Category Archives: Publication

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

Critical perspectives on methodology in pedagogic research

Does the way in which we conduct research into higher education matter all that much? For instance, research conducted by John Biggs on constructive alignment has had a significant influence on the sector. But did the way that he conduct this research affect the nature of his contribution to knowledge, or the uses to which it could be put?

I have recently written a research paper that addresses these issues. The paper was published in today within the Special Issue of the journal, Teaching in Higher Education, (Volume 20, Issue 4, 2015). The journal itself has now been in existence for 20 years, and this issue of the journal marks out the anniversary. The Special Issue comprises an article from each of the current Executive Editors of the journal, along with contributions from two former editors, Professor Sue Clegg and Professor Jon Nixon. Taken together the contributions highlight a range of different perspectives and approaches to research.

My contribution stems from a critical realist perspective, and argues that the approach taken to pedagogic research does indeed influence the characteristics of the knowledge that emerges, and the uses to which it can be put. There has been a longstanding assumption that higher education represents an emancipatory endeavour, but recent changes in the sector have emphasised the way that higher education can lead to personal advantage rather than to the fulfilment of wider social responsibilities. The study considers ways in which methodology in pedagogic research subsequently affects the sector’s emancipatory potential. There will be many ways in which student learning is affected.

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Towards an Inclusive Department

Many colleagues across the University will be aware of the University’s Access Agreement responsibilities.  The challenge of evaluating our Access Agreement is huge, with no steer from HEFCE and the complexities presented in the many facets of our Access Agreement work . . .  What form such an evaluation should take was a major headache.

Led by Dr. Mark O’Brien of the Centre for Lifelong Learning, working with Widening Participation champions from across the university as well as Educational Opportunities, the project has led to the development of an approach to evaluation which is at once appreciative and realistic aiming to inform our development as a university at strategic and operational level. The full report is available at http://www.liv.ac.uk/cll/reports, entitled ‘Widening Participation and Fair Access at the University of Liverpool by Dr Mark O’Brien’.

In this blog post I want to focus on the emerging theme of ‘the inclusive department’.  By asking individuals and groups to identify what in their professional experience are the key features of apparently successful departmental activities, and then using rigorous data analysis, drilling down to local level, the evaluator was able to confirm, explain or expand on many such professional insights. The result is a list of features (some of which are found in most areas, while no department would boast all of them).

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Wow! Someone actually read our paper! Canadian researcher visit: Muriah Umoquit

One day, back in 2009, we received an email from Muriah Umoquit and Peggy Tso as a response to our article on using diagrams as a research method published in 2009 in the International Journal of Research Method in Education(IJRME). The article discussed a potential problem when using such methodology. It seemed that Muriah, Peggy and we were grappling with the same problem. “Wow, someone actually read our paper!”, was our reaction.

After some introductory Skype calls, we hatched further plans to collaborate, refined our joint understandings about this methodology, and set out to publish further papers. One is just about to appear in a special issue of IJRME on Critical issues on Visual Methodologies and is entitled “Cultural-historical activity theory and ‘the visual’ in research: exploring the ontological consequences of the use of visual methods.” The other paper, due to editorial changes, has been delayed but we are equally excited about it, entitled “Diagrammatic elicitation: defining the use of diagrams in data collection”, which allowed us to work together on terminology hoping to promote an inter-disciplinary understanding of using diagramming in research. Muriah.

Mark and I met up in Liverpool on 28th August 2012, just a week after, another joint (virtual co-) presentation at the 6th International Conference on Multimodality at which Tunde and Muriah presented on the use of digital pens for interview elicitation. We hatched further plans to collaborate. Why am I telling you this? Perhaps when you next read an article which resonates with your thinking or research, you can consider contacting the authors to start a discussion and perhaps a collaboration? You never know where it may take you;  and who knows one day, someone will contact you who has read and appreciates your research!

Tunde