Seeding support: a cross-institutional development programme for programme leaders

When the call for chapters for Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in HE: Practical wisdom for leaders, educational developers and programme leaders. Routledge, UK was announced, it was just the right time for us. We have launched extensive programme leader (PL) development programme at UWE Bristol and I was keen to share our experiences. These showed that busy PLs will engage with institutional support, in great numbers, if it does justice to the complexity of their role. I was, and still am, adamant that we should not shy away from developing an extensive programme of support for PLs. After all, we expect a lot from them, so we should be willing and able to offer support that is commensurate with our expectations. The chapter captures the design principles of the programme, which I believe have ensured its success. Here is a short snippet of our story:

How it started

At the very beginning (2018), we decided to be ambitious. After numerous consultation meetings, with dozens of colleagues, we designed a programme of workshops. They focused on the key aspects of the PL role and the fundamental concepts, ideas, values, and processes. This, we hoped, will ensure that PLs would be supported to meet the expectations of the role now, and build the foundations for their expertise to grow into the future.

How it’s going

As the programme developed, it became apparent that some workshops would be suitable for both PLs and Module Leaders (MLs), but that some should have a ML version due to the distinct needs of the two roles. Our ‘Programme and Module Leader Development Programme’ now includes 12 workshops: 4 for PLs only, 2 for MLs only, and 6 targeting both PLs and MLs. It is co-delivered by 25 members of staff. Workshops are of varied duration and scale. At the extreme ends we have: a workshop delivered over 4 days in 2-hour slots and a fully flipped workshop that is only an hour long. Most workshops fall somewhere in between.

After the 2020 online pivot, the demand for these workshops grew, whilst our evaluations were as strong, if not stronger! To give you an idea of scale: we launched this programme in April 2019. By April 2022, we have registered 869 workshop attendances, reaching 517 individuals. In hindsight, this is not surprising – UWE is a multi-campus institution, with numerous UK and international partners keen to take advantage of this programme.
For the first year of online delivery of these workshops (2020-2021), our evaluations (n=223) show 34% found the workshops ‘extremely useful’ and 50% ‘very useful’ (on a scale of extremely-very-somewhat-slightly-not at all useful). For this academic year, to-date (28/04/2022), our evaluations (n=87) show 39% of workshop participants who completed evaluation found the workshops ‘extremely useful’ and 44% ‘very useful’.

Where next?

We are entering the programme’s ‘maturity stage’. Our current work is focussed on ensuring that the programme continues to be flexible and responsive, that it grows and evolves, as the PL role continues to change. Our PLs are now requesting a community of practice where they can continue their conversations with each other, to offer each other support, and to continue to learn from each other. We will be working with them on creating such spaces.

I am happy to talk to any colleagues who are interested in our work. And, I hope you enjoy reading through ‘A collaborative and comprehensive approach to designing cross institutional development of programme leaders in Lawrence, J Moron-Garcia, S and Senior, R (2022) Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in HE: Practical wisdom for leaders, educational developers and programme leaders. Routledge, UK


Dr Petia Petrova, SFHEA, is Associate Director of Academic Practice, at the University of the West of England, Bristol and host of the Serious Leisure Podcast series. Petia has been involved in academic and educational development for the last 15 years. Petia has taken part in, and led, research, scholarship and change initiatives in the areas of employability, research-informed teaching, academic communities, and curriculum design, among others. Currently, at UWE Bristol, Petia leads the following staff development programmes: ‘Introduction to Teaching and Learning in Higher Education’, ‘Improvisation Skills for Teaching’ and the ‘Programme and Module Leader Development’ programmes.

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