The Importance of Community

I’ve just finished reading a very interesting article by McNaught and Vogel about e-learning and institutional culture. The full reference is below. Ostensibly I’m interested in wider developments in teaching and learning, and their focus was on e-learning, but I thought much of what they had to say was relevant to my interests. (Well, of course, e-learning is part of my conceptual framework, in that adopting it often requires some thought to be given to teaching practices in general)   In particular I was struck by their emphasis on creating a community. Teaching, especially in HE often seems to me to be a pretty lonely pursuit, but I think they are right to argue for the creation of a sense of shared values which can inform development work. Clearly there are different value positions held between disciplines as Becher and Trowler’s work on Academic Tribes has shown. But there are also overarching values that everyone subscribes to (well, nearly everyone!) The danger is perhaps that developers might assume their values to be shared – so perhaps that’s one thing I really ought to be asking about in my research. What are people’s values around teaching and learning. And what, if anything, are educational development units doing to find out about them. And what are they doing to reconcile them if they discover conflicts. ?

 I do think this is an interesting track to go down, but I wonder if I’m risking over-expanding the research topic. I’m going to have to think very carefully about that!

 The other thing I’ve been trying to do today is have a look at Nvivo which is installed on my machine at work. I’m supposed to be evaluating it, but I really haven’t had much time. I think I’m just going to have start staying behind in the evenings! Ho hum!

(MCNAUGHT, C. and VOGEL, D., 2006. The fit between e-learning policy and institutional culture. International Journal of Learning Technology, 2(4), pp. 370-385)


Well, the holidays and conference season is firmly over, and it really is time I got back into the Ed D. So what I plan to do is to review where I am so far. The trouble is working out where to start. Probably as good as idea as any is to re-read the defence document, so let’s start there and make a list of the issues I discuss

1) Some doubt about what constitutes knowledge in HE. Distinction between propositional and performative knowledge. Importance of developing critical thinking skills

2) Then there’s a list based on Gosling’s work, of what it is that EDUs are actually doing.

  1. Activities that work towards the improvement of, or innovation in practices related to university teaching
  2. Research into the nature of these activities
  3. Involvement in attempts to influence policy with regard to teaching.
  4. Areas outside the EDU’s immediate remit – teaching spaces, QA activities (for example the work we’ve done with regard to the NSS – but could that be part of 3 above)
  5. Providing support to non-teaching colleagues

I also wondered about the extent to which EDUs were directly involved with students – in fact, I think they’re mostly concerned with staff

Some thoughts about the location of the EDU within the organisation – they aren’t usually public facing and this may mean that they can take a fairly informal flexible approach to their work, but also that they can be forgotten about, and are an easy target for cuts.

Then I reviewed the issues facing EDUs

  1. Difficulty of engaging with the “tribes” (and danger of becoming a “tribe” themselves)
  2. Vulnerability due to external funding
  3. Need to respond to external agenda (demands of “politics”, “business” and other stakeholders who see the University as having a very instrumental role)
  4. Need to respond to a pedagogical agenda. Imposition of particular practices – notably PDP and challenge of getting others to embed these into the curriculum. Also difficulty of pinning down “University teaching” in a time when new courses and disciplines proliferate, there is a growth in delivery methods, rapid development of new technological tools (perhaps I should add “technological practices” here, by which I mean things like web 2.0, which some argue are leading to new ways of students engaging with learning.)
  5. Growth of other new ideas not necessarily related to technology. e.g. those around PBL and peer assisted learning.

I then reviewed these themes in the light of the literature – something I very much need to develop for the next chapter of the thesis. But all this leads to my main research question which is “To what extent are the actvities of educational development units driven by pressure to meet corporate and managerial goals, and to what extent are they responses to developments in pedagogical theory.” Actually, though this needs quite a bit of unpicking. Firstly the “to what extent” bit will need to be re-phrased. It implies that this is something that can be measured using quantitative techniques, which is only true if I could devise a set of variables that can actually be measured. Secondly, I think I have to make a convincing case that “corporate and managerial goals” and “developments in pedagogical theory” don’t always coincide. If they did, then there wouldn’t be a problem. (But I think I might also have to acknowledge that they sometimes do coincide!)

Perhaps I should now go back and have a look at what I’ve written so far in terms of draft chapters – Important because the research question must drive the methodological approach I take.,