Reducing the ‘them and us’ of professional and academic staff – what the Times Higher didn’t say!

Like most authors, Carroll and I were delighted to have our paper on the contribution of professional staff to student outcomes published by the Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management recently. We were also excited to hear that the article had attracted the attention of the THE  and we agreed to discuss our research with one of their journalists.

Serendipitously, Carroll was visiting our university at the time. Our conversation with the THE journalist, however, was a little disappointing. Despite our best efforts, the journalist chose to focus on just a few (negative) points. This has led to discussions on various forums, both in the UK and Australia, and we have felt it necessary to ‘put the record straight’ on several occasions. The main thrust of our paper was that professional staff develop pedagogical partnerships with academic staff, other professional staff and with students. Effective working is about collaboration and co-operation to achieve optimal student outcomes – and that the part professional staff play in those partnerships needs to be recognised in a systemic manner.

partners

Contrary to the view headlined in the THE, our study actually suggests there is a reduction in the ‘them and us’ tension, particularly as professional staff become more qualified. Nevertheless, some professional staff we interviewed felt under-appreciated by senior management. The sort of recognition (or lack thereof) in our study was systemic. Participants reported a perceived lack of acknowledgement as an equal partner in such things as enhancement plans, or recognition as a co-author on reports, etc. This systemic lack of recognition was evident in both our case studies.

It also needs to be understood that our methodology deliberately chose to take the perspective of professional staff – that is, we interviewed professional staff, but only professional staff. Hence the question of ‘why?’, behind some of our findings, remains to be explored. This was an ideological decision, with the aim of giving ‘voice’ to professional staff.

protest

The methodology was case study and included two cases – one from Australia and the other from the UK. As such, the findings pertain specifically to those cases, but may provide some insights into similar cases elsewhere. The recommendations from our paper include the following:

  • Professional staff role descriptors need to make clear the nature of their contribution to student outcomes, to ensure smart recruitment of people with the right set of skills and values.
  • Promotion of more overtly collaborative initiatives between professional staff and academic colleagues for retention, persistence and success, and raise awareness of pedagogical partnerships.
  • Care must be taken, by all levels of management, to recognise and value all contributors to the pedagogical partnerships that promote successful student outcomes.
  • The binary divide of pay scales and other rewards and benefits need to be reviewed, not only to take account of emerging blended HE professionals, but simply to remove a significant barrier to true partnering.
  • Length of service makes professional staff an important resource, but consideration is needed to ensure succession planning and sustainability of service.
  • Equality of opportunity for development and scholarly activity for professional staff enhances their job satisfaction and retention, which is is ultimately beneficial to student outcomes and the institution — a more engaged and motivated body of professional staff is both more willing, and able, to provide quality professional services.

We hope that this posting ‘sets the record straight’, and inspires you to read the full article.

 

Dr Julie-Anne Regan, University of Liverpool

Dr Carroll Graham UTS, Sydney Australia

How international is the University of Liverpool ?

Traditional HE measures of internationalisation typically include numbers of international staff and students, student mobility numbers, and international research. The University of Liverpool recently had the opportunity to participate in a pilot study of the Global-Education Profiler (GE-P), a diagnostic tool developed by Spencer-Oatey and Dauber to go beyond these traditional measures and help institutions identify what kind of global learning environment our students are actually experiencing.

This new tool asks students to rate items such as social and academic integration in terms of both their ‘importance’ and their ‘actual experience’.  The GE-P “identifies students’ actual experiences of integration, and opportunities and support for developing ‘Global Graduate’ skills”, which many employers say they are looking for graduates to possess, and which might typically include the following:

H Spencer Oatey image
British Council (2013), Culture at Work – The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace

Spencer-Oatey and Dauber (2016) have also developed a model (below) to show the five stages of development for an institution to become fully internationalised:

H Spencer Oatey slide
(http://www.globalpad.net/ge-p)

Many institutions are in the middle stage of this model. The GE-P tool can provide information to help institutions develop strategies to facilitate movement to the higher stages.

Helen Spencer-Oatey gave a really interesting presentation to staff in May where she presented some initial findings from the survey. You can hear a short video from Helen about the importance of looking at ‘wider’ measures of internationalisation to support institutions in developing a truly international student experience, and how the Global-Education Profiler tool can provide strategic information to support this process. View a copy of Helen’s full presentation (available to Liverpool staff only at this stage as this work was part of a pilot study using a survey that is not yet refined nor generally available).

Although Helen’s team were only at the early stages of analysis of the pilot data, which was based on a fairly small sample, staff attending the talk were fascinated to see what Liverpool students think about their experiences. Although in some cases, Liverpool doesn’t quite meet the high expectations of students, the gap between expectation and experience is small for communication skills and academic integration, with a slightly bigger gap between the two noted for social integration. Language skills and global skills were a little more of a concern. Interestingly, comparing students from Asia with UK students, the overall differences in results are not large. Asian students saw social integration as slightly more important than UK students and their experience falls a little shorter of their expectations.  However, we were encouraged by the results which provide some useful pointers as to how we can get ourselves firmly into the stage of ‘Community Internationalisation’.

You may also be interested in a previous blog which highlights some of Spencer-Oatey and Dauber’s previous research in this area.

Anne Qualter and Trish Lunt

 

References

British Council (2013) ‘Culture at Work – The Value of Intercultural Skills in the Workplace’ Available at https://www.britishcouncil.org/sites/default/files/culture-at-work-report-v2.pdf (accessed 13 June 2016)

Involving students in curriculum development: Get more out of focus groups by trying this combined approach.

Tünde Varga-Atkins, Jaye McIsaac and Ian Willis from the Educational Development Division present their findings from trying a new approach to focus groups.

If you want to involve students in curriculum development then here is a method that seems to work for us. We have explored combining a focus group with Nominal Group Technique (a process for problem identification and group decision making) in one student evaluation session. We named our approach the ‘Nominal Focus Group’.

This combination gives the benefits of both: the in-depth discussion of a Focus Group and the prioritising of results of Nominal Group Technique. In our work as Educational Developers working with academic staff on curriculum enhancements, results from a Nominal Focus Group provided us with rich data and actionable outcomes that were used to make informed curriculum enhancements for the programme teams. The process also increased students’ feelings of ownership. In a Higher Education era focused on the student voice, these benefits seem particularly appealing.

A bit about focus groups
Figure 1. A traditional focus group process: resulting in a transcript and report.
Figure 1. A traditional focus group process: resulting in a transcript and report.

Sometimes, certain focus group members can dominate the discussion and this may skew the recommendations made by students. This is the sort of bias that the process of the Nominal Group Technique is meant to design out.

  • Advantages: ability to cover a number of questions in the session (up to 5-6 main topics), peer suggestions can help jog memory of others;
  • Disadvantages: potential bias of vocal members, facilitator makes judgement about importance of responses and suggestions.
A bit about the Nominal Group Technique
Figure 2. Nominal Group Technique process: resulting in a prioritised list of items.
Figure 2. Nominal Group Technique process: resulting in a prioritised list of items.

The Nominal Group Technique has been developed by Delbecq and Van de Ven (1971). In a Nominal Group Technique session used for curriculum enhancement, students are usually asked one or two questions. For instance, “How could we improve this module?” Every participant is asked to write down their response individually on a post-it note (see Figure 2, stage 1). Then they read it out aloud and all the responses are placed on a board for all to see.

Continue reading Involving students in curriculum development: Get more out of focus groups by trying this combined approach.

Sharing Practice in Academic Advising

A recent university Learning and Teaching forum hosted by the PVC for Education, Prof. Gavin Brown, focused on the implementation of the Academic Advisor framework across the institution.

Stimulating presentations were given by academic colleagues, one of our students, and colleagues from Professional Services. A range of issues was covered including how the Academic Advisor framework is working in practice, feedback from students (including a group of students defining what an ‘ideal’ academic advisor might look like), advice on the wide range of support services available in the university, and additional opportunities such as the Year in China/Study Abroad programme.

The Academic Advisor Framework

The University of Liverpool regards the role of the Academic Advisor as a fundamental component of the relationship between academic teaching staff and students. It is a key contributor to a positive student experience. (Academic Advisor Handbook, 2015-16)

There are a number of key principles behind the Academic Advisor framework, one of which is the fostering of a partnership relationship between staff and students to promote their development as independent and scholarly learners.

To support the implementation of this principle, the Academic Advisor Framework recommends a number of key meetings between the academic advisor and their students which correspond to key points in the student journey. An outline of the generic meeting framework is discussed by Dr Anthony Sinclair , Student Experience Lead for Histories, Languages and Cultures here, but this framework can also be adapted locally. Further details are available in the Academic Advisor’s handbook (https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/eddev/supporting-students/academic-advising/).

It is also important that the ‘Academic Advisor …. develops a relationship with a student that is supportive in encouraging students to develop their skills for self-management and employment.’ . In this clip, Anthony Sinclair illustrates the range of topics that can typically be covered in meetings between academic advisors and students. The range of skills that enable students to be effective learners are in the main some of the same skills that employers will also be looking for, and so support for the development of these skills, and helping the student to recognise and articulate the development of these skills is also crucial.

Continue reading Sharing Practice in Academic Advising

The internationalisation of higher education: two recent studies

Universities are becoming increasingly more international, and at a genuinely rapid rate. An earlier report from the British Council highlighted student global mobility and the emergence of transnational higher education as two of the four most significant trends in the sector worldwide. Transnational education involves students studying towards a qualification from another country while staying in their home country.

It is intriguing, though, that internationalisation can occur whether students are willing to travel to another country, and also when they stay at home while another country comes to them, as it were.

Two of the students who have most recently completed the University’s EdD in Higher Education have highlighted a set of ways forward in relation to these two trends. Dr Jason Beckerman graduated in December 2015, and Sally Stafford will graduate at the next opportunity in July 2016.

Study abroad doesn’t need to be for a full year

Dr Jason Beckerman’s research comes at the issue of student mobility from a fascinating angle. He addressed ways in which short term study abroad trips can result in transformative learning for the students concerned. His study focused on students from New York University Abu Dhabi who travelled to Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. It was clear that the trips affected the way in which students oriented themselves to their future endeavours, and helped students to realise that through their studies they were able to make an impact on the wider world.

The report by the British Council indicated that the number of students studying away from their home country increased from 800,000 students in the mid-1970s to over 3.5 million in 2009. While the increase is impressive, it still represents a genuinely modest proportion of the overall number of students in higher education. In fact, the proportion of students with outbound mobility has remained constant since the 1990s at a little over 2% each year. These figures, though, relate to students undertaking relatively long periods of study abroad. Given the importance of understanding across cultures and countries to global society at large, Beckerman’s thesis supports the contention that greater recognition needs to be paid to short-term study abroad. His thesis is available in the University’s research repository.

J Beckerman cropped 2
Dr Jason Beckerman at his graduation ceremony in December 2015.
Integrating transnational ventures into the institution

Meanwhile, a second report from the British Council on the shape of things to come has noted that it is critical that programmes of transnational education are of a high quality. The report observed that transnational education is becoming an increasingly important component of internationalisation.

Sally Stafford’s research thus addresses a key area for the sector, the need for TNE (transnational education) initiatives to contribute to an institution’s internationalisation strategy. Her thesis was entitled ‘Strengthening institutional management of transnational higher education: Implications derived from a thematic analysis of the Cycle 2 audit reports of the Australian Universities Quality Agency’.

In building a broader knowledge base for those responsible for institutional and programmer strategies guiding transnational education initiatives, Stafford identified the importance of aligning transnational education initiatives with overall university mission and objectives. Other lessons that emerged from her research were the importance of integrating the transnational education venture into institutional structure and its governance and management processes. Her thesis will be available from the University’s research repository after her graduation in July.

It is essential that research into higher education explicitly shapes the things that are to come in higher education. And our congratulations go to these two colleagues for their research, and their doctoral qualifications.

Dr Peter Kahn PFHEA

Director of Studies, EdD in Higher Education

Developing graduates who can address 21st century problems

This blog is by way of an invitation for anyone interested in developing sustainability issues in programmes and modules to attend a workshop on 9th March 2016 at 12.30 run by the Education for Sustainable Development Working Group . Contact Nick Bunyan, nbunyan@liv.ac.uk in the Centre for Lifelong Learning for more details or just book on to the event.

Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) is a university responsibility.

Last year QAA published a framework for Education for Sustainable Development (2014) that is meant to guide UK universities towards the development of curricula that meet HEFCE’s vision:

“Within the next 10 years, the higher education sector in this country will be recognised as a major contributor to society’s efforts to achieve sustainability – through the skills and knowledge that its graduates learn and put into practice.”

This prompted work to develop a University of Liverpool Education for Sustainability approach led by the ESD Working Group.

An interdisciplinary approach to ESD

Some of the most exciting work for ESD has been done by a group of staff from across all three Faculties sponsored by Facilities Management Sustainability Team and enthusiastically supported by The Green Guild. Putting our university strategy into action, The Guild hosted an event at which students from three different disciplines came together to present their work from modules focusing on environment and using the campus as a city in microcosm.

The project arose out of changes needed to a second year Geography and Planning module resulting from a significant increase in numbers, mainly from XJTLU students to the programme (95 Chinese; 175 total), a desire to promote good group work and interdisciplinary and intercultural working, and a need to make the course more engaged with the real world. The assignment required students to respond to a brief from Facilities Management (the client) for proposals for Greening The Campus.

The module brings together students and staff and students from disciplines and departments from across all three faculties.

green space task group
The Green Space Task Group

Continue reading Developing graduates who can address 21st century problems

What are Digital Capabilities and why do we need them?

On the 13th October 2015 Esther Barrett and Scott Hibberson from Jisc delivered a workshop to university colleagues entitled ‘What are Digital Capabilities and why do we need them?’.

 Emma Thompson (above), the Library’s Learning and Teaching Lead, opened the session, before Esther explained to attendees that digital capability is a journey, i.e you can’t simply ‘learn’ digital capability, you have to gradually become digitally capable.

Throughout the workshop we used TodaysMeet and Padlet (both of which were new to me) to share ideas with each other and ask questions throughout the session. We were also encouraged to use Twitter with the hashtag #digitalcapability.

To begin the workshop Esther (pictured below) asked us to discuss what device or app we could not live without. A digital pen, email, translating software, File Explorer, WhatsApp, and file sharing software such as DropBox were all mentioned.

jisc5

jisc1

Esther then introduced us to the five elements of Jisc’s digital capabilities framework which together add up to ICT proficiency, and then walked through each element, with a pause after each one for groups to discuss what it means and the impact of not having it.

The five elements were:

Continue reading What are Digital Capabilities and why do we need them?

Writing@Liverpool: Rolling out the pilot

Writing@Liverpool (funded by the Humanities and Social Sciences (HSS) Faculty Improvement Fund) started as a small academic writing development project in History is now fully rolled out across the Faculty of HSS. The Faculty has generously funded 20 new Writing Tutors who are supported and mentored by last year’s Tutors – our four Super Tutors.

Here’s the stories from two of them:

Sophie’s Story:

Upon the beginning of the 2014-15 academic year, I was selected as part of a small team of PhD students to take part in a pilot initiative launched by the History department. The purpose of this project was for PhD students to support undergraduate students in improving their writing skills. As a pilot scheme, there were no frameworks or processes in place as to how we would proceed with the project; this provided a great opportunity for our small team to create a programme which we felt would be the most effective, but occasionally also raised its own challenges. Predominantly, our role consisted of meeting with students on an individual basis to discuss completed and marked essays with them; we would talk through the issues raised within their tutor’s feedback, provide guidance on how they might approach the essay differently next time, and suggest strategies to help them with their future assignments. We also led writing workshops, aimed to improve students’ understanding of the research and writing process from the stage they are given the essay title until the moment they submit their completed work.

While our students have been keen to tell us how they have benefited from our support. They told us:

“I found it helpful and appreciate the advice… I am sure I will find the group session useful as well.”

“Thank you very much for today’s session, I found it really useful and can definitely see places where I can improve in future essays.”

“Yesterday’s session was really helpful, I’ve been back over my other essays from my last semester and I think with the advice you gave me my essays should be better this semester!”

I have also certainly benefited from being a writing tutor. Being involved from the initial planning and implementation stages of such a unique project has aided my professional development immensely, while sharing best practice techniques with my fellow tutors has had the unexpected benefit of encouraging me to continue to re-evaluate and improve my own writing style. Being a writing tutor and working with a wide range of students from first to final year, international students and mature students, has also greatly increased my confidence when it comes to teaching. It has also made me more sensitive to the concerns of our undergraduates; I have been surprised by how easily we take for granted subject-specific terminology and ways of approaching assignments which many of us were not familiar with when we first began our own journeys as undergraduates.

I was proud to hear that our small pilot had been expanded to support students from across the Faculty, and the employment of a larger group of writing tutors. It will be exciting to see how the project continues to develop over the current academic year, and I am pleased that even more students will be able to benefit from the advice and support of the next generation of Writing@Liverpool.

  Continue reading Writing@Liverpool: Rolling out the pilot

Student Engagement and Student Success: It’s all about belonging

Universities have long contended that what students take from their time with us is more than just what they get on the course. It’s the opportunity they have for personal development and the life experiences they get from the opportunity to broaden their horizons, meet new people, try new things.

The research, much from the USA and Australia, backs up this contention. Vicki Trowler (2010) in a review of student engagement research presents a significant body of literature showing the correlation between student involvement in certain types of ‘educationally purposive activities’ and ‘positive outcomes of student success’.

Fig 1. Student involvement and student success
Fig 1. Student involvement and student success

What is so interesting is that the mix described above is almost all best served via the student’s own academic department. Of course a wider university, with its exciting opportunities for co and extra-curricular activities and its excellent systems of support and advice is crucial in our large and complex institution. But, a look at the crucial types of engagement suggests that it is to the academic home where we need to focus if student engagement, and hence student success, is to be fostered.

Is it good for everybody?

…engagement increases the odds that any student – educational and social background notwithstanding – will attain his or her educational and personal objectives, acquire the skills and competencies demanded by the challenges of the twenty-first century, and enjoy the intellectual and monetary advantages associated with the completion of the baccalaureate degree. Kuh (2009: 698)

How do we foster engagement at department level?

Although the National Student Survey is much maligned, most people would agree that the best departments do come to the top. So, what are their students actually saying about their department? Taken from the free text comments of students from one high-scoring Liverpool department where 40 written responses were made:

Continue reading Student Engagement and Student Success: It’s all about belonging

Developing MOOCs in Groningen

Between 31st August and 4th September 2015 I visited the University of Groningen in the Netherlands. I was fortunate to be able to do this as part of Erasmus+ training programme during which I worked at the University of Groningen looking in to how their MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are developed.

The MOOC project at the University of Groningen is handled by the Educational Support and Innovation Unit (part of the Centre for Innovation and Technology), which is similar to us here in Educational Development in the way that it is a support department and is not part of any faculty.

The Centre for Innovation and Technology has 164 full time members of staff, whilst the Educational Support and Innovation Unit has 19 full time staff, most of whom are teacher trainers and e-learning technicians. The priorities are teacher development, promoting and supporting e-learning and providing technical support.

In addition to developing MOOCs the Educational Support and Innovation Unit is involved in a number of other projects including:

  • Teacher certification
  • Assessment experts, student survey analysis
  • BlackBoard support
  • Technical support during student examinations
  • Video productions for flipped classroom projects
  • Curriculum redesigns

groningen 1

‘An introduction to Dutch’ MOOC

The University of Groningen is well known in the MOOC world for producing an extremely successful MOOC ‘Introduction to Dutch’. This offers learners basic skills in Dutch. This free online course was also used by the University of Groningen as a tool to promote paid online courses offered by the Language Centre at the University. 75 people joined the paid version of the course after the first run of the MOOC had finished.

I met the educators who developed the course – Jeroen van Engen, Birgit Lijmbach, and Margried Hidding – to discuss what made it so successful. I was particularly interested in how the course was marketed and what the secret was to recruiting 35,000 people on this course.

I learnt that in addition to the traditional course advertising done by FutureLearn, a variety of other marketing channels were used such as:

Continue reading Developing MOOCs in Groningen