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Three pillars of professionalism in academic development

November 16, 2016

Paper (OK, workshop) at ICED / HELTASA Conference, Cape Town, 23 November 2016



The concept of professionalism, both for those who teach in higher education and for academic developers, remains problematic and contested. For a recent account see Bostock, S., & Baume, D. (2016). Professions and professionalism in teaching and development. in D. Baume & C. Popovic (Eds.), Advancing practice in academic development (pp. 32–51). United Kingdom: Routledge.

But academic developers are oriented towards finding solutions, or at least to finding and implementing productive ways forward. A sense of ‘forward’ for academic development – “We suggest an overall purpose for academic development – to lead and support the improvement of student learning.” – forms the first sentence of D. Baume & C. Popovic (Eds.), op. cit.

To offer productive ways forward, this paper suggests three pillars of professionalism in academic development:

  1. Being scholarly;
  2. Being effective; and
  3. Enacting principles or values.

Taken together, these three pillars can give developers some confidence in their professionalism, when, as will continue to happen, our legitimacy is challenged. Of course the three pillars need to be implemented reflectively, critically and humanely.

Pillar 1                    Being scholarly

A recent model of scholarship, (Baume and Popovic, op. cit., p 5), suggests three (overlapping and progressing) ways to be scholarly:

  1. Being reflective, critical and analytic;
  2. Using ideas from the literature; and
  3. Contributing to the literature.

Participants in the Southern Africa Universities Learning and Teaching (SAULT) Forum in Windhoek, Namibia in February 2016 reported three main reasons to be scholarly:

  1. To remain current;
  2. To gain new ideas to apply to practice; and
  3. To gain and maintain the respect of colleagues and clients.

Participants said that, currently, for them, being scholarly mainly meant writing for publication. However, their accounts of being scholarly in the future pulled together the three kinds of scholarship described in the Baume and Popovic model. The model thus seemed to provide a useful tool, both for analysis and for planning. (D. Baume (2017). Scholarship in Action. Innovations in Education and Teaching International54(2))

Question 1: In what particular ways can you become still more scholarly in your practice?

Pillar 2                    Being effective

Like professionalism and scholarship, the concept of effectiveness is sometimes contested. For some it sounds like managerialism. For more on defining and showing effectiveness see Stefani, L., & Baume, D. (2016a). “Is it working?” Outcomes, monitoring and evaluation. In D. Baume & C. Popovic (Eds.), op. cit.

We developers talk about what we do – our actions. We talk bout what we make – our outputs. But surely the point of doing and making is to achieve outcomes, to make things better, to make specific things better, in specific and determinable, sometimes measurable, ways? And to do so in ways that embed, preserve and hopefully enhance professional relationships, scholarship, and values?

Question 2: For a specific project, what are you to trying to achieve? What are your intended outcomes? How will you know you have achieved them? If necessary, change the outcomes until you can see how to achieve them and how to evaluate their achievement.

Pillar 3                    Enacting principles or values

Many professional standards include statements of underpinning values or principles. Those of the UK Staff and Educational Development association, for example, include:

  1. Developing understanding of how people learn;
  2. Practising in ways that are scholarly, professional and ethical; and
  3. Valuing diversity and promoting inclusivity. (

The hard and vital step, it turns out, is not writing and agreeing such statements, but implementing them.

Question 3: Pick a value (related to education) that you believe in. How well, how far, do you and your institution implement it? What factors aid and impede its implementation. What can you do to implement it more, better?




I am an Independent international higher education consultant, researcher and writer. My most recent full-time post was with the UK Open University, where with colleagues I wrote courses on teaching in higher education.

I was founding Chair of the UK Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA); cofounder of the UK Heads of Educational Development Group (HEDG); a founding council member of the International Consortium for Education Development (ICED); and a founding editor of the ICED journal, the International Journal for Academic Development (IJAD). I am the ICED representative on the Southern Africa Universities Learning and Teaching (SAULT) forum.

I have co-edited four books on academic development in higher education, and published over 60 papers and articles. My contributions to academic development nationally and internationally have been recognised by awards from SEDA and ICED.


David Baume PhD SFSEDA SFHEA,, @David_Baume,

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