I seem to be getting back into the swing of things a bit. I’ve just read three articles, one about the importance of working with the departments in universities (TROWLER, P., FANGHANEL, J. and WAREHAM, T., 2005) by which argues that working with departments is as important, if not more so, than working at the institutional or individual level because it is at that level that there are established working practices which is where the changes need to be brought about. (Bit of an echo of Wenger’s communities of practice notion there too.) They introduce the important concept of “Teaching and Learning Regimes” or what the department does. From my point of view this raises the important question of where the EDU directs its efforts, which I think I will have to build into the case studies.
The second article was a review of the roll out of the Blackboard VLE at York University. (BEASTALL, L. and WALKER, R., 2006) The relevance of this to my research is that VLEs are something that EDUs are inevitably going to be involved in. (Although, as far as I can tell, York doesn’t have an EDU as such – the article refers to a small “e-learning support unit” and I can’t find any evidence of an actual organisational unit on York’s web site) But whether it does or it doesn’t is beside the point for my research. What was interesting about the article was the emphasis that they have put on departmental readiness in terms of meeting the University’s teaching and learning priorities. They claim to have taken a mixed bottom-up and top down approach, although their description of “bottom-up” seemed to imply that this was mostly delivered through departmental working groups. I suppose that is bottom-up in a sense, but it also got me wondering about “in-groups” and “out-groups” Are there those who are aggressively not interested? Are there those who are interested but can’t get involved because of other priorities? Which sort of reinforces the question Trowler et. al. are asking. What constitutes a practical working group, and how do those outside it work with it to change its practices?
The third article was quite different in that it dealt with the idea of threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge (MEYER, J. and LAND, R., 2003) A threshold concept is a concept that students need to acquire to be able to work effectively in a discipline. Without a proper understanding of these concepts, a student will at best be able to mimic the discipline and reproduce very limited answers to questions (There’s something of an echo here of the notions of deep and surface learning). I do find this a fascinating topic, and not only because the examples they give are inherently very difficult for me to understand, but sort of explain what they’re getting at. It’s highly relevant, because I think the notion of liminality – that is being at the boundary of understanding in a subject – might go a long way to explaining how educational development units go about interacting with the subject? Do we really understand what teachers in (say) physics, biology, history, or sports science are trying to do. Can we get across the threshold? If we do what do we lose? I liked Meyer and Land’s analogy with the Adam & Eve myth. Once you’re out of Eden, there’s no going back, no matter how comfortable the illusion that you didn’t have freedom, autonomy and responsibility might have been. Is it possible that EDUs will have to abandon any long held values?
I think I’m still some way from finalising my conceptual framework, but if anything, today’s experience has taught me the value of reading. (As if I needed to know!) Sometimes, when you feel you’re getting bogged down, some different perspectives can really get you going again. Unfortunately the work I am being paid to do is shoving its nose in and I’m going to have to leave the Ed D. alone for today – But I think I know my next steps. Firstly I must reread my first draft of chapter 1 and see if these ideas can be incorporated, and secondly I think I can do quite a lot more work on developing my case study protocol, now that the conceptual framework is beginning to form in my mind.
Quite a good day really! Oh, and here are the references
BEASTALL, L. and WALKER, R., 2007. Effecting institutional change through e-learning: An implementation model for VLE deployment at the University of York. Intellect, 3(3), pp. 285-299.
MEYER, J. and LAND, R., 2003. Threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge: Linkages to ways of thinking and practices within the disciplines. Occasional Report 4. Edinburgh: ETL Project.
TROWLER, P., FANGHANEL, J. and WAREHAM, T., 2005. Freeing the chi of change: the Higher Education Academy and enhancing teaching and learning in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 30(4), pp. 427-444