22 SES 06 B, Academic Professions and Leadership
Higher education has for a long period experienced a series of reforms to improve the quality of higher education. In Europe, it has been argued that the way traditional universities were organized and managed and the way academics taught, were malfunctioning in terms of the public responsibility and the challenges in contemporary societies (Bologna Working Group on Qualifications Framework 2005, p. 23). It is argued that universities must open up and become more attentive to the interests of employers and the needs of students as learners in a lifelong learning perspective (Stensaker et al 2017). The European Commission asks for new epistemic paradigms, the need to cross departmental boundaries and the need to generate new inter- and cross-disciplinary knowledge and innovative research and educational programmes (Allmendinger 2015; Locke et al 2016) in order to improve students’ learning outcomes; to make more efficient use of IT technology; and to align modes of assessment with other quality assurance processes (Stensaker et al 2017)Politicians call on higher education to take a leading role in solving today’s and future societies’ national as well as international challenges (Brankovic et al. 2014; Karseth & Solbrekke 2016), and there is increased pressure on institutional leaders to enact leadership in order to improve the quality of education (eg. see The Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, White paper 16, 2017). Today’s universities require not only scholarship in research but also scholarship in teaching and learning (Boud and Brew 2013).
As a consequence of all these new expectations ‘academic development’ is no longer left ‘below the radar’, and those who are assigned the responsibility for academic development programs; the academic developers (ADs), are currently not only growing in numbers, but are also expected to take on accruing responsibilities. In addition to support teachers to enhance their teaching for an increasingly diverse student cohort, they are also expected to develop innovative ways of integrating IT into teaching and assessment while also increasingly becoming more involved in providing leadership programs (Stensaker et al 2017). ADs are expected to take on a more, visible and arguably more vulnerable and strategic “leadership” role within their respective institutions when engaging with academic staff and leaders across a wide spectrum of a university. They are being increasingly seen as ‘bridge builders’ (Bluteau and Krummis 2008) and ‘brokers’ (Bamber and Anderson, 2012) for university leadership. Expected to enact as cross-disciplinary and cultural bridge-builders, they also practice distributed leadership and are role models for peers (Sugrue et al 2017). Inevitably, ADs become key agents in the formation of institutional educational practices, and indirectly also impact academic student formation (Sutphen & de Lange 2015) as they seek to promote transformational pedagogies (Handal et al., 2014; Mårtensson & Roxå, 2016). What roles and responsibilities academic leaders expect academic developers in their institutions to fulfil, is thus an empirical issue warranting research.
In this paper we identify and critically analyse how the roles and responsibilities of ADs are articulated by university leaders at macro (senior leaders), messo (faculty/departments leaders) and micro (heads of AD units) levels. A core interest is how expectations expressed by the macro and messo level leaders are engaged with by heads of AD units, as these are the people responsible for translating institutional priorities of academic development into practice.
The research questions in this paper are:
• What are macro and messo university leaders saying about the roles and responsibilities of ADs?
• How are the roles and responsibilities interpreted and enacted by heads of AD units (micro)?
• What do we learn about the possible implications for ADs’ work and contributions to educational leadership in different institutions?
The study reported is part of an international project on the Formation and Competence Building of University Academic Developers funded by Norges Forskningsråd (Grant number 246745/H20) http://www.uv.uio.no/iped/english/research/projects/solbrekke-formation-and-competence-building/). Interviews with 25 educational leaders in two Norwegian, two Swedish and one US universities were conducted in the offices of the interviewees during the months of March and April 2016 in English. All interviews lasted 50-90 minutes; were semi-structured using a common interview guide informed by a literature review on the trends in the practices of ADs (Sugrue et al 2017). Particular attention was paid to how leaders perceived of the purpose of university education and the contribution of ADs to fulfil the aspirations of their respective institution. It was necessary to garner interviewee’s sense of what ADs’ contributions had been over time, while the positioning of the unit in which they worked was important also; focusing on how the role and responsibilities might evolve in the near future was also addressed. The purpose was to capture the perceived contribution in context, while seeking clarity to the dynamics of the contribution and how it is perceived. All interviews were conducted by the same researcher (“outsider” as he is not an AD at any of the universities investigated) together with an “insider” from each university (Jacobs 2005). The outsider took the lead, with the insider playing a ‘sweeper’ role—whereby ‘gaps’ in the interviews due to questions being overlooked were addressed, or where the insider determined some additional elaboration was necessary to provide additional information on a contextual matter of significance, or where ‘language’ (the outsider speaks only English and most of the informants are Scandinavians) became a barrier due to a more technical translation issue necessitating some clarification. All interview transcripts were coded using MAXQDA. The coding frame emerged as a result of individual and inter-rater collaboration among three researchers. An interview transcript was selected at random, printed and individually coded by the outsider and two ‘insider’ colleagues. Each presented their codes to the other two, and from this deliberative process, there was agreement to adopt 21 codes while leaving open the possibility of making additions to the list of codes if warranted by the data in an iterative abductive manner (Alvesson & Skölberg, 2000).
Through data analysis we gained better insights into the complexities and the layered realities of responsibilities for leading and encouraging pedagogical transformation. All interviewees indicated that ADs have a significant formative influence on academic staff – and in turn on students’ learning - by promoting and supporting pedagogical renewal. Evidence too suggests that the degree of autonomy afforded ADs, is contingent on the legacy and current status and positioning of ADs in their respective institution. Context matters. It matters where ADs are located institutionally; within administration or as members of the academic community. Additionally, the mindset of macro leaders sets the tone and context in which the agency of ADs is both enacted and constrained. Some leaders perceived ADs as bridge builders and brokers across faculties (horizontal) and others highlighted the responsibility of a more top-down (vertical) bridge building, expecting ADs to comply with the priorities defined in strategic plans. Such workplace conditions are evidently subtle enablers and disablers as to how ADs may ‘play the game.’ Evidence indicates that institutional history and tradition cast long shadows on contemporary, rendering transformation a considerable challenge, working against the grain, whereas more recently established universities derive energy and enthusiasm from being ‘new’ and a desire to make a mark. Nevertheless, positioning internally and externally emerge as facilitative and constraining conditions. Arising from analysis of evidence considering these emergent considerations, further attention will be focused on possible lessons learned for ADs understood in their respective context as opposed to stating more generalised claims. In this regard also the issue of institutional leadership will be discussed, firstly with regard to ADs contribution to it, and how this invites consideration of a more ‘distributed’ understanding of leadership (Spillane 2006), but with more attention to agency and power distribution in more fluid and fast moving university contexts.
Alvesson, M. and Skölberg, K. (2000). Reflexive Methodology. New Vistas for Qualitative Research. London: Sage Publications. Bamber, V. & Anderson, S. 2012. “Evaluating learning and teaching: institutional needs and individual practices.” International Journal for Academic Development, 17 (1): 5-18, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2011.586459 Bluteau, P. & Krumins, M. 2008. “Engaging academics in developing excellence: releasing creativity through reward and recognition.” Journal of Further and Higher Education, 32 (4): 415-426, DOI: 10.1080/03098770802538137 Brankovic, J., Klemencic, M,. Lazetic, P. and Zgaga (Eds.) (2014) Introduction. Pp. 3-11. Global Challenges, Local Responses in Higher Education. The Contemporary Issues in National and Comparative Perspective. Higher Education Research in the 21st Century Series Volume 6. Rotterdam, Sen Boud, D. & Brew, A. (2013) Reconceptualising academic work as professional practice: implications for academic development, International Journal for Academic Development, 18:3, 208-221, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2012. Handal, G., Lycke, K.H., Mårtensson, K., Roxå, T., Skodvin, A. & Solbrekke, T.D (2014) The role of academic developers in transforming Bologna regulations to a national and institutional context, International Journal for Academic Development, 19:1, 12-25, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2013.849254 Jacobs, C. 2005. “On Being an Insider on the Outside: New Spaces for Integrating Academic Literacies.” Teaching in Higher Education 10 (4): 475–487. Karseth, B. & Solbrekke, T.D. (2016): Curriculum Trends in European Higher Education: The Pursuit of the Humboldtian University Ideas. I S. Slaughter, B.J. Taylor (eds.), Higher Education, Stratification, and Workforce Development, s. 215-234, Heidelberg: Springer. Locke, W., Whitchurch, C., Smith, H. & Mazenod, A. (2016). Shifting Landscapes. Meeting the Staff Development Needs of the Changing Academic Workforce. Retrieved January 25, 2018. UCL, London: Higher Education Academy Ministry of Education and Research (2017) Quality Culture in Higher Education. (White paper). Retrieved January 25, 2018, from https://www.regjeringen.no/en/dokumenter/meld.-st.-16-20162017/id2536007/.Government.no Mårtensson, K. & Roxå, T. (2016) Leadership at a local level – Enhancing educational development. Educational Management Administration & Leadership. 44(2) 247–262 Stensaker, B., Bilbow, G.,T., Breslow, L. And Van der Vaart, R. (2017). Strengthening Teaching and Learning in Research Universities. Strategies and Initiatives for Institutional Change. Cham, Palgrave Macmillian, Springer. Spillane, J.P. (2006). Distributed leadership. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Sugrue, C., Englund, T., Solbrekke, T. D., & Fossland, T. (2017). Trends in the practices of academic developers: trajectories of higher education? Studies in Higher Education. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2017.1326026 Sutphen, M. & de Lange, T. (2015). What is formation? A conceptual discussion. Higher Education Research and Development http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2014.956690, 411-419.
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