Another busy week gone, and still the actual research hasn’t started. On the other hand, I had a trip to Sheffield yesterday because I wanted to treat myself to an iPod. Which I did. And the first thing I downloaded was a JISC podcast about web 2.0! How sad is that? If you’re interested it’s at http://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/stories/2007/08/podcast07lawriephippsdavidwhite.aspx
Anyway the point is that I took the opportunity of the train ride back to give some serious thought to where I want to be with this research, and I think I’ve got somewhere. I had a good go at coming up with an interview schedule, but following Michael Yin’s (1994) advice I sat down and wrote myself a project overview. Why am I doing it, and what are the main issues. So here it is
Primarily it is for my doctoral thesis. But also I am interested in what is driving the educational development unit from a professional point of view. My own feeling is that we (meaning the educational development community) have spent far too much time responding to managerial imperatives, like
1) The need to increase the bottom line (putting in project bids that, if we are successful run the risk of taking time away from what we should be doing.) Actually, that is putting it far too crudely. I think what I’m getting it is that the agenda risks being subtly changed from the requirements of the institution to the requirements of the funder. (Actually, in practice, I don’t think that has happened with the only bid I’ve been successful with, because it was relevant to what my own institution wanted to do.) But it does raise a question about the value of bidding per se.
2) Responding to National Student Survey – problem here, is that we are likely to be picking on one area, (in which we did least well) and concentrating on that to the exclusion of other things where we may be more effective. And of course, whatever that weakness is, there is an assumption that it is not influenced by the context in which it is showing.
3) Skills development programmes – Appears to be a belief that students need “skills development”. Actually, I see little evidence of this. Some, certainly are very weak indeed in basic skills. The elephant in room is of course the question of what are they doing at University at all, but given that they are, and accepting that “skills” programmes can make any difference, how do we identify and support those students who need them? Because, surely, inflicting such programmes on those who do not need them is a waste of everyone’s time.
4) Technology for the sake of it. Here I mean the uncritical rush to technological solutions that are, to coin a phrase, looking for problems. Actually, this has become less of an issue in recent years as commercial providers have got a better handle on what is needed. But we should be thoughtful about our use of technology, and it’s true that it is a bit more difficult. If you want to innovate you sometimes have to create an environment in which people can – and that really needs a crystal ball.
Those are examples of the sort of thing I mean. I (as you’ve probably guessed) am somewhat sceptical about their value, but I certainly accept that they matter to University Senior managers and that no EDU can safely ignore them. The challenge is to make them relevant to the innovative work of the unit
But what then is an EDU to do?. Well, I think if all the things above have anything in common, it is that they’re external to what we might call the teaching and learning environment. I think the effective EDU may well be one that builds relationships within its own institution. Examples might include.
1) Project based Teaching awards such as teacher fellowships. But even here, you have to be careful to set your selection criteria to the teaching and learning cultures in the different departments.
2) Involvement in teaching and learning and e-learning strategy development. Again, based on finding out what is going on within different departments, and getting involved with senior management too.
3) Researching into how technology might solve people’s needs. Not necessarily accommodating someone who wants a particular bit of software, but thinking about how a VLE might solve the problem of need within a particular department or faculty – but also how best to deploy that technology, which depends on a complete understanding of the teaching and learning environment.
4) Working to develop a fuller understanding, and articulation of the teaching and learning environment. This seems to me to be crucial for innovation. The problem though is likely to be that a university can contain multiple environments and it is going to be very hard to develop a working model.
5) Building relationships. It seems to me that this is crucial, (and let’s face it, it’s never been a personal speciality of mine!) Nevertheless, I don’t see how you can do educational development without a good range of relationships across all faculties. And of course, I can get on perfectly well with people. In fact it’s important to maintain a level of “customer service” (ghastly phrase, but until I can think of a better one, it will have to do.) No, actually, it won’t do, “customer service” has too many connotations of insincerity. I don’t think the checkout girl in Sainsbury’s actually cares whether I have a nice day!
Well it’s a start. The next thing is to show how my proposed methodology will address these issues. I’ve already come up with an admittedly rather crude research instrument, well, OK then, interview schedule, and I need to spend some time bringing them together. But that should form a sound basis for the methodology chapter of the thesis. Anyway, my reading light has just blown it’s bulb, which might be a sign that I’ve probably done enough for today.
Yin, R. K. (1994) Case study research: Design and Methods, Sage, Thousand Oaks, CA.