Semester is about to start and I’m back teaching. This semester I’m part of a team of folk designing and teaching a brand new, never been taught course – EDU8702 – Scholarship in Higher Education: Reflection and Evaluation. The course is part of the Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching.
In the course, we are asking the participants to focus on a specific context into which they are (or will) teach. That context will form part of an teacher-led inquiry into learning and teaching that will underpin the whole course. Early on in the course we are asking the to briefly summarise the context they’ll focus on and generate an initial set of issues of interest that might form the basis for their inquiry. Get them thinking and sharing and provide a foundation for refinement over the semester.
The plan is that we’ll model what we ask, hence this blog post is my example.
My current context is within a central learning and teaching unit at a University. My role is charged with helping teaching staff at the institution work toward and be recognised for “educational excellence and innovation”. i.e. we’re part of a team to helping teaching staff become better teachers and thus improve the quality of student learning. To that end we, amongst other things
- Teach into the institution’s Graduate Certificate in Tertiary Teaching.
- Develop a range of professional learning opportunities (PLO), including L&T orientation, workshops, small group sessions, online resources etc.
- Develop and support programs of L&T scholarships and awards.
As a group that’s still forming a bit, there are a range of practical issues.
However, there are also a collection of issues that arise from the “discipline” of professional learning for teaching staff, some of these include:
- Preaching to the choir.
A perception that the people who engage with the professional learning opportunities we provide, are perhaps not those who might benefit most.
- Difficulty of demonstrating impact.
It can be very hard to prove that what is done, improves the quality of learning and teaching.
- Perceived relevance of what we offer
Often the focus can be on developing well-designed workshops and resources, rather than try to understand authentic, contextual needs.
- A tendency to focus on designing a learning intervention when performance support might suit better.
- How best to modify what we do to respond to an era of information abundance.
A lot of traditional professional development arose from a time of scarce information. Developing a workshop/resource on topic X specifically for institution Y made sense, because there was no other way to get access. Chances are today you could find a long list of workshop/resources on topic X. Should you still develop yet another resource on topic X?
There are also some issues around the course we’re teaching
- Limited insight into how the participants are, their backgrounds and reasons for enrolling.
- The current small number of participants.
- How to design an effective course within this context and within current constraints.