Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Helping create innovative, good quality learning and teaching

In an earlier post I drew on a “model of teaching” from Trigwell (2001). The model is shown below

Trigwell's model of teaching

Sadly, because of the “streaming” way I tend to write these blog posts, I titled that post “A model for evaluating teaching”, this title did not match the intent of the post.

This post is intended to revisit the purpose of that post and build on it using insights gained from the comment made on that original post.

Purpose of the two posts

I’m currently responsible for a group that is charged with helping academic staff improve the quality of learning and teaching at CQU.

I’m trying to get a handle on how we should go about doing this.

My attraction to Trigwell’s model is that matches nicely with my own beliefs which might be summarised as creating a teaching/learning context which positively influences the thinking of academics and enables them to effectively translate that into planning, strategies and student experience.

I’m actually, to a large extent, not at all interested in evaluating teaching. I tend to like the phrase, “It’s not how bad you start, it’s how quickly you get better”.

My Orientiation

The comment on the original post by Kathleen Gray pointed to a paper by Ray Land (2001), the abstract for which is

This article explores the notions of change that seem to underpin the ways in which academic developers practice within speciŽ c organizational contexts and cultures. Drawing on a two-year empirical study across UK institutions it links concepts of change to the different ‘orientations’ that developers consider appropriate to their strategic terrain. It provides an opportunity for colleagues to examine their own concepts of change and a conceptual tool for auditing the extent to which the approaches adopted in our Units and Centres might appropriately address the cultures and needs of our organizations.

Land (2001) identifies 12 orientations (not claimed to be exhaustive) for academic development practice. I feel a resonance with the following

  • Romantic (ecological humanist)
    My romantic notion is that staff want to be effective in their T&L, it’s just other contextual factors that get in the way. Fix those and some good things will happen.
  • Vigilant opportunist
    At least to the extent that I try and take advantage of opportunities that help support the above point.
  • Reflective practitioner
    A key plank in an effective teaching/learning context, at least for me, is a culture that requires or strongly encourages critical reflection amongst colleagues (it’s not how bad you start, it’s how quickly you get better). The REACT project is all about this.
  • Internal consultant
    By the nature of CQU’s structure our group will need to act somewhat along these lines. Though I hope we will not stop at an advisory capacity but take a more active role, not in the direct teaching process but in terms of creating that contet.
  • Interpretive-hermeneutic
    I’m a strong believe in diversity of views. Mainly because it is through the unique combination of those views and abilities that really interesting innovation arises.

What I reject and why

The orientations to which I am somewhat less favourably inclined include

  • Managerial
    I’ve argued in a number of places (paper, presentation and various posts on this blog) why I think this approach is incredibly problematic for a university context, especially at this point in time. Since this approach generally involves a small number of people, with limited perspective and rationality (we all have limited rationality) it results in a limited solution.
  • Political strategist
    Within a university, or any organisation, to some extent you cannot get things done unless you play the political game. However, just at CQU I’ve seen too many examples of folk for whom the political game is the be all and end all. Those folk, in my experience, are poison for the organisation.
  • Researcher
    Land’s characterisation of this group is that they present compelling educational research evidence as the most effective way of influencing colleagues’ practice. How naive can you get? The questionable assumptions behind this approach include finding research that is beyond question, matches the research prejudices of the academic audience, effective bridges the research/practice relevance gap and talks effectively to the unique features and problems of the local learning and teaching context. Personally, I’m a great believe in Rogers’ diffusion theory in terms of how people choose to adopt innovations. I even co-authored a paper applying diffusion theory to choosing innovations.
  • Professional competence
    Who seeks to ensure staff have a baseline competence. Again diffusion theory and academic freedom enters the picture. Academic staff won’t engage effectively in that sort of training, especially if divorced from a purpose they find meaningful, at least that’s my belief.
  • Modeller-broker
    Getting academic staff to adopt good practice because they are shown it. Observability is one of the characteristics which Rogers’ indicates can improve the likelihood of adoption. But it is fairly minor when compared to relative advantage, complexity and compatibility. There’s also the question of how similar the identity/context/nature of the modeller and the observer. The more difference, the less likely is adoption.
  • Discipline-specific
    The problem here is the lack of diversity. Most discipline people tend to think alike. Effective collaboration of diverse folk offers a much better long term quality of outcome.

Other factors

Land (2001) also talks about the understanding of the context, the nature of the organisation, the university. Land (2001) identifies 6 cultures: anarchic, collegial, enterprise, hierarchical, managerial and political.

I believe there are aspects of all 6, but that the presence of all 6, especially when combined with a range of uncertain, rapidly changing external factors, contributes to an overall tendency towards anarchy.

Land then goes on to present a range of different understandings/approaches to change. Again many of these apply – I even mention diffusion theory which is one – but I lean towards “uncertainty, non-linearity and chaotic theories of change”.

Returning to the original problem

So then, how does a group helping learning and teaching operate. Some initial thoughts:

  • It’s more than what the students want.
    A lot of emphasis within the Australian university context understanding what students want from learning and teaching. First, there’s a lot of literature in a number of design fields that indicate the folly of resting too much on what users want. They generally don’t even know and what they do know is generally limited to their past experience with no appreciation for what might be possible.

    More importantly, knowing what students want is relatively easy compared to how you get academics to make use of this information to improve the student experience. Typically there will be a range of factors in the learning/teaching context that get in the way.

    Once you know what the students want (even though its questionable) you need to look at how you change the learning/teaching context to make it possible, even desirable for academics to change their thinking, planning and strategies to enable these to be implemented.

  • Knowing the current state of affairs
    You can’t improve the current teaching/learning context unless you know what the current state is. This is incredibly difficult. There is no one objective teaching/learning context. Different academic staff will perceive it in different ways. Certainly a tutor in a large course will perceive it differently to the Vice-Chancellor.


Keith Trigwell, Judging University Teaching, The International Journal for Academic Development, 6(1): 65-73

Land, R. (2001). “Agency, context and change in academic development.â€? The International Journal for Academic Development. 6(1): 4-20


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1 Comment

  1. Kathleen Gray

    Hi David:

    At the end of my week at EDMEDIA, I’ve finally had a chance to formulate some comments on your post… And I’d recommend the keynotes by Terry Anderson and Bebo White, on web 2.0 related ideas, if you have the time to have a look/listen…

    My comments are by way of interrogating your reflection on Land a litle more. I am interested that you are able to be so clear about your orientation/s; for myself I now think of these as a repertoire of approaches, one or more of which may need to be deployed “professionallyâ€? depending on the AD work to be done, regardless of one’s personal inclinations.

    But I’d like to go on from that observation to suggest that I read you as using concepts of innovation, improvement, effectiveness and good practice in L&T kind of interchangeably to represent the change you’re responsible for / desirous of, and I wonder if you mean to do this, or if there’s some more teasing out to be done here? You use ideas of solutions and support, but I think it’s important to clarify what you plan to do in a way that is ‘out there’, i.e. generally (a) understandable to and (b) agreed upon by your clients/ staff / sponsors / stakeholders – what is it that you’re aiming to solve or support, in a prioritised, observable way? Further how will you and they know when you’ve got there, and whether it was a path that you’d take again or recommend that others take? – Although you’ve given short shrift to the compelling power of an evidence-based approach to L&T, does this mean you don’t think research evidence matters generally in directing educational change or that you have other less formal ways that you use to reach decisions about what your unit will do? NB I raise this as a question that vexes many who do educational development work…

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