Reflection on the specialist outcomes

After reflecting on the five specialist outcomes (SO) in relation to my cases, I do think there is value in thinking about professional development activities as a process that starts with an identification of the challenge, moves to an action phase followed by evaluation and planning for a future action. I relate this to a classic action research cycle described by Kurt Lewin in 1946 (Lewin 1973, 205-6), and it is the basic model that I have used throughout my time as an educator. The starting point is initial fact finding around an idea, followed by planning an overall intervention strategy and identifying first steps, taking an action and then evaluating the outcomes. These are then used as a starting point for future cycles of action.

Reflecting on the cases and on my own professional identity, I can identify a change over the period of time. Initially, although I was undertaking staff development work, this was without consciously taking on the role of higher education academic developer. In parallel with my time managing the Coeducate project, I started getting more involved in formal staff development activities connected with the university teaching and learning unit. Work developing an institutional PgCert in Higher Education allowed me to introduce my ideas on action research into one of the modules and once the course was up and running I delivered this and taught on other elements of the programme. This represented a development of my professional identity, starting out in 2000 as a school teacher working in higher education on online distance learning projects, and now working as a higher education developer.

Much of the work I have undertaken can be connected in some way or another to the five specialist outcomes. However, the linear progression implied from identifying academic development goals, planning and implementing an intervention, monitoring and evaluating the work, and finally planning for future action has never materialised in that way. Knight, Tait and Mantz (2007) provide an analysis of the complex landscape in which higher education development takes place, including the formal and non-formal and intentional and non-intentional. However, the specialist outcomes stages have presented a useful framework for thinking about my work and, in particular, has made me want to better understand models of evaluation that move beyond the traditional to ones that recognise the complexity of academic development in higher education.

When I think back over the successes and failures I have had working towards academic development goals, it has been my ability to not only lead and facilitate but to build relationships and influence that have been critical to my success or otherwise.  I touched upon this in my third case study, and I don’t think this is explicitly addressed by the five SO, although arguably an aspect of leadership. Coupled with this, I also think that a key character trait is resilience, that is the ability to keep going as an academic developer in higher education when it can feel like a thankless task!

Lewin, Kurt. 1973. “Action Research and Minority Problems.” In Resolving Social Conflicts, ed. Gertrud Lewin, 201–216. London: Souvenir Press (Educational & Academic) Ltd.

Knight, Peter, Jo Tait and Mantz Yorke. (2007). The professional learning of teachers in higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 31(3), 319–339.