Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Category: edu8702

What’s changed in academic staff development?

The following is my initial response to this exercise from the week 3 learning path. It’s an exercise intended to get folk thinking about what practices, if any, have emerged in their disciplinary teaching context from when they were undergraduates until now. It asks them to consider some of the emerging practices mentioned in the Horizon and New Generation Pedagogy reports. It also asks them to consider if any of them are visible in “good practice” within the discipline.

As per the exercise instructions, the following is not a formal academic document. It’s a bit of writing to think. The exercise is intended to encourage folk start framing thoughts that will become the basis for an assessment task.

The following also tends to be specific to my context.

My Discipline?

I’m currently onto my third or fourth discipline. My journey in higher education has gone through computer science/information technology; information systems, teacher education; and what I’ll call academic staff development (i.e. helping other academic staff teach).

I’ll stick with my current “discipline” – academic staff development.

What was it like?

When I first stated teaching in higher education (in the Information Technology discipline) back in the early 1990s I was teaching in a dual-mode university. i.e. my students studied via two modes (on-campus and via distance education). In those days, distance education meant the production of slabs of print-based material that was posted out to students before the semester started. A process that in the early 1990s relied about an production-line type process for generating the print material.

My recollections of academic staff development in those days mostly involved the distance education folk running sessions or distributing print-based material designed to help academics develop the knowledge/skills to develop good print-based material.  I don’t remember too many workshops or presentations, but I remember huge folders of print material.

There were the occasional presentation on a teaching related topic and there were even some early forays into what might be characterised as communities of practice. e.g. I was involved with a computer-mediated communications working group in the early 1990s (pre Internet Services Provider days) that eventually developed some print material to help staff and students using CMC in learning and teaching.

There were also grants to fund innovative developments associated with L&T (I got one of those) and there were also teaching awards (I got one of those).

What’s changed?

To be brutally honest. Not much.  Perhaps the major change is that there are no longer any big sets of folders of print material. All that is now online. The nature of the online material and how you access has changed somewhat. There’s been a recent move to more contextual material.  But it’s still fairly kludgy and much of it is still in a print format (i.e. PDF documents).

There is still a reliance on presentations and workshops. Though these are increasingly available via Zoom and a couple of weeks ago a remote participant did engage with the institutional L&T orientation using a Kubi telepresence robot.

There are still L&T grants (some announced last week) and awards (announcing real soon).

However, there has been a shift in focus away from “academic staff development”. Seen as something done to teaching staff. Towards the idea of professional learning and professional learning opportunities. Moving the focus toward designing contexts/environments/opportunities for teaching staff to engage in professional learning.

What about ideas from the Next Generation Pedagogy report?

The Next Generation Pedagogy report offers five signposts on the roadmap to innovative pedagogy

  • Intelligent pedagogy – using technology to enhance learning, including beyond institutional confines.
    Technology use in academic staff development (in my context, but in a lot of others as well) is still somewhat limited. There’s no use of learning analytics to understand the teaching experience. Technology is largely used to supplement existing face-to-face approaches, rather than do something radically different.  Though aspects of this might be coming. The idea of untethered faculty development is indicative of early moves in this space.On the other hand, the academic staff who are our learners now have access to the abundance of resources that are on the Internet. There are staff drawing heavily on these, but there appears to be many that are not.
  • Distributed pedagogy – ownership of learning is shared amongst different stakeholders allowing students to source learning from competing providers
    There are aspects of this happening in how learning and teaching operates. e.g. TurnitIn is external and offers some staff development. This is happening more to support University students in their learning, than to support University teaching staff.
  • Engaging pedagogy – encouraging active participation from learners.
    There are early signs of this – e.g. the shift away from academic staff development in the broader field.  Locally, the approach used in our L&T orientation has moved away from experts leading sessions to participative, co-construction/solving of problems. But more could be done.
  • Agile pedagogy – flexibility/customisation of the student experience.
    There are attempts to do this, but not directly support by systems and processes.
  • Situated pedagogy – contextualisation to maximise real-world relevance.
    There are signs of this (e.g. how workshops are run) and approaches like Teaching@Sydney allow for more contextualisation. As do some move to contextualising access to resources.  But still fairly limited.Currently much of it relies on someone doing the customising/situating/personalising for the learner.

And the Horizon report

The 2017 Horizon report is the other source examined. It offers the following key trends

  • Advancing cultures of innovation
    Not so much. Innovation is suggested to be a good thing, but a “culture that promotes experiementation” it is not yet.
  • Deeper learning approaches – project-based, inquiry learning
    There are glimmers of this, but there’s also a strong pragmatic need amongst teaching staff.  I need to know how to do X now.
  • Growing focus on measuring learning
    In terms of external quality indicators (such as QILT) and quantitative measures such as pass/fail rates and results on student evaluation of teaching, this is increasing. Perhaps increasing beyond where it should be. However, there remains little use of learning analytics and other more interesting approaches for measuring the learning and learning needs of teaching staff.
  • Redesigning learning spaces
    Moves around this for students, but not so much for teaching staff.
  • Blended learning designs
    Much of staff development appears to stick with the face-to-face methods. Even when it moves online it is to video-conferencing in an attempt to continue with face-to-face, rather than explore the blend of affordances that both online and face-to-face might offer.
  • Collaborative learning
    One of the Horizon Report “predictions” that Audrey Watters labels as not even wrong. Communities of Practice and Learning Communities have been a feature of academic staff development, more broadly and locally (even back in the early 1990s). However, I’m not sure how truly collaborative those approaches have been.

What’s relevant now?

Many of the above offer interesting possibilities, some are inevitable, and some have always been a feature.

Institutional academic staff development has yet to scratch the surface in terms of how digital technology could be used. It does appear to be increasingly “strategic” in its intent. This may make it more difficult to be agile, situated and engaging.  Three signposts that could be very relevant.

Situating staff development within the context of the member of teaching staff strikes me as very relevant. Expanding upon the idea of professional learning opportunities and encouraging active participation from teaching staff seems very relevant. Providing examples and scaffolds around how to do this.


My current context and some initial issues

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.

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