What is Educational Development?

Educational Development (ED) is about facilitating positive change in teaching and learning in post-secondary institutions, usually on both individual and institutional levels. Ray Land’s reference to “Kai Zen” is critical (Land, 2001, 16), as ED is about both continuous professional/personal growth, and about the ongoing evolution of teaching university-wide. Put a little differently, there will never be a perfect way to teach, because the demands and practices of teaching evolve as society evolves; the best we can do is work at getting better. So educational developers are informed and continually working towards “better,” even as “better” changes on local and global levels.

Suggested Reading List

  • Barr, R. B. & Tagg, J. (1995, November-December). From teaching to learning: A new paradigm for undergraduate students. Change, 26(6), 12-25.
    • This oft-cited article argues that University pedagogy must shift its focus from an Instruction paradigm to a Learning paradigm. The former model privileges lecturing and passive learning, the new experiential education and student practice. Barr and Tagg argue that the “sage on the stage” model must change; it does not encourage student learning, but the awarding of degrees once a certain amount of class time has been completed. Rather, teachers should create “environments and experiences” that allow students to “discover and construct knowledge for themselves.” (15)
  • Baume, D. & Popovic, C. (ed.s) (2016) Advancing Practice in Academic Development, London: Routledge.
    • This collection of chapters written by educational developers from around the world, on topics ranging from the identify of academic development and developers, supporting part time faculty, quality assurance and enhancement, managing change and much more. Case studies and examples are used throughout the text to illustrate development scenarios and methods.
  • Land, R. (2001). Agency, context and change in academic development. The International Journal for Academic Development, 6(1), 4-20.
    • This text is a precursor to Land’s Educational Development, and covers some of the same ground, albeit in a much shorter space. The inclusion of graphics and tables make a complex theory easier to follow than Land’s full-length text. The article’s main focus concerns how EDs can manage change (in teaching practices) and promotes the Japanese concept of Kai Zen (continuous improvement). Land argues that EDs are unlike all other University workers, in that they “have no vested interest in maintaining the status quo” (10).
  • Sorcinelli, M. D., Austin, A. E., Eddy, P. L., & Beach, A. L. (2006). Faculty development in the age of the network. Creating the future of faculty development: Learning from the past, understanding the present (157-176). Boston: Anker Publishing Company Inc.
    • This chapter reviews the evolution of EDs (in a North American Context) from individuals concerned about good teaching to networks of professionals who also focus on institutional change. The focus here is partly for EDs as they negotiate new challenges and institutional barriers, and partly for faculty trying to orient themselves in a changing educational landscape.
  • Stefani, L. (2003). What is staff and educational development? In P. Kahn & D. Baume  (Eds.), A guide to staff and educational development (9-23). London: SEDA and Kogan Page.
    • This is a useful article for EDs looking for more precise definitions of what EDs do and who they are. While the position of Educational Developer resists simple definitions, Stefani unpacks the different aspects of the job, underlining the necessity for flexibility and student-centred classrooms. But she also notes that 21st century EDs must often facilitate change in their institutions, have to be able to network, and must be comfortable with technology.

What is the Role of an Educational Developer?

Given that we have defined educational development as facilitating positive change in teaching and learning in post-secondary institutions, the main role of an educational developer is to do just that.  But how does one do this?  What do educational developers do, more specifically, to facilitate change?

In the foreword of Pathways to the Profession of Educational Development (2010), Christopher Knapper identifies the main role of teaching support centres:

“…contemporary educational development is perhaps more homogeneous than it was forty years ago, probably because of greatly increased communication among developers internationally and sharing of good practice. Hence almost all centers offer a program of workshops and short courses, and many run more comprehensive certificate programs on teaching and learning in higher education for faculty and graduate students. Almost all centers have extensive Web sites to make available information about university teaching. Most offer a specialized resource library, coordinate teaching awards, and provide individual consultation on teaching problems; and many have small grant programs for teaching-related research and development projects. In North America, where almost all graduate students do some teaching, practically every center offers special programs for teaching assistants. Increasingly, centers are also concerned with curriculum development, and…quality assurance issues…”(p.2-3)

Since educational developers often work in teaching support centres, their role is often defined by the role of the teaching support centre in which they work.  To facilitate positive change in post-secondary institutions, the main avenue is through the individuals that teach, faculty and graduate students.  Therefore, educational developers design and deliver workshops and courses for these individuals as well as provide consultations.  To recognize the accomplishments of those who teach, educational developers coordinate teaching awards and encourage and assist their teaching colleagues to apply.  Educational developers also encourage individuals to engage in teaching-related research through collaboration, support and/or funding opportunities.  Educational developers engage in teaching-related research themselves to stay informed and provide support with this research through the creation of Web sites and resource libraries.  As Knapper (2010) implies above, educational developers are becoming much more involved in curriculum development and quality assurance.  EDs are often asked to assist departments with curriculum mapping and providing additional support for program reviews or in developing new programs, which may or may not be accredited by an external body (e.g. engineering, nursing, etc.).  This often involves, at the very least, providing resources to departments and can include one-on-one consultations to assist program leaders develop or revise program and course learning outcomes and/or attend program retreats to facilitate the entire curriculum mapping process.  In addition, educational developers experienced in quality assurance are sometimes asked to consult with institution administration (e.g. VP academic) to shape the institutional quality assurance policy and procedure.  This increased involvement in quality assurance is great news, as this is where positive change in teaching and learning can happen.

Table 1 of Gibbs (2013) summarizes the role of an educational developer well, also providing specific examples of what educational developers do within this role.  We refer you to the article for the specific examples, but list the main roles that appear in the table.

  • Developing individual teachers
    • teachers’ practice, thinking, motivation and ability to ‘self-improve’
  • Developing groups of teachers
    • communities of practice, leadership of teaching
  • Developing learning environments
  • Developing the institution
    • room booking systems, facilities that support teaching, educational policies, learning and teaching strategy, institutional pedagogy
  • Influencing the external environment
  • Identifying emergent change and spreading ‘best practice’
  • Developing students
  • Developing quality assurance systems
  • Developing the credibility of teaching improvement efforts
  • Undertaking educational evaluation
  • Undertaking educational research, or educational development research, and supporting the scholarship of teaching across the institution

Suggested Reading List

  • Barnett, R. (2001). Managing universities in a supercomplex age. In M. Cutright (Ed.), Chaos theory and higher education: Leadership, planning and policy (13-32). New York: Peter Lang.
    • Barnett argues that Universities are “supercomplex”—not just composed of many competing systems interacting in chaotic fashion, but also of competing principles that are fundamentally incompatible with each other. Universities should not try to resolve these tensions, but negotiate between them, and flexibly adapt to them in a rapidly changing world. Barrett does not refer to EDs directly, but to “managers” whose task is “to encourage staff to embrace new frameworks of academic identity.” By allowing networks to proliferate and interact, the university encourages a creative chaos, where new knowledge and frameworks are continually emerging and subject to critical reflection. Embrace change; see what develops; make choices.
  • Fraser, K., Gosling, D., & Sorcinelli, M. D. (2010). Conceptualizing evolving models of educational development.  In J. McDonald & D. Stockley (Eds.), Pathways to the profession of educational development (49-58). San Francisco : Jossey-Bass.
    • Drawing on Land (2001, 2004) and Sorcinelli (2006), the authors identify three main aspects of educational development: counselling focused on the individual staff member, a strategy for institutional change and growth (in teaching/learning) university wide, and national strategies to encourage “systemic improvement” in university teaching (54). The ideas of other authors in the field are reviewed and organized into the above categories.
  • Gibbs,  G. (2013). Commentary: Reflections on the changing nature of educational development. International Journal for Academic Development, 18(1),   4 – 14.
    • Gibbs presents an overview of how educational development has changed over the last 40 years in the hopes that educational developers will reflect on what they do and how their role has changed to inspire them to determine the new direction their role will take.  Table 1 in this article provides a comprehensive overview of the role of an educational developer in developing a university’s teaching and learning.
  • Land, R. (2004). Educational development: Discourse, identity and practice. Buckingham: The Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.
    • This full-length text is one of the seminal works in ED literature. In his 200 page text Land uses extensive interviews and second sources to explore the different orientations employed by EDs to succeed in their work (i.e managerial, strategic, romantic etc.). The text also suggests some broad patterns for EDs to consider when facing resistance to pedagogical change among faculty. The book ends by using the first two parts to provide tactics for EDs in adapting to, and coping with, complex university cultures.

*This project was supported by a 2014 Educational Developers Caucus (EDC) Grant of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE).