A lively and very encouraging session on the first day of the ALDinHE conference in Hull on April 10 explored opportunities for, and the odd obstacle to, cooperation, both among development functions in a University and among the corresponding development organisations. Those present included Carina Buckley and Steve Briggs from ALDinHE, David Bowers from SIGMA Network, Gary Riley-Jones from BALEAP, Emily Wheeler from CILIP, and David Baume from SEDA.
The impetus for collaboration has come from a number of directions. Not only are there areas of shared pedagogical interest to explore, but also perhaps a shared sense of, if not quite strength in numbers, then at least a slightly louder voice.
Cooperation on development functions within institutions
Obstacles to cooperation among development functions within an institution include structures, budgets, clashes of style or personality, and the perceived need to defend territory. Behind some of these may sometimes lie professional, organisational or personal Insecurities.
Another obstacle – “I do not know what you do, so I don’t see what would be in it for me to work with you.”
Another related obstacle is error: “I know what you do.” “But you’re wrong!”
How does cooperation come about?
Simply knowing each other is a good start. Easy if you share a corridor, harder if you’re at opposite ends of the campus.
Beyond simply knowing who each other is, knowing what each other is doing is a good next step.
Like vampires (in this respect only), developers generally have to be invited in. You won’t be invited in until you, and what you do, are at least known.
Given this basic knowledge, cooperation can arise between two or more people undertaking different development functions, where they realise an interest or a goal in common, and decide to do something about it.
A step more formal than this may be a project of some sort.
From the top down, cooperation may result from decisions on shared initiatives to achieve University, faculty or department goals, although reservations were expressed about the effectiveness of such top-down attempts at making cooperation happen.
Bringing this rather abstract account of interfunctional cooperation to life:
Learning developers, through their work with individual students, discover a lot about what is wrong with course design, teaching and assessment. Without good cooperation between learning development and teaching departments; perhaps mediated through academic development; valuable knowledge that could lead to substantial improvements in educational practice is lost and unused. One institution reported that learning developers serve on course teams, making this link. The link was proving effective.
The organisations do many similar things, of course each mainly for its own constituents – events, conferences, publications, networks, dedicated Jiscmail lists. Each does a few distinct things, such as ALDinHE’s Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education and SEDA’s Professional Development Framework. Other development organisations have or are also considering or developing a framework of competences and values, to support the transition from a shared field of practice or professional identity to professional qualification. For example, BALEAP has its own Competency Framework, and offers both individual and institution accreditation schemes.
There are close links between ALDinHE, BALEAP and SIGMA. From one perspective, BALEAP and SIGMA may be seen as specialisms closely associated with learning development.
There is no single type of organisation; there is no single type of cooperation.
Conclusions – scope for cooperation?
There is much more cooperation happening between the development functions in individual institutions than among their corresponding development organisations. Putting it another way, perhaps, development organizations lies behind the curve of practice. This is understandable – running an organisation takes time, and organisations tend to look inward, at their shared identity and practice, rather than outwards, at potential collaborators.
CPD, qualifications, regional events, publications and Jiscmail all provide possible areas for cooperation between particular pairs or threes or fours or more of organisations.
There has to be a point, purpose, to cooperation. This could take many forms:
- A professional expertise which others could use;
- A problem or opportunity where a combination of professional expertise will be more effective;
- An event or a publication where a greater range of perspectives will illuminate the topic from more angles, building a richer and more productive picture of what may be done.
As with cooperation among development functions within the University, so across the development organisations – an early step will be for us to get to know each other better. This will be pursued through variety of means over the coming months and years. As a contribution to this process, with cooperation from people on the SEDA Jiscmail list, I have discovered that that there are more development organisations out there than I thought there were! https://davidbaume.com
Who knows where this will take us? To a variety of good and productively cooperative places, we confidently expect.
David Baume is an independent international higher education researcher, evaluator, consultant, staff and educational developer and writer.
firstname.lastname@example.org, www.davidbaume.com, @David_Baume