Learning Technology jottings at Goldsmiths

Thoughts and deeds

Funding from the HEA for a review project on academics’ engagement in professional development

with 3 comments

The Higher Education Academy (HEA) have funded an extension of my review of the literature on academic engagement in professional activities. The review aims for a better understanding of the successes and informative failures experienced by academic developers working with academic teaching staff to kindle an appreciation of the potential of technologies, and to support practices which express educational values.

It identifies a number of practices which emerged as helpful to academic developers, discusses the limitations of the work, and concludes by posing a number of questions to the sector.

You can have a look at the groundwork in the form of:

I reproduce the rationale for the project below:

“Ground-breaking technology-enhanced learning (TEL) exists, but often contained within pockets of expertise.

There was a period of intense research interest in academic development for TEL in the early years of this decade, followed by a lull – perhaps evidence of a fatalistic institutional outlook which regards reluctance as a function of seniority and, ignoring the unwillingness of the junior conscripts to professional development courses, assumes that younger academics will emerge with good instincts about TEL.

But engagement is not comprehended by attendance, or even by technology use. Engagement is better thought of as what is done that is intrinsically, rather than extrinsically, motivated, or what is done with enthusiasm under circumstances of coercion, and how ideas about learning permeate what is done. Most development is informal.

Independent and disruptive as it is, Web 2.0 is intriguing here. The meaning-making potential of ‘Google Generation’ learners requires nurturing (Rowlands, 2008) as always. Academics are or aren’t experimenting with Web 2.0 – my opportunistic mini-questionnaire on Goldsmiths’ VLE after the snow closures suggests mostly not. There are few systems in place to acquaint central departments – whose major role is dissemination – either way.

This independence from the centre may be cherished. Academic allegiance – Wenger’s (2003) community of practice – is principally disciplinary rather than institutional. Frequently, national agendas interpreted locally meet resistance. McWilliam (2001) identified ‘Machiavellian’ subversion of local initiatives for their paucity of academically-engaging qualities such as rigour, evidence, scepticism, theory and intellectual stimulation, and (Beetham, 2001) the opportunity to critique the initiative itself. When departmental heads appease the centre and their department by diverting their TEL through a single champion, learners may be (superficially) satisfied but the expertise can be easily lost and the practices, undefended.

However, the centre – management and support departments – is valued as bridging between academics in different departments, for interpreting national initiatives and developments, and for actualising ideas. Without cross-fertilisation, challenge, and external interest, local communities of practice can become parochial. It is the role of central departments to organise and scaffold occasions for reflection.

I began a review of the literature on engaging academics in professional development for TEL (Vogel, 2009a, 2009b), focusing hitherto on peer-reviewed literature. This work has uncovered some gaps.

The academic perspective is faint – few academics who experience development interventions have the confidence, methodologies or discourses to reflect on their practice or to write for educational publications (Shephard, 2004).

Development interventions tend to be reported from the perspective of the professional developer. Often engagement is glossed in the reports, which tend to be concerned with the process of designing and running the intervention, and conceptualise engagement as, for example, voluntary attendance. Since professional developers tend to work primarily with academics, the impact of the intervention tends to be viewed from the academics’ perspective – even where learners are involved (Salmon, 2008).

In summary, there is a need to search the peer-reviewed and ‘gray’ literature for a better understanding of academic engagement in professional development for TEL today.”

This is great for us learning technologists, won’t take us out of our way, and will help us in pursuing the aims and objectives of our department.


All web pages accessed 29 March 2009.

Masterman L and Vogel M (2007). Practices and processes of design for learning. In: Beetham H and Sharpe R (2007). Rethinking Pedagogy for a Digital Age. London: Routledge.

McWilliam E (2000). Against professional development. Educational Philosophy and Theory;34(3);289-299

Rowlands I, Nicholas D, Huntingdon P, et al (2008). The information behaviour of the researcher of the future. Available: http://tinyurl.com/2zd26a

Salmon G, Jones S and Armellini A (2008) Building institutional capability in e-learning design. Alt-J;16(2)95-109

Shephard K (2004). The role of educational developers in the expansion of educational technology. International Journal for Academic Development;9(1):67-83

Vogel (2004) Documents for ePBL project, including review of ePBL literature. Available: http://tinyurl.com/cht55q

Vogel M (2009a). A review of literature on the engagement of academics in professional development activities for e-learning. Available: http://tinyurl.com/cy4j9y

Vogel M (2009b). The engagement of academics in professional development for e-learning. Presentation to the M25 Learning Technologists meet-up, 27 March 2009. Available: http://tinyurl.com/ckuqbr

Vogel M and Oliver M (2006). Design for learning in Virtual Learning Environments – insider perspectives. Available from: http://tinyurl.com/d2n978

Wenger, E (2003) Communities of Practice and Social Learning Systems. In: Nicolini, D, Gherardi S, Yanow D (2003) Knowing in organizations: a practice-based approach. M.E. Sharpe, 2003
ISBN 0765609118, 9780765609113 (Google Book)


Written by Mira Vogel

July 10, 2009 at 12:14

Posted in hea synthesis

3 Responses

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  1. I woudl be really interested in any outcomes from this – can I ask when the report will be available and where it will be published?

    Thanks a lot

    Julie Usher

    November 10, 2009 at 15:07

    • Dear Julie,

      I’m writing it now, publicly, at http://engagementsynthesis.edublogs.org/.

      I haven’t publicised that I’m doing this because I wanted to finish a draft before inviting comment. But please feel free to read and comment on what’s there.

      Thanks for your interest.

      Mira Vogel

      November 10, 2009 at 15:17

  2. […] a comment » As I mentioned in a previous post, the Higher Education Academy funded me to carry out a synthesis of literature on engaging academics in professional development for […]

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