A framework for influencing change in teaching and learning cultures, communities, and practices.

As a leader of a teaching and learning institute at a large-research intensive institution, I reflect a lot on how change and learning happens in organizations.  

How do teaching and learning centres work to influence teaching and learning cultures, communities and practices?

A couple of years ago, I presented at the Educational Developers of Caucus of Canada Conference, and tried, in one slide to communicate all that I have learned about the complex work of teaching and learning centres.  Below is a version of that slide.  

This framework builds upon the work of others (see for example: Brew & Ginns, 2008; Finkelstein, et al., 2016; Fields et al., 2019; Hannah & Lester, 2009; Jarvis, 2010; Mårtensson & Roxå, 2016; Roxå & Mårtensson, 2009;  Simmons, 2016; Trigwell, 2013; Webster-Wright, 2009; Wright et al., 2018).  I also highlight it in a forthcoming paper with Dr. Sarah Eaton (Kenny & Eaton, in press). 

Most people would point to teaching and learning centres for the workshops and courses they offer individual educators.  These formal, planned events are a visible part of the work of educational developers.  But, as one of my favorite colleagues, mentors and leaders Dr. Leslie Reid shares,

“Change happens one conversation at a time.”  

The seminal work of Roxå & Mårtensson (2009) and Roxå et al. (2011) suggests that teaching and learning cultures, communities and practices are strongly influenced by the small, but significant conversations we have and networks we create with colleagues we trust.  A recognition that teaching and learning in higher education is influenced by FORMAL processes (i.e., policies, programs, structures, resources and committees) and INFORMAL activities (i.e., significant networks, relationships, conversations, and communities) is fundamental to the work of teaching and learning centres, and this framework.

Take a moment to reflect on where and how these formal processes and informal activities occur across your institution. How and where is your teaching and learning centre influencing these formal processes and informal networks, conversations and communities?

The centre of the framework highlights four key components to influencing teaching and learning cultures: 1) High-impact professional learning for individuals and groups, 2) Local-level leadership and microcultures, 3) Scholarship, research and inquiry, 4) Learning spaces, pedagogies and technologies.

High-impact professional learning activities can be informal or formal, but are intentionally designed to be contextual, embedded in practice, and to facilitate on-going reflection and action (Webster-Wright, 2009).

How is your centre providing initiatives to support meaningful and sustained professional learning and growth for educators across higher education?

The influence of local-leadership and microcultures are often overlooked in higher education (Mårtensson & Roxå, 2016; Kenny et al., 2016). Formal leaders (who hold roles such as Dean, Department Head/Chair, Associate Dean) and informal leaders (who may not hold a formal title) are catalysts for action and change.  They have an incredible influence on the development of microcultures (behaviours, norms, values, actions) that either support or hinder the development of the teaching and learning cultures, communities and practices we most aspire to see (Christensen Hughes & Mighty, 2010).  We need only to look at the complexities, sheer exhaustion and pressures that Department Heads/Chairs faced related to teaching and learning during the global pandemic – Gigliotti (2021) calls for more training, support and development for those who hold these roles.

What does your teaching and learning centre do to support informal and formal teaching and learning leaders?

Scholarship, research and inquiry provide a means for investigating, sharing and disseminating knowledge about teaching and learning in postsecondary education.  This work includes inquiry in individual classrooms, as well as how teaching and learning are more broadly supported across multiple organizational levels within higher education. Knowledge sharing and dissemination about teaching and learning are important, and we are also coming to understand that the very process of intentionally engaging in scholarship and inquiry related to teaching and learning, helps us become better educators, as we focus on the student learning experience and develop stronger abilities as critically reflective practitioners (Brew and Ginns, 2009; Trigwell, 2013).

How does your teaching and learning centre encourage and support engagement in scholarship, research and inquiry in teaching and learning?  

I have also been thinking a lot lately about how these supports are (or aren’t) inclusive of multiple ways of knowing, being and understanding?

Learning spaces, pedagogies and technologies have an incredible impact on teaching and learning communities, cultures and practices in higher education.  Learning spaces can be designed intentionally to foster engagement, collaboration and to create a shared learning community between students and instructors (Finkelstein and Winer, 2020).  Never has the power of learning technologies become more prevalent as during the COVID19 pandemic when millions of learners across the globe accessed their higher education from remote locations. When thoughtfully integrated, learning technologies can strengthen connection, collaboration, flexibility and innovation. Pedagogical approaches that are intentionally structured, promote active engagement, encourage meta-cognition and self-regulation, foster deep learning, and establish relevance improve student learning outcomes (Freeman et al., 2014, Deslauriers et al., 2011; Kember, Ho & Hong, 2008; Pintrich, 2002).

How does your teaching and learning centre support learning spaces, pedagogies and technologies that improve student success and promote deep learning?

How are we ensuring our learning spaces, pedagogies and technologies support our commitments to equity, diversity and inclusion, and Indigenous Ways of Knowing?

The framework is grounded by the recognition that these four core elements (i.e., high impact professional learning, local-level leadership and microcultures, scholarship, research and inquiry, and learning spaces, pedagogies and technologies) are influenced across multiple organizational levels (Hannah & Lester, 2009; Kenny et al., 2016; Simmons, 2016; Roxå & Mårtensson, 2009).  At the institutional (macro-level) senior leaders, policies, and committees can establish a clear vision, resources, governance processes and structures for teaching and learning.  At the faculty and departmental level (meso-level) integrated networks of knowledge sharing can be established, and local leaders can be provided with appropriate support to help influence change and decision-making related to teaching and learning.  And finally, at the individual level (micro-level) individuals must be supported, recognized and rewarded for their work to advance teaching and learning.

How is your teaching and learning centre influencing change in teaching and learning cultures, communities and practices across the micro, meso and macro levels?

As always, I’d love to hear how this framework resonates for you.  It’s difficult to articulate what I have come to understand about the work of educational development and teaching and learning centres in one slide, and I am certain my thoughts will continue to evolve over time!


References

Brew, A., & Ginns, P. (2008). The relationship between engagement in the scholarship of teaching and learning and students’ course experiences. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education33(5), 535-545.

Christensen Hughes, J., & Mighty, J. (2010). A call to action: Barriers to pedagogical innovation and how to overcome them. In J. Christensen Hughes & J. Mighty (Eds).Taking stock: Research on teaching and learning in higher education (pp. 261-277). Queens School of Policy Studies.

Deslauriers, L., Schelew, E., & Wieman, C. (2011). Improved learning in a large-enrollment physics class. Science, 332(6031), 862-864.

Finkelstein, A., & Winer, L. (2020). Active learning anywhere: A principled-based approach to designing learning spaces. In S. Hoidn & M. Klemenčič (Eds.), The Routledge International Handbook of Student-Centered Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (pp. 327–344). 

Fields, J., Kenny, N. A., & Mueller, R. A. (2019). Conceptualizing educational leadership in an academic development program. International Journal for Academic Development24(3), 218-231.

Freeman, S., Eddy, S. L., McDonough, M., Smith, M. K., Okoroafor, N., Jordt, H., & Wenderoth, M. P. (2014). Active learning increases student performance in science, engineering, and mathematics. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111(23), 8410-8415.

Gigliotti, R. A. (2021). The impact of COVID-19 on academic department chairs: Heightened complexity, accentuated liminality, and competing perceptions of reinvention. Innovative Higher Education, 1-16.

Hannah, S. T., & Lester, P. B. (2009). A multilevel approach to building and leading learning organizations. The Leadership Quarterly20(1), 34-48.

Jarvis, Peter. (2010). Adult Education and Lifelong Learning. Fourth Edition. Routledge, NY. pp.338.

Kember, D., Ho, A., & Hong, C. (2008). The importance of establishing relevance in motivating student learning. Active learning in higher education, 9(3), 249-263.

Kenny, N., Watson, G. P. L., & Desmarais, S. (2016). Building sustained action: Supporting an institutional practice of SoTL at the University of Guelph. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2016(146), 87-94. doi:10.1002/tl.20191

Kenny, N., & Eaton, S. E. (2021, in press) Academic integrity through a SoTL lens and 4M framework: An institutional self-study. In S. E. Eaton & J. Christensen Hughes (Eds.), Academic integrity in Canada: An enduring and essential challenge: Springer.

Mårtensson, K., & Roxå, T. (2016). Leadership at a local level–Enhancing educational development. Educational Management Administration & Leadership44(2), 247-262.

Pintrich, P. R. (2002). The role of metacognitive knowledge in learning, teaching, and assessing. Theory into practice41(4), 219-225.

Roxå, T., & Mårtensson, K. (2009). Significant conversations and significant networks–exploring the backstage of the teaching arena. Studies in Higher Education34(5), 547-559.

Roxå, T., Mårtensson, K., & Alveteg, M. (2011). Understanding and influencing teaching and learning cultures at university: A network approach. Higher Education, 62(1), 99-111. DOI 10.1007/s10734-010-9368-9

Simmons, N. (2016). Synthesizing SoTL institutional initiatives toward national impact. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2016(146), 95-102. https://doi.org/10.1002/tl.20192

Trigwell, K. (2013). Evidence of the impact of scholarship of teaching and learning purposes. Teaching and Learning Inquiry1(1), 95-105.

Webster-Wright, A. (2009). Reframing professional development through understanding authentic professional learning. Review of educational research79(2), 702-739.

Wright, M., Horii, C. V., Felten, P., Sorcinelli, M. D., & Kaplan, M. (2018). Faculty development improves teaching and learning. POD Speaks2, 1-5.

Author: natashakenny

Senior Director, Taylor Institute for Teaching and Learning, University of Calgary. Interdisciplinary academic and professional background in educational development, landscape architecture, urban planning and environmental science.

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