theory third space Uncategorized Whitchurch

Thoughts on: Optimising the Potential of Third Space Professionals in Higher Education (Whitchurch, 2010)

2010 was a bit of a banner year for Celia Whitchurch as we continue this journey following the development of her work on the Third Space (3S) in Higher Education. (I write Third Space way too often to want to do it every time, so 3S seems like a handy alternative). She published 4 papers/articles, I think mostly based around a research project that she conducted funded by the UK Leadership Foundation for Higher Education. There is a reference in this paper to her having worked in Higher Ed leadership and management before she began her scholarly work into 3S, which for me clears up some of her attitudes towards how ok ‘flexible’ arrangements are for 3S professional staff.

Where the 2008 paper set the scene and introduces the concept of the Third Space and the categories of 3S workers, this work seems more focused on solutions to some of the wicked problems that 3S workers – particularly professionals – encounter in having their expertise accepted. She presents three main processes in the acceptance and integration of 3S workers – Contestation, Reconciliation and Reconstruction. (Reconstruction is at one point referred to as Reconstitution and I’m not sure if that is autocorrect or an earlier version of the terminology).

Much of the Contestation stuff rang true, the Reconciliation and Reconstruction felt far more aspirational. Maybe this is a reflection of the kinds of institutions that I have worked in but I do still like them as starting points for the “how do we actually address these issues” section of my thesis. I’m happy to say that there is a bit more quoting of study participants than last time in this article too.

Whitchurch expands the scope of her 3S exemplar workers from the 2008 study to include people who are far more EdAdvisor like, with the subject of her main case study being a multimedia developer who produces learning content and delivers training on how to use it. She surveyed 73 people in UK HE institutions and interviewed 10, 5 from a Pre-92 uni and 5 from a Post-92 uni. So I do feel far more able to relate to her points in this piece. It is interesting now that I think about it that this piece does not actually really refer to boundaries or boundary related categories at all. Maybe she felt that she had said what she needed to say on that matter.

The categories of activity most frequently mentioned by respondents as part of their current portfolio were as follows:

  • Programme development
  • Widening participation
  • Community and business partnership
  • Professional and academic practice
  • Learning support
  • Institutional planning
  • Communications and public relations.


This is described as a process but I would probably consider it more of a state. Either way, this pretty well describes the experiences that I (and most 3S workers I know) have had where “a sense of in-between-ness was evident”. (Whitchurch, 2010, P.12)

“During the Contestation process, individuals define themselves according to what
they see as the dominant “rules and resources” (GIDDENS, 1990). In an academic
environment, academic space is seen as the ‘default’ space. Staff who work in
‘professional’ space may feel that they are seen as outsiders, and even have a sense
of disenfranchisement. They are likely, therefore, to find themselves negotiating
their position.”


The quotes from her subjects here ring very true for me

The following comments illustrate conditions of contestation:

  • “… academic colleagues [fail] to see the value in what I do.”
  • “My ideas have been taken away by [academic] managers and developed by them rather than by me.”
  • “… academic staff have no interest in the area I am involved in.”
  • “… [I am obliged to be] reactive to others rather than having autonomy to assume more proactive roles.”

She goes on to highlight what she sees as some of the key differences between academic work and professional work. These two seem to be the most pertinent and deserve further consideration in understanding the cultural differences between these workers. (Interestingly culture is not actually discussed, it is at best alluded to under “political issues and negotiations” (p.13)

  • The speed of and timescales within which activity takes place, described by
    one manager as different “rhythms” between academic and more project oriented
    approaches, geared to achieving outcomes
  • The contractual nature of work involving clients and partners, as opposed to
    the more open-ended nature of academic work.


Whitchurch goes to the Third Space source in Bhabha (1995) to powerfully describe the ongoing tension experienced by 3S people forced to juggle competing priorities and values:

As a coping strategy during the Contestation process, individuals may privately
contest inherited “rules and resources”, whilst abiding by them for pragmatic
purposes. This can result in a process of “doublespeak” or “splitting”, which
involves “living on the cusp, to deal with two contradictory things at the same time
without either transcending or repressing that contradiction…” (BHABHA quoted
in MITCHELL, 1995: 5-6).



It is at this point that Whitchurch’s perspective on the 3S starts to diverge from mine. I’m not opposed to her view or approach to how things might be better – it simply doesn’t mesh with my personal experience. (I would love to be able to say that I had been involved in these kinds of activities and I am very interested in finding ways to move into them.)

She presents Reconciliation as a process or a state where academic and professional staff identify mutual benefits from genuine collaboration and recognise that they need to work around existing immutable structures in establishing new kinds of working relationships.

It therefore enables new forms of activity to occur, for instance, for professional staff to undertake work from which they might otherwise be excluded, such as teaching students or institutional research and development


(Worth noting that there is no discussion of academics doing work in the professional sphere)

What this looks like in practice is described by her subjects:

Work in the reconciliation process is characterized by comments about facilitating understandings and developments across different spheres of activity, such as:

  • “… giving voice to the student learner, whilst presenting findings to the relevant committees.”
  • “… working with a wide pool of colleagues from a wide geographical patch, making linkages across the network and being able to offer development opportunities.”
  • “… connecting people together to solve problems and translate their different languages (technical, business, education); enabling them to meet their own challenges.”

My initial response is that this looks a lot like cross-boundary work. The ‘translate their different languages‘ part has come up in my own research and strongly suggests the importance of empathy and understanding.


Reconstruction seems to me the boldest phase and (sadly) the least likely to occur for this reason. It involves the creation of a new, shared and more equal Third Space. Leadership maintains authority over regular academics by the thinnest of hairs, unlike any other workplace I have ever seen. (Maybe this is part of my problem in understanding HE – is it a workplace or is it something else? If something else, then what? Perhaps that tension between workplace and whatever is one of the charms/challenges of the academy). Leaders are therefore usually unwilling to upset ‘the natural order’ too much and so large scale redistribution of power from academics to professional staff – which is how it would be seen at least – would be met with unbearable resistance. (Which is not to downplay leaders’ unwillingness to cede their own standing either, of course)

The irony is that the way Whitchurch’s 3S professional workers envision such a thing is so seemingly mild:

  • “Interaction with, and respect received from academic colleagues on an equal intellectual footing.”
  • “[Gaining] acceptance of project officer experiences as relevant background…”
  • “I have a good deal of freedom to produce solutions appropriate to the situation and/or project.” (P.14)

Whitchurch (and Bhabha) seem to see reconstruction as a far more significant structural change:

Throughout the process of Reconstruction, therefore, new “rules and resources” are
created. In BHABHA’s terms, the space it offers “displace[s] the histories that
constitute it, and set[s] up new structures of authority… which are inadequately
understood through received wisdom… a new area of negotiation of meaning and
representation” (BHABHA, 1990). These might be represented by, for instance,
recognition of a project within institutional structures via representation on a
formal committee; by the creation of a new department or unit; or, at a system wide
level, by the development of a professional association or publication relating
to a new form of activity, such as institutional research. In this sense new space is
being created that is not defined solely by being ‘in-between’ professional and
academic space.


I have personally considered the need for a professional association for 3S workers (with a teaching support/education advisor focus specifically) but such a thing is a massive endeavour and initial interest was, sadly, tepid at best. (But just because that is my experience doesn’t mean that it couldn’t or shouldn’t be done).

At an institutional level, creating a new unit is feasible but great thought should be given to its leadership and strategic direction to avoid repeating existing structures and problems. Overall, a very compelling collective vision is needed.

Whitchurch’s subjects again highlight how much, despite all the desire for equality between academic and professional staff, the hierarchy is unlikely to shift. Advancement still involves assimilation into the dominant culture.

“Reconstruction, therefore, involves the active contribution of individuals to the formation of new, plural space. As shown in the case profile below, they are, during this process, likely to develop new identities for themselves and their teams. This is reflected in comments such as:

  • “… finding time to undertake a doctorate… required within higher education to be taken seriously.”
  • “… there is always a tension between general management skills and craft-specific skills. I am studying for an MBA to improve the former and training at work for the latter.”

She presents a case study of a media developer that, in my mind, reinforces this idea.

“I’ve had to create my own role, find my own ways into systems and force my way into meetings, rather than wait for someone to ask me to contribute…” They therefore took the initiative in entering fora that might be uncomfortable or challenging in order to progress the
debate about the opportunities offered by technology, both to learning and teaching and
to institutional strategy.”


Her media developer also plainly articulates what I increasingly believe lies at the heart of most of the conflict in Higher Ed – competing priorities:

“I see the management decisions tak[en] around me that seem to be contradicting what I’ve just heard the Vice-Chancellor say… you’ve got two different groups of people often talking two different languages”. These languages expressed different preoccupations and concerns, for instance, in relation to the way that learning outcomes might be achieved so as to meet both academic and institutional objectives.”


Whitchurch moves on to explore an idea that resonates with me – the existence of different kinds of occupants in the Higher Ed Third Space. She identifies ‘tourists’ and ‘permanent residents’. In my time in HE, I have sat on a few recruitment panels and there is invariably a sizable cohort of people (academics) applying for 3S roles as a stop-gap while they wait for their dream ‘proper’ academic job. Given academic precarity, I sympathise but they are rarely hired and there is something mildly insulting at times about the assumption that holding a PhD in ethnomusicology alone is qualification enough to be a learning designer. This is not to say that there aren’t people who can bring great value to 3S roles.

Whitchurch notes that because ‘tourists’ like this “are able to accommodate a degree of open-endedness, uncertainty and even risk, this enables them to be relatively un-phased by Contestation.” (P.17)

“Permanent residents”, on the other hand, see their 3S work as a career or vocation, and

may be involved in all three processes and might be characterised as ‘permanent residents’ who create new forms of space to which they have a sense of belonging. They are therefore more likely to become involved in the Reconstruction process, and to be able to cope both with being ‘an other’ in relation to academic staff, and of being professionals in their own right.


I do, sadly, still question the ability of professional 3S permanent residents to affect the kind of change needed in Reconciliation and Reconstruction but agree that they are more likely to see the value of it happening. In practical terms, most of what they do seems to relate to forming informal networks for knowledge sharing across faculties and departments. I don’t believe that these networks generally include the conventional academics (or leaders) needed to bring change but they are nonetheless vital for supporting 3S workers.

One final thing in this paper that I was quietly happy to see because it ties together two of my own theory angles that I had thought were relatively disparate. Whitchurch discusses the things that institutions might choose to do to create opportunities for better 3S work to occur – this is effectively putting Practice Architectures (Kemmis, 2013) in place.

Institutions may wish, therefore, to consider what might be the conditions and variables that affect the ways in which the Third Space might be made to work for them. These might include, for instance:

  • Staffing profile (background, length of service, experience, networks, qualifications).
  • The nature of individual projects (balance of activity, number of partners, maturity of partnership, extent of “strong” and “weak” ties – Granovetter, 1973).
  • Institution/sub-institution mission, aspirations, niche market.”

She also proposes this set of recommendations for institutions to consider:

  • The development of ‘mature’ relationships through the processes of contestation, reconciliation, and reconstruction may complement formal reporting lines.
  • The development of management practices that facilitate rather than control these three processes.
  • The creation of job descriptions that facilitate mobility and role enhancement.
  • Inclusion of activities such as partnership building and development in workload models and promotion criteria.
  • The use of rewards and incentives (not necessarily financial), such as responsibility allowances, eligibility for special awards, and professional development opportunities for those working in the Third Space.
  • The use of attachments and associations to recognize crossover activity, for example, in an institutional center for teaching and learning or higher education studies.
  • How to acknowledge that for some individuals, the lack of structure and clear parameters in the Third Space may be uncomfortable and even cause anxiety, and how to find ways to support them through mentoring or coaching. (P.19)

She concludes with this observation that possibly sums up everything at the heart of the Third Space and which leads me to question some of my assumptions about the importance of organisational structures. Not all of them though, as I still believe that these structures can be directly tied to the strength of relationships and opportunities for them to flourish.

What seems clear, however, is that relationships rather than structures are at the heart of the way that Third Space works for individuals and institutions.

Hemmings, B., Kemmis, S., & Reupert, A. (2013). Practice architectures of university inclusive education teaching in Australia. Professional Development in Education, 39(4), 470–487.
Whitchurch, C. (2010). Optimising the Potential of Third Space Professionals in Higher Education. Zeitschrift für Hochschulentwicklung.

literature theory third space Uncategorized

Take two – New thoughts on Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: the Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education (Whitchurch, 2008)

I find myself returning to what might be considered the source for discussion of ‘third space’ workers in Higher Education after first exploring it 7 years ago in this post. (As it happens, earlier today I used the term “academish” in a Threads post and I kind of like this as an alternative to third space in my world)

I am back for two main reasons – I am now at the very point end of my doctoral studies, with just over 9 months to go and need to think deeply about exactly how this theory informs and applies to my work. I have also had an EOI accepted for a third space (or 3S as I have taken to abbreviating it) special issue of the London Review of Education due in January and, again, want to make sure that I really know what I’m talking about.

The first time I read this, I was just beginning to cast around for ideas and for language to describe this space. Now that I have gathered data and looked at this world from all angles, I am far better equipped to decide if this gives me what I need and whether I might be able to extend it. Which is fine, at the end of this article, Whitchurch states:

“It is suggested, therefore, that new forms of third space professional will continue to emerge”


Whitchurch has certainly advanced and extended her own thinking about the third space (do I capitalise this?) in the years since writing this article, as have other writers that have picked up the concept along the way. Something I struggled with in the first pass was the fact that this article doesn’t really refer to EdAdvisors at all. It is far more centred around people in organisational leadership roles or senior administrative roles relating to work that sits between academic/educational and organisational. These include things like “student transitions, community partnerships and professional practice” (p.378). She focuses on professional staff in roles like general manager, finance/HR and niche specialists (research management, quality assurance). She excluded staff in academic practice and PD roles.

This is now ok to me as I know that I can look at later work for the EdAd focus. Instead what I really want to make more sense of is boundaries and boundedness and exactly how it works and what it looks like.

Sadly I still don’t think I have the clarity about this that I would like, but I at least can see the building blocks of the concepts which I feel will be fleshed out in subsequent work.

What follows now is the notes that I took reading this (properly) on my second time around. It will be somewhat disjointed and consist largely of large sections of quotes. This is primarily my way of having a conversation with the article and putting aside quotes that might be useful in my thesis.

From the abstract:

“The paper goes on to introduce the concept of third space as an emergent territory between academic and professional domains, which is colonised primarily by less bounded forms of professional”


From the introduction

“In this space, the concept of administrative service has become reoriented towards one of partnership with academic colleagues and the multiple constituencies with whom institutions interact”


This is one point at which I don’t think this necessarily applies to EdAds, because partnership suggests a relationship with relatively even power dynamics. Academic Developers may come closer to this than other roles but we are largely in a service position.

“As noted in Whitchurch (2006b), the terms ‘administration’ and ‘management’ not only lack precision as descriptors of the activities of professional staff, but have been contested in an academic environment, administration for its association with unwanted bureaucracy, and management for its association with what is perceived as an erosion of academic autonomy as institutions respond to competitive markets and government accountability requirements”


Using the concept of identity to provide a vocabulary to describe 3S workers who often have PG quals, teaching/research experience and work on complex institutional projects.

“It builds on contemporary ideas about the fluidity of identity (Delanty, 2007; Taylor, 2007) to describe ways in which individuals are not only interpreting their given roles more actively (Whitchurch, 2004) but are also moving laterally across functional and organisational boundaries to create new professional spaces, knowledges and relationships


From Redefining Professional boundaries

In her sample, she identifies 50% as bounded, 33% as cross-boundary and 17% as unbounded

These definitions are kind of the heart of this theory. At this stage, I am not 100% convinced that they are entirely applicable to EdAds but I think they provide something that I can build on.

“Individuals who located themselves within the boundaries of a function or organizational location that they had either constructed for themselves, or which had been imposed upon them. These people were characterized by their concern for continuity and the maintenance of processes and standards, and by the performance of roles that were relatively prescribed. They were categorized as bounded professionals


On re-reading this, I mainly note that Whitchurch identifies function OR location as ways that boundedness might occur. This is big for me as I had always thought about boundaries in terms of location, and thought that I was being far bolder than I turned out being in my proposal that function/activity might determine boundaries.

Individuals who recognized and actively used boundaries to build strategic advantage and institutional capacity, capitalizing on their knowledge of territories on either side of the boundaries that they encountered. They were likely to display negotiating and political skills, and also likely to interact with the external environment. These were categorized as cross-boundary professionals and, as in the case of bounded professionals, boundaries were a defining mechanism for them

P. 382-383

“Individuals who displayed a disregard for boundaries, focusing on broadly-based projects across the university such as widening participation and student transitions, and on the development of their institutions for the future. These people undertook work that might be described as institutional research and development, drawing on external experience and contacts, and were as likely to see their futures outside higher education as within the sector. They were categorised as unbounded professionals.”

P. 383

This is an even more senior/powerful role. On one hand, I can see this being primarily the work of ADs BUT is it possible that central ETs with a responsibility for implementing enterprise ed tech might be unbounded?? OR does the whole university effectively become their boundary? OR does the central/faculty divide form a boundary of its own?

A fourth category, of blended professionals, who were being recruited to dedicated appointments that spanned both professional and academic domains, was explored in greater detail in the second set of interviews. They worked in areas such as regional partnership, learning support, outreach and offshore provision, and were likely to have mixed backgrounds and portfolios, as well as external experience in a contiguous environment such as regional development or the charitable sector


This sounds closer to EdAds, in reality, but I still don’t love it. Whitchurch’s primary emphasis was on the first three categories, only expanding to define the fourth in her second round of interviews with professionals outside the UK. External experience in a contiguous environment might stretch here to capture the EdAds who came from schools/VET?

My main problem with the ‘blended professionals’ category is that it seemed to define people by their professional background while the other three define them by their relationships to boundaries in their current roles. These two things don’t seem in sync.

Bounded professionals might be said to be ‘social subjects of particular discourses’ (Hall, 1996, p.6) with identities that comprise essential elements ‘ “taken on” through shared practices’ (Taylor, 2008, p.29)


I should check out Delanty and Taylor on Identity

“The other categories demonstrate, as Delanty (2008) suggests, that identity construction may also be contingent upon the position that an individual adopts in relation to variables such as organisational structures and work teams”


This might be a nice link for me to springboard off to bring Org structures into the into discussion.

Whitchurch adds a note to her discussion of blended professionals that they occupy roles spanning both professional and academic domains in areas including regional partnerships, learning support, outreach and offshore provision.

She also notes that bounded staff are generally not 3S

This typology is offered an a heuristic device to illustrate a disposition towards one spatial location or another and comes with the ‘health warning’ that individual positionings are not necessarily fixed or immutable, in that individuals may, for instance, occupy different forms of space at different stages of their career, or move between them according to circumstances


This is another big one for me as my data indicates a certain fluidity between 3S categories or a reluctance to be put into one basket.

Respondents in the study also suggested that an entree to, and understanding of, academic space was essential to growing new forms of activity and integrating them within the institutional portfolio… A key element was developing an appropriate language, for instance about partnership activity, that ‘spoke to’ both academic and professional world views


This is another key point that I missed the first time around – the importance of ‘code-switching’ to demonstrate that you understand the people that you are working with.

There is still a frustrating lack of detail about exactly what form boundaries take or how they work. I am a sucker for some practical examples. Given that she did semi-structured interviews, the absence of participant quotes seems strange too. I get that boundaries can be many different things but still…

At the same time as legitimacies associated with administration and management are contested in the literature, there is evidence that staff are constructing new forms of authority via the institutional knowledges and relationships that they create on a personal, day to day basis


This refers to the tendency of academics to come back to you for help once you have successfully assisted them in solving a problem. This may including seeking help for problems outside your remit or expertise. There is a very interesting nugget of an idea here for me that EdAds, who are commonly considered tools of management (particularly central ones) can strive to establish themselves as experts occupying neither space. A tightrope to walk, sure.

“Credibility within an institution, therefore, would appear to depend on building a profile in the local situation. In turn this is likely to be facilitated by, for instance:

  • gaining the support of a key individual such as a pro vice-chancellor
  • obtaining academic credentials such as a master’s or doctoral degree
  • finding ‘safe space’ in which to experiment with new forms of activity and relationships
  • being comfortable with institutional ‘messiness’ (De Rond, 2003) and projects that may be unfinished and unfinishable; and
  • being able to use ambiguity to advantage; for instance, an individual might use the fact that they do not have a clear association with a specific organisational or professional location to build common ground with different constituencies.

It may be, therefore, that not only will third space experience be increasingly attractive to staff, but also that it may become a prerequisite for career development. It may also be that the concept of the generalist professional manager is being superseded by the idea of the project manager, who carries generic experience from project to project”


Ok, so there is a fair bit to unpack in this short section and I must acknowledge that I have less understanding of the specific work areas that Whitchurch was writing about. It is hard not to take away some sense of professional staff being seen as tools to get the job done who can then be disposed of – hopefully going off to find another project to be an expert on but ultimately that is their concern. Job security doesn’t seem to be noteworthy. It would be interesting to explore, 15 years on, whether working in the third space in these kinds of roles has in fact become seen as more desirable as an employment option. Third space work as EdAdvisors has certainly flourished but I couldn’t say that it necessarily reflects the autonomy implied in this work. Based on the data in my survey, it would appear that around 70% of EdAds have ongoing/permanent contracts, so this concept of fly-in, fly-out experts doesn’t seem to apply here.

The individual dot points are interesting in themselves. High level support for your project is certainly vital, I am less convinced that having a master’s matters – but a doctorate may be another matter. Creating a safe space for experimentation is a perennial call but I do not recall seeing this actively embraced anywhere. Being comfortable with institutional messiness is absolutely a vital survival strategy – there are far too many cooks in every HE kitchen. I am unconvinced that many if any people are able to present themselves as neutral in the third space, given that they are invariably employed by central and their brief almost always involves pushing a university initiative, which commonly conflicts with individual or faculty priorities.

Whitchurch acknowledges the differences in management at play between project-based work and ongoing line management:

“despite the fact that individuals working in third space were characterised by strong lateral relationships and networks, they appeared to find hierarchical relationships and line-management responsibility for their own staff more challenging.”


Implications for institutions

Whitchurch goes on to consider the impact of organisational structures on the effectiveness of 3S workers

“While bounded approaches to bounded activity are likely to continue to be required to maintain processes and systems, to safeguard academic and regulatory standards, and to ensure organisational continuity, it may also be helpful for institutions to consider how these might be balanced with less bounded approaches… Discussions about the shape of the professional workforce might include, for instance, whether or not more project oriented individuals might assist in stimulating new thinking and ways of working”


She ties boundedness to organisational silos and goes on to ask if, because most of her bounded subjects are in their 50s, boundedness is a generational thing.

“Although more flexible working practices appear to be associated with younger staff as might be expected, it may be that less bounded form of professional become more bounded if they remain for a long period in the same field, in turn creating their own boundaries”


The very obvious (to me) follow up question would be whether this happens with discipline based academics and whether this is equally seen as a cause for concern. Once again, I must note that Whitchurch’s subjects in this study were more management focused. I also note that in my data, Education Technologists (ETs) seem to skew a little older than other roles (Learning Designers or Academic Developers) and have also, generally, held the same role for longer. The question of whether and how ETs are bounded has particular interest for me – being one, and also noting that this is by far the most under-researched of the EdAdvisor roles. ETs occupy a particular niche but their work necessitates engaging with many different parts of the institution to get things done and knowing how to navigate these relationships. Maybe part of this LRE paper needs to include an examination of levels of boundedness between different role types.

Whitchurch alludes to the idea that there is a third space other than central/faculty – but frustratingly doesn’t say what it is

“Organisational positionings of staff may, therefore, be more complex than, for instance, Clark’s (1998) distinctions suggest, in that professional staff are not only operating “at the centre” (in the central Administration) and the periphery (for instance in academic departments) but are also creating new locales in the third space”


Moving around institutions

“…the study suggests that it may be helpful for institutions to modify a belief that such mobility represents ‘disloyalty’, in that such individuals may make a more significant contribution to an institution in the period that they are there than more long-serving staff. There may need to be, therefore, a revision of the value accorded to professional staff who bring expertise from elsewhere, but also have the potential to move on when they have completed a specific project”


Again, the point is being made with the best interests of the institution in mind here but I can’t help feel that it overestimates the respect given to the expertise of professional staff at the best of times, and it also seems rather unconcerned about their disposability. This might be clarified by encouraging more mobility within the institution while also supporting ongoing employment. Or does she just assume that highly skilled practitioners with experience in one institution will have that experience valued in another and they will be highly sought after?

She concludes with a statement that I like, which I partially quoted at the start of this post.

“It may also be that those institutions that are able to give recognition to more extended ways of working with be the most likely to maximise the contribution of their staff, and to achieve an effective accommodation with their current and future environments. It is suggested, therefore, that new forms of third space professional will continue to emerge.”

Whitchurch, C. (2008). Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: the Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(4), 377–396.

AI CMM higher education

Ed tech must reads: column #85

First published in Campus Morning Mail 6th June, 2023

Before I kick off the final instalment of this column (in this place), I’d like to quickly thank Stephen Matchett for his tireless work on CMM and acknowledge the significant contribution that he has made in informing and enlightening the HE community. I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to be part of it.

I will be carrying on the Ed/Tech must-reads column from next week as a free Substack newsletter, so please sign up for uninterrupted service. Now on with the show.

GPT detectors are biased against non-native English writers from arXiv

As HE leaders continue to search for the academic integrity silver bullet and vendors continue to promise the world, the news from the world of Gen AI detection tools remains bleak. This study from five Stanford computing academics isn’t peer-reviewed but it does make a strong case that detection tools consistently generate false positives when evaluating the work of non-native English speakers. In addition, they find that they were able to use iterative prompting to largely bypass detectors, with requests such as “elevate the provided text by employing literary language”

Student Perceptions of AI-Generated Avatars in Teaching Business Ethics: We Might not be Impressed from Postdigital Science and Education

Among the ‘fun’ advancements in our current age of GenAI has been the ability to generate video and audio of realistic human avatars from text. Vallis, Wilson, Gozman and Buchanan (USyd) explored student perceptions of the use of these avatars in a redesigned Business Ethics unit. They found that students were far more ambivalent than they had expected and were interested in the potential of being able to customise your own digital lecturer. Some students weren’t aware that avatars had been used until it was pointed out, which itself sparked further thinking about ethics. The fact that the avatars were too ‘smooth’, lacking the usual fillers, stumbles and digressions was noted as a downside.

Prototypes-in-progress for bi(nary)-curious university educators and researchers from Safe-to-fail AI

For those people keen to get their hands (virtually) dirty, this site from Armin Alimardani (UoW) and Emma Jane (UNSW) offers some usable prototypes of GenAI tools built specifically for use in Australian Higher Education. These include student quiz feedback, a course outline FAQ, conversational AI and a speech recognition tool.

ASCII art by chatbot from AI weirdness

And finally, in reassuring news from the AI trenches, this collection of bizarre attempts at ASCII art (art made up of letters, numbers and characters) from ChatGPT shows that some areas are still safe. A giraffe that looks more like an elongated human skull and a running uniform that looks like the outline of a heart are highlights for me.

And that’s it for me. I hope to see you next week on the Substack.

AI CMM discussion H5P higher education Microcredentials

Ed tech must reads: column #84

First published in Campus Morning Mail 6th June, 2023

Celebrating 10 Years of H5P: Empowering TEL in Higher Education from The Edvisor

One of the best things that the Internet gives us in terms of Technology Enhanced Learning is the ability to create interactive and engagement multimedia learning resources. As technology has developed, this has become increasingly accessible to educators with even the most basic digital skills. H5P is a powerful free open source tool and Amelia Di Paolo (UTS) walks us through some of its most useful features in this handy primer for the TELedvisors Network blog.

A Strategic Institutional Response to Micro-Credentials: Key Questions for Educational Leaders from Journal of Interactive Media in Education

Progress on integrating Micro-Credentials into tertiary education in a meaningful way has been frustratingly slow over the last 15+ years, given the opportunities this modality offers to provide highly targeted qualifications supporting lifelong learning. Brown, McGreal and Peters provide a comprehensive summary of progress made in this space in Europe, North America and Australia and provide insights into the ways that a general lack of understanding of the model has hampered implementation at scale.

Why do digital transformations fail? From Stephen Downes

Stephen Downes was one of the key players when MOOCs hit the scene, so he is worth listening to when it comes to big picture discussions about under and over-hyped education technologies that are meant to change the world. This 96 min presentation to this year’s Canadian Network for Innovation in Education event ranges across the Technology Acceptance Model, AI (of course), Blockchain and Metaverse.

How to create livelier asynchronous discussions from Chronicle of Higher Education

Amidst all the discussions of fancy education technologies, the humble discussion forum is probably the one that appears in the most LMS units and yet is often also the one that we struggle to generate engagement with. This brief post from Beckie Supiano provides five simple suggestions for sparking interaction, including requiring students to weave in researched evidence and share their thought processes.

10 minutes chats – Generative AI from Monash Education Academy

These bite-sized discussions of core ideas in the Gen AI space hosted by Tim Fawns seem promising and I look forward to seeing the remainder in the series, releasing here weekly. In this episode he discusses how we need to reframe our thinking of GenAI with the Open University’s Mike Sharples.

And that it is for the penultimate edition of this column. CMM is closing up shop at the end of next week, so stay tuned until then for information about where you will next be able to tune into my Ed Tech must reads.

AI CMM higher education Webinar

Ed tech must reads: column #83

First published in Campus Morning Mail 30th May, 2023

Learning to work with the black box: Pedagogy for a world with artificial intelligence from British Journal of Educational Technology

Margaret Bearman and Rola Ajjawi (Deakin) make a strong case for embracing uncertainty when it comes to the use of GenAI tools in learning and teaching, given that the technology is largely an unknowable ‘black box’. Instead of focusing our efforts on trying to understand these tools, they suggest orienting students to quality standards surrounding AIs and creating meaning opportunities to engage with the tools.

Minute Papers: the ultimate teaching tool for busy educators from Teche

Reflection is learning is often paid lip service but its value in embedding understanding of concepts is often sadly underutilised. Karina Luzia from Macquarie Uni discusses a highly effective and easy to deliver teaching activity in the form of the Minute paper. (60 seconds, not tiny). This asks students to ask a couple of quick questions at the end of a class about what they feel they have learnt in the session and what they are still struggling with. In addition to allowing learners to contextualise the material with the rest of their understanding, overall student progress is very quickly on display to the educator.

Cameras Optional? Examining Student Camera Use from a Learner-Centered Perspective from TechTrends

It’s been a little while since the vexed question of whether educators should/could require students to keep cameras on in Zoom sessions but it is nice to see some tangible evidence instead of feelpinions. Trust & Goodman (UMass) apply psychological principles to find that there can be very valid reasons for students to struggle with being on camera that impact their learning. The authors do offer suggestions on working with learners to find a balance that comes closer to meeting the needs of everyone.

US Sues Online Learning Company Over Students’ Data Privacy from Human Rights Watch

This is a US story but concerns about Big Tech misusing personal data are universal. In this rather egregious example, Edmodo is being sued by the US Govt for using school students’ data to deliver targeted ads to them during the shift to online learning in the pandemic.

Education and Learning: a helpful distinction from Third Space Perspectives – Exploring Integrated Practice.

If there is one thing I have noticed in HE it is the love that many people have for a robust debate about the best terminology to use in a given situation. I throw my hat into the ring here, making a case that we can add clarity to the purpose and activities of Third Space staff (learning designers, education technologists etc) with judicious use of the terms ‘learning’ and ‘education’.

AI CMM higher education Webinar

Ed tech must reads: column #82

First published in Campus Morning Mail 23rd May, 2023

Can large language models write reflectively from Computers and Education: Artificial Intelligence

Among the strategies often presented for designing assessment tasks to counter the GenAI menace is having students write personal reflections about their learning that unfeeling robots would be likely to struggle with. While anecdotal evidence suggests that it might be catching up quickly, Li et al. from Monash and UniMelb note that this assumption is largely untested in current research. They found that ChatGPT is now able to generate “reflections” that outscore human reflections in Pharmacy related subjects. Interestingly they also claim to have built a classifier that is able to detect GenAI produced work with higher accuracy than human assessors – assuming students work within a given set of relatively specific prompts that the classifier has been trained on.

Artificial Intelligence resources from TEQSA

One might hope that a regulatory body such as TEQSA would be up to speed on the emergent GenAI space, and their resources page is encouraging. Assembling a host of guides and explainers from Australian universities (including some that my colleagues and I worked on), you can find useful information on assessment, incorporating AI tools into teaching and engaging with students.

Impact of generated AI on the landscape of higher education – Webinar Thurs June 1, 1pm AEST from HERDSA

Rounding out our GenAI news, this webinar from the Victoria branch of HERDSA next week features Ass. Profs Trish McCluskey (Deakin) and Danny Liu (USyd) as well as students from law, engineering, commerce, and neuroscience. The student voice is still somewhat underrepresented in these discussions, and it is good to see that being addressed.

The value of recognition programs: The new PSF and beyond – Webinar Thurs May 25th, 12pm AEST from ASCILITE TELedvisors Network

A common concern raised in learning and teaching circles in Higher Ed is that teaching is undervalued, and career progression is still overly centred around research prowess. A growing number of Australian universities are working to shift the culture by participating in the UK based Advanced HE’s HEA fellowship program. This program is informed by the Professional Standards Framework and QUT’s Prof Abby Cathcart provides an update of changes to the PSF and the larger implications for accrediting and recognising expertise in learning and teaching in the sector.

academic publishing AI assessment CMM Domain name ed tech edtech higher education Webinar

Ed tech must reads: column #81

First published in Campus Morning Mail 16th May, 2023

Deskilling on the job from Danah Boyd | Apophenia

The question of how Generative AI technologies will change the future is frequently asked and even more frequently (and badly) answered but rarely as thoughtfully as in this post from Danah Boyd, a researcher at Microsoft. She approaches it through the simple frame of whether work will be automated or augmented and raises the vital issue of how we prevent core skills from atrophying if we outsource our tasks to the machines.

The impact of ChatGPT on higher education: what have we learnt? Webinar from TEQSA/CRADLE, Monday June 5th 2-4pm (AEST)

For a more immediate perspective, it is coming up to six months since ChatGPT was released and we have now had a teaching period or two to see how this is reshaping learning and teaching in Higher Education. This joint webinar from TEQSA and Deakin’s CRADLE brings together Rowena Harper (ECU), Simon Buckingham Shum (UTS), Phillip Dawson and Margaret Bearman (Deakin) and Helen Gniel (TEQSA) for an academic perspective on where we are currently.

49th edition of Professional Development Opportunities in Educational Technology and Education from Clayton R Wright

This thesis length document is probably the most comprehensive listing you will find of conferences, webinars and other events in the education technology and education space. US based events are heavily represented but there are also a host of events from around the world. If you are of a mind to plan your travel/PD through to September 2026, this is the list for you.

Google Announces 8 New Top Level Domains Including One For Lawyers from Search Engine Journal

There are two reasons that this story matters. The mild one is that you can now register a web domain ending in either .phd, .prof or (if you feel fancy) .esq. The more eyebrow-raising one is that this list also includes .zip and .mov. Given that these are both common file extensions – .mov representing Apple video files – the potential for confusion and malfeasance in web links is alarming. Be wary.

Elsevier is losing editors from Dr Glaucomflecken

The recent mass exodus of editors from Elsevier’s NeuroImage journal is discussed beautifully in this biting video from ophthalmologist and academic TikTok comedian Dr Glaucomflecken.

AI assessment CMM ed tech edtech higher education

Ed tech must reads: column #80

First published in Campus Morning Mail 9th May, 2023

How does assessment drive learning? A focus on students’ development of evaluative judgement from Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education

Assessment is clearly an integral part of learning and determining whether learning has occurred, but less thought is often given to how it shapes what students are learning and how. This insightful article from Fischer, Bearman, Boud and Tai at Deakin’s CRADLE (of course) takes an ethnographical approach to exploring how physics students navigate a number of summative assessment tasks. It notes that they make independent evaluative judgements about they way they study as much as their work itself and highlights the value of authentic assessments at a program level and partnering with students on curriculum design.

How to customize LLMs like ChatGPT with your own data and documents from TechTalks

Given the towering stack of (virtual) articles in my own reading list, there is a certain appeal in the idea of feeding it to a robot and simply asking my questions. This article outlines the practicalities of this somewhat involved process, but it should be noted that the ‘token’ (words or word fragments) limits on Large Language Models such as GPT4 range from between 2000 to 32000, so it is likely able to ingest more a mound than a mountain of papers. But one day.

How to cite ChatGPT from APA Style

I am highly aware that some people feel that citing ChatGPT is akin to citing Clippy or Grammarly but this is the world we now live in and as GenAI tools become part of our work processes they need to integrate with other practices. The APA explains here why the use of GenAI differs from ‘personal communications’ and offers a format for in-text and reference citations. It also notes the importance of adding an appendix detailing the prompts and processes used with these tools.

The Five Pathologies of EdTech Discourse About Generative AI from OnEdTech Blog

Now that everyone with an opinion seems to have self-identified as a GenAI expert, which at least gives the epidemiologists in the room a breather, a lot of the discussion in this space seems to have settled into a number of repeated talking points. This post from Glenda Morgan examines five key themes that emerge whenever a new Ed Tech appears (MOOCs, Learning Analytics, Mixed/Augmented Reality) and considers their validity in this new context. This includes a preoccupation with trendiness, exaggerated results, technology solutionism, overemphasis on application to learning and moral panics.

AI Bluesky CMM ed tech edtech feedback higher education learning analytics

Ed tech must reads: column #79

First published in Campus Morning Mail 2nd May, 2023

Prompt engineering for educators – making generative AI work for you from Teaching@Sydney

This post from Danny Liu (USyd) offers some simple but effective prompting suggestions to support retrieval practices, learning through analogies, lesson planning, simulations and more.

Quick Start Guide to ChatGPT and AI in Higher Education from UNESCO

The entire UNESCO guide here is concise and timely but I particularly like Mike Sharples’ table of the range of roles that GenAI tools can play in learning and teaching, with tangible exemplars. It ranges from alternative ways to express an idea to personal tutoring all the way to creating games to help engage learners.

You’ve Got Mail: A Technology-Mediated Feedback Strategy to Support Self-Regulated Learning in First-Year University Students from Student Success

The transition from High School to Higher Ed can be a challenge for many students, with the assumption that as adult learners they will take greater responsibility for their own learning. Early interventions have long been considered vital in supporting new students to engage and develop self-regulated learning practices. This study from Sauchelli, Heath, Richardson, Lewis (UniSA) and Lim (UTS) indicates that while technology mediated emails to students – generated based on learning analytic data – appear to increase motivation, they do not necessarily affect student learning strategies and more support for these may be needed.

Valuing teaching: exploring how a university’s strategic documents reflect institutional teaching culture from International Journal of Academic Development

While all universities have learning and teaching strategies and commitments to educational excellence, in practice the extent to which learning and teaching is valued (compared to research say) can have a marked affect on quality. This Canadian paper from Shaw et al. analyses institutional strategic documents based on a six point Teaching Culture Framework. They, unsurprisingly, found that the loftiness of the language often conflicted with useful, actionable specificity about what exactly the institution believes good learning and teaching should look like in practice.

Bluesky does not “own everything you post” from Dr Casey Fiesler (Twitter)

Bluesky is the long awaited or hoped for Twitter replacement from Twitter creator Jack Dorsey. Invitations to the beta-release are already selling for hundreds of dollars. In “news” that crops up from time to time, someone read the Terms of Service and noticed that the platform asks for a non-exclusive licence to publish your posts. Casey Fiesler explains why this is boiler plate language needed by all social platforms and not a grand IP theft conspiracy.

AI assessment CMM ed tech edtech education design Education Technologist Entangled Pedagogy feedback H5P higher education

Ed tech must reads: column #78

First published in Campus Morning Mail 26th April, 2023

I have a cunning plan from Guerilla Warfare blog

Kane Murdoch (Macquarie) has worked in the academic integrity investigation space for many years and has seen a lot. With this AI being discussed almost as much as the other one, he shares a bold vision for re-shaping assessment in Higher Ed by doing away with grading for first year assessments and focussing more on feedback to foster a love of learning rather than grade grubbing in students. It has generated no small amount of discussion on Twitter.

Sounds good to me: A qualitative study to explore the use of audio to potentiate the student feedback experience from Journal of Professional Nursing

The importance of feedback in student learning is (rightly) getting far more attention than it once did. This study from Anne Kirwan, Sara Raftery and Clare Gormley at Dublin City University describes their analysis of responses from 199 nursing students to written and audio feedback, indicating that students benefited significantly from the latter.

Sensemaking Lectures from GRAILE

Coming back to the other AI, George Siemen’s (and co.) Global Research Alliance for AI in Learning and Education (GRAILE) organisation has launched a 12 month speaker series covering the deeper issues that we need to face in the new age of Artificial Intelligence. The program kicks off on May 10th with noted futurist Bryan Alexander considering the next 10 years.

Entangled pedagogy: why does it matter to educational design from ASCILITE TELall Blog

In discussions about the role and prominence of technology in 21st century learning and teaching we often hear the belief that pedagogy should always come first. Tim Fawns (Monash) continues his line of thinking that pedagogy and technology are now so utterly intertwined that this is neither practical nor helpful. Instead, he posits that we need to aspire to a state where purpose, context and values are emphasised other either.

The H5P Report from EdTech Designer

H5P is an incredibly powerful and accessible open source tool for creating a range of interactive learning resources. Benjamin Waller, a Canberra Institute of Technology education designer has launched a polished and informative (8 min) vodcast keeping people up to date with the latest news and features in the H5P world.