Being an educator has been an integral part of my professional identity for over ten years, but my education and much of my training lie outside of the field of education. This is not unusual, as there is no single common pathway to educational development (McDonald & Stockley, 2008). The diversity in educational backgrounds among educational developers can be leveraged to support diverse faculty requests and generate diverse ideas. My own unique pathway through science, geography, and undergraduate instruction to educational development has been instrumental in articulating my key beliefs at this stage in my educational development career.
Ideally, educational developers should aim to create a strong sense of place where creativity and collaboration are supported. Sense of place is a term used by cultural geographers that is not limited to a single geographic location (like a centre for teaching and learning, for example), but instead describe a unique feeling or perception held by people (Tuan, 1974). When we are most successful, instructors will return to our programming (at the centre for teaching and learning, elsewhere on campus, online, etc.) expecting a sense of place that is rich in inspiration, exploration and collaboration. I aim to enhance this sense of place by:
- Engaging in scholarly, evidence-based practice,
- Taking a learner-centred approach
- Fostering professional relationships, and
- Setting the stage for risk taking.
Engaging in scholarly, evidence-based approach
I aim to bring a scholarly, evidence-based approach to my eLearning and curriculum roles in order to (1) support recommendations and (2) reinforce that educational development is an intellectual and scholarly field. My own gateway into educational development and the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning began with a “classroom-oriented” approach (e.g., see Felton, 2013), in which I had particular questions related to my own teaching that I set out to investigate. Now, with the added exposure to the work of scholars of teaching and learning in higher education, I can meet faculty members where they are (often with classroom-oriented, problem solving approaches) and also provide appropriate scholarly evidence to support recommendations.
In practice, this means that when I investigate a new topic for a workshop or consult, I begin with the scholarly evidence. However, simply sharing the evidence is not usually sufficient – educational development, like teaching, is an art that requires one to show personality and leverage creativity, in addition to sharing the evidence. In educational development, like in science communication, the scholarly basis must be strong in order to be credible, but strong scholarship is not enough. The distilled primary message should be accompanied by relevant narratives, practice wisdom, or dialogue supported by data rather than by data alone. Even when opportunities for dialogue are limited (e.g., resource creation), evidence can often be supported by a relevant narrative.
Taking a learner-centered approach
Whether teaching undergraduates or focusing on faculty development, I model a learner-centered approach. In educational development, the ultimate responsibility for learning is in the hands of the instructors (who are the learners). By taking a learner-centered approach, I respect the autonomy, independence, and disciplinary knowledge of adult learners, who carry the responsibility for course and curriculum design. A learner-centered approach enables independent problem solving, so that instructors will come away with tangible ideas for their current problem but also skills for tackling similar problems in the future.
In practice, taking a learner-centred approach means that I prioritize active listening before engaging in collaborative problem-solving. At times, faculty members ask for advice about what should be done. Before sharing evidence and providing examples, I first probe further to understand instructor motivations and intentions for student learning. I aim to complement instructor disciplinary knowledge with evidence from the literature and my growing knowledge of teaching and learning innovations that are happening outside of a single discipline. These “borders of disciplinary imagination” allow for both methods and pedagogical research to be shared (Huber & Morreale, 2002, p. 15). I feel most successful in a consult when the primary ownership for a successful change, process, or outcome is held by a faculty member.
Fostering professional connections
At the heart of my work are the connections with colleagues at Western and beyond, and with instructors at our institution. Early into my educational development career when the learning curve was at its steepest, I relied heavily on the insights and wisdom of my colleagues. Now, with greater experience and independence, my relationships with my colleagues are as important as in the beginning, but they have evolved. Collaborating with colleagues now allows me to reflect on my own practice, seek mentorship, and develop ideas that are greater than what one of us can achieve alone. As my capabilities in educational development have expanded, so too has my network. In 2016 I formed a network of educational developers from various institutions in Ontario who are interested in finding overlooked ways of mapping curriculum, and we have since formed a research team.
The collaborations and relationships I have formed at Western are important for my growth as an educational developer, and also for our reach as a centre. These relationships form from consults, curriculum committees, and workshops, and benefits are mutual. I am particularly proud of a small but growing and committed community of practice just for sessional instructors; this group has helped me connect faculty that are looking for a teaching community and peer mentorship that is hard to find given the transient nature of their work.
Setting the stage for risk taking
I aim to create conditions under which faculty members are made comfortable in taking risks, however small, to allow for growth and innovation. These risks are not the reckless kind; they are planned and purposeful, and supported by evidence. Chang and Baldwin (2008) suggest that risk-taking among faculty allows for growth, positive change, innovation, and development. Faculty members are typically more supported in taking risks in research than in teaching and learning (Garrison and Kanuka, 2004), so centres for teaching and learning can play a key role in encouraging innovation and risk-taking.
In practice, I facilitate risk-taking by encouraging faculty to imagine their course in absence of limitations. My hope is that this allows faculty members to reconsider what is possible. As an eLearning specialist, I appreciate that what constitutes a risk with technology-enhanced learning is highly variable among faculty. By providing hands-on opportunities in programs like Instructional Skills Workshop Online and Teaching with Technology Day, participants can use materials and contexts most relevant to them (their own) and push themselves in a safe environment.
Continuous improvement in educational development
While these four values (engaging in scholarly practice, taking a learner centred approach, fostering professional connections, and setting the stage for risk-taking) inform my approach to educational development, my identity as an educational developer is in a state of evolution.
My approach to growth is, I hope, the only constant: remaining open to new experiences, questioning processes, reflecting on challenges, being creative in problem solving, learning from colleagues and instructors, and keeping an ear to the ground on emerging scholarship.
Chang, D.A., & Baldwin, R.G. (2008). Creating time and space for faculty reflection, risk-taking, and renewal. The Department Chair. 19 (1), 1-2 DOI:10.1002/dch.20031
Garrison, D.R., & Kanuka, H. (2004). Blended learning: Uncovering its transformative potential in higher education. Internet and Higher Education, 7, 95-105.
Huber, M. T., & Morreale, S. P. (Eds.). (2002). Disciplinary styles in the scholarship of teaching and learning: Exploring common ground. Menlo Park, CA: The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching.
McDonald, J., & Stockley, D. (2008). Pathways to the profession of educational development: An international perspective. The International Journal for Academic Development, 13(3), 213-218.
Tuan, Y. (1974). Topophilia: A study of environmental perception, attitudes, and values. New York: Columbia University Press.