Recognising Academic Development good practiceProject Complete on the 9 June 2020
Project Report accepted 4 June 2020:
Recognizing and sharing good practice in Academic Development: A strategic and sustainable model for promoting excellence, building capability, and advancing learning and teaching leadership
Link to previous related project:
Establishing a sustainable model for sharing and recognizing good practices as a strategy for promoting excellence, capability development, and leadership succession in Australasian Academic Development
The Practice Problem
This project extends a previous CAULLT project: An Australasian Association for Academic Developers. That multi-method project included a particularly successful strategy: the initiation of an Advancing Academic Development Event including inaugural Academic Development Good Practice Awards. This project investigates how such an event might be deepened to not only provide a vehicle for recognition, but become a pivotal mechanism for sharing good practice, building a networked community of academic developers, affording capability building, and establishing a line of succession of leadership in academic development. Applying key findings from the initial project (surveys, focus groups, and learnings from the pilot event) to an enhanced (second-phase) pilot, the project will test the impact and benefits, and from this develop principles, strategies, processes and recommendations for establishing a sustainable annual event.
The Significance of the Problem
As noted in our initial project, Australasia does not currently have a professional organisation to support and build the capabilities of Academic Developers (ADs). As a result, opportunities for ADs to share, be inspired by, and learn from the good practices of others are limited and good practices in AD are not benchmarked against objective professional standards. This project will develop a strategic approach to affording professional development, recognition, community building, and preliminary benchmarking through a sustainable good practice award event for ADs.
What the literature and/or Experience Tell us about the Problem
In recent years, Australasia has seen a rapid expansion in the number of Academic Developers and Learning Designers employed by universities. As higher education specialists, ADs serve to enhance practice across the dimensions of curriculum design, learning and teaching practice, scholarship and leadership (Mårtensson, 2014)–largely by building the capabilities of others. Given this focus on capability development, it is paradoxical that, to date, no organisation has specifically focused on enabling ADs/LDs to build their capabilities, and nor has any focused event emerged to enable them to share, be recognised for, and promote the impact of their professional practice on student learning. By extension, there is currently no means for universities to compare the practices of their ADs against a national standard, or learn from the initiatives of other institutions.
In the submission for a preceding CAULLT project: An Australasian Association for Academic Developers: Concept testing (upon which this project builds), we noted that there are active, supportive associations that welcome ADs (eg. Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE) and the TEL edvisors, Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) Special Interest Group) and conferences at which ADs can present papers (eg. the annual HERDSA, Learning Leaders in Higher Education, and TEQSA conferences). We further acknowledge that ADs can seek professional recognition through Fellowship schemes provided by the (UK) Higher Education Academy and HERDSA.
However, we also noted that while such conferences, memberships and recognition opportunities can potentially be accessed by ADs (subject to support by their institutions), their broad constituency and aims mean they provide limited opportunities for ADs to be inspired by, and learn from the good practices of other ADs; build capabilities they need for their specific role; or have their practices benchmarked against objective, focused professional standards for academic development.
Given these limitations, and based on recent research supported by CADAD, which showed a very high degree of interest (95%) amongst ADs in a “nationally run formal professional learning program” (Hill, 2016), in our initial CAULLT project we set out to investigate the potential for an ongoing network/organisation/ event and professional development opportunities for Australasian Academic Developers; to ascertain institutional and individual support for such activities; and to establish what approach, structure and organisational alignments might be preferred by relevant stakeholders in order to propose a model for a focused approach to professional development, and networking strategy for ADs.
Our multi-method research has included a literature review, desktop audit, and survey of institutional leaders in learning and teaching to determine what professional development opportunities are currently afforded, and what kinds of national initiatives might gain support. We developed a survey and focus group questions for ADs/LDs to extend Hill’s (2016) insights into their priorities and preferences. And, as part of the project design, we also initiated an Advancing Academic Development Event with national and international keynote speakers, PD activities, round tables and focus groups. Working with the CAULLT executive and liaison, we aligned this with the November CAULLT Conference.
As the project began to unfold, we realised that a clear value proposition was needed if universities were to support and fund ADs to travel interstate for the (as yet unknown) event. Without this, we anticipated that engagement in (and therefore the impact of) this inaugural event may be limited. The motivating driver we conceived of was the inclusion of the opportunity for recognition of ADs (and the university by extension) through Academic Development Good Practice Awards. We sent out a call to DVCs/PVCs to nominate outstanding academic developers to submit an abstract, with shortlisted finalists offered the opportunity to present a PechuKucha at the event, with awards determined by a set of criteria.
The relative uptake of this opportunity (compared to the survey completion rates for example) has been remarkable with over 30 good practice submissions. We attribute this high level of engagement with the model to the opportunity for recognition, which motivated nominations by universities and provided an impetus to provide support and travel funding. A direct call to action by individual ADs then provided context, and leverage to realise the many benefits that the event will afford.
Given the perceived value of this strategy to stakeholders (evidenced through increasing attendance at the event), as well as the potential benefits and impact of this particular approach in achieving our aims (that is, providing capability building and professional development, enabling the sharing of good practices, affording recognition, setting and benchmarking professional standards, and building a networked community of academic developers), we propose that this model warrants further investigation. We further propose that developing the Advancing Academic Development Event and Academic Development Good Practice Awards through an action research project will realise substantial further benefits and insights for individual ADs, their universities, and the sector.
The Innovation of the Project
Through this extension grant, we will focus in on developing an innovative, robust and sustainable model for recognising and promoting good practices in Academic Development. Further, we will establish strategies for leveraging the model to promote excellence, build capabilities, initiate community building, initiate benchmarking criteria, and afford leadership succession in Australasian Academic Development. No similar opportunity or model currently exists.
To establish a model for a sustainable annual recognition and PD event, we will apply learnings from our initial project (literature review, surveys and first phase pilot event), to a second phase pilot event and awards, in pursuit of the following objectives:
• Developing and testing strategies, principles, and approaches for an annual event and awards
• Enhancing awareness of the awards and so expanding submissions of high-quality good practices
• Developing robust criteria, and evaluation process for the awards as a basis for professional standards in academic development
• Increasing attendance at the event through a reputation for a quality award process, and opportunities for Australasian ADs to share and shape good practice across the sector
• Promoting excellence in academic development through further dissemination of the good practices presented at the event
• Making recommendations for future events including achieving greater integration of the event with CAULLT activities and goals.
As the peak body for university leaders of learning and teaching, CAULLT is the only national association with defined focus on the work of ADs and therefore the appropriate lead organisation for this project and development.
The project will continue to be underpinned by an Action Research methodology (Kemmis, McTaggart & Nixon, 2014). Action Research provides an inherent flexibility of method–an essential requirement for any project that is experimental in nature and needs to adapt, adjust and develop in response to changing needs and discoveries. This project is experimental as it explores the establishment of a national recognition scheme for good practice in Academic Development. Action Research is a proven approach to achieving successful project outcomes in learning and teaching in higher education (Harvey, 2013) and has the further benefit of encouraging reflection and iterative development of outcomes based on what is learnt through application and evaluation. The basic stages of an Action Research cycle are: Plan, Act, Evaluate and Reflect. The cycle can then repeat, to ensure more robust and innovative outcomes, as is the case in this project. Project methods of this extension project include:
Plan: Reflect on the outcomes of Project 1 and pilot event (Nov-Mar). Plan a second Australasian event on Advancing Academic Development incorporating the sharing and recognition of good practice (Apr- Jul). As part of the planning process draw upon and apply key findings from the initial project (surveys, focus groups, and learnings from the pilot event) and develop principles, strategies, processes and judging criteria which can be tested with a view to developing a sustainable annual event. Continue to consult with key stakeholder groups and leaders in the field, for example, CAULLT, Kathryn Sutherland and the New Zealand Academic Development Symposium; ASCILITE; TEL edvisors; ACODE, HERDSA.
Act: Invite, review, and judge nominations for the awards for Good Practice in Academic Development, Conduct a second Australasian event (Aug- Sept). The project will seek participation of ADs from all Australian Universities in the awards process and event, and will continue to rely on the support of CAULLT member institutions for participation in the submission of good practice nominations. Conduct a second Australasian event (Oct/Nov).
Evaluate: Begin to review the evidence provided of good practice in academic development (as the first stage in working towards the development of Australasian standards for Academic Development– a subsequent CAULLT project) (Nov-Feb).
Reflect: Consolidate, reflect and synthesise key learnings on good practice for academic development into a set of refined principles, processes and recommendations to CAULLT, through a project report and publication with a focus on strategies for achieving ongoing sustainability of the awards process (Feb-Mar).
A member of the CAULLT executive will once again be invited to act as liaison between CAULLT and the project team and to act as a member of the review panel for the judging of good practice nominations.
The project aims to achieve the following outcomes:
• A second Australasian networking event–Advancing Academic Development, for the dissemination of good practice and as a professional development opportunity,
• Australasian Good Practice Awards for Academic Development as a mechanism for professional recognition and documentation of good practice,
• The first stage of a systematic collection and review of evidence-based data on Australasian good practice for academic development,
• A set of principles, processes and recommendations to CAULLT, focusing on the development of a strategic approach to sustainability of an awards system.
Project evaluation will be built in from the start of the project due to the adoption of an Action Research approach. The team members, through regular project meetings will undertake formative personal and group evaluation. Summative evaluation will assess the achievement of the anticipated project outcomes. The summative evaluation will be presented to the CAULLT executive.
The project team represent three geographically separate and distinct Australian universities.
Professor Jillian Hamilton, QUT has received an AAUT Citation, AAUT Excellence Award, AAUT Program Award and several university excellence awards and is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. She has an extensive research track record in scholarship of learning and teaching and was awarded the Higher Education Research Network: Best Overall Publication. She has successfully led two multi-university OLT grants and has been a project team member of several others; has produced a national good practice report; chaired national learning and teaching conferences; and edited an A ranked journal special issue.
Associate professor Marina Harvey, UNSW is a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, an Australian National Teaching Fellow and has received national and university citations for outstanding contributions to student learning. Her scholarship in learning and teaching in Higher Education extend to a growing list of over 80 learning and teaching publications. In receipt of $343,000 in OLT grants eg www.BLASST.edu.au, and project team member on OLT projects totalling $778,000, eg www.distributedleadership.com.au, she has also received internal competitive grants $248,715.
Dr Andrea Adam, UTAS has received ALTC and internal Citations. She obtained and manages UTAS’ HEA accreditation; has convened multiple internal learning and teaching conferences, and co-edited the 2012 HERDSA conference.
Harvey, M. (2013). So you think you are doing action research? Indicators of enactment of Particpatory Action Research in Higher Education, Action Learning and Action Research Journal. 19 (1) 115-134
Hill, A. (2016). Survey of Professional Development Needs of ADs. Retrieved from http://www.cadad.edu.au/project/survey-of-professional-development-needs-of-ads/
Kemmis, S., McTaggart, R. & Nixon, R. (2014). The action research planner. Doing critical participatory action research. Singapore: Springer.
Mårtensson, K. (2014). Influencing teaching and learning microcultures: Academic development in a research-intensive university (PhD thesis) (p.17). Lund University.