development from the outside

Opening keynote from the SEDA conference in Chester was given by David Green from the University of Seattle. David used to work in the UK so gave an interesting perspective on the differences between educational development in the UK and the US.

Unsurprisingly there is uncertainty in the US HE sector, just as in the UK.

David spoke of the notion of taking on different roles in educational development, drawing on the work of Catherine Manathunga and describing his career as non linear, moving from different roles such as a tourist, native, hostage, undocumented worker, holiday maker, asylum seeker to finally an immigrant – both literally and metaphorically.  I liked this notion of the non linearity and complexity of our roles as educational developers and using travel metaphors.

He described US HE as not as quality controlled or outcomes based as the UK.  There is a lot of freedom granted to individual lecturers as so much is taught a module level.  Working with programmes is virtually unheard of due to the way that US students study individual modules and combine these with their work.  This means that US educational developers work frequently in 1-2-1s, they do not run PG Cert programmes but they do run workshops on key topics.  There are three rules that underpin all US educational development centres – their work is voluntary, they are confidential (despite pressures from management to reveal who they work with) and individual.  This works well in terms of the sector. The equivalent of SEDA in the US is POD – http://www.podnetwork.org/

With the caveat that all reality is partial, citing Salman Rushdie we “see reality through broken shards of mirror”, David went on to consider the UK educational development context. From the US perspective, educational development in the UK seems very well structured (the Professional Standards Framework is an example of this), successful (consider resources of the HEA, SEDA’s professional development framework, the CeTLs and Subject Centres) and strategic – many educational development units have achieved a lot in terms of impacting on institutional strategy – but has this been achieved at a cost to their own development?

He then moved on to consider whether we really want the things we desire?  Both in the UK and the US these centres are vulnerable, so what has being strategic in the UK really given us?  Are we just determined by the whims of senior management?  We need to work more with departmental heads and the “rank and file” who are key advocates, especially when senior management teams can change rapidly.

Although there are a lot of workshops in the UK on educational development, we are not devoting enough time to publishing research and peer reviewed scholarly activity.  SEDA could play a role here.

There were four ways in which we could be more sustainable:

  • Should we actually be being less “strategic” and work more on the margins?  Interpreting and working more closely with individual staff and students, and less at mercy of senior management changes? He cited the work of Baume and Kahn (2004) (Enhancing Staff and Educational Development) in relation to educational developers being “exemplary”.  For me this struck a chord as relates to my thinking on leadership – the modelling the way – and how this is important for the LDC team
  • We need to focus on spending time writing for publication, research says that spending 30 minutes a day writing is more productive than writing in big spurts.  I really need to take an approach to this and think this would help me achieve a more manageable output, this also relates to discussions I had last night about approaching CPD recording. My blog helps with this too but I need to be more disciplined with this so I get less stressed!!
  • We should also focus on getting qualifications, phds etc, to increase our academic credibility
  • Learning to say no and stop doing certain activities. If we have less resource this will be inevitable.

There were three ways in which he felt we could prioritise:

  • Take time to do research. This makes us more credible
  • Teach real students. Not just staff as students. I guess in other words, continue link to your discipline area. Again this helps with credibility
  • Do the things that we really love – or at least the one thing that we really love

I very much enjoyed this presentation and thought that the ideas were very sensible. Again the messages were things that I had thought of at other times but they were reinforced. Particularly the credibility and exemplary nature of the work we do as well as the enjoyment factor.  I’m going to write another blog post about this in the vein of the Times Higher #loveHE strand.  Also the importance of research and performing this in manageable chunks.

One Person has left comments on this post



» Martin Oliver said: { Nov 18, 2010 - 01:11:03 }

Interesting talk, by the sound of it. I’m struck by the similarity of this advice to something Ron Barnett once said in a writing workshop I was at: a page a day is a book a year. I know – my immediate response was, would that I could write a page each day…! He went on to say that his (fairly prodigious) output was written almost entirely at home, outside of office hours; so it seems it’s never been easy to do this. And he was a mainstream academic (not always, but for several years), with research as part of his job description … which isn’t always true for educational developers/ learning technologists/ etc. I suspect it might be increasingly hard to justify that in an environment where all time is held to account…

I’ve also been more concerned, lately, with whom we’re credible to. I’d agree with all these points if we want to be credible to the academics we try to work with – but I know some managers who see research, credentials and self-indulgent choices (“things that we really love”) as undermining our credibility. If we can’t do our (instrumental) job well because this stuff is distracting us, well… [nods towards the bottom line]. Less of an issue with teaching, actually, since real money can be attributed to that, but other stuff… tricky.


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