Restructuring for Learning and Teaching Innovation and Development

Introduction and context

Towards the end of 2006 the decision was made to restructure the Westminster Institute of Education. The Institute had been created in April 2000 from the merger of Westminster College, Oxford, and the then Oxford Brookes’ School of Education. In its first seven years it had expanded and diversified significantly to include a wide range of academic subjects, such as performing arts; sports and coaching; philosophy; and communication, media and culture. While these developments were mainly at undergraduate level, the institute’s Masters-level work in Education had also grown significantly to become one of the largest providers of CPD. A leading national reputation had also been gained for pioneering postgraduate provision in the area of coaching and mentoring. The Institute’s capacity to diversify had been greatly assisted by its matrix structure of staff from seven Academic Groups (focused on development) working across four Academic Programme Directorates (focused on provision), which made it easier for new professional identities and new curricula to emerge. Arguably this would have been more difficult within a traditional departmental structure.

By the end of 2006, however, both the University and institute were seeking to be best placed for a new phase in their development. The University had launched an ambitious project to reposition itself as not only a premier learning and teaching institution, but also as a University increasingly recognised for its research at national and international levels.

A key theme of the Academic Offering consultation was the need to achieve greater focus and critical mass, thereby helping the University achieve excellence and sustainability in both learning and teaching, and research and consultancy. The institute had been successful in its development of consultancy but had a relatively weak research profile and capacity.

The decision to restructure the institute was largely driven by these wider University strategic priorities. Another driver that was important was a growing sense that the matrix management structure had fulfilled its purpose in facilitating rapid diversification but was no longer the best structure for a more established operation and one that was seeking to achieve a greater degree of focus and concentration. There was also some concern that the transaction costs of a matrix management structure were now too high, leading to frustrations for both managers and their staff. A third, but much less significant driver was the need to reduce academic and administrative costs.

After widespread consultation, by the end of April 2007 it was confirmed that three new Academic Divisions (Learning Sciences and Human Development, Lifelong Learning and Access, Teacher and Professional Development) would be created with effect from 1 September 2007. These would be vertical structures encompassing the full range of academic engagement across teaching, research and consultancy, and bringing together academic programme provision from foundation degrees to doctoral programmes.

Key arguments about learning and teaching

Much of the discussion about possible new structures revolved around structure diagrams and key posts within those structures. Questions of the processes needed to achieve the Institute’s key objectives were also much discussed. In what follows in this article, the focus will be upon those structures, posts and processes.

The institute already enjoyed a high reputation for the quality of learning and teaching. Recent QAA reports and Ofsted inspections had rated very highly provision in foundation degrees and initial teacher training. A more distant QAA Subject Review in Theology and Religious Studies, and a British Council inspection of English for Academic Purposes had produced similar evaluations. Student feedback, external examiner reports and other quality indicators all confirmed many areas of excellence. In light of this, some argued that there was not a sufficient need to create posts with a dedicated focus on learning and teaching. Rather it would be better to incorporate some emphasis upon learning and teaching development within other leadership and management positions. This latter point, however, seemed less convincing when the job descriptions for these other posts were examined. There was some emphasis within these, but typically they included many other demanding responsibilities and it was not difficult to imagine learning and teaching development always coming last on the ‘to do’ list and not receiving much quality attention in fact. The constant attention to development in response to a range of stakeholders was seen as one of the reasons why the institute enjoyed a reputation for excellence and so indicated a need to continue to invest. Although already excellent in many ways, there is still much that could be improved in learning and teaching. Continuing investment seemed all the more necessary given the large and ever-growing learning and teaching agenda in HE. Addressing that agenda needs the active involvement of all academic staff, but in addition it was recognised that more could be achieved if some colleagues had dedicated responsibility to lead and support development.

Having established the importance of continuing to invest in learning and teaching through dedicated posts, strongly expressed differences emerged as to how this could best be done. In the past the University had encouraged the creation of Principal Lecturers in Learning and Teaching who work across Schools, and the institute already had some cross-Institute PLs. Some colleagues questioned how much value had been added by such posts, although most recognised that they had made an important contribution. More importantly, it was felt essential that the Learning and Teaching Development Coordinators (as they would come to be called) should be embedded in the work of the new Divisions, with one appointed to each. There was also a strong des
ire to ensure that those appointed to such roles should see their work as supporting the learning and teaching development priorities of the Division, rather than dictating to the Division. As one colleague put it in a staff meeting, ‘the last thing we want is for these people to be inventing even more work for us to do’. We agreed to appoint a LTDC in each Division. Two roles, however, that we did see the need for on a cross-institute basis were the Coordinator for Academic Integrity and the Coordinator for E-Communications.

A particularly important consideration for me was that the institute’s structure should reflect its clear commitment to learning and teaching through the provision of promoted posts that would reward excellence in teaching, and whose purpose would be to develop excellence more widely. At one stage the proposed structure entailed eight promoted posts (Readers and Professors) on the basis of excellence in research, and only one on the basis of excellence in teaching. This seemed to me particularly inappropriate in an Institute of Education. Structures and the focus of promoted posts send important messages about the values and priorities of institutions. If we want some young academics to invest as much in learning and teaching as most typically invest in research, we need to change the reward structures and give more equal status to teaching by creating parallel promotion opportunities. It was agreed that promoted posts would be created in each of the three new Academic Divisions. Importantly, the specification of these posts included research and publication as an element of the excellence we are seeking to promote.

Embedding a commitment to learning and teaching development in the specification of senior posts

The commitment to learning and teaching development was also embodied in the decision to create an Assistant Dean post with responsibility for Learning, Teaching and Development. The primary objective of this post is:

To secure (i) high levels of student achievement, satisfaction and retention and (ii) high levels of staff professionalism, morale and retention. This will be achieved by providing strategic leadership for learning and teaching development, staff and organisational development, and human resource management in order to ensure that the Institute achieves excellence in all three areas in line with national expectations of best practice.

The Assistant Dean is expected to chair the Learning and Teaching Committee and to work widely across the Institute and to lead:

  • The creation and implementation of the new Institute Student Learning Experience strategy
  • The fostering of student voice and appropriate responses to student feedback
  • Growing engagement with the HE Academy
  • The Institute’s scheme for the Peer Enhancement of Learning and Teaching
  • The promotion of research into HE pedagogy and staff publications in HE learning and teaching, including higher levels of bidding for external funding
  • The encouragement of staff career trajectories focused upon learning and teaching (e.g., National Teaching Fellowships, Professorships in HE).

We wanted to ensure that the commitment to learning and teaching development was also inscribed in the other new senior staff posts, namely, the three Heads of Division. Therefore, the job descriptions for these posts all state that the ‘primary objective will be to create opportunities for learning in HE’ and a specific duty is to be ‘responsible for innovation in teaching and learning within the Division’. It is expected that the Heads of Division will work closely with both the Assistant Dean and the Learning and Teaching Development Coordinators.

In each Division there are Groups and a Head of Group. So, for example, in the Division of Learning Sciences and Human Development, there is a Group focused on programmes, research and consultancy in Childhood, Community and Education. The Head of Group position is a promoted post at grade 12. A commitment to learning and teaching development is also expected of these post-holders, whose main duties include ‘to coordinate the quality assurance and enhancement activities of the programmes within the group’ and ‘to engage in innovation and curriculum development to achieve the strategic aims of the Division’.

Learning and Teaching Development Coordinators

At the heart of the discussions about learning and teaching development lay the creation of the three new posts for Learning and Teaching Development Coordinators. The specification of these posts built upon various consultation meetings with all staff where it had been expressed strongly that these posts should be embedded in each of the three Divisions and should be seen as supportive rather than commissioning roles. Therefore the overall purpose of these posts was stated as to ‘support learning and teaching development in the Division in line with key Division or programme priorities established in relation to the Institute Student Learning Experience strategy’.

The essential criteria that applicants had to meet, and which were explored in some depth during the interview process, included:

  • Distinguished HE-level teaching
  • Successful involvement with learning and teaching development at programme level
  • Excellent presentation skills
  • Excellent team-building skills
  • Ability to think strategically about learning and teaching development
  • Ability to deploy new technologies to enhance learning and teaching
  • Must be able to work collaboratively, supportively and developmentally as a member of various teams of academic and administrative and support staff.

The emphases upon team building and collaborative working were very important given the research evidence about the importance of teacher collaboration. This is a strong theme in schools sector literature (see e.g., Harris et al, 2005; Hargreaves, 2003) but much less emphasised in the literature about learning and teaching in HE. Fullan’s analysis of what he calls the 25/75 problem was also very influential: ‘…I contend that 25% of the solution is knowing what to work on and 75% is figuring out how to get there given local context, culture, personalities, and prehistory’ (2001b:182). Fullan is an internationally acclaimed writer in the area of educational change in the schools sector. His point is that many attempts at educational reform fail, even when the strategy or vision is well conceived. There are all sorts of explanations for this failure, but in particular he emphasises the need to understand the process of change and the skills needed to work with colleagues to bring about change. In his most recent work on the leadership of change he stresses even more the fundamental importance of building working relationships (2001a).

There was quite a lot of debate about the role of the Coordinators and eventually the job description settled with the following main duties:

  1. To facilitate the development of learning, teaching
    and assessment within the Division, including blended learning, in line with Division strategic priorities.
  2. To support learning and teaching development for teachers new to HE.
  3. To coordinate and support the development of Peer Observation of Teaching/Peer Enhancement of Learning and Teaching within the Division.
  4. To support and encourage staff to publish their work in learning and teaching development.
  5. To coordinate and lead staff development in the area of learning, teaching and assessment.
  6. To identify internal and external funding bid opportunities and support staff in making bids for learning and teaching development projects.
  7. To develop and manage individual and Divisional links with relevant external bodies such as the HE Academy.
  8. To coordinate the annual Division report on developments in learning, teaching and assessment.
  9. To undertake any other duties commensurate with the level of post determined by the Head of Division.

The support for teachers new to HE is significant. The HE Academy Subject Centre for Education (ESCalate) has identified that there are particular needs and challenges facing new teacher educators in making the transition from school to HE. Helpful guidelines (Boyd et al., 2007) have been produced and the Institute will be seeking to work with these and strengthen its support for new colleagues.

The Coordinators will work closely with the Heads of Division and Heads of Group. Together with the University and Institute Teaching Fellows, and the E-Communications Development Coordinator, they will comprise a powerful learning and teaching development team in the Institute, and all members of the team will be line managed by the Assistant Dean. This will help to secure the benefits of team working, and an appropriate balance between within Division and cross-Institute provision. Although the creation of more traditional vertical structures was central to the restructuring, some concerns had been expressed in consultation meetings about the value of cross-Institute working where appropriate. Personal Development Reviews for all members of the team will be conducted by the Assistant Dean. This is seen as an important part of nurturing learning and teaching HE career trajectories and may play some part in succession planning.

University and Institute Teaching Fellows

Mention was made above of these two important learning and teaching roles. The Institute has five University Teaching Fellows and intends to always have a good cohort of such. University Teaching Fellows receive central funding for specific projects. Prior to the beginning of restructuring conversations there was no formal link to the Assistant Dean with responsibility for learning and teaching. It seemed to us sensible that there should be that link in future and that the work of the University Teaching Fellows should be supported more formally within the Institute. University Fellows will be line managed by the Assistant Dean who will also conduct their Personal Development Reviews.

In addition, we came to the view that we would like to create Institute Teaching Fellows. The Institute Teaching Fellowship scheme will mirror the University scheme and will be available on a competitive basis for projects lasting one or two years that will be of benefit to a significant number of the Institute’s students. It is likely that applications will be invited in relation to designated pedagogic themes, and projects will have to promote teacher collaboration. Funding will be available for these projects, for example to enable visits to other HEIs, but release from teaching will be minimal. By creating the Institute scheme we are hoping to stimulate a wider range of innovation and development, to encourage more academic and administrative staff to become involved, and to provide a first step to a career focused on learning and teaching. The hope is that Institute Teaching Fellows will later become University Teaching Fellows and then National Teaching Fellows.

An E-Communications Development Coordinator

Prior to the restructuring conversations, the Institute had been very well supported by a Principal Lecturer for E-Learning and Web Development. The post-holder moved to another HE institution during the restructuring process, and we therefore had additional cause to consider whether we wished to replace the post-holder on an ‘as is’ basis, whether we wished to modify the role, or whether this was a role we felt we could lose given the creation of the Learning and Teaching Development Coordinators. Different views were expressed and there was a consensus that the e-learning tag was no longer the most appropriate. There was a clear preference for an emphasis on blended learning given that this terminology more accurately described what we were seeking to achieve. We also discussed the increasingly used tag of technology-enhanced learning.

Eventually we settled upon the need for a cross-Institute post, to be called the E-Communications Development Coordinator. The title indicates a wider brief. The primary purpose of the post is to ‘support technology-enhanced learning and teaching development in the Institute in line with key Division priorities established in relation to the Institute Student Learning Experience strategy’ and to ‘ensure that the Institute has a prominent, attractive and accessible web presence’.

Key duties of the post are:

  1. To facilitate the development of technology-enhanced learning, teaching and assessment within the Institute, in line with Institute strategic priorities.
  2. To support technology-enhanced learning and teaching development for teachers new to HE.
  3. To support and encourage staff to publish their work in technology-enhanced learning and teaching development.
  4. To coordinate and lead staff development in the area of technology-enhanced learning, teaching and assessment.
  5. To identify internal and external funding bid opportunities and support staff in making bids for technology-enhanced learning and teaching development projects.
  6. To develop and manage individual and Institutional links with relevant external bodies.
  7. To contribute to the annual Institute report on the Student Learning Experience strategy with respect to technology-enhanced learning.
  8. To advise the Institute Senior Management Team on the key issues surrounding the development and resourcing of technology-enhanced learning in the Institute.
  9. To manage the technical staff involved in technology-enhanced learning.
  10. To manage the purchase and deployment of the Institute’s ICT resources.
  11. To manage the development and maintenance of the Institute’s web pages.
  12. To liaise with Computer Services staff on behalf of the Institute.
  13. To represent the Institute at the University’s e-Learning Forum and Web Administrators’ Forum.

The role has a strong emphasis upon staff development, shaping investment decisions relating to classroom and individual staff ICT equipment, and maintaining our involvement with national bodies and projects. The Institute has a strong
reputation with the Teacher Development Agency for its ICT development and has been successful in recent years in bidding for funding from the TDA for development work in this area. It is important that we maintain our capacity to secure the funding for such projects.

Concluding comments

This article has sought to outline some of the thinking that has lain behind the current restructuring of the Westminster Institute of Education and how in particular we have sought to provide for a continuing strong commitment to learning and teaching innovation and development. The article has focused on structures and the creation of key posts, and to a lesser extent the processes of nurturing learning and teaching development. It is essential to create appropriate structures and posts, but how colleagues work together will be the key to success. Much is already known about the importance of teacher collaboration, and the ethos, cultures and processes that encourage and support this. We will be seeking to build upon those insights, and we will be learning together about what it means to be a learning organisaton (see especially Hargeaves, 2003:98–108, and Senge 2006). The theme of teacher collaboration and the learning organisation would be an interesting one for a future update article.

Author details

Dr. Brian Marshall (.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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) is an Assistant Dean at the Westminster Institute of Education at Oxford Brookes University and has responsibility for learning, teaching and development. His subject background is Christian theology, which he has taught for 23 years. He has worked with the Quality Assurance Agency as a Subject Specialist Reviewer and has been an Associate Director of the HE Academy Subject Centre for Education.

References

Boyd, P., Harris, K. and Murray, J. (2007), Becoming a Teacher Educator: Guidelines for the Induction of Newly Appointed Lecturers in Initial Teacher Education, Bristol: HE Academy, Subject Centre for Education.

Fullan, M. (2001a), Leading in a Culture of Change, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Fullan, M. (2001b), The New Meaning of Educational Change. 3rd edn. London: Routledge Falmer.

Hargreaves, A. (2003), Teaching in the Knowledge Society: Education in an Age of Uncertainty, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Harris, A. and Muijs, D. (2005), Improving Schools Through Teacher Leadership, Maidenhead: Open University Press.

Senge, P. (2006), The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organisation, 2nd edn. London: Random House.

 

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