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Co-operation in Development – Summary David Baume

November 9, 2016

The survey

Nine responses were received to a survey on cooperation in development, from academic / educational development units.

Main development functions of units

The most frequently mentioned development functions can be grouped as:

  1. Staff development, including training teachers for a qualification, accrediting teachers, CPD, and supporting staff and faculties;
  2. Educational development, including improving learning, teaching and assessment and curriculum development;
  3. Institutional support, including policy and strategy development and projects
  4. Student development and support
  5. Learning technology development, implementation and evaluation
  6. Other functions – post graduate support, research into teaching and learning, horizon scanning, and QA

Beyond what once might have been classic academic development functions; perhaps A, B, C and some of F; we now see also D and E.

Other development functions elsewhere in the institution

These include HR, learning technology, student development, student services (including overseas students), faculty committees and research.

Frequency of contacts between the academic development unit and these other development functions:

Frequency of contact: Annually or less A few times each year Most or every month Most or every week
Number 1 13 8 5

Nature of contacts between the academic development unit and these other development functions:

Nature of contact: Formal Informal Both Policy / strategy Operational Both
Number 3 4 13 3 2 10

The largest scores for frequency of contact – a few times each year / most or every month – and type of contact – all four types! – are in bold.

Comments on what above all supports effective co-operation on development in your institution

Personal relationships and communicating (3 mentions each); the encouragement of leadership (2); and the alignment of strategy (1). Also mentioned are ‘seeing the person face-to-face’, ‘our small campus culture’, goodwill, energy, focus and effective resourcing.

Comments on what above all impedes effective co-operation on development in your institution

Structural factors (5 mentions), where the response was amplified, included organizational hierarchies, constant restructuring, silo working, geography and a lack of specific leads for specific functions. Communications factors (3) included ¹having EVERYTHING online via email¹ and the lack of time. One respondent reported the absence of goodwill, energy, focus and leadership as the main inhibitors of cooperation in development.

Comments on nature and frequency of co-operation with other units

These four longer comments from respondents suggest some of the complexity and benefits around inter-unit cooperation:

  1. As a sole operator in learning and teaching facilitation across the university, I establish currency in my role, by ‘supporting’ (not teaching, as [I do not have] an academic role) the PGCert provision. For a period, my role was positioned in the [learning and development function] of our Human Resources department, but I was [recently] re-located , as much of the ‘development’ I facilitated did not naturally align with colleagues’ specialisms in [organisational development]. I was therefore moved to [a unit concerned with research], from where I run an annual programme of CPD in learning and teaching and facilitate the university’s CPD for professional recognition. Being in research, I also support programmes around researcher development, particularly in terms of teaching/supporting learning, graduate teaching schemes, etc
  2. Our university is small and we often work with [the learner support function] to share data, review the best approaches to take for all students, and progress agendas with senior colleagues. Good personal relationships between these teams mean we routinely pick up the phone and use each other as sounding boards for work of common interest.
  3. [Relations are] good, and they are very helpful, now that [another unit has] realised we have been doing serious education research and they keep us in the loop and support us to bid for funding opportunities. The university has recently appointed a [senior post for] Education and we are hopeful they will enable the different bits to coalesce.
  4. At the formal level, these committees (depending on the Chair!) can be procedural – so it is possible to ask critical friend questions – but the real value is informal, getting into conversations with colleagues about developmental work. In many respects the people who are key on these committees are ones our team has known since they were on the PGCert and these relationships have built up over time.

‘Churn’, both in staffing and in structures, was also a theme, along with task-specific rather than general co-operation

Overview and possible implications

Co-operation between development units / functions in higher educational institutions is valuable, difficult, and mostly attainable. Good personal communications and relationships aid co-operation; structural factors and poor communications impede cooperation. Developers may wish to consider (1) working to establish good personal / professional relations, perhaps initially around specific, rather than big picture, co-operations; (2) more broadly being prepared to work across structural boundaries in pursuit of institutional goals and priorities; and (3) assuming that, whatever the current actual or perceived structural obstacles and political difficulties, no-one actually wants to prevent us from doing good stuff.

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