Those who know me will know that the edvisor community is a big deal for me. (If you don’t, I mean, collectively, education technologists, learning designers, academic developers and people in those kinds of Third Space roles) .
We face a number of challenges on a daily basis in being heard and having our experience and expertise recognised by those people that we try to help to do teaching and learning better. I caught up with a number of colleagues for a semi-informal chat recently about ways that we might collaborate more effectively in terms of the resources and training that we provide in our different faculties and centrally.
I’d like to make clear that individually I like and respect the people that were in the conversation. It was a combination of learning/education designers (instructional designers, whatever – insert your preferred term here) and education technologists. Mostly learning designers though. And that’s where the fun started.
Now these are some of my theories about how universities work and their problems. They are a bit untested and hopefully some of that will come out of my PhD research. I don’t actually think they are particularly controversial. Essentially there is a prestige hierarchy of knowledge in higher ed: Discipline > Pedagogy > Technology. People may downplay this but at times there can be a deep seated belief amongst learning/education designers that people on the technology side only ever talk about which buttons to push. This can occasionally come across as an attitude that unless you are a real education/learning designer, your pedagogical understanding is minimal. And if an academic should happen to come to you with a technological question rather than a purely pedagogical one, they might as well have defiled the graves of your ancestors*.
Let me divert for a moment to my primitive understanding of practice theory, where a practice is composed of three elements – the material (the things you need to do the practice), competencies (the knowledge you need) and cultural (the social context in which it occurs). These may not be the official terms but lets roll with the broad concept because that is more important right now. I would argue that if you don’t have an understanding of all three, you probably don’t know enough about the practice to advise others about it well.
My second theory about higher ed is that many academics feel that they are expected to have pedagogical expertise (alongside their discipline knowledge) because they are working in a role where they are expected (usually) to be able to teach. One of our challenges then as edvisors is that we, as people who are not working in teaching roles, are not seen as people to go to for pedagogical advice. (Also, asking for pedagogical advice is to admit to a lack of knowledge and higher ed is a place where your knowledge is your power and your currency). This does vary between disciplines, depending on how confident people feel in their identity as a discipline expert. (Medical educators seem to be more open than many academics to receiving advice about pedagogy). This isn’t a universal rule and some academics are perfectly comfortable trying to develop themselves as educators but, anecdotally at least, the many academics engaging in pedagogically oriented professional development will do so mostly because it is a mandated part of promotion or career progression.
Asking for technological advice however is easier because nobody will judge you for that. My personal experience is that academics are more open and honest about their skill gaps in these kinds of workshops, even their pedagogical gaps, because expectations of them are lower. Maybe this is just my approach but as an educational technologist, I see an opportunity then to bundle pedagogical thinking with discussion of the technology. They are all part of the one practice, after all.
What works for me doesn’t work for everyone, of course and might not even be the right solution. (Assuming there is only one right answer to the question of how edvisors can lead educators to the water of better learning and teaching and get them to drink).
I mentioned the word ‘training’ earlier. In our wide-ranging discussion about how we (education technologists and learning designers) collectively educate educators, I referred to this as training. One of the learning designers leapt upon this to point out that the work that I do is basically a behaviorist, push-this-button push-that-button pedagogy-free zone whereas their ‘workshops’ are richer. Rather than focus on the idea, they fixated on the semantics, the specific presentation of a form of the idea. (I have a separate post coming about form vs content). When I pointed out that I felt there was a certain amount of snobbishness in the way technology vs pedagogy was seen and discussed in our work, there was a defensive bustle of ‘no, we love technology’ but I don’t think I got my point across.
I do also recognise that sometimes we have emotional reactions alongside rational ones. Both are a part of life but it can take a bit of sifting to know whether you are in the right. Then again, being factually right isn’t always the only thing that matters. As a community of practitioners who struggle to be heard and recognised, it’s important that we can also hear and recognise our colleagues in the different roles of our discipline. Feeling disrespected I believe underpins many of the dumb, unproductive tensions and simmering conflicts in our environment.
Ultimately, I would say that collectively our job is to improve learning and teaching, by whatever means necessary. Putting ourselves into tiny silos and refusing to engage with an educator when they come to us with a question because ‘that’s not my job’ is bad practice, IMHO. If you legitimately can’t answer the question, sure, help them by directing them to someone that can but don’t miss the opportunity to build a relationship of trust with someone because you feel that they didn’t respect your primary focus. Also, for the love of God, let’s not set up an ‘us and them’ culture between pedagogists and technologists – that doesn’t help anybody.
Anyway, maybe we need to start by considering what our common ground is and working our way out from there. Remembering that we are all messy and complex and see a range of paths to the promised land is probably a good first step.
Thank you for indulging in my therapy session.
* I do want to acknowledge that I think it is more of a philosophical approach than anything else. There can be valid reasons, it’s just not my personal style.