As an educational developer, I hold the following core beliefs that drive my practice:
- my work has impact when it is relevant to the learner;
- because change is constant, learning is an ongoing process;
- my approach to work is based in a firm understanding of the context of my work;
- learning is social; and
- a sense of curiosity drives the innovation in my practice.
Read in more detail below how these beliefs have influenced the approaches I take.
In my role as an educational developer (ED), I work to broadly support the improvement of academic practice. While traditionally this has meant supporting faculty, instructors and graduate students with a focus on change at an individual level, I also engage in a range of activities designed to recruit social networks and align with larger institutional practices in order to further the quality of teaching and learning on-campus. While an ED, I am foremost an educator. I might not found on a daily basis in a classroom with undergraduates, yet I believe that the instructors, teaching assistants, curriculum committees and others I engage with are learners as well. In this regard, core to my philosophy of practice is the enactment of a learner-centered approach (Weimer, 2002) to educational development. This means that in the work I do, I strive to actively involve those I work with in personally meaningful processes that account for their multiple contexts and motivations. I outline below in more detail what this means for my approach and practice of ED.
Learning ought to be personally relevant.
With the term “developer” in the job title, it is fair to assume I might take a developmental perspective about the work I do. Yet, while a body of literature identifies stages through which university educators pass through (see, for example, Kember, 1997) and see the value of social constructivism as a useful approach in conceptualizing the developmental role of others in learning, I do not readily identify with a metaphor of development for my own professional practice. Rather I lean on the metaphor of “becoming” — drawn from my scholarly work to date, including my disciplinary research (Watson, 2006) and more recent work on teaching critical reflection (Watson & Kenny, 2014). A focus on becoming is not a focus on content, where my job is to deliver the right information at the right time to the right constituents, but rather a focus on process, where my job is to engage others in the ways of thinking, acting and being (Dall’Alba & Barnacle, 2007) relevant to their personal contexts.
As a critical environmental educator, I am aware of the multiple “lenses” that others use to see the world. Since I also work to take a scholarly approach to my work by finding, evaluating and sharing evidence to best inform my own and others’ practice, I know that learners’ personal relevance and motivation are deeply linked to learning (Kember, Ho, & Hong, 2008). I draw on this finding to acknowledge that there isn’t one “correct” way to best support learning, or, alternatively, that personal context matters. During individual consultations, for example, I believe my role is to help others discover the influences of their own context and experience in order to help them create an approach that has personal meaning and impact. As a facilitator, I draw on my training as an experiential educator to design engaging processes that allow those I work with to make their own meaning and plan their own actions. I achieve this, in part, by asking critical questions that aim to illuminate perspectives in others not originally considered or left implicit. By building others’ personal relevance into my ED practice, I attempt improve the potency of my work. Rather than delivering content the same way to multiple audiences, I draw on a learner’s context to tailor processes that lets them identify a personally relevant course of action.
Learning is never done.
This act of becoming—be it educator, student or otherwise—is never complete and is enacted in multiple ways. Core to my work as an ED is to engage others so that they are prepared to make their own contributions to improving the quality of student learning. Critical reflection, as a skill and as a process, is key my approach. Just as researchers such as Kreber (2010) have identified the importance of critical reflection on the personal negotiation of an educator’s identity and authenticity, I too believe that the assumption hunting inherent in the act is key to examining, interrogating and (if warranted) changing classroom practices. To this end, as a co-instructor for the University of Guelph’s graduate student course on university teaching, developing the skill of critical reflection is a key outcome of the course. It is our aim for students to become critically reflective teaching practitioners so that they leave the course with the ability to integrate new practices that respond to their changing teaching context and emerging conditions in higher education. In short—now able to learn by and through critical reflection. My role as a facilitator of this learning process is to design the scaffolding required for students to build comfort and confidence in this skill.
Just as educators aim for deep learning in their classrooms, where students apply what they learned in one situation to another set of unique circumstances, I believe that by building this comfort and confidence, students will be able to face unexpected classroom situations and have an approach to address (and learn from) that situation. This perspective, however, expands beyond my classroom practice into other components of my work. Educational development occurs across the campus; while it might start in a workshop facilitated by a colleague, a learner can continue their development outside our auspices. Building future capacity and engaging others in deep approaches is key to my practice.
Learning—and engaging learners—is contextual.
Scholarship within the field of educational development has recognized the changing nature of the profession, with an increase in the complexity of what “counts” as educational development (Gibbs, 2013). In this regard, part of my approach to educational development is to see my work operating at multiple levels, echoing in part the approach to build learning organizations outlined by described by Hannah and Lester (2009). In the increasing complex role, I believe that I am effective because I successfully recognize and am able work across the levels of the individual, the department and the institution. This, for example, is essential for my success in curriculum development. Departmental curricular processes, while engaging groups of individuals, operate at a level beyond the individual; it is in these spaces that institutional quality-assurance processes are brought alive and continual improvement practices are planned. When asked to consult, I craft my approach to communicate evidence-based best practices that also take into consideration disciplinary and institutional contexts. Since I believe that curricular practices ought to be faculty-driven and collaborative (part of our unit’s values of curriculum development), this often means addressing and helping others negotiate the tensions of program improvement that address both the institution’s requirements and learner’s needs.
Learning is inherently social.
As exemplified by my curricular work, but enacted in all I do, my work as an ED is inherently social and part of my effectiveness as an ED exists in the co-created space between other educators, colleagues and learners. In this regard, my perspective echoes Wenger’s scholarship on social learning systems (2000) and the wisdom of the collective. I enact this belief at multiple levels. When facilitating teaching development workshops, participants will often have unanticipated questions based on their own experience. Rather than answering these questions myself, I look for answers within the group by asking their peers if they have their own ideas to share. Not only does this work to expand the sphere of expertise beyond myself, it is sound pedagogical practice as other graduate students’ lived experiences are often “closer” to each other than to myself. By offering the opportunity for the expertise of others to emerge, fellow students will often provide an insight or explanation that I would not have considered myself.
Learning is about engaging curiosity.
I bring a sense of curiosity to my work. This sense of curiosity leads me to ask questions about my practices—how, for example, do I know what impact educational development sessions I facilitate have?—and, in turn, look for answers. To do so, I assess my own practices as an ED, through collecting both participant assessments and self-reflection. As part of our educational development team, we have worked to develop an assessment plan that measures our impact not only in the short term, but also over the medium and long term. This kind of scholarship helps to evidence and communicate our achievements, a significant area of improvement within our profession (Knapper, 2003).
Innovations in practice excite and engage me. One of the real joys of my educational development work is finding new ways of doing what I do, better. I especially enjoy innovating through the use of technology. In my classroom practice, this has included using emerging social media tools to enhance student learning (Watson, 2011). As an ED, I have experimented with on-line tools to help increase the impact of the material I create. I, for example, piloted a new approach to the development of on-line videos to support in-class teaching practices. These kinds advances help me do a better job by leveraging the power of the Internet to increase their accessibility.
Thus, seeing myself as an educator frames my approach to educational development. And rather than content-matter expert, I apply the concepts of learner-centeredness to facilitate learning in others in order to build their capacity. Capacity to—broadly—enhance the quality of student learning at the University of Guelph. I see those I engage with, be they faculty, sessional instructors or curriculum committees as learners in one form or another. To enhance the impact of my work, I strive to be aware of and address the multiple on-campus contexts of learners. In this regard, I do not do my work alone. Learning is a social activity, and I draw on wisdom of the collective to enhance my impact. I take an evidence-based, scholarly approach to my educational development practice, and my curiosity about my work also drives innovation around the work I do. As I continue to develop as an ED, I look to build the intersection of theory and practice of the field by offering further contributions to the scholarship of educational development (Badley, 2001). I also look to extend my leadership capacity, in part within the educational development community through service roles in organizations like the Council of Ontario Educational Developers or the Educational Developers Caucus and within OpenEd, through the distributed leadership practiced within the educational development unit.
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