Pedagogical Action Research: Enhancing Learning and Teaching through a Community of Practice

Pedagogical Action Research: Enhancing Learning and Teaching through a Community of Practice

Lin Norton (Liverpool Hope University, UK) and Tessa Owens (Liverpool Hope University, UK)
Copyright: © 2013 |Pages: 13
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-3661-3.ch018


In this chapter, the authors consider the dominance of the managerial discourse in higher education today related to staff development in learning and teaching, often perceived as a “top down” policy with which individuals are forced to comply (sometimes their successful completion of probation depends on it). Furthermore, there is an implication of a “deficit” approach to externally imposed staff development in learning and teaching where the assumption is that something in the teacher’s practice needs to be improved (Biggs, 1993). Such an approach does not take account of disciplinary and subject alliances; nor does it intrinsically motivate the individual academic, so it is unlikely to engender any real conceptual change. In light of these issues, the authors put forward a case for establishing strong communities of practice in teaching and learning where professional academics themselves can continue to influence policy and practice within their departments, their institutions, and ultimately, across the sector. In so doing, they draw on an example at one UK university of a community of practice in learning and teaching that evolved as a grass roots Pedagogical Action Research (PAR) group in 2001. Pedagogical action research has been proposed as an effective means of encouraging academics to engage with learning and teaching driven by their own need to know (Breslow, Drew, Healey, Matthew, & Norton, 2004; Norton, 2009). The authors conclude by analysing the effect of this initiative on the individual, the institution, and the wider learning and teaching community.
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Setting The Stage

The Status of Teaching

In two reports on reward and recognition in higher education by the Higher Education Academy and the Genetics Education Networking for Innovation and Excellence (GENIE) Centre for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (2009), there is a substantial literature review to indicate the dominance of research for job security and promotion in universities across the globe. In this context, such a situation means that university staff need to prioritise the demands on their time and decide where they will best place their energies. Staff development related to learning and teaching can sometimes be seen as an ‘extra’ activity rather than something which is at the heart of the academic role of being a university teacher. It is common for new recruits to turn to their subject disciplines and mentors within those disciplines for advice on teaching rather than going to centres for learning and teaching which can be perceived as generic and irrelevant.

The Rise of Managerialism

The rise of managerialism in university education has been pervasive. Vincent (2011, p. 239) argues that it is a highly politicised ideology ‘masquerading as a managerial reality’ and its effect has been ‘profoundly destructive’. The many unintended consequences of this approach are extensively reported. For example, looking at the most recent literature, Forrester (2011) has pointed out the effects of performance management and performance related pay has led to a competitive rather than a collaborative culture. Rostan (2010) has highlighted its effect on ‘academic freedom’ where there has been an erosion from its original conception as professional responsibility and expertise. Instead of trusting in academic professionalism, the current context is that of public accountability with externally imposed quality assurance procedures. Not surprisingly, there is resistance and resentment among academics to such managerial approaches. Cheng (2010), in an interview study with 64 academics found that two thirds of those she interviewed felt that external audit procedures had little effect on their work. Feather (2011) looked at the effects of marketization as well as managerialism in a further education context and in an empirical study with FE lecturers reported on their levels of frustration at having to function in what appears to be a production industry rather than a place of further and higher education.

The managerialist approach to learning and teaching development is one that is unlikely to be successful. Gosling (2009) in a review of the growth of educational or academic staff development made the point that there is a tension when the heads of such provision are given a strategic role because they may lose credibility with the lecturer ‘on the ground’ and be seen as part of the management structures. Yet not all managerialist approaches are necessarily negative. A current example in the UK is the National Student Survey which although controversial has had the effect of raising the profile of teaching and learning across the sector (Machell & Saunders, 2007).

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