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Re-shaping Practices of Academic Development: The Disciplinary Commons Sally Fincher, University of Kent Josh Tenenberg, University of Washington, Tacoma.

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Presentation on theme: "Re-shaping Practices of Academic Development: The Disciplinary Commons Sally Fincher, University of Kent Josh Tenenberg, University of Washington, Tacoma."— Presentation transcript:

1 Re-shaping Practices of Academic Development: The Disciplinary Commons Sally Fincher, University of Kent Josh Tenenberg, University of Washington, Tacoma 12 th December 2007 SRHE Conference, Brighton


3 Dilemma of Academic Development Horn one: specificity Specific educators have specific problems – how to teach auto-ionization, Kant’s ethics, programming a computer in Haskell Institutionally-based academic developers can’t have this multiple expertise Either spend huge amount of 1-on-1 time, or can’t help Not an efficient approach Horn two: generality Some problems are generic – PBL, CATs, action research Institutionally-based staff developers can – and do – have relevant expertise. Groups are formed, workshops run. But staff have to self-identify that they want it, then adapt the generalised knowledge (“work the bugs out”) for themselves. More efficient, but not effective

4 Disciplinary Commons

5 Disciplinary Commons: Aims To document and share knowledge about teaching and student learning in the UK. To establish practices for the scholarship of teaching by making it public, peer-reviewed, and amenable for future use and development by other educators: creating a teaching-appropriate document of practice equivalent to the research- appropriate journal paper.

6 Disciplinary Commons: Structure A Commons is constituted from 10-20 practitioners sharing the same disciplinary background, teaching the same subject – sometimes the same module – in different institutions. Meet monthly throughout an academic year. During meetings practice is shared, peer-reviewed and ultimately documented in course portfolios Part of the sharing is cross-institutional peer observation of teaching.

7 And this re-shapes academic development how? Professional development Community development Documentation of practice

8 Re-shaping academic practice: Professional development A course portfolio is a set of documents that “focuses on the unfolding of a single course, from conception to results” (Hutchings, 1998) In the Commons, the critical reflection involved in creating course portfolios is magnified by a disciplinary intensity, creating what Schon termed a hall of mirrors [Herbert] Good to find a group where everyone is treated as an equal and ownership is shared. Not a common thing in my experiences of HE up to now!

9 Re-shaping academic practice: Community development A Commons adopts those features of research- based activity which provide value: externality and peer-review (Whilst carefully leaving behind the bath water of inappropriate representation) Most common reports: “confidence”  “that’s not how they do it at institution x”  “17 other institutions do it this way”  “Research colleagues respect my knowledge” [Elizabeth] We know more about each other’s courses and our views and attitudes than we know about our colleagues that we work with day in and day out [Daniel] I have never had any externality on teaching – the peer review process, the exposure of ideas, you present ideas and get them hammered down, that’s all part of what I do on a day-to-day basis in the research, whereas teaching’s something I keep in my pocket, you know? [Daniel] the thing that kept me going was the fact that I’m getting externality … this peer reivew. Those things that characterize good research projects … keeping up in the field, being aware of what other people are doing. I didn’t do any of that for my teaching. I do now.

10 Re-shaping academic practice: Community development Unusual practice of cross-institutional peer observation Not for QA purposes. Not for appraisal, promotion or professional development [Elizabeth] Peer observation … a necessary and semi- regular part of my job, I view it like a visit to the dentist; painful but soon over. What about the feedback? I ignore positive comments as, “S/he’s just being kind”. Negative comments support the notion that I should not be in this job. As the observer I always rate myself unfavourably with the other person. What a wretched business. How can this process be helpful? [Now] I can approach peer observation differently. It’s not meant to “catch me out”. Whether I’m the observer or the observed, I can investigate teaching from a different perspective to my own. I can see what works, what doesn’t and consider alternatives. We can work together. Neither of us is the “expert”. Instead we can both learn.

11 Re-shaping academic practice: Documentation of Practice Documentation of teaching is:  Rare  In non-standard (& therefore non-comparable) forms Commons portfolios have:  Common form  Persistent, peer-reviewed deliverable Power of portfolios is multiplied when there are several examples available for a disciplinary area Commons archives provide a rich set of contextualised data, charting and calibrating development over time

12 So? As our professional practices become more complex, our reflective and developmental practices need to be re-examined The Commons’ new collaborative form and co- operative culture takes disciplinary activity as its focus, thus over coming the dilemmas of institutionally-based models: a Commons is specific in expertise and general in comparison

13 Jumping through the horns of the dilemma All Commoners are expert Commoners work together to discover, interpret and re-interpret new material Resultant public documentation is contextual, comparative and collegial (As appropriate a representation of teaching as a journal paper is of research? Maybe. Watch this space.)

14 Acknowledgements (i) The US Disciplinary Commons was made possible by funding from the Washington State Board of Community and Technical Colleges, the University of Washington, Tacoma. The itp Disciplinary Commons was made possible through the award of a National Teaching Fellowship 2005 to Sally Fincher.

15 Acknowledgements (ii) Funding for project evaluation was provided by a grant from the SIGCSE Special Projects fund. The authors also acknowledge the Helen Whiteley Center of the University of Washington for providing a quiet and conducive space for undertaking the project evaluation.

16 This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License.Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.5 License

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