Advancing Practice In Academic Development: Chapter 13


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

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

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Chapter 13 – Managing and leading change Models and practices

Celia Popovic and Kathryn M. Plank


We explore five models – grass roots, Faculty-led, strategic, community building and research-based – that may help developers to manage and lead change, rather than merely responding to it. In each case, we analyse when the model works best, and why, and include a case study illustrating the approach. Actual practice may not fit neatly into a single model, or into the three-stage process – creating a climate for change, engaging and enabling the organisation and implementing and sustaining the change – that we describe and use. In practice, of course, we often use combinations of models. But models help us to conceptualise our work and make it more intentional.

Some extracts

As we see in other chapters of this book, academic development is all about change – whether that change involves helping an individual academic change teaching methods, navigating the constant changes in instructional technology, or responding to larger changes in the world of higher education. Change in higher education can be disruptive and revolutionary, or it can be incremental and part of a bigger, long-range plan. Sometimes it is led by senior management, perhaps as they interpret national or sectoral policy; and sometimes it emerges from individuals. Sometimes it is a naturally occurring, predictable development, and sometimes it seemingly comes out of nowhere. Change is not always easy, or welcome, or good. The challenge for developers is to be open to change but not to be constantly swayed, to know when (and how) to force change, to facilitate= it, to leverage it, and, if necessary, to resist it.

Much of the literature on change concerns commercial organisations. This may be our first challenge – to identify the ways in which universities variously are and are not like commercial organisations, and thus bring particular challenges. Universities are complex, messy organisations, with particular cultures, unclear lines of authority and an inbuilt resistance to change, certainly around pedagogy (Boyce 2003, Christensen and Eyring 2011). It is not uncommon for teachers to work in isolation, not to feel a personal connection to institutional goals, and to have a strong belief in their own personal and professional autonomy. To be effective, an academic developer must manage and lead change within the context of this difficult environment; otherwise, ‘using concepts foreign to the values of the academy will most likely fail to engage the very people who must bring about the change’ (Kezar 2001, p. vi).


This hopefully useful but also somewhat artificial distinction between various models may mask the day-to-day reality, where developers adopt a combination of approaches. What works in one institution won’t work in another, and even within an institution and over time we may find some approaches work better than others.

The five models described above are unlikely to be successful if any one approach is used in isolation. In the past the grass roots model has been used by some teaching support centres to limited effect. It is unlikely that any of the others would be used alone. And any approach should be both informed by strategy and policy and rooted in and owned by one or more communities if it is to have any reasonable chance of success. Hence this final case study:

Case study – bringing it all together

By Rowena Pelik

The Quality Enhancement Framework in Scotland, established in 2003, includes nationally set and agreed Enhancement Themes, managed and led by QAA Scotland. This is discussed in greater detail in Chapter 9. The themes frame a wide array of activity at sector, institutional and local levels, be it Faculty, School / Department or subject, and is characterised by a strategic and collective approach to change. Enhancement is defined as taking deliberate steps to bring about improvement in the effectiveness of the learning experiences of students (QAA 2012). The themes are chosen by the sector to reflect a dominant concern in teaching and learning. They are typically addressed variously through commissioned work, institutional activity, sector events, an annual conference and the creation of resources housed on the Enhancement Themes website. The latter form an open educational resource that is widely used by academic developers and teaching staff both in Scotland and internationally.

This approach is interesting as it embodies and encourages each of the identified models. It is strategic, reflecting institutional and sector-wide priorities for change. Each institution takes forward the current theme in ways that are relevant to its own ways of working and is responsible for delivering a number of agreed outputs. Many institutions make use of grass roots and emergent approaches in encouraging activity under the theme. Thus many have established enhancement funds that individuals or teams can bid into to pursue initiatives. Increasingly, these funds are used to encourage student-led enhancement projects. Outcomes presented at internal teaching conferences act as community building within institutions and, through presentations and posters at theme events, across the sector. Work at sector level further supports collaborative and collegiate sharing which also builds community and drives academic practice forward. Work commissioned by the theme is research-based and leads on to the publication of reports and conference presentations.

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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