As an Educational Developer, my approach is best summed up in the following quote:
Leaders “can mobilize people and accomplish important objectives despite dozens of obstacles”, a leader “pulls people together for meaningful purposes despite the thousands of forces that push us apart”(Kotter, 1985, p. 11).
Educational development is fraught with dozens of obstacles and forces that might otherwise pull institutions apart. As change agents, developers work with a range of stakeholders holding diverse values and priorities to transform didactic traditions and teaching norms. By embracing this context, I aspire to be a leader who upholds a meaningful purpose, mobilizes people through collaboration, and achieves collectively-valued outcomes.
I believe university classrooms can and should be a place of authenticity, meaning, and belonging for students and instructors alike.
This belief is rooted in my background as an anatomist. I realized my love for the discipline in my third year of undergrad. I had fought my way into a restricted course and was studying for the final exam, eager to prove it had been the right choice. After hours of memorizing terminology, I felt different. Rather than feeling mentally exhausted (as I’d come to expect), I felt refreshed. If I can study for hours and still enjoy it, I told others, then it must be the right path for me. Over my Master’s and Doctoral degrees I not only memorized a lot more anatomy, I quickly started to appreciate how the study of the human body much more than that. I found meaning in the body’s intricate connections – not only at the cellular level, but most importantly, in the human body’s connection to the wider world around it. Through my doctoral dissertation, I was explored the question – how students take an inquiry approach to move beyond memorization and appreciate the study of anatomy as authentic and meaningful to them?
Arising from this background, I affirm that active engagement in teaching and learning becomes an automatic part of teaching when instructors connect content to that which is meaningful. Meaning comes in many forms – learning that is connected to professional experience, has real-world application, or best yet, holds an intrinsic and personal interest to learners.
This foundational belief shows up in my practice as an Educational Developer in many ways. When facilitating, I get participants drawing on their past experiences and I provide them with opportunities for identifying, connecting, and utilizing their own interests to drive their learning process. When consulting, I regularly work from a basis of encouraging instructors or administrators to consider the relevancy of their courses and programs to students’ meaning-making. For example, I recently developed a Signature Pedagogies workshop (based on the work of Shulman, 2005) that enables faculty members to articulate and better leverage those teaching practices that uniquely represent their program and scaffold students in becoming professionals of their discipline.
I also find meaningful purpose in my work by taking an evidence-based approach; and do this in two main ways. First, I draw on interdisciplinary teaching literature to inform the perspectives and practices that I uphold. Second, I am dedicated to my own action-informing research. Scholarship has played a key role in the expertise I’ve developed around the critical evaluation of eLearning tools and in the use of novel technologies, like Lightboards, for deepening student learning.
Much of Educational Development, for me, is listening. I like getting to know people – what they value, what they enjoy, and where they face adversity in academic life. I also enjoy seeking out the opportunities for collaboration that tend to present themselves by listening to others. Starting from common ground, collaboration then arises from the goals we share. For example, in my participation and leadership of SCoRe – a Supported Course Redesign program supporting instructors to redesign their face-to-face courses to blended offerings – our teamwork started with visioning and brainstorming activities, producing a well-rounded re-design plan we all felt invested in.
Overall, I take inspiration from Debra Dawson (2016) who advocated: don’t be satisfied being a change agent, aim to be a change leader. I strive to be an instigator of new initiatives that challenge the stories we tell ourselves about what is possible for university education. Despite obstacles, I find ways to get to know others, then collaborate with them to expand teaching and learning practices, based on an informed vision.
Finally, I take great joy in being a lifelong learner. I routinely and eagerly seek out professional development opportunities – not just those specific to advancement in Educational Development, but also by taking interdisciplinary approaches that offer new perspectives and inspiration. For example, I recently became a Certified Agile Project Manager; a certification that has enabled me to take new approaches to management and leadership. My growth as an Educational Developer will never be finished. I aim to continuously draw upon a wide range of learning opportunities in an effort to grow, expand, and devise new strategies as a leader in the field.
Dawson, D. (2016). Christopher Knapper lifetime achievement award presentation. Annual Conference of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Empowering Learners, Effecting Change. June 21-24, 2016, London, ON.
Kotter, J.P. (1985). Power & Influence: Beyond Formal Authority. New York: Free Press.
Shulman, L. S. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus, 134(3), 52-59. doi:10.1162/0011526054622015