A very peculiar practice…

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Santanu Vasant of City University, London, on the 'very peculiar practice' of academic and educational development.

When thinking of what topic to base this blog post for QMUL’s ADEPT blog, I was reminded by a colleague at City, University of London, of this BBC2 sitcom from the late 1980s, called ‘A Very Peculiar Practice’, set in a health centre of a University (BBC, 1988) and thought it made a very interesting title for this post.

Whether you are an Academic Developer, Educational Developer, Learning Technologist or Lecturer in Educational Development or any other combination of these titles (for the remainder of this post, I will use Educational Developers as a generic term to describe all these roles), you are to fellow university staff and friends, family and the outside world operating in, as the title says a very peculiar practice. ‘What do you do?’ is a common question, followed by puzzled looks. ‘The academics know what they are teaching, what do you add to it, if you are not the subject specialist?’ Good point, right? Never has the elevator pitch been so important.. ‘I’m an educational developer…’, without sounding like you are member of educational developers anonymous! Being clear about what value an educational developer adds to a module(s) or programme is important to the explanation of what jobs like this do, but also to the impact they can have on the institutions we serve.  

Indeed, one important part of this peculiar practice is raising awareness, i.e more, frequent and often communication, this saying came to mind when thinking about some of the work that’s done, “If a tree were to fall on an island where there were no human beings would there be any sound?”(Wikipedia, n.d.), from June 1883 in the magazine The Chautauquan.

This is also the case with educational innovation. So many times innovations happen at the module level between the lecturer and the students. Educational Developers sometimes are the Toto to the academic’s Lone Ranger, helping only one interested academic, when what makes a bigger impact is programme level design.

Educational Developers or similar are often those that should be highlighting good academic practice, whether using technology or not, but ultimately helping staff to solve educational problems that staff have, at the programme level. The current modular system in many courses doesn’t allow for this, however using more synoptic assessment design and de-modularising the curriculum, especially the first year, not only deepens students understanding of the curricula but also lightens the marking load on academics, as Professor Peter Hartley, University of Bradford, part of the Programme Assessment Strategies (PASS) project highlights, when discussing the assessment practice changes at Brunel University in 2009. (Westminister, 2014).

So what’s next for this peculiar practice of educational development?. Successive governments have put in millions of pounds into ‘innovation’, or to put it another way, installed boxes in classrooms without investing in the training of the staff, specifically in developers that create and more importantly sustain communities of practice (Wenger, 1998). We have also been told that the digital natives are coming (Prensky, 2001), but due to many factors in higher education, we have not yet fully changed the way we teach. The digital natives, digital immigrants ideas has been developed by Dave White into Visitors and Residents, which based more on cultural and motivation and not age or skill (White, 2013) Whichever model you subscribe to, this is a challenge, which as educational professionals we need to address, maybe with initiatives such as the University of Southampton DigiChamps (Southampton, 2012).  

How we surface and spread good practice, motivate and engage with staff of all abilities and motivation and reward them in some way, will help them understand the value of educational developers or similar professionals. It could be said this is the holy grail of educational development.  

This posts builds on some of the ideas in my blog post on jobs.ac.uk’s education section, chiefly 2, 4 and 11 (Vasant, 2016). As Sir Isaac Newton said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”, in this peculiar practice of educational development, we’d be wise to approach it with the same attitude and really push the practice and learn from those that have worked in this area before us.

Prensky, P (2001) “Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1”, On the Horizon, Vol. 9 Iss: 5, pp.1 – 6

Southampton (2012) DigiChamps [online] Available: http://blog.soton.ac.uk/digichamps/about-us/ Last Accessed: 25th August 2016.

Vasant, S (2016). The beautiful game, by the greatest artists in Europe presented by the past masters [online] Available: https://blogs.jobs.ac.uk/education/2016/06/20/beautiful-game-greatest-artists-europe-presented-past-masters/ Last Accessed: 25th August 2016.

Wenger, E (1998). Communities of Practice: learning, meaning and identity, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press

White (2013) Visitors & Residents [online]. Available:

http://daveowhite.com/vandr/ Last Accessed: 25th August 2016.

Wikipedia (n.d.) If a tree falls in a forest [online] Available:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/If_a_tree_falls_in_a_forest. Last Accessed: 25th August 2016.

Westminister (2014) Programme Level Assessment Strategies [online] Available: http://teachingandlearning.westminster.ac.uk/2014/05/programme-level-assessment-strategies/ Last Accessed: 25th August 2016.

Author: Santanu Vasant, City University


Learning Enhancement and Development http://www.city.ac.uk/lead

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