An Associate Dean’s Community of Practice: Rising to the Leadership Challenges of Engaging Distance Students using Blended Models of Learning and Teaching

An Associate Dean’s Community of Practice: Rising to the Leadership Challenges of Engaging Distance Students using Blended Models of Learning and Teaching

Jill Lawrence (University of Southern Queensland, Australia), Lorelle Burton (University of Southern Queensland, Australia), Jane Summers (University of Southern Queensland, Australia), Karen Noble (University of Southern Queensland, Australia) and Peter D. Gibbings (University of Southern Queensland, Australia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3978-2.ch017
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Associate deans (Learning and Teaching) face a number of challenges in successfully retaining and progressing students in their faculties. The first challenge involves identifying strategies to assist students to actively engage with their studies. This challenge escalates if the primary mode of delivery involves distance learning. The second challenge stems from the need for associate deans to empower their staff to design, develop, and deliver curricular that achieves student retention. This chapter conceptualizes blended learning and describes how an associate dean’s community of practice facilitates an institutional approach to student engagement, both in terms of supporting students and supporting staff. These initiatives include a whole-of-institution approach to learning and teaching polices, practices and infrastructure, and professional development activities, incorporating an assessment week, university presentations, and peer review activities. The chapter outlines the success of these initiatives in building the learning and teaching capacities of both students and staff at a regional Australian university.
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The Theoretical Context

This section’s focus is on the ‘change forces’ impacting on the Higher Education (HE) sector and the institutional responses to this change. Three theoretical threads are explored: organizational redesign; strategic leadership; and communities of practice.

The Higher Education Sector

HE in Australia is operating in a highly volatile context where external pressures for change are increasing. These include: decreased funding per capita while competition increases; the growing pressure to create new sources of income; more commercial institutions; more numerous students who are becoming more diverse and forthright about getting value for the money paid; emerging instances of litigation against universities; and increasing government scrutiny; in place, and changing, external quality audits (Scott, 2008). Scott adds that rapid developments in Information and Communications Technologies (ICT) have made possible modes and approaches to learning unimagined thirty years ago.

These changes are generating questions about learning and teaching: about the extent to which a university is a place where new knowledge is created and where research occurs away from the mainstream; as well as where learning primarily is seen to involve transmission of set content using a ‘one-size-fits-all’ model delivered in lecture theatres, tutorials and laboratories on a set timetable operated at the institution’s convenience over fixed semesters. Scott (2008) maintains that to remain viable, universities must build their capacity to respond promptly, positively and wisely to this interlaced combination of ‘change forces.’ This volatility is exacerbated for academic/learning and teaching leaders by the particular change forces pressing on them: decreased government funding, growing pressure to generate new income, balancing work and family life, managing the pressures for continuous change, having to deal with slow and unresponsive administrative processes, finding and retaining high-quality staff, and increased government reporting and scrutiny (Scott, 2008).

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