Advancing Practice In Academic Development: Chapter 17

Book

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

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Chapter 17 – Writing, contributing to and using institutional policies and strategies

Ian Solomonides

Summary

The chapter illustrates the predominately service-leadership orientation of central academic development unit in a large metropolitan university in Sydney, Australia. It describes some of the ways in which the unit and others in Australia have contributed to or engaged with strategy and policy to provide professional development and to effect change in their institutions and elsewhere in the sector. Based on examples of work completed, the author who is also the director of the unit reflects on what the implications might be for academic developers generally.

Introduction

The political and economic environment in which academic development operates is contested and tricky to navigate. The work and indeed the existence of an Academic Development Unit (ADU) can be subject to acute change depending on national policy, prevailing executive sponsorship and budgetary constraint, with significant consequences for the sustainability of initiatives (Brew and Cahir, 2013). However, one constant that seems to run through the work of many ADUs and the work of their academic developers is the contribution they make to professional development, change management, and capacity building in the institutions they serve. This chapter is written primarily with reference to the professional learning and the organisational change that academic development supports and operates in, but see Chapter 13 for further discussion of change models. …

Some extracts

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The roles ADUs have played in the establishment of strategy, practice and institutional thinking are perhaps mostly located in the concept of service leadership, enacted through various channels. … this includes providing intelligence on national and international trends that feed into institutional awareness, thinking and planning; provision of systems for learning management, student evaluations of teaching, and administration workflows; data sets for institutional planning and risk management purposes; professional development; responses to perceived quality issues such as casualisation (see Chapter 7); the general evidence-based support for curriculum innovation in the face of contemporary challenges; and, the hidden work common to many ADUs in establishing the climate, registers and impetus for change through communities of practice, scholarship, advocacy and consultancy. Many ADU staff are also involved in national projects or bodies designed to advance quality enhancement and assurance such as a peer review, moderation, etc. However, this work can come with some well-known risks such as mission creep, distraction from core business, and accusations that the ADU is not directly serving the needs of the institution (see Chapter 14 for further discussion of issues raised by projects).

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Implications

Writing and owning policy can be a risky business for the academic development unit, especially where the focus of the unit is primarily on service and support, as most ADUs tend see themselves as helping implement policy compared to owning and applying policy as a managerial tool. However, where it is appropriate to own policy, the policy should be developed in wide consultation with stakeholders to maximise a sense of ownership and awareness across the institution. The policy itself should set the context, outline key underlying principles, be definitive, and be succinct; these are the ‘why’ and ‘what’ aspects.

Procedures describe the steps to achieve a policy outcome and those responsible for action. The procedures are the ‘who’, ‘how’ and ‘when’. Perhaps even more than writing policy, one of the critical roles members of ADUs play is to contribute to institutional thinking and the evidence that goes into policy and strategy development.

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Most attempts to embed … ‘teaching criteria into policy, processes and practices require leadership, persistence and extensive engagement across institutional communities’ (Chalmers, personal communication, 2015). This evokes notions of the personal and institutional capacity for dogged determination required in academic development and the sometimes very long game played to influence change, and provides more examples of how strategy and policy can be developed and enacted over time.

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Implications

You’ve got to be in it to win it. There is no writing, contributing to and using institutional policies and strategies unless you create the conditions by which you can engage with them, as discussed in Chapter 16. This can be as simple as having a seat at a committee or working party; it may be systematized through responding to strategy with relevant professional development; and, most importantly, it is enabled through a, ‘context of trust and a culture of respect coupled with effecting change through collaborative relationships’ (Lefoe, 2013). I often say to academic developers that the work is out there, meaning in the faculties, schools and departments, as opposed to at a desk in the ADU. This is the winning of hearts and minds part of the job and the networking and brokering that ensures one is meeting local demand but also identifying the opportunities to maximise best practice wherever possible. …

It is also important that the professional development offerings of the ADU respond to and support strategy. Academic developers should know how and where they support the learning and teaching or academic strategy and operational plans of the institution. In my own unit we review institutional plans on an annual basis, anticipating what might be needed and when, and incorporating actions into our own operation plans and projects. Some of these projects are intentionally labelled ‘strategic’ as discussed below.

Aside from the interpersonal skills required, more formal mechanisms such as the establishment of a steering committee or reference group can be valuable in obtaining stakeholder input, and in managing and extending the sphere of influence of a particular initiative. Aside from the attributes and skills of staff or the organisation of effort, it makes obvious sense to align resources and actions of the ADU with goals and objectives in strategic plans and initiatives; better still to be involved in the development of the plans themselves, to have actions and responsibilities therein, or to provide evidence that support the initiatives of one’s executive sponsor.


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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