Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Educational Developers' Use of Learning Theories: Conceptions and Practices

Academic journal article The Journal of Faculty Development

Educational Developers' Use of Learning Theories: Conceptions and Practices

Article excerpt

Educational development has changed from a professional activity in the 60s to an established field of research, scholarship, and practice. If we use the micromeso-macro-mega framework to denote four different levels at which educational (also referred to as faculty, staff, academic) developers perform at an institution, the pendulum is currently shifting quite significantly towards the last two. The focus for educational developers is now influencing and implementing strategic institutional teaching and learning initiatives rather than responding only to the learning needs of faculty members (Boud & Brew, 2013; Cassidy & Poole, 2016; Gibbs, 2013). This paradigm shift has positioned educational developers with a unique role of anticipating and effecting institutional changes and new directions of teaching and learning. Peseta (2011) argued that we have a professional and ethical obligation to push that 'content' in new and fresh directions, but he still questions whether we have the capability to do so. All these changes require different knowledge and new levels of expertise and skills from developers (Schroeder & Associates, 2010). A special issue in the Journal of Faculty Development (2012) explored the idea that the field of educational development has threshold concepts, and by identifying what those are, we can better support individual faculty members and influence emerging trends in teaching and learning. What does disciplinary knowledge in educational development entail? How would an understanding of learning theories fit into that knowledge base? This study provides a snapshot, from the perspectives of Canadian educational developers, on how learning theories inform their practice. It is hoped that this research contributes to our understanding of conceptions and practices of educational developers, and that it will continue to generate discussions and future research in this area. After all, the importance of educational developers and their vital role in higher education merits such attention.

Method

Qualitative research, by its very nature, acknowledges the use of the researcher's preconceptions and prior experiences in interpreting and analyzing the data that is generated (Creswell, 1998; Patton, 2002). It is important, therefore, that as the researcher, I state my experience, and explain my personal interest and how this study came to be. It was during my graduate studies that I became aware of the Centre for Teaching for Learning at my university and the associated educational development community. While supporting the design of an online program focused on evidence-based practices in teaching and learning, I was in a position to observe the work of educational developers, as Wilcox (1997) described it, as both teachers (of other educators) and learners (of educational practice). My positive encounters with the scholars and practitioners at the centre combined with the desire to become more comfortable with the educational developer role seeded my interest to further explore these individuals and their practice through this study. Eventually, this led to educational development becoming my career path.

Interviews were used as the primary source of gathering data as they provided an opportunity to obtain rich, deep, and descriptive narratives from the participants' experiences, perceptions, and meanings that they hold for the issue under investigation. I interviewed 11 Canadian university educational developers from nine institutions, working in campus-wide teaching and learning centres. The initial semi-structured interviews were approximately 90 minutes in length, while the follow-up interviews ranged in length from 40 to 60 minutes. Together, both sets of interview questions were designed to ultimately gauge educational developers' uses of learning theories and factors that contribute to those. For the analysis of my data, I followed systematic procedures as outlined in the constructivist grounded theory method (Charmaz, 2006). …

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