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SOCRMx Week #8: The End

Well I probably said all that I needed to say on my general feelings about this MOOC in my last post so this is largely for the sake of completion. The final week of this course is a peer assessed piece of writing analysing the methods used in a sample paper. Turns out that I missed the deadline to write that – I may even have been working on my Week 7 post when that deadline fell – so this appears to be the end of the road for me. I could still go through and do the work but I found the supplied paper unrelated to my research and using methodologies that I have little interest in. The overall questions raised and things to be mindful of in the assessment instructions are enough.

  • What method of analysis was used?
  • How was the chosen method of analysis appropriate to the data?
  • What other kinds of analysis might have been used?
  • How was the analysed designed? Is the design clearly described? What were its strengths and weaknesses?
  • What kind of issues or problems might one identify with the analysis?
  • What are the key findings and conclusions, and how are they justified through the chosen analysis techniques?

And so with that, I guess I’m done with SOCRMx. In spite of my disengagement with the community, the resources and the structure really have been of a high standard and, more importantly, incredibly timely for me. As someone returning to study after some time who has not ever really had a formal research focus, there seems to be a lot of assumed knowledge about research methodology and having this opportunity to get a birds-eye view of the various options was ideal. I know I still have a long way to go but this has been a nice push in the right direction.

 

Research update #36: Playing well with others

The nature of my research topic, with a focus on the status of professional staff in an academic world, feels risky at times. While I know that academic staff occupy edvisor roles as well, I have a feeling that I’ll be digging into sensitive areas around the academic/professional divide that often seem to be swept under the carpet because they raise uncomfortable questions about privilege and class in the academy and some entrenched beliefs about what makes academics special. It would be incredibly presumptuous for me to think that my ideas are all necessarily right and the point of research is to put them to the test and see where they take me but there’s a fair chance that some of what I’m going to have to say won’t always be well received by some of the people that I work with and who pay me. The other big issue is whether if my findings demonstrate a blind spot to professional staff in academics, those same academics responsible for assessing my research will see the value in my work.

Fortunately at this stage I don’t have my heart set on a career as an academic – I really do like doing what I do – but it seems imprudent to prematurely cut one’s options. I am conscious that I need to be more researcherly or scholarly in the language that I use in this space. I sent out a slightly provocative tweet yesterday, prompted by a separate (joke) tweet that I saw which said that the fastest way to assemble a bibliography was to publicly bemoan the lack of research in topic x. 

After 36 hours I’ve had no literature recommended but a university Pro Vice-Chancellor replied suggesting a collaboration on this area of mutual interest. Which surprised and flattered me greatly, considering that I was concerned that I’d come across as a little bolshie in my questions. Maybe it’s wrong of me to see academics as some kind of monolithic whole.

Maybe the trick is to just worry less and be honest. You can’t please everyone and if you can stand behind your work, maybe that’s enough.

I’m not sure. We seem to live in incredibly sensitive times.

 

 

Research update #31: Commonalities and differences

Coming back to the ever-reliable Pat Thomson list of things to PhD blog about:

Things that I have in common with other PhDers

We’re all on the same kind of journey and I assume are facing the same questions and concerns about how to go about doing it and what it’s all for.

We have a deep enough interest in what we’re researching to be able to stick with it.

Things that I don’t feel that I have in common

I’m doing this part-time (while working full-time) and at a distance. This means that I don’t have that at-hand network of peers and the opportunities to participate in the many and varied seminars, presentations, workshops, social events and whatever else happens when you’re a full time PhD student studying on campus. This means that I need to bore my friends and some trusted colleagues stupid with questions, thoughts and ideas that are more often met with blank looks than engagement. There is also my wider online community of peers in practice and I am thankful for them and their wisdom every day – but still, sometimes it would be nice to have those personal conversations too. Particularly when I’m still not quite good enough at expressing the nuance of what I want to say in online discussions and it all comes out a bit wrong.

Not much to do about that other than press on really though.

On the plus side, I think I’ve read enough now and teased through my ideas sufficiently to put some kind of research proposal together – the next step in progressing the PhD research. I had a structure and a project plan that went hopelessly awry as I realised that it wasn’t really about what I need to explore, so I guess the next step is to nut out the outline and create a new plan.

My former housemate is hopefully today nutting out the very final tweaks to her thesis before she submits it on Monday. Even though she’s in an entirely different discipline, we had some great chats about all aspects of PhD life.

Thoughts on: Reconceptualising academic work as professional practice: implications for academic development (Boud & Brew, 2013)

I’ve been really struggling to process my thoughts on this paper for the last week. I’ll read a few pages, furiously scribbling notes all over it, and then need to step away to deal with my responses to it.

Now this isn’t particularly uncommon for me as it helps me feel that I’m part of a discourse and I try to create action items for future followup, particularly with citations. It often also feels like the most convenient place to jot down other ideas, like the spectrum of edvisor practices that I’ve started on the bottom of page two there. But I think I’ve probably written more on this paper than most because while I agree with most of the broad principles, the lack of understanding that it demonstrates of the practices of academic development and the capacity of academic developers to effect significant change in the institution undercuts much of what it has to say. Which surprises and disappoints me, particularly because I’ve spoken to one of the authors on several occasions and have great respect for his other work and I’ve read many of the other author’s papers and hold her in similar esteem. She has also, according to her bio, worked as an academic developer and co-edited the academic journal that this paper appears in, which makes it even harder to understand some of the misperceptions of this kind of work.

Which leads me to question my own perceptions. Am I overly defensive about what feels like an attack of the competence and professionalism of my colleagues and I? Is the environment that I work in uniquely different and my attitudes towards the development of academics that far out of the norm suggested by this paper? Perhaps most importantly am I taking this too personally and is my emotional response out of proportion to the ideas in the paper?

I suspect that part of my frustration is that the paper begins by talking about something which sounds like academic development but which ends up being a call for a complete revision of all aspects of academic practice and an implication that academic developers should really do something about that.

Assuming that academic development or academic developers are even actually necessary in the first place. There are a couple of telling remarks that, to me at least, strongly imply that academic development is a cynical exercise by university management to impose training on an academic staff that doesn’t need it – they did a PhD after all – in the interests of ensuring compliance with organisational policy and being seen to do something.

Or to put it another way (emphasis mine):

The development of academics is based on the notion that institutions need to provide opportunities for their academic employees to develop across a range of roles. Any initial training (e.g. through undertaking a PhD) is not sufficient for them to be able to meet the complex and increasing demands of the modern academy. Their development is an essentially pragmatic enterprise aimed at making an impact on academics and their work, prompted by perceptions that change is needed. This change has been stimulated variously by: varying needs and a greater diversity of students, external policy initiatives, accountability pressures and organisational desires to be seen to attend to the development of personnel. (p.208)

“Varying needs” almost seems to be used as a get-out-of-jail free card for those apparently rare instances where an academic might benefit from some additional training to be able to meet their responsibilities in teaching, research, service and potentially management.

There’s another section where the authors discuss the challenges of academic development. It’s close to a page long – 4 solid paragraphs, 22 lengthy sentences – yet it lacks a single citation to support any of the assertions that the authors make. The main argument made is that academic developers (and their units) don’t provide academics with the development that will help them because the developers are beholden to the agendas of the institution. The same institution, I should mention, that is governed at an executive level by senior academics who presumably have a deep understanding of academic practices.

Like most forms of education and training, academic development is continually at risk from what might be termed ‘provider-capture’, that is, it becomes driven by the needs of the providers and those who sponsor them, rather than the needs of beneficiaries’ (p. 210)

The main objection that the authors appear to have is that the institution takes a simplistic approach to training – because, reasons? – that implies that academics don’t already know everything that they need to.

…academic development has a tendency to adopt a deficit model. It assumes that the professionals subject to provision lack something that needs to be remedied; their awareness needs to be raised and new skills and knowledge made available. The assumption underpinning this is that without intervention, the deficit will not be addressed and academics not developed. (p.210)

Correct me if I’m wrong but I suspect that this is precisely the attitude that lies at the heart of the teaching practices of many academics. The students need knowledge/skills/experience in the discipline and its practices and the teacher will help them to attain this. Is the implication that academics deserve to be developed better than their students? Does it suggest a deficit in the pedagogical knowledge of academics? I would argue that this description undervalues the sophistication of work done by both academics and academic developers. Which the authors hypothetically note but then immediately discount based upon…? (Emphasis mine)

Such a characteristation, many developers would protest, does not represent what they do. They would argue that they are assiduous in consulting those affected by what they do, they collect good data on the performance of programmes and they adjust what they do in the light of feedback…they include opportunities for academics to address issues in their own teaching, to research their students’ learning and to engage in critical reflection on their practice. Developers undoubtedly cultivate high levels of skill in communicating and articulating their activities for such a demanding group. Nevertheless they are positioned within their institutions to do what is required of them by their organisation, not by those they claim to serve.  (p.210-211)

It’s hard to go past “those affected by what they do” as an indicator of the attitudes towards academic developers. I’d also make the point that I’ve come across few institutions with a comprehensive, practical strategy on teaching and learning and it generally falls on academic developers to use their extensive professional knowledge and experience to offer the best advice and support available in the absence of this.

The other significant point that I feel that the authors have completely missed – again perhaps surprisingly given their experience – is that, in my experience at least, academic professional development is almost never mandated and simply getting academics to attend PD is a task unto itself. The authors must certainly be aware of this, having written a recent paper (2017) that I found invaluable about academic responses to institutional initiatives. (Spoiler alert, it’s like herding sleeping cats). Academic developers are painfully aware of this – imagine spending days preparing a workshop or seminar only to have two attendees – and this if nothing else necessitates design of PD activities that are as relevant and attractive to academics as possible. I won’t dispute that the further away academic development teams are from academics – e.g. centralised teams – the harder it can be to do this and the more generic content becomes but even these areas have a deeper understanding of academics and their needs than is implied. (And I still have more to say about the practical realities of delivering PD that can wait for now)

Now that we’ve gotten past that – and it was something that I evidently needed to say – we start to get to the nub of what the authors would prefer instead of this ‘deficit model’.

The authors draw on Schatzki’s (2001) work in Social Practice theory, which is an area that I’ve spent some time looking at and which I see the value of. My introduction came through the work of Shove et al (2012) who present a slightly different perspective, a more streamlined one perhaps, but fundamentally the same. Where Shove et al identify three major elements to practice – meaning, materials and competences, Schatzki is a little more granular and includes elements such as emotions/moods, projects, tasks and ends. Arguably these could sit in the three elements of Shove et al but there might be something in looking more deeply at emotions/moods particularly. Maybe I’ll end up taking a Shovezki based approach to practice theory.

At the risk of oversimplifying it, from what I can see practice theory necessitates taking a more holistic perspective of being an academic and recognising that the different practices in the bundle of practices (or is it a complex – one or the other) that make up “being an academic” all occur in a specific context involving the practitioner, time, space and the larger meaning around what is being done. These sub-practices – such as teaching, research, service – can be in competition with each other and it is necessary to factor them in when providing PD training that relates to any other of them. Now this is an avenue of thinking that I’ve been pursuing myself, so obviously I’m pretty happy with this part of the paper. When we look at why an academic doesn’t undertake an activity to enhance their teaching, the current research rarely seems to answer – ‘well it was partially because they had to put together an application for research funding and that took priority’. This much I appreciate in the paper.

Where I think the paper runs into trouble though is that it makes a case for a slightly hazy approach to re-seeing academics practices as a whole, taking into consideration the following six factors that shape them:

  1. Embodiment – “It is the whole person who engages in practice, not just their intellect or skills… Desires, emotions and values are ever present and cannot be separated out” (p.212)

  2. Material mediation – “Practice is undertaking in conjunction with material arrangements. These may include objects such as raw materials, resources, artefacts and tools, physical connections, communication tools, organisms and material circumstances (Kemmis, 2009). These materials can both limit and enable particular practices” (p.212)

  3. Relationality – “Practice occurs in relation to others who practice, and in relation to the unique features a particular practitioner brings to a situation. Practice is thus embedded in sets of dynamic social interactions, connections, arrangements, and relationships” (p.212)

  4. Situatedness – This I’d call context – “…in particular settings, in time, in language… shaped by mediating conditions…” that “may include cultures, discourses, social and political structures, and material conditions in which a practice is situated” (p.213)

  5. Emergence – “Practices evolve over time and over contexts: new challenges require new ways of practising” (p.213)

  6. Co-construction – “Practices are co-constructed with others. That is, the meaning given to practice is the meaning that those involved give it” (p.213)

In my personal experience, I don’t believe that many academics give their practices, particularly teaching, anywhere near this level of reflection. It’s probably fair to say that few academic developers would either, at least not consciously. The authors believe that using this new practice frame

“…moves academic development from a focus on individuals and learning needs to academic practice and practice needs; from what academics need to know to what they do to enact their work” (p.213-214)

Maybe it’s just my professional background but I think that I pretty well always frame learning objectives in terms of the tangible things that they need to be able to do. On the other hand, my experience with academics is largely that many of their learning outcomes for their students begin with “understand x” or “appreciate the concept of y”. It’s not my job to be a discipline expert and I have no doubt that these are important learning outcomes to the academics – and I might still be misinterpreting how the authors are thinking about practices and learning design.

They go on to make an important point about the value of situated learning in professional development – conducting it in the space where the teacher teaches rather than in a removed seminar room in a building that they never otherwise visit. This makes me think that it would be valuable to have a simulated workspace for our students to learn in and I’ll give that some more thought but the logistics seem challenging at the moment as we undergo massive redevelopment. (This also acts as a pretty significant barrier to providing situated professional development, as teaching spaces are occupied from 8am to 9pm every day).

There’s an additional idea about the format of assessment conducted by ADs and what more beneficial alternatives might be considered.

“Learning is driven by, for example, by encountering new groups of students with different needs and expectations, or by working with a new issue not previously identified. Success in learning is judged by how successfully the practice with the new group or new issue is undertaken, not by how much is learnt by the individuals involved that could be tested by formal assessment practices” (p.214)

I completely support this approach to learning but I cannot see how it could ever be implemented with current staffing levels. If we’re going to think seriously about practices in an holistic way, perhaps a wider view needs to be taken that encompasses all of the participants in co-construction of the practice. This is probably where I think that this paper falls down heaviest – there seems to be a wilful blindness to ability to enact these new approaches. I also don’t see any academics ever moving to this kind of approach in their own teaching for the exact same reason.

This brings me to my larger challenge with this paper – from here (and perhaps in ignoring the logistical issues of situated learning in teaching spaces), there seems to be an expectation that it is up to academic developers and/or their units to make a lot of these significant changes happen. I can only imagine that this comes from the openly held perception that ADs are tools of ‘university management’ – which I will stress yet again is made up of academics – and that ADs are able to use these connections to management to effect major changes in the institution. I’m just going to quote briefly some of these proposed changes because I think it is self-evident how absurd that would be to expect ADs to implement any of them.

We suggest that a practice perspective would thus place greater emphasis on the development of academics:

(2) as fostering learning conducive work, where ‘normal’ academic work practices are reconfigured to ensure that they foster practice development; (p.214)

And this

“Working with individual academics to meet institutional imperatives, for example, curriculum reform, comes up against various stumbling blocks where academics complain that they are overworked, that there is too much to take on and that their colleagues are not supportive of what they are trying to do. Practice development means working with how that group juggles various aspects of their role and their attitudes and beliefs in relation to that. It is about how the group interacts in pursuing its practice, how and where interpersonal relationships are take account of the being of its members, how power and authority are negotiated, whose ideas are listened to and taken up and whose are denied” (P.215)

So, I’ll change the entire culture of academia and then after lunch… I know that sounds cynical but if the VC can’t enact that kind of a mindset shift…

I don’t disagree with any of these changes by the way but even in my relatively short time in the H.E. sector I have had it made painfully clear to me that the expertise of professional staff is basically never considered in these processes, so this paper is wildly misdirected.

The paper wraps up with a few more achievable suggestions that I think ADs have known for a long time already and try to enact when possible. Offering training or advice about something (e.g the grading system in the LMS) is going to be more valuable in some temporal contexts (weeks of semester) than others, learning more about academics and their particular practice needs – again, generally teaching as I suspect there is hierarchy of things that academics never want to have their knowledge questioned on – discipline knowledge, research skills, teaching and then technology. I might look into how often academics go to research training after they finish PhDs. I suspect it will be rarely – but I don’t know. (I should probably know that)

The authors also suggest that ADs might take a project based approach, a consultancy one or a reflective one to their development work and I would consider that communities of practice probably sit well with the latter.

Ultimately, while I am broadly supportive of many of the approaches and the more holistic viewpoint put forward in this paper, expecting ADs to implement many of the larger changes seems to demonstrate a lack of awareness of the powerlessness of people in these kinds of roles. What is proposed would largely require a significant cultural shift and to be driven from the top. Of course, the latter paper by Brew, Boud et al (2017) shows the utter folly of expecting that to succeed.

 

 

 

Research update #29: Slowly digesting

I’m re-reading (or properly reading) a paper by Boud and Brew that I’ve previously skim-read but now that more pieces are falling into place in my research, I’m realising its true value.

The main problem is that I can only read a few pages at a time because it’s sparking so many sideward thoughts and diversions that I need to step away to process it all. Which ultimately seems like a good thing. Just a little time-consuming.

It’s about taking a new approach to the work that Academic Developers do by viewing it through the lens of Social Practice theory. They’re using a slightly different flavour of SPT than I’m familiar with (Schatzki vs Shove) – though it’s all largely still mappable and it’s helpful in expanding my understanding of the theory as well.

There are moments as I read it when I feel they might be missing some bits as ‘outsiders’ accustomed to an academic’s view of the world but these will either wrap up ok at the end or offer me a gap to fill with my own experiences, so it’s win/win.

I keep coming back to a minor comment in the feedback on our ASCILITE paper about TEL edvisors where the reviewer said (to paraphrase) that he (feels like a he) doesn’t see the significance for anyone other than the authors. Which, you know, ouch but also, you know, you’re wrong. But I think you’re wrong because I suspect that TEL edvisors live in a blind spot for many academics, even those with the best and noblest intentions. Which often makes reading research about ‘us’ – I get to say ‘us’ here which is the nice thing about a blog – sometimes more revealing about the academic culture that it came from. But I’m also trying to escape the mental mire of us vs them that seems increasingly pervasive these days and will strive to think bigger and find the missing nuance.

Research update #26: The reboot

Here’s this week’s Pat Thomson inspired PhD journal topic:

I have learnt since starting the PhD that… I need to rethink my approach and be a little more realistic in my planning. This is the project plan that I started at the end of May last year.

project plan

At the time, it seemed like a pretty good plan. By this plan, I had finished the final version of my PhD proposal 29 days ago, after getting and responding to feedback on two draft versions.

I could beat myself up about not hitting these targets – not coming even remotely close really – but that’s not going to achieve anything.

So I’m hitting the reboot button. Fortunately, my thinking has progressed in this time and I can happily remove several of the sections. Students – gone. TELT pedagogy and practices – largely gone I think. Teachers  – mostly gone. Technology – mostly gone. Instead of trying to do all the things and come up with some kind of genius ‘theory of everything’, I’ve landed on something rather more achievable.

The original question was this:

How can Edvisors, (third space teaching support workers including education designers, academic developers and learning technologists), better support technology enhanced learning and teaching (TELT) practices in higher education?

(The bit explaining edvisors has always been draft at best)

It might look kind of like this:

How can, do and should H.E. institutions ensure that the work and role of the edvisor in introducing, expanding and supporting TELT practices is understood, valued and supported?

Or maybe it’s not the responsibility of H.E institutions. I mean, I think it is but in terms of actually getting something done… Maybe the question is really:

How do and should edvisors in H.E. ensure that their work in introducing, supporting and developing TELT practices is understood, valued and supported by academics and the institution?

Not sure – this option feels more pro-active and empowered but maybe initiatives that don’t come from the ‘thought-leaders’ of the academy are unlikely to succeed due to entrenched power structures. Who needs to take ultimate responsibility? Who is actually more likely to get it done?

What do you think? Please comment or tweet me back @gamerlearner

I just need to find a way to put this into a question that gives me the room to address it properly. There’s a lot of other stuff that I’m interested in but I think it has been covered already pretty well in the existing literature. It’s the job of the edvisor to know the research and recommend the best strategies for innovation and support of TELT practices, so this is not the focus of the thesis.

Oh and I think I’ll go with the term edvisor for now too. Probably need to write something explaining what I think this is and why it is the best term, but I’m ok with that.

Mainly just writing something is vital at this stage – and figuring out exactly what I’m trying to research and what methods I want to use to do so.

One core element is going to be a comprehensive scan of what Australian Universities are currently doing in this space – how they manage edvisor teams and which systems appear to be working. I had in my head that there are 37 Australian Universities – I found out yesterday that there are actually 40, plus 3 International unis with local campuses. Not sure what to do with them – I suspect they have a very minimal local presence so it’s probably not relevant. Might be interesting though. We’ll see.

Onwards.

Research update #24: The community

I mentioned recently that I’d come across some interesting anthropological research suggesting that the key reason that academics rarely innovate their teaching is fear of looking foolish in front of their students. There was a whole thing about it in the Times Higher Education at the time and it sparked some interesting discussion in the TEL edvisors SIG forums. Media being media of course, it was far from the whole story and the researcher – Lauren Herckis – was able to help correct the story a week later.

Anyway, one of my favourite parts of the PhD (thanks once more Pat Thomson) is the peek through the door it offers me to the global community of scholars. (That reads far more pretentiously than is intended). But if I wasn’t working on mine and found this work to be particularly pertinent, I probably wouldn’t have reached out to the author to ask if there is a paper or book or something that this research came from. (As the THE article was remarkably vague on that). Turns out that it’s a work in progress but Lauren was happy to share what they’ve done so far, making the point that the later stages of the research and data analysis are still in train.

I have no illusions that all academics are as generous with their time and work but on the whole, those that I have reached out to that are working in my field have helped me to feel as though I’m part of something bigger. Maybe as a PhD student rather than a rival researcher in competition for research funding it might be different but I haven’t had that sense – it’s really felt more like sharing an interest that perhaps not that many others do.

I’ll probably write something more about the paper in progress shortly – after checking I’m not travelling too far into spoiler town or whatever the academic equivalent is – but I’ve already found it interesting in framing the discussions that I’ve had at work and in trying to better understand some of the (sometimes unfathomable) resistance I encounter to new ideas about teaching and learning. The difference between the ways that attitudes in early career vs senior academics relating the value of teaching overall has particularly given me a lot to ponder.

Looking for a new narrative

I woke from a dream this morning – no, it’s ok, I’m not going to tell you about it in detail – and am now wondering about the kind of story that I see myself living in.

I have a lot of obstacle/barrier dreams, the frustrating kind of dreams where you are trying to do something simple but you never seem to be able to get it done because things are always not going to plan. (My dentist tells me that I grind my teeth in my sleep – I’m guessing that this is why). I’m now starting to wonder if this shapes my outlook on the world in my waking hours – if the story that I see myself living in is an ongoing struggle against the things getting in the way of what I’m hoping to achieve. (At an unconscious level at least).

As someone with a keen interest in storytelling, it occurs to me that this is a fairly common model for narratives – at least in the Western tradition that I’m most familiar with. We have a hero (clearly me, because if you can’t be the hero in your own story, then when?) who needs to do something, overcomes opposition/barriers to do so and is generally triumphant. This is almost invariably the model in video games, where you also develop skills and/or acquire resources that help you to overcome increasingly challenging obstacles (or enemies) until the final “boss fight”. Or take a romantic comedy – the hero (or heroine) has a goal but obstacles get in the way (more often hilarious misunderstandings or their own character flaws) that need to be addressed before they achieve their objective.

We all instinctively understand this model and this is why it’s the in-between material in the story (what do we know about the character, what unusual scenario did they confront, what other incidental things happened) that we use to judge whether it’s a good or a bad story – which is to say whether or not it is well told. When things don’t go to plan and the hero doesn’t achieve their goal, well, we have mental models for this as well so it’s not necessarily a surprise but because it’s still an outlier in many ways, the story seems to carry extra emotional weight.

I think maybe the way that I’m currently looking at my PhD topic sits firmly in this (former) narrative structure. The hero (either teachers or intrepid TEL edvisors) want to enhance teaching and learning using technology (because there are bucket-loads of evidence that this can help) yet there are barriers (cultural, competence-based, resource related and ???) that prevent this from happening. The quest is to overcome these barriers so that teaching and learning is enhanced and everyone lives happily ever after.

What if, however, this whole storytelling model is wrong?

What if it is grounded too much in this idea of competing and opposing forces where only one can triumph? I’ll happily acknowledge that most of these issues are far more nuanced than this makes out and the conflict of needs/priorities is generally not oppositional or malicious but I have to wonder whether our (or my) storytelling model is sophisticated enough to deal with this. How often have I taken circumstance as a personal slight and missed an opportunity to work with instead of against it. I read somewhere recently that brain scans indicate that when people read something online that goes against their beliefs, the brains first immediate response is to go straight to the defensive part of fight-or-flight and our capacity for cognition and understanding drops instantly. So it’s not just me struggling with our conflict based paradigm perhaps at least.

Something else I’m mindful of here is the impact of the Western emphasis on individualism vs collectivism. I like people but, as an introvert, I’m also pretty happy with my own company and I’m mindful that maybe in my story, as the hero, I expect myself to do most of the work. I understand rationally that this is simply just not how things will or can happen and that it takes a village etc etc but this is the model of many of the stories that we tell. The hero might get some help from friends but they largely resolve the quest on their own.

So if our (my) current story isn’t the best one, then what is? Is there are better way of looking at this question of how we can better support TEL practices than simply overcoming obstacles and getting from A to B? I have to give credit to my supervisor here, who, when I was putting together my initial PhD proposal suggested that I change the focus from barriers to more positive strategies. I think perhaps what I missed was that it doesn’t just need to be positive strategies for overcoming the barriers – because this is still a barrier-centric position.

I don’t have the answers but I like that I can at least see more clearly that there are different paths.

Research update #21 – Where is this going?

When I tell academics what stage of my PhD I’m up to, they invariably smile wistfully and tell me that this stage is probably the best part of academia ever and I should just enjoy it. ‘It’ being the freedom of exploration and just meandering through the literature while I work out what I’m actually trying to do. There’s no overt pressure to publish – though the need to have my thesis proposal accepted looms over my head – and in some ways it’s the purest opportunity to be scholarly.

Which is fine and I do enjoy a good meander but the more I think about my question – currently What can TEL advisors do to better support TEL practices in Higher Ed – the more it seems to be leading down some quixotic path to single-handedly change centuries old organisational cultures. Actually tangible pedagogical questions seem kind of tangential to addressing the bigger issue of how to affect meaningful change. (I know I have a tendency to wildly overreach in projects). It seems as though I’m spending far more time thinking about organisational and structural kinds of questions than teaching and learning – I guess it’s all social sciences and the aim is ultimately to enhance teaching and learning but I sometimes wonder if I’m going the right way. This was magnified by the last thing that I read, a draft chapter that is going into a book on the practices and contributions of professional staff in Higher Ed. I will write up a post about it shortly but I’m not sure what the etiquette is in this instance – it feels like I should wait until the book is published.

In broad strokes though, there were some interesting – though perhaps not as revolutionary as the author seems to think – ideas about different organisational models for providing multi-disciplinary support in professional development. So, again, it almost feels as though I’m studying some aspect of management than education but it still seems quite valuable and – most importantly for me – practically applicable. It does feel as though large chunks are gradually coalescing – I need to talk about what TELT advisors (I should really say TEL edvisors but I just don’t know that this term does everything that I want it to) are and what we do and how we sit in the current H.E. context. This then leads into what teachers do here – there’s something about practices and how and where they overlap and how we can find synergies (who knew that was a word I would ever take seriously). From there maybe something about the practices of the organisational leadership and then wrapping it all up with an exploration of a host of practical actions and strategies to take us forward. But I’m not sure that this is researchy enough – however having somewhere to go afterwards stills seems vital at this stage.

Bringing this all back to my Pat Thomson list of PhD blogging topics, I guess this sits square in “Things that worry me about my PhD“. I understand that this is meant to be a research apprenticeship and that it’s not about solving problems necessarily but not ending up with something meaningful feels wasteful. I also get that it’s a PhD, not a Nobel Prize and it’s just part of a lifelong journey, so maybe that’s how I need to think to avoid getting sucked into the trap of needing to solve all the problems yesterday.

Research update #18: Wow, it’s been a while

While I haven’t been ‘here’ writing up things about readings, there’s still been a little bit of research action going on under the surface. I had a great meeting in person with Peter and Lina a month or so ago where I asked more questions than normal and it felt like more of a two-way conversation. (In our phone/skype chats, I’ve often felt like I needed to prove that I’ve been working, so I’ve largely just rattled off things that I’ve come across and new ideas for directions for the research, rather than drawing on the wisdom at the other end of the line. I mean, I still got some of that in the comments but seeking it out more pro-actively definitely seems more productive)

I’ve also been working on a paper submission with my TELedvisor network colleagues for ASCILITE 2017. What was meant to be a 5 page concise paper, kind of describing a work in progress rapidly blew out to 17+ pages (without appendices). I think this might have been partially because we have a lot to say on this topic – why the names for TEL edvisor roles are so ill-defined and what it means as workers in the third space – and perhaps a little bit because there’s a little bit of a sense of having something to prove. We aim to shape this into a journal paper, so will need to trim it pretty substantially.

The work has helped me to think more about how Social Practice Theory might be practically applied – I haven’t found much if anything about this in the literature yet but I’m assuming that’s more because I haven’t looked enough rather than that my ideas are breath-takingly innovative. I think that it will be useful to go deeper into the practices of TEL edvisors and the practices of teachers (and maybe or maybe not management) to see what the barriers to good TEL practices actually are – rather than the plausible excuses that people use to make them sound better.

I also seem to have gotten caught up with a lot of research adjacent work – putting together an application to be a HERDSA Fellow for example – which seems useful long term and professionally (I hope) but not directly relevant. I think I’m looking to bolster my pedagogical and research credibility – which, as a professional staff member, I’m almost never given credit for.

I was seriously pondering printing out all of my education qualifications this morning and creating a poster that I would stick to my office door – maybe with a sign saying “You can talk to me about teaching too, you know”. Might come across as a little defensive – or, you know, unhinged. So I probably won’t do that.

Anyhoo, back to the reading. I only have two chapters to go in this social practice theory book – now I just need to find it in my newly set up study. (I did move house, so I feel that has contributed to my study gap in some ways)