More thoughts on Educational Development

Just finished reading Ray Land’s 2004 book “Educational Development: Discourse Identity and Practice” which covers a lot of the same ground as I’m covering in my doctoral thesis. (Wish I’d found it a bit earlier!) Anyway, if I’ve grasped his argument his theory seems to be that educational development is extraordinary complex and multi faceted activity and there are orientations to educational development, which rather than being personal attributes of individual developers derive from a combination of stances towards change in organisations which in turn is heavily influenced by the strategic terrain in which they operate. That’s echoed by the work of David Gosling too, and does form (pretty much) the basis of what I want to say in my thesis. Though I am rather tempted to part from Land over the exact nature of some of the orientations he identifies. At the risk of being overly picky I don’t really feel that a “managerial” orientation and a “professional competence” orientation as he describes them are all that different. That shouldn’t be taken as implying that the orientations are not valid. I think my own unit has moved from a very managerial orientation to a much more entrepreneurial approach.

Further, my own findings, (and I accept that this is still a little tentative) suggest that educational development is much less of a modernist project than it might have been when the book was written. I found most of the developers I met were quite comfortable with the idea that there are shifting cultures within the organisation, and had become quite adept at playing organisational politics, and moving through shifting cultures. They also seemed to be quite comfortable with the ideas of liminality and troublesome knowledge, accepting that they were working near a border across which (to parphrase mediaeval cartographers) “there be dragons”. It may be that there is a thirteenth orientation, which I am tempted to call “pragmatic-holistic”, which seems to derive from a much more post-modern attitude to the University as an organisation. To some extent, I think that’s my own orientation so I’ll have to go over the findings with a fine toothcomb to ensure it’s not just coming from my own personal preference.

There is a theme running through the book which seems to see developers as primarily responsible for innovation. I found that they certainly saw themselves as an important locus for innovation, but they also saw themselves as playing other roles, for example a bridge between the respective cultures of the senior management and the faculties, but they also took their support role very seriously (Land’s “Romantic” orientation). In fact if anything they saw themselves as supporters of innovation by others rather than innovators themselves.

A great deal of food for thought anyway.