Advancing Practice In Academic Development: Chapters 1 and 2


Edited by David Baume and Celia Popovic
Routledge – The Staff and Educational Development Series
Publication January 2016

You can order your copy here

Chapter summaries and extracts will on the SEDA Blog over the coming months. (There may be small differences between these and the published versions)

Please add your comments!

Chapter 1 – Introduction – Some Issues in Academic Development

Celia Popovic and David Baume


We suggest an overall purpose for academic development – to lead and support the improvement of student learning. We explore issues including becoming and then developing as an academic developer; working with regional and national associations; relationships between academic development and scholarship; the developer’s orientation to problems and solutions; some of the responses developers are likely to encounter to development initiatives; the huge range of neighbouring development activities in higher education, and the need for developers to cooperate with them; approaches taken in the book to maintaining the currency of its content; and a comment on language, humour and seriousness.

Some extracts


We may feel that students are learning well when, among other virtues, they are:

  • Often working hard and appropriately at their studies, although enjoying the whole student experience;
  • Both collaborating and working alone;
  • Working towards goals that they, their teachers, their intended profession(s), employer(s) or role(s), and some at least of the wider world, value;
  • Clear about the progress they are making and clear what progress they wish and need to make next;
  • Aware of and extending their capabilities as learners;
  • Taking seriously ethical as well as academic and technical dimensions of their studies;
  • Negotiating their way through the complexities of their lives as students as well as the rest of their lives;
  • Hopefully enjoying at least some of the process; and
  • Leaving as capable and enthusiastic independent and collaborative learners.


Bodies such as SEDA, POD, EDC or HERDSA offer developers the opportunity to meet with others engaged in similar activities and facing similar challenges and constraints – a place to ‘huddle together for warmth’, as we used to say in the early days (the early 1990s). Sharing of ideas can help at least to dispel feelings of isolation, and on a more practical level provide possible solutions and ideas.


There may be three principal ways of being scholarly:

  • Reflecting critically on practice
  • Using ideas from the literature
  • Contributing to the literature


We may feel that, once we have been analytic and critical, we should also suggest – of course with appropriate cautions – potentially useful ways forward. Having analysed and critiqued and deconstructed, we should also be willing to answer the harried academic’s or manager’s question, ‘Yes, but what should I do?’, albeit hedged about with such reservations as we feel to be necessary. Being scholarly is compatible with being useful.


… the editors believe passionately in the central importance of higher education. Not just to disciplinary or professional interests, nor even just to national and global economic development. We believe that a good and improving education system, including of course higher education, is essential for a civilised society, indeed essential for anything recognisable as society:

If you think education is expensive, try ignorance. (attributed to Derek Bok, President of Harvard University, n.d., and applicable much beyond financial cost)

And because we value higher education, we believe in the importance of the academic development function, of working in scholarly, pragmatic, collaborative, professional and values-led ways to continue to support and lead the improvement of higher education, and thereby the improvement of student learning.

Chapter 2 – Identifying Needs and Opportunities for Academic Development

Charles Neame and Rachel Forsyth


This chapter examines the role and responsibilities of the individual academic developer and how these reflect the context of the engagement. It considers how different responses to the development context can be identified – not as a prescription designed to treat each individual case, but as a framework for evaluating the need and creating an environment for meeting it successfully. It will make clear the distinctions between the kind of individual intervention being discussed in this chapter and the institutional overview reflected elsewhere in this book.

Some extracts


The role and status of academic development may lack clear definition; academic development is directed by a wide variety of drivers. Academic developers need to be in a position to find out about these factors, to contextualise them in relation to disciplinary, institutional and national expectations, and prioritise their responses so that action can be taken according to available resources.


Institutional priorities as drivers for educational development can be deceptively attractive. On the one hand, they make the need for academic development intervention clear: it is mandated by policy, with no need to ‘sell’ the intervention to colleagues. On the other hand, a top-down requirement for change may be considered pointless by academic staff, or even threatening, and the educational developer may be seen as the unwelcome face of management intrusion in academic freedom. The phenomenon of CAVES: ‘Colleagues  Against Virtually Everything’ (Chelte and Coulter, 2008) may be more strongly pronounced in response to a mandated requirement for educational development.


A simplification of Land’s framework (Neame, 2011, 2013) is intended to offer a more practical, dichotomous model of interventionist versus democratic approaches to development.


… once a group of colleagues learns to work with academic developers within a trust based relationship and in a democratic mode, their horizons for action (Hodkinson, 2008: 4) are increased:

The term horizon is a metaphor taken from vision. What we can see is limited by the position we stand in, and the horizons that are visible from that position… The horizons for action are influenced by a person’s position, by the nature of the field or fields within which they are positioned, and the embodied dispositions of the person him/herself.


The process of identifying needs is closely related to the identification of the intended outcomes of any development plan. At the same time it is essential to consider how to develop and articulate relationships between academic developers and other functions and departments in their institutions, such as e-learning support, student services, academic staff in the disciplines with quality enhancement responsibilities, and student representatives.


Golding (2014) calls for ‘a broader conception of academic development’. He cautions against the constraints academic developers impose on themselves by focusing on means rather than ends. If we define our academic identities too exclusively in terms of what we do (support the professional development of staff, advise on teaching and assessment methods and so on), we limit our ability to promote development more broadly.


We do well to remember that academic developers may also be resistant to change (Thomas and Cordiner, 2014). Academic developers are change recipients as well as change agents (ibid.) and tend to behave in many respects just as the academics with whom we work tend to do. This presents an interesting perspective on the issue of identifying needs and opportunities which is the subject of this chapter. The technical rational approach to academic development needs assumes a world in which solutions to identifiable problems can be designed and implemented. In reality, the world is not so straightforward: if a colleague resists a change which we propose, who is to say that such resistance is inappropriate and something to be overcome?


About the Editors

David Baume is an independent international higher education researcher, evaluator, consultant, staff and educational developer and writer.

Celia Popovic is Director of Teaching Commons at York University, Toronto, Canada.


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