What is academic development?

by David Baume, PhD SFSEDA SFHEA

Academic development = staff development + educational development

Staff development – leading and supporting teaching and learning-related staff, and those who manage and support them, to enhance their professional capabilities in learning and teaching and allied topics.

It will be good to see other accounts from academic developers of what they do. It is a very variegated profession, and I do not know the half of it.

From Baume (1996): “On a good day, teaching is undertaken with great care and great enthusiasm, but still with little or no engagement with the scholarship of pedagogy; the very concept of the scholarship of pedagogy is still very unfamiliar to many university teachers.”

This has improved a lot, in part stimulated by standards frameworks, currently the UKPSF, which talks about knowledge of pedagogy as well as knowledge of the subject. These standards – descended from the original SEDA Teacher Accreditation Standards that we developed and implemented in the early 1990s – also describe professional values. Teaching requires more than skills and knowledge. It has to be a values-based, or at any rate a values-informed, profession.

Educational development – leading and supporting the improvement of educational processes. This is often an intermediary role between teachers and senior managers, sometimes welcomed by both, sometimes by neither. Policy around teaching and learning is sometimes seen as an infringement on the academic freedom of staff to teach whatever and however they want to teach, although such policies are now much more common than they used to be, and hopefully more accepted, if not always fully implemented. Much the same holds for support for, intervention in, interference with, course design and pedagogy. But again there has been great progress.

To personalise it – as an independent academic developer, I have, in many cases still am, over the last couple of years, and always in collaboration with others – you can’t achieve much on your own in academic development:

  • Developed and run a course in blended learning for universities across East Africa
  • Supported the expansion of open and distance learning in Nigeria
  • Written / co-written and tutored on postgrad certificates in learning and teaching in Higher Education for two UK universities, fortunately both of them studied online
  • Published a chapter on what we know about the factors that support student learning (Baume and Scanlon, 2018)
  • Developed policy and practice guidelines on increasing information literacy in undergraduate students
  • Done a little work more broadly on academic literacies, still very much in progress
  • Researched the engagement of distance learning students with their programmes, to inform policy and practice on course design
  • Written guidance for tutors and students on developing student research skills in Masters programmes
  • As you know, and in a voluntary capacity, supported collaboration among the development functions
  • Very recently re-joined the executive of SEDA

A varied and interesting life. Technically, I’m retired, but…

Again from Baume (1996) Academic Development is “the developing of policy and practice about teaching, learning and assessment”.

Revising that for 2020 and beyond, I would add the importance of:

  • Research and scholarship underpinning policy and practice;
  • Evaluation, evidence of the effectiveness, of our work, and of academic work more generally;
  • Close, critical engagement with University systems and processes and people at all levels;
  • A certain evidence-informed confidence;
  • And, of course, again, the vital importance of collaboration, in our own Universities and across Universities through professional association.s

References

Baume, D., 1996. Editorial. International Journal for Academic Development, 1(1), pp.3-5.

Baume, D. and Scanlon, E., 2018. A contemporary digital capabilities framework. In: R. Luckin, ed., Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology, 1st ed. London: UCL IoE Press, pp.150-153.

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