Understanding University Lecturers as Learners

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Passing the Sheldonian. By me, 2006. (CC-BY-NC)

I have found that providing pedagogical staff development for academics raises a whole heap of challenges in terms of engagement. As part of the Enhancing Teaching Programme I am undertaking with the Oxford Learning Institute I have had the opportunity to reflect on this in relation to the digital pedagogies we hope to embed more as part of staff development programmes. These are my current thoughts:

Academic Identity and University Culture

  • Academic staff are deeply engaged in their subjects, most likely with a Doctorate in the field. They are also quite likely to be researchers.
  • By holding post in a research-intensive University academics are likely to be embedded in a culture where research is valued much more highly than pedagogy,
  • Lack of recognition for teaching is exacerbated by underlying issues such as casualisation, and lack of a defined career progression. This raises the potential for the roles of expert and teacher to stand in opposition to each other.
  • This can cause scepticism on the part of the academic-learner regarding the value of professional development in teaching, and impinge significantly on the focus they give to staff development programmes a whole (Davies & Maguire, 2013).

Never enough time

  • Time-commitment is also a significant challenge for academic-learners. Research commitments take precedent, and there is a host of other academic activities such as admissions and exam marking, college commitments, committees etc.
  • Robbins & Dermo (2016) found that ‘although the learners are academics, it is not unheard of for them to engage with the PGCert in the same manner in which their own decried, supposedly, overly ‘exam focused’ students may engage.’ Learners may draw on surface learning approaches, focusing on summative deadlines and ‘jumping through hoops’ as opposed to engaging deeply in the reflection necessary to review and develop one’s own practice.

Diversity

  • A programme of study on pedagogy such as a PGCert or PGDip will have a diverse range of learners, uniquely in terms of the variety of disciplines they come from.
  • This may influence how they engage with the requirement to reflect on their practice, which is fundamental for their ongoing development as teachers (Bell, 2011).  For instance social scientists and those in health studies may easily engage in this approach, whilst those in engineering, computational and physical sciences may benefit from more scaffolding and support (Robbins & Dermo: 2016).

The Technology

Whilst issues such as academic identity and culture of teaching can only really be addressed at institutional and departmental levels, in designing pedagogical staff development I must consider educational approaches, assessment designs, and strategies that can be employed which make it easier for academic-learners to engage without challenging their values.

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