A triple filter test for educational development activities

The classic triple filter test attributed to Socrates asks us to speak about a person only if what we’re going to say is true, kind and necessary. It’s a great way to limit salacious comment and gossip. In this blog I consider what might be the triple filter test that educational developers apply before embarking on projects and taking forward requests?

Why might educational developers need a triple filter test?

Well, first, there’s an awful lot we could get involved with. Over the last ten years educational development work has taken on more strategic prominence and become more aligned to cross-institutional projects that are focused directly on student success. This is in addition to our more established foci of supporting individual teaching staff and teams with their own professional development, and the enhancement of courses and programmes. This expansion of the sphere of influence and action of educational developers has been particularly pronounced in England where ‘new’ work is aligned to OfS priorities like access and participation and student outcomes. Second, educational development teams are periodically subject to the critical gaze of senior managers. When senior managers with the portfolio responsibility for education and/ or student experience change, the new incumbent often look closely at the educational development centre and seeks to find ways to ensure it can best deliver on their ambitions. Cleaver and Cracknell, 2022, Jones and Wisker, 2012 and Gosling 2008, all attest to the precarious nature of educational development centres. Third, educational development centres are usually quite small units with staffing costs that are relatively high per fte compared to other university services. This in part reflects the need for peer esteem from the academic community (consider the number of institutions that provide educational developers with academic contracts.) It reflects the complex expertise of educational developers including foundational characteristics, diverse skills, abilities, competencies and knowledge (see, for example, McDonald et al 2016), that overlaps extensively with academic work. These small, expert teams need to make sure they invest their time in the right ways.

What would the educational developer’s triple filter test be?

I propose that the first question would be, ‘will this activity demonstrably improve teaching and/or student learning?’ It’s a broad first test of the proposed action. The inclusion of the word demonstrable suggests we need to have some reasonable evidence that the action will work (research elsewhere, an action that will be research-informed) or that we will monitor our action (we will adopt a scholarly or research-based approach to the activity.) The test separates teaching and student learning. Is that really necessary? I think so for this first test which intends to filter out the odd-ball requests and possibilities. The form of words also allows us to consider developing teaching as an activity in its own right, not always linked, by evidence, to improving student learning.

For the second question I propose, ‘does the activity align to the mission and purposes of the educational development centre?’ Obvious perhaps but it speaks to how crucial it is to have a centre mission to describe the ultimate goal of all our educational development actions. The mission can also articulate the ways that goal will be achieved and the values of the centre. Centre missions can and do change but they should be able to withstand changes to senior leaders’ priorities and the development of university strategies to which the educational development centre contributes.

Finally, for the third question I propose, ‘will the educational development centre monitor the effectiveness and impact of the activity and report on that to stakeholders?’ This is the final test to establish if the work has value and strategic importance within the institution and it establishes the accountability of the educational development centre for the work. It verifies that the work will be seen and visible within the institution when it is reported forward to someone – a client, sponsor or other audience for the work. By its explicit description of what is to be monitored (effectiveness and impact – in relation to teaching and/or student learning) the question states the ways the importance of the activity will be evaluated.

So, in summary, the proposed triple filter test for educational developers to use to determine whether they should invest their time and expertise into an institutional activity is:

  • Will this activity demonstrably improve teaching and/ or student learning?
  • Does the activity align to the mission and purposes of the educational development centre?
  • Will the educational development centre monitor the effectiveness and impact of the activity and report on that to stakeholders?

It would be great to hear what you use already to determine work priorities and what you think of this proposal. It Intends to allow educational developers to make a priori decisions about the activities they spend time on and to ensure the greatest positive impact of educational development work. Do please share your thoughts by replying to this blog or contacting me directly.


Jackie Potter is Dean of Academic Innovation at the University of Chester and Professor of Higher Education Learning and Development. She is the current Chair of the Heads of Educational Development and a member of the Staff and Educational Development Association. @Jac_Potter @uochester @HEDG_UK @SEDA_UK_
She can be contacted at jackie.potter@chester.ac.uk

References

Cleaver, L. & Cracknell, L. (2022). Highs and lows, ebbs and flows: buckle up for the educational development rollercoaster ride. SEDA Blog. 05.05. 2022

Gosling, P. (2008). Educational Development in the UK. Report for the Heads of Educational Development Group. HEDG.

Jones, J. & Wisker, G. (2012). Educational Developments in the UK. Report for the Heads of Educational Development Group. HEDG.

McDonald, J., Kenny, N., Kustra, E., Dawson, D., Iqbal, I., Borin, P., & Chan, J. (2016). Educational Development Guide Series: No. 1. The Educational Developer’s Portfolio. Ottawa, Canada: Educational Developers Caucus.

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