Advancing Academic Development Project
The Advancing Academic Development project was initiated in recognition that, in Australia, there is currently no systematic professional development offered to Academic Developers (ADs) and there is no organisation of ADs, such as operates in the UK and North America. As a consequence, individual ADs must seek out and create their own professional development opportunities and networks. Therefore, professional development experiences are varied and sometimes piecemeal. Importantly, because they are individually constructed, they are not benchmarked, and nor are they usually designed to meet objective professional standards. This project was initiated to scope out the potential demand and support for facilitated professional development activities, and to develop and test an initial organised opportunity for networking and professional development of Australian Academic Developers.
Recent research, supported by the Council of Australian Directors of Academic Development (CADAD), showed a very high degree of interest (95%) amongst ADs for a “nationally run, formal professional learning program” [Hill, 2016]. Currently, Australia has no dedicated body representing the specific interests of ADs in higher education. There are, of course, a range of professional bodies that ADs might join as members (such as HERDSA, and TELedvisors for example). Some of these have formed special interest groups (SIGs) and have held pre-conference workshops for ADs (for example at the 2016 HERDSA conference). Formal postgraduate courses, as outlined by Skead [2018, are a potential model for the professional development of ADs. However, both they and pre-conference workshops have focussed on development for new or emerging ADs. Nationally, HERSA and internationally, Advance HE's Higher Education Academy (HEA) and SEDA offer formal fellowship schemes for academic developers [Bostock & Baume, 2016], but these are primarily focused on recognition rather than capability building. Moreover, such organisations have a much wider remit and membership, and none quite meet the demand for specific professional development and networking opportunities for ADs. Where then do new and experienced ADs meet, deepen their expertise, share their insights, and be recognised for their achievements? Informal personal, professional networks and contact with peers, and attending large, broadly focused conferences has primarily been the approach in the past.
Internationally, organisations exist. Of note is the UK’s Staff and Educational Development Association, SEDA. An organisation specifically focussed on academic development, SEDA claims to be “the shaper of thought and initiator of action in staff and educational development, not only in the UK but in the international domain.” [SEDA, 2018].
Building on work previously undertaken by CADAD, this project set out to ascertain what approach to a dedicated, ongoing and systematic networking and professional development organisation would be most supported by the relevant stakeholders (ADs and University leaders). For example, would a formal independent conference and publishing model (similar to ASCILITE or STARS) be preferred; or would incorporation of a special interest group into a larger, more general conference such as HERDSA; affiliation with an international organisation, such as SEDA; occasional webinars/online meetings; or an annual national AD event attract the most support and fulfil the needs of ADs? Further, how ‘formal’ should such professional development be, and by whom and for whom should it be offered?
This project was designed to investigate whether Australian ADs, as a community, want to commit to an international provider, align themselves to a larger, broader, general conference or network, or develop a dedicated network and event, and whether universities would support the formation of a networked organisation or regular event for Academic Developers.
The project also considers what form such professional development, networking, and recognition might take to ensure buy in, and to optimise opportunities for networking, professional development, and sharing and recognising good practices.
To test community interest in forming an ongoing network or organisation of academic developers, a two-pronged approach was pursued:
Facilitating a networking meeting of Australasian ADs, with embedded components of professional development, and sharing of good practices.
Ascertaining the level of interest in, and support, for an ongoing networking/organisation and canvassing the Academic Development community and University Leaders of Learning and Teaching for a potential structure that could be supported in an ongoing fashion.
The former involved designing and testing an experimental model in the form of a national event, and the latter involved conducting two surveys–one for Academic Developers and another for University leaders.
1. The project has produced insights into stakeholder views. A report on survey responses includes a summary of the perceived needs of ADs and the level of support that might be anticipated from universities to contribute to the professional development and national connectivity of their ADs.
2. An Advancing Academic Development Event was held on 7th November, 2018 at Bond University, Gold Coast, Australia. The Advancing Academic Development Event provided an opportunity for Australasian academic developers to network, share, and shape good practice across the sector. The event featured keynote speakers, professional development workshops, and presentations on innovative academic development practice across Australasian institutions. It culminated in the presentation of the 2018 Australasian Academic Development Good Practice Awards.