on a scholarly approach to teaching enhancement

image of bookshelves and a mobile device showing wikipedia

I’ve meant from the start to write a post about the blog title. Why Digital Academic? Why not Digital Shifts or TEL Tells or.so on… there were enough reasons but always something else to write about instead.

18 months on, it’s come to the forefront…

I was told by a colleague this week that I’m not an academic because I don’t have an academic contract. My professional services contract defines what I do.  Since changing from an A to a PS contract I’ve wondered what the difference means in practice. What should I change?  Stop learning? Stop researching?  Look different?

cartoon image of an owl sitting on a book

We were discussing our restructure. My job description as Academic TEL Advisor always differed from the other TEL Advisors because Technology had been replaced with Pedagogy. Our recent plans for a learning design approach (which might or might not include the T word) originated from this difference. Putting pedagogy first is attracting the more digitally shy or resistant to the table – those we might not usually get to talk to.

During the restructure conversation,  I said I wanted to have scholarship made explicit in our new roles as Teaching Enhancement Advisors. By this I meant:

  • Scholarship as per the HEA’s 2015 research into the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ScoTL).
  • Scholarship as in being research informed and research engaged.
  • Scholarship which includes
    • having conceptual frameworks,
    • being a ‘research-led form of professional development’
    • having ‘the potential to inform policy and practice at institutional level, for example, in career development and in the promotion and recognition of teaching excellence’ See the HEA Summary Report

Teaching excellence is everywhere these days! HE is currently on the crest of the big data wave informed TEF (or Tsunami, depending on your POV). Like it or not, the TEF is here and affects perception which in turn effects student cohorts, curriculum design, learning spaces, public engagement etc.

The TEF might be drawing attention to T&L but shouldn’t all our teaching enhancement interventions be underpinned with scholarly approaches anyway – pedagogy first rather than technology determinism?

image showing open book, glasses and mobile phone

So what does it mean to be scholarly?

I don’t think by definition it’s only a postgraduate occupation although at institutions where you already need a doctorate to become a lecturer, it’s even more important those on professional services have the opportunity to study.   Librarians do doctorates. Administrators do too.  I struggle with time constraints and self-funding but think of my PhD as a privileged opportunity to get up close and personal with the processes of knowledge construction and dissemination – the heart of the HE endeavour. A professional services contract does not and should not exclude you from professional development although where it means you have to be self-funding it does becomes discriminatory and unequal.

Back to contract status.

What difference does having (or not having) the word academic in your contract mean?  Isn’t ‘academic’ itself a state of mind? Shouldn’t we all be exercising our sociological imaginations and asking questions, making the familiar strange.*’ Isn’t being scholarly just a case of seeing the larger picture and using evidence to justify your position?

art gallery showing questions and answers processes

There’s never been a greater need for scholarly critique. The future is precarious. Climate change is happening. The bees are troubled and the internet transforming what it means to be posthuman.

There’s no escape from the social impact of the internet. Digital divides between people like myself, with physical and virtual identities, and colleagues who openly state they ‘don’t do technology’ have never been deeper. The question is what to do about it. Should institutions be insisting on digital engagement and if so – how? It all comes back to digital shifts.

cartoon showing the devil relating torture to powerpoint

I might be wrong. They may not matter – clearly they’re not relevant to some – but if you work in HE you’re connected to the student experience and I’d suggest being aware of the implications of teaching or learning in a digital age is part of what you do.

Back to the war of the words. The clinching phrase from the original conversation was ‘you may want to be on an academic contract but you’re not.‘  That’s me told then!

Am I bovered?

Having chosen to put this in the public domain it might look like I am, but tbh, so long as it isn’t detrimental, I don’t mind what I’m called. It’s more about the semantics than the status. I’ll always be a reader, thinker and writer. I’m comfortable with a ‘digital academic’ identity but also have a fundamental belief that what you do has more credibility when informed by the appropriate literature**.  Just because an employment contract says PS and not A, it should never preclude a scholarly approach.

teddy bear reading a book


*  from C Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination

** Mark Carrigan offers an interesting persepctive on ‘the literature’  https://markcarrigan.net/2016/11/25/what-is-the-literature/  a topic for another blog post in the future


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Let’s…

crowd of lego people

Stumbled onto a video of Gardener Campbell talking about educating the whole person.  Sidetracked through the serendipity which characterises the internet. Start at A and find yourself at Q and R without being too sure how.

On the way I bumped into teaching scholarship – as you do – and an interesting analogy from the late 1990’s by Randy Bass in The Scholarship of Teaching: What’s the Problem? Citing Boyer, Bass claims problems in research are welcomed while problems in teaching are seen as failures of practice. Boyer’s Scholarship Reconsidered (1990) is remains a seminal work on SoTL (less than Scholarship Reassessed (1997) by Glassick, Huber, Maeroff) and its principles of scholarly approaches to teaching still hold i.e. ‘It should be public, susceptible to critical review and evaluation, and accessible for exchange and use by other members of one’s scholarly community.’ (Bass, 1999:2)

The HEA report Defining and supporting the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) a sector wide study suggests SoTL themes hve expanded. They may now involve peer review, CoP and more interdisciplinary approaches. It also involves student engagement through redesign of curricula which encourage undergraduates to be research informed and engaged. The HEA report claims continued confusion around the definition and practice of SoTL. It recommends linking SoTL to the TEF, adding CPD to workload models, making SoTL more explicit in the UKPSF and greater recognition  of SoTL across all REF units of measurement.

baby with a laptop

The value of SoTL is in the L. How students Learn. Few benefit from lecture style transmission of content unless it’s recorded so they can revisit and review. I’m unlikely to meet Gardener Campbell but have watched and listened, paused to revisit, shared (seen it reshared) and stored the link for future reference.

Any HEI with a policy for recording timetabled teaching sessions supports their students learning. They can catch up on what they’ve missed through illness or unforeseen circumstances and have meaningful discussions; the benefit of so called flipped learning i.e. access to transmitted content at a time and place which suits then get together – face to face or online – for discussion with the benefit of time to reflect and craft comments. A deeper  approach which – if linked to a collaborative document – presents opportunities to extend learning by searching and sharing associated links, commenting on the contributions of others and summarising the whole learning experience. What’s not to like?

logo for Box of Broadcasts

Using audio and video is a no-brainer. So much content is freely available (eg British Film InstituteFilm Education,  Vimeo, YouTube, Teacher Tube, Ted Talks, Khan Academy, MIT) or licenced for use within UK HE like the excellent Box of Broadcasts (BoB). You can make your own audio/video with webcams and mobile devices although this raises the DC (digital capabilities) issue. Not  problem. Lets link it to scholarly practice and persuade institutions to invest in the digital skills of their staff as professional development. It also raises issues of IP which can be complex and opening the copyright box will be the topic of a follow-on blog (brave, stupid or what?!)  😉

footprints

Back to Gardener Campbell and Educating the Whole Person. Gardener says granular analytics does not represent the whole person yet the current push towards big data claims it can be used to design personalised learning. How? Footfalls and logins give little meaningful information about learning. Counting the number of VLE sites is irrelevant compared to what goes on there. Ditto forum posts. The data tells us nothing about content quality. We need more critical thinking around the types of data collected and why.

climbing a wall

It all comes back to scholarship. Inquiry into what you do and why you do it. How do you know it works? Where is the evidence of impact? SoTL provides a framework for taking this forward.

Lets be more joined up about linking CPD with Academic Practice. Encourage action research, action learning sets, appreciative inquiry, critical reflection and loops of experiential learning.

Let’s make opportunities to get people around a table to talk about teaching, underpinned with research into how students learn, and how best to design learning experiences which can be personalised to encourage motivation, enthusiasm and ownership.

Lets start investing as much into learning and teaching as we do research and technologies.

Let’s bring in the student voice and build mechanisms for recognising and rewarding evaluated learning design.

Let’s do all this. Now! We’re all here to support the student experience so let’s have some exciting thoughts about how to go forward into the future.


images from pixabay except BoB from http://www.ed.ac.uk/information-services/help-consultancy/ucreate/facilities/box-of-broadcasts/introduction