Beyond the course team: an #LTHEChat blog

Or, We are all educators now: the unbundled faculty


Back in June I hosted a workshop at the Academic Practice and Technology Conference to explore the shifting roles of academic faculty and professional staff in technology-infused education. I’ve been meaning to write up the workshop for a while, but it’s been one of those things I just haven’t managed to get around to yet. However, I was spurred into action by catching the end of one of the weekly Twitter #LTHEChat’s. If you are not familiar with @LTHEChat (Learning Technology in Higher Education Chat), go check it out on Twitter 8-9pm GMT on a Wednesday evening. Each week focuses on a different topic run by someone in the sector with questions posed to the Twitter learning tech community with discussion ensuing. I always enjoy and learn from them.

The topic in question was titled ‘Beyond the course team‘ and put forwards some questions that have given me structure for this blog post. So many thanks to the University of Liverpool Centre for Innovation in Education who hosted the chat, for reminding me to get this blog written.

Q1) If you were to build the ideal team to support a course team who (what roles) would it include and why?

The premise of the ‘unbundled’ faculty is not that academic faculty are supported, rather than education is disaggregated into component parts which all support each other as a holistic whole.

Components of a college or university courseFor example, in the development of a fully online course the subject expert supports the learning designer to build the course by providing content and discipline knowledge, and the learning designer supports the subject expert to deliver the course through designing activities that implement the most appropriate technologies and pedagogies and set the framework for teaching. This is certainly not to say that the academic is not experienced in how students learn, or that the learning designer not experienced in the subject matter, but it is likely that over the course of their careers they built more expertise in a specific field rather than all.

This was one of the activities that we undertook in the APT workshop. Divided into groups, each had a different course scenario to create a team for. The scenarios were:

  1. A fully-online BA course with 400 part-time students
  2. A blended degree apprenticeship with 120 students looking to enhance their knowledge, skills and improve their prospects within their workplace.
  3. A blended MSc course at a research-intensive university.
  4. An fully-online foundation programme with 60 international students without British A levels and without English as a first language.​

The word cloud below shows the roles that appeared, some stretched acoss scenarios – Course Leader, Student Rep. All had an aspect of educational development expertise (Learning Designer, Learning Technologist, Academic Developer). Some were more specific to the particular course such as Online Tutors, Research Lead and Estates.

wordle 3

It’s clear that different flavours of coure may require a different make-up of individuals, but on the whole we are looking at bringing together academic, professional and learner representatives.

Q2) Can you give us an example of where you have seen real value being added to curriculum design from people outside of the immediate course team? 

In the workshop I did a very brief presentation on the ‘Design Jams’ that we run at at my institution. These curriculum storyboarding sessions bring together those charged with designing, making, running and supporting a course – ideas are bounced off each other, best practice shared, and sequenced learning activities take shape. A series of tasks are then set in motion to move from the storyboard to the VLE. If the immediate course team is considered to be the academic faculty then this level of curriculum design would be difficult as it requires the practice of a number of different professions. In our case the practice of the academic and subject expert, the practice of the learning designer or learning technologist, assessment expert, librarian, student experience etc. As the end point of many of our programmes is accreditation, industry professionals are also vital to engage in the development of the learning experience.

I’m unsure if this degree of unbundling at all stages of educational design and implementation is common or rare in the sector, and if it is present is it always the case that equal value is attributed to each role? I do however believe it to to be 100% necessary for the design of fully-online education with every role aligned equally. Every learning design decision, every piece of scaffolding, every resource is visible and up for scrutiny on the course website. Committing to offer flexible access for students as we do (to learn at their own pace), means that changing resources or student instructions is risky – we can’t presume all students are at the same place in their learning. Pre-delivery design needs the best decisions to be made by those best placed to make them.

Q3) What approaches have you used and found effective in building relationships and trust quickly in interprofessional programme teams? 

Trust comes from an awareness and understanding of our colleagues practice, roles, and value in achieving shared goals – our students development and success. We need to learn from, then put aside, any past experience we have of collaborations that have not been positive, and start from a point of equality as we all hold responsibility for the education that we design and deliver.

I’ve written before about my experiences of being regarded as, and even called, a ‘servant’ to the academic institution. Setting up components of a University as service departments can reinforce this perspective. The discipline of education and everything it entails is as much of an academic practice as that of classics, or physics or economics.  This is why it is so valuable to have subject experts, academic developers and learning designers working side by side – our different practices enable us to focus on what we do best and blend as educational provision. It is alchemy.

When I run workshops or host course design meetings for the first time, I ensure that everyone in the room understands why they are there, why their expertise means it is valuable that they are there. No one’s role is to know better than another, nor should anyone have to defend their practice. I have steered away from implementing rules, as I have done for other workshops such as change hacks, it’s more delicate in this context where vulnerabilities may be present for past experiences. We are there to ask questions, constructively challenge and collaboratively build a student experience.

A few devices we have used to successfully aid this relationship have been:

  • A design conversation activity to understand the course, its learning outcomes, rationale, and the tutors passion for the subject. Included in this is discussion are threshold conceps, student feedback from previous runs and
  • Developing a roles a responsibilities document to make visiable ares of expertise and expectations in terms of the course team.
  • Collaborative workshops, such as the Design Jams mentioned above that bring together a range of practices in hands-on design

In a prevous role I also found that providing spaces to develop a community of practice such as user groups, teaching forums, show and tell events, and teaching awards (inclusive of all those involved in designing and delivering teaching) also helped enormoulsy to break down barriers and reformat relationships. I hope to explore possibilities of doing this now, but these things take time, and can require a cultural shift, and often some resource.


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