Paper presented to The International Consortium for Educational Development in Higher Education's Second International Conference on 'Supporting Educational, Faculty & TA Development within Departments and Disciplines', Austin, Texas, 19-22 April 1998
Address: Department of Geography and Geology, Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education, Francis Close Hall, Swindon Road, Cheltenham, GL50 4AZ, UK
Tel: +44 (0)1242 543364/532971; Fax: +44 (0)1242 532959
E-mail: email@example.com; URL: http://www.chelt.ac.uk/gdn
An examination of some recent educational development literature suggests that discipline specialists are sometimes portrayed as thinking that the teaching process is unproblematic and not worthy of much attention; while educational developers are sometimes perceived as being discipline-blind and not recognising the value academics place on their subjects (Baume, 1996; Jenkins, 1996a; Schulman, 1993; Weimer, 1997). Neither caricature is necessarily true, and they are not helpful in encouraging fruitful co-operation between educational developers and academics working in departments.
Given this context of increasing pressures and stereotyped views, it is not surprising that, on the one hand, educational developers continue to face a challenge as to how best to engage discipline specialist teaching staff effectively in the development and dissemination of good educational practice; and, on the other hand, discipline specialists, who are interested in improving the quality of the learning experience of their students, are often unaware of the potentially valuable role which educational developers can play.
This paper starts by reviewing the changing models of educational development and examines the case for a subject network approach to educational development. It goes on to examine a case study of subject networks in one discipline, in which the author is involved, that of geography. The paper focuses on the development of a set of cross-institutional groups, initiatives and consortia in geography in higher education originating in the UK. After identifying the main features of a cross-section of four geography networks, a range of issues facing subject networks in general are discussed and illustrated with examples from the four geography networks. The paper concludes by arguing that subject networks need to play a greater role in educational development and that educational developers and discipline specialists need to find more effective ways of working together. In particular, the paper calls for cross-institutional, subject-specific programmes of educational development to complement the present predominantly institutional-based educational development model.
A number of writers have recently argued that a more effective model of educational development would reflect the way in which institutions are organised, i.e. predominantly into subject-based departments (Gibbs, 1996; Jenkins, 1996a). This is because most academic staff derive their professional identity from their discipline or profession. If educational developers are going to persuade other academics in subject-based departments to take teaching and learning seriously, they should recognise, value and build upon staff's concerns for their subject (Jenkins, 1996a). As many institutions reduce their central services, convincing departments of the value of educational development has become a necessary survival strategy for many educational development units. The practicality of implementing a fully departmental-based model of educational development has, however, been questioned, principally because at present there are few incentives or resources for individual departments to become engaged in educational development (Knapper, 1997).
A variant on the department-based model is the subject network model. The difference is that whereas the department-based model is focused on subject areas within institutions, the subject network model involves cross-institutional educational development. The underlying case for both models has many features in common, although subjects and departments do not always neatly coincide. The key argument is that for most academic staff their primary allegiance is to their discipline or profession, rather than to their institution. Becher (1994, p.157) regards disciplines "as academic tribes each with their own set of intellectual values and their own patch of cognitive territory". These tribes are organised social groupings characterised by a body of concepts, methods and fundamental aims. Hence it is not surprising that the most important networks for most academic staff are the ones with fellow academics and professionals in their own discipline or sub-discipline. These networks transcend institutional boundaries and in many instances they span national boundaries.
Apart from links to people working on similar issues in closely related subjects, most of the links that academics have outside their subject are with colleagues in the same university or college and are concerned with the day to day running of the institution. These intra-institutional links are largely job-specific, and most end if the academic staff member moves jobs to another university or college; whereas most of the subject network links are career-specific, and most are continued on moving to another academic job in the same discipline in another institution.
The idea of a subject network for educational development is to build on this propensity for staff to value their discipline contacts. The argument is based on two assertions: first, that staff are more likely to accept, say, a method of teaching or learning which is new to them, if it can be shown to work for a colleague teaching the same subject; and, second, it is important not to separate pedagogic developments from the disciplinary contexts in which they are to be implemented. These arguments appear to have been accepted, in part, in some of the more recent programmes funded by various government bodies in the UK:
Although the UK government has invested relatively large sums of money in discipline-based programmes, compared with many other countries (though not in comparison to the amount the UK spends on research in universities), the initiatives to date have been largely uncoordinated, short-term programmes (the CTI initiative is an exception), and relatively few of the networks supported have managed to obtain continuation funding. The option of a more strategic investment in subject networks, as an effective way of disseminating good practice, is being examined by HEFCE as part of the implementation of its Learning and Teaching Strategy (Bekhrandia, 1997).
Such national teaching and learning initiatives are relatively recent in British higher education and there remains a strong sense of individualism and institutional autonomy within British universities which tempers this trend. However, academics in the UK are quickly becoming used to national programmes based on subject areas. At the time of writing, they include research funding (Research Assessment Exercise - RAE) and teaching quality assessment (TQA). Proposals have just been published by the newly established Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education to establish threshold standards for all subjects and strengthen the external examiner system (Higher Quality 1 (3) March 1998). This suggests a continuing growth in the importance of national, discipline-based initiatives in the UK.
Although the importance of national and state/provincial, subject-based higher education programmes varies between countries, many have initiatives which recognise the importance of disciplines. For example, in Australia, The Committee for University Teaching and Staff Development (CUTSD) gives grants for discipline-based teaching initiatives and has established five discipline-based clearinghouses for the exchange of information about teaching and learning. In the United States, the American Association for Higher Education's (AAHE) project on 'Faculty Roles and Rewards' has sought to work with disciplinary organisations to identify reward systems, which give greater consideration to the scholarship of teaching and recognise the uniqueness of disciplines (Jenkins, 1996a; Jenkins, 1996b). An example of their application is given in the recommendations developed by the Association of American Geographers (Abler et al., 1994). Even in the absence of national or state/provincial programmes, many disciplines have their own teaching and learning initiatives. For example, geographers in the United States have received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a Virtual Geography Department, led by the University of Texas at Austin; while Clark University has led a team preparing ten active learning modules on The Human Dimensions of Global Change (Healey, 1998a).
Subject networks clearly operate on a much larger scale than individual departments. They can therefore draw on a much wider range of skills and experiences and can potentially attract larger sources of funding and support from national bodies and professional associations than can department-based educational development. Subject networks, nevertheless, interact closely with departments. Most subject networks are based in lead departments and many organise department-based workshops and consultancies.
A key issue for educational developers and discipline specialists is how their respective expertise and skills can best be harnessed, and, where appropriate, integrated, to improve the quality of learning and teaching in subjects, departments and institutions (Jenkins, 1996b).
Geographers in the UK have been involved in a series of groups, initiatives and consortia concerned with teaching and learning in higher education over more than 25 years and although there is a substantial overlap in the membership and collaboration between several of the groups, the situation is, perhaps, best described as a federation of subject networks. The remainder of this paper focuses on four of these networks.1 They were chosen, in part, because of the personal involvement of the author with them, but also because they illustrate a cross-section of the different kinds of network in operation in the subject:
Developing a subject network entails bringing in new members to run the network. A measure of the success of the JGHE and the HESG is that over the years there has been a steady flow of 'new blood'. There has usually been a fairly extensive overlap in the active membership of the these two groups and several members are also members of various other subject networks in geography. The consequence has been that a core group of people has emerged, whose membership changes slowly over the years. They share values about the importance of learning and teaching, and are used to working together on a variety of related educational groups. It was people from this core group who established the GDN and were successful in obtaining funding for geography in a series of competitive national programmes in the mid to late 1990s.
Most of the geography subject networks developed with minimal resources for many years. However, more significant resources are required to support IT-based subject networks, because of the cost of the equipment required and the need to employ people with appropriate IT skills. The Dearing Committee has called for an extensive programme of IT-based resource-based learning packages, but has recognised that few departments can afford the development costs (NCIHE, 1997 Appendix 2). Consortia are potentially more cost effective and the majority of the TLTP programme funds were invested in this way (e.g. GeographyCal®). However, despite the hype, the market for most IT-based discipline specific packages is not yet large enough to attract many publishers or software houses, and only a few of the IT-based discipline consortia have obtained the funds necessary to keep operational from this source.
Internal debates within the discipline about the content of the curriculum and the impact of national policies for teaching and research on the discipline are important in involving a wider group of staff than normal. Such debates often inevitably include discussion of pedagogic issues. For example, the HESG ran two workshops in 1993/94 on preparing for the Teaching Quality Assessment exercise, which attracted many academics, including heads of department, who would not normally attend an educational development session. The workshops included discussion of what constituted a good student learning experience and how this could be identified (Healey, 1994). The JGHE has also run symposia on assessing research (Thorne, 1993); the training of postgraduate research students (Bradford, 1994); and Dearing and geography (Chalkley, 1998).
Effectively integrating the curriculum and the pedagogy was a key issue facing the GeographyCal® project. The academic content of the CAL modules was authored by geographers across the consortium, while the programmers based at the University of Leicester were responsible for designing the screens. Many academics found it challenging to prepare effective CAL materials and each module panel was advised by someone, usually another geographer, experienced in writing for this medium. Particular attention was placed on developing active learning experiences and formative assessment exercises within the modules (Healey et al., 1996; Healey et al., 1998).
A number of educational developers have recognised the need to become involved with curriculum issues, though usually at the level of the department rather than the subject network. For example, Partington (1996, p.85) has argued that "Staff and educational developers need to consider carefully, (a) their roles in respect of support for curriculum development, and (b) their relationships with departments and schools and their possible 'consultancy' role."
Involving a cross-section of different types of institution is important to show them the relevance of the ideas to their situation. In the GDN FDTL project a cross-section of institutions was deliberately chosen to form a consortium of three old universities, three new universities and three colleges of higher education. Effective dissemination means using multiple channels of communication (Gravestock & Healey, 1998; Healey & Gravestock, 1997; Healey & Gravestock, 1998). For example, this has involved the GDN FDTL project in:
The discipline networks in geography have made some progress in developing the scholarship of teaching and learning and raising the standard of debate, but they still have some way to go. Twenty-two years of JGHE has ensured that it is acceptable to write about teaching of the discipline. The fact that some other 'mainstream' journals are beginning to accept papers on the pedagogy of geography in higher education is a tribute to the journal's impact. Encouragingly, many of the publications being produced by geographers are using frameworks derived from the educational literature on how students learn and what constitutes good practice (e.g. Gamson & Chickering, 1991; Kolb, 1984; Ramsden, 1992).
Jenkins (1997 p.13) points out that there are, however, "still lower standards of evidence and scholarship demonstrated in discussions about the teaching of geography than those of the discipline per se". This lack of professionalism, he argues, "reflects the lower status teaching and research on discipline-based pedagogy occupies vis-à-vis research on the discipline per se", and he does not feel that this will be resolved "until there are strong institutional and departmental policies and national requirements for rewarding and promoting excellent teaching and teachers". Jenkins provides a clear direction in which JGHE should strive to move, but there is a tension between trying to raise standards too quickly and, in the process, discouraging many discipline-specialists from writing (and reading) about teaching and learning. In the future, should the status of teaching and pedagogic research rise, there may be room for a specialised journal(s) for pedagogic researchers in geography to report their findings and another more 'popular' journal(s), which is used to evaluate teaching and learning experiences, report on educational resources, discuss topical issues and disseminate good practice to discipline specialists. Until then, JGHE is rightly attempting, to a large extent, to meet both functions.
Both the GeographyCal® and the GDN projects entail trying to involve as many geography departments as possible. The strategy both projects used was to write initially to the head of each geography department to obtain a contact person in each department. The experience of both projects has been that working through key individuals in departments has been the most effective way of engaging with departments. Legitimisation and status for both projects was achieved by procuring the support of the RGS-IBG and the Conference of Heads of Geography in Higher Education Institutions. Both projects are part of large funded programmes and a significant amount of central support was provided giving advice, workshops, conferences and networking opportunities with other funded projects. Other sources of advice and information have come from Steering Committees, colleagues in university geography departments, educational development units, learning centres and computer services; and colleagues working in the discipline in the secondary schools.
Both projects have sought further funding to keep the networks functioning. GeographyCal® obtained a year's extension to its funding from the TLTP, which enabled it to develop a business plan, seek a business partner, and keep at least part of the team together. After much searching, a set of agents (eg SciTech) and software publishers (Springer-Verlag and Research Machines) have been commissioned to help market the Phase I CAL modules outside UK higher education,3 although most of the marketing and distribution is still based at Leicester. Work has now begun on the development of the Phase II modules. A GeographyCal® Club has been established. The 21 departments, which have so far joined, pay an annual membership fee, for which they obtain various services and discounts on workshops and new products. There is a significant synergy in the project being located in a CTI Centre and the University of Leicester has been generous with the provision of facilities. The GDN does not have as marketable a product as GeographyCal®, although it will offer full-cost workshops and will seek to sell the GDN Guides, once the free copies have been distributed to geography departments in England and Northern Ireland. A more important strategy for seeking financial sustainability will be to bid for any further contracts which become available for which GDN is eligible. Its recent success in obtaining funding from the DfEE to investigate 'Key skills in geography in higher education' has given it continuation funding for a further 18 months.
What is required now in the UK is to build on the experience of running this set of largely uncoordinated and mostly short-term teaching and learning development programmes and to institute a long term national programme of subject networks supported and funded through the HEFCs and/or ILTHE. The subject networks could form effective permanent teaching communities, which could coordinate all aspects of teaching the subject, including quality assessment and standards, the collation and dissemination of good practice, the use of technology, the development of key skills, and involvement in pedagogic research within the discipline. In the UK some subjects, such as geography, already have well developed networks which could be built on and integrated; other subjects would need to develop networks from scratch.
The theme of this Second International Conference of ICED, 'Supporting Educational, Faculty and TA Development within Departments and Disciplines', indicates a growing interest in subject networks as a model for educational development in several countries. As yet relatively few educational developers are currently actively involved with cross-institutional subject networks; but where the links do operate there are benefits for both parties. Educational developers can play various roles in subject networks including facilitating their development, working as members of the subject teams, and acting as consultants. Mechanisms need to be found, however, to make subject networks aware of the benefits of involving educational developers and to raise the priority that educational developers give to assisting subject networks. Bringing leaders of subject networks and educational developers together in workshops and planning joint projects would be a start. The joint meeting in Birmingham, UK in December 1997 of the FDTL and the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA), and the plans of the Open University to involve discipline-specialist tutors in their course for new university lecturers, indicates that this is already beginning to happen. In the long run, as more discipline-specialists become trained in educational development within their discipline, educational developers could return to emphasising their primary generic role. However, for the moment most subject networks would benefit from a more hands-on approach by educational developers. One model would be to match particular educational developers, based, where appropriately, on their previous disciplinary training, with particular subject networks. Educational development is moving into a new era in which there are considerable opportunities for discipline specialists and educational developers, who are willing to change their way of operating, to work together to develop cross-institutional subject networks to improve the quality of learning and teaching in the disciplines.
2 The first two symposia originated as HESG sessions at the RGS-IBG Annual Conference; the third one arose from a DfEE sponsored workshop; and the last one emanated from a GDN workshop. The initial idea of bidding for a disciplinary network in geography was first discussed at the DfEE workshop. The success of the subsequent bid led to the establishment of the GDN. These examples give another illustration of the importance of a core group working together on various initiatives associated with different networks. Return to text
3 As one of the conditions of funding, Higher Education Institutions in the UK can obtain all TLTP products at the cost of distribution. Return to text
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|1.||Make as many contacts as possible with like-minded enthusiasts in the discipline in your state/province/ nation; build a core group as soon as possible and involve them in the establishment and organisation of the network's activities|
|2.||Agree the main objectives for your network, develop an action plan with timescales and a clear division of responsibilities for their achievement; review and, where appropriate, revise your objectives and plans regularly|
|3.||Start small, but think big; organising workshops and small conferences need not involve many resources|
|4.||Seek wide support for your network by 'networking the networks'; obtain legitimacy and status by working with your subject's learned society or professional association and other key groups; make your network invaluable by, for example, organising workshops and conferences to discuss the subjects' response to government higher education initiatives|
|5.||Integrate in the programmes of activities curriculum and pedagogic issues with topical issues of concern to the future of the subject|
|6.||Take every opportunity to involve academics in the discipline in the network; identify and work through key individuals in university and college departments|
|7.||Ensure that events and activities receive wide publicity and reports are written up and distributed widely; produce a newsletter; establish a subject network WWW site; and consider establishing a mailbase discussion list|
|8.||Prepare guides to good practices in learning, teaching and assessment, written in an accessible and practical style, and containing plenty of case studies illustrating their implementation in your subject|
|9.||Produce learning and teaching materials which can be adapted and used flexibly by lecturers and tutors in your subject|
|10.||Publish subject based pedagogic research, conference proceedings, and bibliographies of discipline-specific educational literature; consider establishing a discipline educational journal, if one does not already exist|
|11.||Ensure a high standard of scholarship in the way you write about and discuss the teaching of your subject; strive to raise the standard of other contributors|
|12.||Seek funding to develop, identify and disseminate good practice in the learning and teaching of your subject|
|13.||Establish links with other educational networks in closely related subjects and with networks in your subject in other countries; involve key people from related subjects and other countries in your activities|
|14.||Contribute to generic educational conferences and workshops|
|15.||Involve educational developers, particularly those with a background in your discipline, in the planning and implementation of your activities, including bringing them in to participate in events, work on projects, facilitate workshops, and to advise on and evaluate the development of the network|
|16.||Encourage and prepare new members to take over the running of the network|
|AAG||Association of American Geographers|
|AAHE||American Association for Higher Education|
|CAL||Computer Assisted Learning|
|CAUT||Committee for the Advancement of University Teaching|
|CGCHE||Cheltenham and Gloucester College of Higher Education|
|CTI||Computers in Teaching Initiative|
|CTIGGM||CTI Centre for Geography, Geology and Meteorology|
|DENI||Department for Education Northern Ireland|
|DfEE||Department for Education and Employment|
|FDTL||Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning|
|GDN||Geography Discipline Network|
|HEFCE||Higher Education Funding Council for England|
|HEFCs||Higher Education Funding Councils|
|HESG||Higher Education Study Group|
|IAG||Institute of Australian Geographers|
|IBG||Institute of British Geographers|
|ICED||International Consortium for Educational Development|
|ILTHE||Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education|
|JGHE||Journal of Geography in Higher Education|
|NCGHE||National Council for Geography in Higher Education|
|NCIHE||National Committee of Inquiry into Higher Education|
|NZGS||New Zealand Geographical Society|
|RAE||Research Assessment Exercise|
|RGS-IBG||Royal Geographical Society with the Institute of British Geographers|
|SEDA||Staff and Educational Development Association|
|TLTP||Teaching and Learning Technology Programme|
|TQA||Teaching Quality Assessment|