Category Archives: PhD

Research update #33: Making it my own

There’s been something about the updated research questions that I’ve been working with that just hasn’t been sitting right. These are the questions:

What strategies do edvisors in HE use to promote understanding of their role and value(s) among academic staff, and more broadly within their institutions?

What are the roles and value(s) of edvisors? (as seen from their perspective)

How are those roles and value(s) seen from the academics’ and institution’s perspective?

Which among these strategies are particularly successful?

It’s only a small thing perhaps and maybe it’s important in sharpening focus but it bugs me that there is an implicit assumption that it is the sole responsibility of edvisors to make academics and the institution value them and their work. I can understand that this isn’t the job of academics – though it would be nice if some of them made more of an effort – but surely the institution itself, and by that I guess I mean institutional management, has a part to play as well. After all, why provide expert support if you don’t intend for it to be used and for it to work as effectively as possible.

So I’m changing the question. This is partially also because I think it will be valuable to gather some data about how different institutions organise their edvisor support units and what impact this has on their efficacy. With the old questions, there isn’t really room for this.

I’ve also found the sub-questions a little clunky and while I think that the value/values issue is interesting, I can still cover that in the survey and interview questions.

Which brings me to this.

What strategies are used in HE to promote understanding of the roles and value of edvisors among academic staff, and more broadly within the institution?

How do edvisors see their role and value in Higher Education institutions?

How are edvisor roles understood and valued by academics and HE management?

Which among these strategies are the most effective and why?

The ordering still seems slightly odd and while it’s been suggested to move the main question (what strategies…?) to question 3, this seems to miss the main point of the research. (Which is a worry in itself but maybe that indicates that I need to communicate a little more with my supervisors)

All of this brings me to the Pat Thomson journal question suggestion du jour – “The best advice I’ve been given about the PhD was…” that it’s My PhD and I need to own it. This doesn’t mean that I won’t change things based on advice but I need to believe in what I’m writing and I didn’t believe the promoting understanding was the sole responsibility of edvisors.

I attended the ASCILITE Spring in Research Excellence School this week – 2 solid days of workshopping and discussing research ideas. I was hoping to pin down a methodology – I think I know what I want to do but I’m not sure if it’s the best way because I don’t know what all of the options are and what the language is surrounding my approach. I now have two well regarded books on the matter though – Creswell’s Research Design: qualitative, quantitative and mixed methods approaches (2014) and Saldana’s The coding manual for qualitative researchers (2015) so I’m hoping that between the two of these, I can figure it out.

Research update #32: ‘Pen’ to paper

Not literally pen to paper clearly because who uses pens for anything other than signing things and as a left-hander the side of my hand dabs onto the still wet ink and turns into a big fleshy rubber stamp – but it is time to start putting down some words.

I can’t remember where I saw it – probably Twitter – but someone was talking about the need to write the SFD, the shitty first draft. It will be awful but it’s only by forcing ourselves to commit to some words that we start to make decisions about what we want to discuss. (That said, I did map out a loose structure for feedback because I do like to have a sense of where a thing is going and how it all links up)

Also, it’s ‘just’ the thesis proposal – the 10k-ish document that kind of determines whether or not I get to continue with this research project. Looking at some of the longer of these blog posts, I’ve knocked out 3000 words just banging on about one particular paper, so I’m not worried about writing enough words. Just writing enough good ones.

I can’t really see much on my Pat Thomson PhD topic list – pretty sure that “I can best organise my time by…” won’t be coming up too soon, nor “The PhD goals I’ve already reached are…” – unless one of my goals is boring everyone I know to death because this is what I think about night and day kind of now. Probably not a goal.

Digging in to the methodology needs to be a priority. I have a reasonable understanding of what I want to look into – the perceptions held by edvisors, the institution and academics of edvisors and how this is manifested in their actual practices (e.g. job ads, position descriptions, academic papers, edvisor team structures and place within the uni) as I think it’ll be interesting to be able to compare what people say/think they believe and what their actions indicate. The analysis of this I think I can nut out, being surrounded by smart people doesn’t hurt but it is pretty vague right now.

I surprised myself the other day when I was putting the outline of the proposal together and I got to the theory section by realising that there is actually probably some legitimate space to include the ideas of French sociologist thinker Pierre Bourdieu. His work has come up in my reading but, to be honest, drawing on a French intellectual felt a little pretentious. The fact is though, that his main thing is cultural capital, the markers that indicate belonging or prestige (I’m paraphrasing this terribly) in particular cultures/social groups. I’m not sure where I want to go with this yet but given that edvisors struggle to achieve status in HE yet possess significant knowledge of education, it seems like possessing an education or knowledge may not always carry the cultural capital that Bourdieu believes. Or, I assume and hope, he’s dealt with this question and has a handy solution. Either way, it offers a lens to discuss culture in HE, which more and more seems to be a major factor in the questions that I’m asking. I almost feel like I’ve earned my first leather elbow patch. (No jacket yet, I’m not getting that far ahead of myself)

Thoughts on: Strategies to win: Six steps for creating problem statements in doctoral research (Blum & Preiss, 2005)

I thought it might help to get back to basics with my research and dig into some of the papers and articles in my “how to PhD” reading list. This paper by Blum & Preiss in the Journal of College Teaching & Learning describes the process that they use at the University of Phoenix for creating problem statements – essentially the first stage of developing research questions.

As an institution they’ve had some problems in the last decade but I liked this guide because it offers a pretty straightforward (and brief) overview and I was able to quickly knock together a first pass at a statement that reasonably sums up what I’m trying to do. They also cite some fairly reputable sources, including Creswell (2004) and it all seems to align with things that I’ve heard before.

In a nutshell, they suggest beginning with the problem. “The problem is… what… for who… where” (p.48). Then select the research design needed to explore the problem – “this type of design (qualitative, quantitative) will do what (explore, describe) what (topic) by doing what (interviewing, observing) who (subjects or population) where (location). If the study is qualitative, students should explain how research patterns would be triangulated (p.49)

From here they offer advice on ensuring relevance and citing research to strengthen ideas and theory. Now maybe this all seems slightly cookie-cutter (one of their problems institutionally) but I’ve still found it useful as a structure to organise my core thoughts. After each described section they offer an exemplar that shows that you don’t have to follow the model precisely and they finish with a basic checklist to ensure clarity, relevance and methodological rigour.

This is what I ended up with:

The increasing sophistication of TELT practices in Higher Education that are afforded by emerging technology (add citation) has necessitated a new class of support staff to assist academics in this space. Whitchurch (2008) labels this domain, sitting across professional and academic roles, the “third space” (p.378) and it is inhabited by workers carrying a plethora of titles (add citation) that might broadly sit under the umbrella term of ‘educator advisors’ (edvisors).

The problem is that edvisor advice about implementing better TELT practices often goes unheard by academics and institutions in the Australian HE context because they don’t understand the roles, benefits or values of these workers.

This mixed-methods study will survey and interview edvisors, academics and institutional managers in Australian Universities to gather information about the perceptions held of edvisors, their roles, benefits and values. It will also gather data on institutional practices relating to the employment of edvisors and placement within organisational structures to triangulate this evidence relating to perceptions.

This research will seek to clarify understanding of the roles, benefits and values of edvisors and identify strategies that edvisors can (and do) use to establish greater understanding of these things which can result in more effective collaborations between edvisors, academics and the institution.

Looking at it now there is still plenty of room for polishing but it does seem to capture the broad ideas and aims of my research. So that feels like something. For a five and a bit page paper, it has helped me feel that I’m slightly more on track.

Research update #17: Making connections, learning from others

I’ll write a fuller post on this but I’ve recently helped launch a SIG (special interest group) for TEL edvisors through ASCILITE. I have a lot of different reasons for doing this, chief amongst them is the fact that there are a lot of incredibly smart and talented people working in this sector (education designer/developers, learning technologists, academic developers etc) doing fantastic work but it’s largely in isolation.

Given that I’ve chosen to focus my research on this area, because I believe that we can do a lot of good, I do hope that being a part of this community will make my research better and make it more practically useful. (I get that a PhD is a research apprenticeship but the thought of spending years working on something that is then only read by 3 people and buried deep in a library really scares me, particularly when I don’t know that further post-doc research is the direction I want to take afterwards. It might be, I just don’t know)

Anyway, a lot of the last month has centred around kicking the SIG (I prefer network) into gear. We held our first monthly webinar last week, with a great discussion about minimum standards for online course design (to put it in overly simple terms) and had three contributors – Lynnae Venaruzzo from Western Sydney Uni, Leanne Ngo from Deakin and our own Kate Mitchell (one of the co-founders and organisers of the network) from LaTrobe sharing their work and ideas.

Between this and the usual busyness of the start of a semester, there wasn’t as much other work on my studies – specifically reading – but I am getting back into it and am happy to have passed the hump of the most complex chapter of the Dynamics of Social Practice Theory book.

I haven’t heard anything from my supervisors and don’t have much to report or discuss just yet, though I feel as though I’m close to being able to write up a post about what I’m hoping to explore that will give us something to discuss. I’m still caught in this dilemma of what to talk about when I meet/Skype with them – I don’t want to ask them what I should do because surely this is for me to work out and I’m a grown-arsed adult. But when I tell them what I’m doing, the response is generally just keep going with a reading suggestion or two. (Reading material I am not short of, though I do need to remember that if I’d followed the advice to explore SPT sooner, I might be further along. Then again, maybe I wasn’t ready for it until I was. )

Next of the list of Pat Thomson’s PhD journalling topics:

How stress affects my ability to get things done.

Not well, really. Not well. Between being told the owner of my house is selling up and discovering that I’m kind of too old (or have too much furniture – seriously, almost every share place now is fully furnished) to share a house any more (I like living in a house and in the inner ‘burbs and it’s cheaper) and also having a close friend waiting on health news, I haven’t been feeling the study love. Progress is being made here though – just signed a lease on a flat, it’ll be my first time living alone, which will be interesting – and I’m slowly getting back on with things. The distance of the finish line makes it easy enough to say “tomorrow” – though there’s still the proposal itself to write and have accepted which is far sooner.

Garbage (sugar) stress eating definitely doesn’t help – it just smashes my ability to concentrate, so taking steps in the right direction there has been a positive move.

So yeah, stress and studying, not great allies. (Surprise)

Research update #16 – Narrowing focus

I had a Skype chat with my supervisor and told Peter about my refined direction shifting the research question to What can TEL edvisors do to better support TELT practices in Higher Education. This moves me along from universities as a whole but still allows me to draw on the relationships between TEL edvisors and different stakeholders in the institution.

I also told Peter that I’ve been reading Shove et al (2012) – The Dynamics of Social Practice – and this seems like a theoretical framework that can underpin my research. I think Shove’s approach to SPT might be a little simplified so I’ll need to explore other takes – Schatzki stands out so far.

I mentioned my work with the TEL edvisor SIG and that it might be a useful source of data. I asked about the ethical issues of this and Peter thinks that it’s ok to gather material that helps me to get a broader understanding of issues but I’ll need ethics clearance to more structured research.

I also floated the idea of using STELLAR in some way, though I don’t really know how just yet and whether is too much of a diversion.

Peter’s had some stuff going on so I hope this is why he doesn’t seem particularly engaged. I think next meeting I might ask him for some broad guidance. I’ve felt that I don’t want to be told what to do (in the sense of being spoon fed) so I tend not to ask him many questions but at the same time, I don’t feel like he volunteers much in the way of feedback or ideas. Maybe it’s that my topic is still far too broad. He certainly doesn’t seem to think that I need to be in any kind of hurry, so maybe I should just take this at face value.

His follow up suggestions were as follows:

The book Ray Land did, based on his PhD research, is
Land, R. (2004). Educational development: discourse, identity and practice. Maidenhead: SRHE/Open University Press.

The system that Anna Janssen has been working with is called Qstream.

Coming back to my Pat “Patter” Thomson list of things to PhD blog about – let’s try:

Am I too competitive? 


This seems like a very personal and individual journey and so competition seems kind of irrelevant.

This question does make me mindful though of the fact that I am basically disconnected entirely from my Sydney Uni PhD peers (that I shared the PhD proposal workshop with) and I should probably try to plug back into that community. I had been following what was going on through the Slack groups but have refreshed both my work and home computer and haven’t reinstalled that. So this is a thing and it actually seems kind of helpful. (Which is funny because I initially just chose this question because I thought it would be short.)

Research update #15 – Pat Thomson’s tips of journalling your PhD

There are two people that I’ve heard about repeatedly in beginner PhD student circles as goldmines of advice – Inger Mewburn and Pat Thomson. I’m lucky enough to work at the same institution as Inger and occasionally get the chance to chat in person but her blog – Thesis Whisperer – also carries a wealth of ideas and experiences from across the scholarsphere that help me to remember that I’m not alone and anything that I’m facing has been overcome by far smarter people than I.

Pat Thomson is regarded just as highly and her blog, Patter, has been just as helpful. She recently posted some suggestions for keeping your own PhD journal/blog/thing that have struck a chord with me. Happy to see that some of them I’ve already touched on but I think I’ll make an effort to work through this list in future updates.

This week I’ll go with

  • Dealing with things I can’t immediately change means I need to…

Dealing with things I can’t immediately change means I need to learn from them, reflect on how (or whether) my actions have contributed to the situation and consider what I need to do to get/keep things moving again. I also need to make a decision about whether I just let go.

I’ve mentioned my ideas and work on STELLAR, a gamified academic professional development program here before – I had planned to run a semester long version this semester (starting mid Feb) but college priorities haven’t aligned and this has now been put on hold. What I’ve learned is that I need to get better at making my case clearly and navigating institutional politics. I’ve also been told directly that academics would find it insulting to be taught how to teach (I think the subtext there was ‘by a professional staff member’) which I don’t 100% accept. While I recognise that some academics have no/little interest in teaching because research is still the source of status in the university, there are plenty who take a scholarly mindset and understand that developing one’s craft in this area is a life-long endeavour. I also need to remember that just because an idea is rationally (and empirically) sound, this isn’t all that is needed to sell it. There is a whole other set of complex emotional factors that sway decision making and simply being (or believing oneself to be) right about something is far from enough.

Coming back to my research, I’ve also been diving into Social Practice Theory and am kind of kicking myself for not taking advice better and pursuing it earlier. I’m not 100% sold on all facets of it yet – there seems to be a lot of discounting of more complex aspects of practice for the sake of making the theoretical model work – but there’s more than enough to be able to use in shaping a framework for what I’m hoping to do. Currently this seems to be talking to a lot of ‘at the coal-face /screenface’ TELT Advisors about what they do in their day to day work. (Oh and in the process of developing a Special Interest Group through ASCILITE for this community, I’m edging towards TEL edvisors as an umbrella name that seems to flow better. This is still up for discussion but it looks better I think.)

My much amended project plan is once more out the window but it is also based on an arbitrary deadline of July/August to get my proposal in.

In a nutshell though, I think I want to narrow focus from what universities can do to support TELT practices to what TEL edvisors do (and can do), which seems like a positive step. Viewing this through a social practice theory / sociomaterial lens helps to focus it a little further too.

Hopefully my supervisor agrees when I chat to him in a week.



Research update: needing to reorganise Scrivener

I’m feeling more back on track with my PhD proposal literature reading and idea synthesising than I have for a little while but I don’t feel much closer to understanding exactly what I want to do yet. The closest I can come to it is that I want to identify the things in H.E that get in the way of people adopting TELT practices (that actually improve teaching and learning, not that are simply ‘innovative’) and find practical, implementable strategies to overcome them. I feel as though there is more than enough research out there about what these effective TELT practices are, I’m happy to take it as a given that TELT can help, and so I’m left wondering which sector of ‘education’ I’m looking at.

Is this in fact more about organisations and management and how things run? I have a feeling that it’s bigger than this which is why I still have technology and TELT pedagogy as standalone areas of investigation on the roadmap (as well as students, unis as organisations and TELT support strategies). One thing that I thought about as I was reading the Bennett et al (2016) paper was the fact that it didn’t include the impact of other academic activities (e.g preparing research grants) on the practical design process. This wasn’t the focus of the paper, obviously but the more I look at TELT in Higher Ed., the more inextricably intertwined and complex it all seems. (I’m mindful that I need to remember the advice here that it’s a PhD, not a Nobel prize)

I’m hoping that better organising my ideas in Scrivener might help me out. At the moment, it’s just a place where I have copy/pasted virtually everything that I’ve been finding in the many folders and subfolders and pages and subpages that make it a beautiful tool. Using Scrivener to work on an application to upgrade my HEA fellowship helped me to see for the first time what a powerful writing tool it can be, in that it effortlessly supports a writing style that jumps all over the place as ideas form. So my focus this weekend is to try to tame this beast – and may God have mercy on my soul.

Making a PhD plan

One of the greatest challenges of my chosen research topic (how universities can support tech enhanced learning and teaching practices) is the sheer breadth of it. Obviously this focus will narrow in time but at the moment it can sometimes feel a little overwhelming, even when I get into an interesting sub-branch.

As a result, I’ve been pretty good at gathering resources to read later and dipping into a few papers that seem particularly relevant to my work-work in the here and now. Overall however it is a very scattered approach and while some projects at work-work are helping to give me a hands on view of some of the real issues and factors that act as barriers to TELT practices in Higher Ed (so many barriers, so many dumb, needless barriers), I am keenly aware that I’m drifting a little and need to be looking more through the frame of the research proposal in the first instance.

So I spent the weekend organising my thoughts, setting some priorities and starting a plan. (I do really hope that this isn’t just a more advanced form of procrastination – it feels more than that at the very least.) I’ve been drawing my approach partially from David Allen’s Getting Things Done methodology, which is in some ways a fancy process for making to do lists but with a little more forethought. It encourages a very large scale gathering process to begin with, capturing all of the small tasks (and larger projects which are made of many small tasks) and ideas and putting them into categories in an active storage system that you trust. (I’m using Wunderlist which I like for the interface, cross-platformness, the ability to create collections of lists and integration with browsers.

wunderlist screenshot

I’ve got tasks organised by to do today/this weekend/this week/this month as well as in a range of contextual categories. I’ve tried to estimate the time each task will take to give me a sense of how long I need to allow to get it done. I’ve ordered them to set priorities (and because some tasks are contingent on other ones).

Now it’s just a matter of doing them.

Probably the biggest thing I’d like to do is to identify 6 (or so) key topic areas to spend a month each focussing on. These may well change over time but at least it will give some much needed direction.

Writing more regular blog posts about my progress is also another must – trying to keep myself honest.

Thoughts on: Reflecting or Acting? Reflective practice and continuing professional development in UK Higher Education (Clegg, Tan and Saeidi, 2002)

Clearly one of the key ingredients in enhancing teaching practice is teacher professional development and a vital element of deriving meaning from this is reflective practice.

It is at this point however that we need to be cautious of the evangelisers of reflective practice as a global solution. “Reflecting or Acting? Reflective Practice and Continuing Professional Development in UK Higher Education” by Sue Clegg, Jon Tan and Saeideh Saeidi (2002) takes a methodical look at the use of reflection and notes that current (at the time – not sure how much they have evolved) uses of reflective practice in CPD isn’t suited to all learners and needs to be anchored in actions taken to be particularly meaningful.

Reflective practice is valued for acknowledging “the importance of artistry in teaching” (p.3), which seems even more important in 2016 than it was in 2002 with the rise of big data and analytics in education sometimes seeming determined to quantify and KPI-ify every single facet of teaching and learning. (Can you tell that I’m more of a qual than a quant?)

Clegg et al investigated the use and value of reflective practice amongst academic staff in accredited CPD between 1995-1998. In broad terms (Spoiler alert) they tied it to four types of practices/behaviours that reflected the learning preferences and teaching circumstances of the teachers. These preferences – either for ‘writerly’ reflection or not – and the circumstances (which impacted their ability to act on new teaching knowledge) had a significant part to play on how valuable reflection was to them.

The ‘action’ part is at the core of the question that Clegg et al are pursuing. They draw on Tomlinson (1999) in assuming that “the relationship between reflection and action is transparent with reflection-on-action leading to improvement and change” (p.4). This idea has been of interest to me recently because I’ve been involved with the HEA fellowship scheme at my university which appears to have a different focus, seemingly sans action. (I’ll discuss this further in future posts as engaging Fellows seems as though it is going to be an important part of my ongoing quest/research)

As for the learning preference side of the equation, one of the simultaneous strengths and failings of the widely followed reflective practice approach is the emphasis on a very ‘writerly’ style of reflection. By which the paper refers to Bleakly (2000), who has “argued for greater attention to the form of writing and a greater self-awareness of literary accomplishments of narrating and confessional.” The authors note however that “our data suggested that some practitioners fail to write or only write as a form ex post facto justification for accreditation purposes”. Which, based on the feedback from some of the participants that struggled with the writing element of the task, can be linked in part to the disciplinary orientation of the learners (i.e. quant vs qual backgrounds) and in some cases to gender-role perceptions – “the feminine reflective side as opposed to the more active masculine doing side of practice” (p.18)

These key factors allowed the authors to sort participants into four groups, based on their practices.

  • Immediate action – participants put new ideas into practice directly after the CPD workshops (and before reflection) (more often novice practitioners)
  • Immediate reflection – participants reflected on their own practices directly after CPD workshops (more often experienced practitioners) – they also found less value in the workshops  in terms of new knowledge
  • Deferred action – some participants were unable to act on knowledge gained in workshops due to organisational/time constraints (this limited their ability to reflect on the impact of new knowledge on their new actions/practices)
  • Deferred reflection – largely participants that struggled to engage with the reflection activity in its current format. Many only did it for accreditation purposes so saw little benefit in it.

Clegg et al take pains to emphasise that their research is about starting a conversation about the interrelationship between action and reflection and the need to maintain this link. They don’t draw any other conclusions but I think that even by simply looking at on-the-ground interaction with reflective practice, they have given us something to think about.

Reading this paper sparked a few random ideas for me:

  • Perhaps Design thinking might offer a way to bridge the gap between the ‘teaching as a craft’ and ‘teaching as an empirical science with hard data’ viewpoints by applying a more deliberate and structured way of thinking about pedagogy and course design
  • Are there ways that we can foster writing (and some reflection) as a part of every day ongoing CPD for academics? (Without it being seen as a burden? There probably needs to be a goal/outcome/reward that it leads to)
  • Decoupling reflection from action – particularly when action comes in the forms of making improvements to practice – gives people less to reflect on and might lead to too much navel gazing.
  • A large part of the work being done on reflective practice by one of my colleagues is focusing on the impact that it has on teacher self-efficacy. Tying it to professional recognition boosts confidence which is valuable but is there a risk that this can in turn lead to complacency or even over-estimation of one’s competence?
  • My personal philosophy when it comes to theory and practice is that none will ever hold all of the answers for all of the contexts. I believe that equipping ourselves with a toolbox of theories and practices that can be applied when needed is a more sustainable approach but I’m not sure how to describe this – one term that I’ve considered is multifocal – does this seem valid?
  • One concern that I have about this study is the large number of contextual factors that it tries to accommodate. These include : “how participants understood their activity including reflective practice, their motivations for joining the course, how they made sense of their decisions to complete or not complete, and whether they thought of this as a conscious decision” (p.7) On top of this there was the level at which the CPD was being conducted (novice teachers vs supervisors), disciplinary and gender differences as well as learning preferences. Maybe it’s enough to acknowledge these but it seems like a lot of variables.
  • Reflection shared with peers seems more valuable than simply submitted to assessors.
  • Even when reflective writing is a new, ‘out of character’ approach, it can be seen as valuable even though it can take learners time to ease into it. Supporting some warm up exercises seems like it would be important in this case.
  • It’s worth taking a harder look at exactly what forms meaningful reflections might take – is there just one ‘writerly’ way or should we support a broader range of forms of expression?
    Audio? Video? Dank memes?
    “Virtually all the descriptions of keeping a journal or gather materials together suggested that they somehow felt they had not done it properly – qualifying their descriptions in terms of things being just scrappy notes, or jottings, or disorganised files, or annotated e-mail collections. Such descriptions suggest that participants had an ideal-typical method of what reflective practice should look like. While the overt message from both courses was that there was no one format, it appears that despite that, the tacit or underlying messages surrounding the idea of reflective practice is that there is a proper way of writing and that it constitutes a Foucauldian discipline with its own rules” (p.16-17)
  • Good reflection benefits from a modest mindset: “one sort of ethos of the course is it requires you to, I don’t know, be a bit humble. It requires you to take a step back and say perhaps I’m not doing things right or am I getting things right, and throw some doubt on your mastery…” (p.17)
  • This is more of a bigger picture question for my broader research – To what extent does the disciplinary background shape the success (or orientation) of uni executives in strategic thinking – qual (humanities) vs quant (STEM)?





Thoughts on: Two guides from Ako Aotearoa on education projects and researching learners

It was always my intention that researching in the area that I work in would help me to shape my professional practice (and it is) but I’ve been surprised lately at how much things are flowing in the other direction. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what is needed to make an educational project successful and how we know that learners have actually benefitted.

This is partially coming from the big picture work that I’m doing with my peers at the university looking at what we’re doing and why and partially from my own college, which has recently launched a Teaching and Learning Eminence Committee/project to look into what we’re doing with teaching and learning. I wasn’t initially invited onto the committee, (it’s all academics), which speaks to some of the ideas that have been emerging in some of my recent posts (the academic/professional divide) as well as the fact that I need to work on raising the profile of my team* and understanding of our* capacity and activities in the college.

Anyway, while trawling through the tweetstream of the recent (and alas final) OLT – Office of Learning and Teaching – conference at #OLTConf2016, I came across a couple of guides published recently by Ako Aotearoa, the New Zealand National Centre for Tertiary Teaching Excellence, that fit the bill perfectly.


One focusses on running effective projects in teaching and learning in tertiary education, it’s kind of project managementy, which isn’t always the most exciting area for me but it offers a comprehensive and particularly thoughtful overview of what we need to do to take an idea (which should always be driven by enhancing learning) through three key phases identified by Fullan (2007 – as cited in Akelma et al, 2011) in the process of driving educational change – initiation, implementation and institutionalisation. The guide – Creating sustainable change to improve outcomes for tertiary learners  is freely available on the Ako Aotearoa website, which is nice.

I took pages and pages of notes and my mind wandered off into other thoughts about immediate and longer term things to do at work and in my research but the key themes running through the guide were treating change as a process rather than an event, being realistic, working collectively, being honest and communicating well. It breaks down each phases into a number of steps (informed by case studies) and prompts the reader with many pertinent questions to ask of themselves and the project along the way.

The focus of the guide is very much on innovation and change – I’m still thinking about what we do with the practices that are currently working well and how we can integrate the new with the old.

The second guide – A Tertiary practitioners guide to collecting evidence of learner benefit – drills down into useful research methodologies for ensuring that our projects and teaching practices are actually serving the learners’ needs. Again, these are informed by helpful case studies and showcase the many places and ways that we can collect data from and about our students throughout the teaching period and beyond.

It did make me wonder whether the research mindset of academics might conventionally be drawn from their discipline. Coming from an organisation with an education and social science orientation, one might expect an emphasis on the qualitative (and there are a lot of surveys suggested – which I wonder about as I have a feeling that students might be a little over-surveyed already) but the guide actually encourages a mixture of methodologies and makes a number of suggestions for merging data, as well as deciding how much is enough.

Definitely some great work from our colleagues across the ditch and well worth checking out.

(* The team is me – but one day…)