Taking the credit for professional development in HE

Author/Producer Nicola Reimann
Published in Autumn 2008 newsletter
Date Published 24 November 2008
Pages 2


Nicola Reimann invites us to participate in a colloquium that explores ways in which universities can look beyond initial induction courses for new staff to a longer view that seeks to support professional development in more systematic and sustained ways


Over the past years HE has become increasingly complex and diversified, and so have careers in HE. Contemporary academic practice comprises much more than the traditional focus on research and not only includes learning and teaching, but also other areas of activity, such as, for instance, student support, enterprise, management and leadership. Postgraduate Certificates in HE Learning and Teaching for new academics are now well established components of academic careers, but most universities have started to look beyond these initial courses with a view to supporting the professional development of their staff in a more systematic and sustained manner.

While we know that most professional learning tends to take place informally in the workplace, anecdotal evidence suggests that opportunities to undertake credit-bearing study in HE learning and teaching are on the increase. Many institutions are developing institutional frameworks in response to the UK Professional Standards Framework for Teaching and Supporting Learning in Higher Education (PSF). In these, informal support and networks are often combined with, or can lead to, more formal study for awards, such as Masters, EdDs and Professional Doctorates. This represents a drive towards engagement beyond ad hoc development activities, underpinned by rigorous and scholarly approaches as conceptualised in the notion of ‘Scholarship of Teaching and Learning’. Not only does the availability of credit-bearing courses and awards have the potential to provide HE staff with a more clearly delineated career path associated with learning and teaching, it also allows those members of staff with established track records to gain recognition for their expertise – all by using a currency which has a high level of credibility in HE, i.e. credits and postgraduate qualifications up to doctorate level. However, while there seem to be ample examples of credit-bearing courses of this kind, it is difficult to gauge the extent of these developments, their impact on individuals, institutions and the sector as a whole. Every now and again one can catch glimpses of innovative practices and relevant empirical research, but these tend to remain relatively invisible and are mainly discussed at institutional rather than national level.

The colloquium held at Northumbria University, which itself implemented an innovative credit-bearing Academic Practice Programme in 2005, attempts to serve as a forum where these developments are shared and made more public than they hitherto have been. It is intended to bring colleagues from different roles and institutional backgrounds together in order to explore the role of credit-bearing provision within the wider field of continuing professional development and critically examine current practice from a variety of perspectives. The initial response to the event has already demonstrated the need for this kind of exchange and one possible outcome might be the formation of a network which could have the potential to contribute to a more sustained debate.

When designing the programme for the colloquium, we wanted the sessions to address the wide range of issues which have affected the ways in which credit-bearing provision has been shaped, but also the many creative and cutting-edge solutions which individual institutions and programmes have come up with. We strove to include insights gained from the literature on professional learning and empirical research as well as providing space for informal discussion and networking. The result of our efforts is a programme which combines interactive group discussions and participants’ posters with several papers delivered in parallel and plenary sessions.

The keynote by Liz Beaty (University of Cumbria) will set the scene by mapping the territory of continuing professional development in HE Learning and Teaching. The papers given by colleagues from the ‘Researching and Evaluating Academic CPD in Higher Education’ (REACH) Network will be based on their research: Sandy Cope (University of Derby) will explain how her research influenced the design of a doctorate which encourages the use and credit of informal development activity, while Andrew Rothwell (Coventry University) will explore the way in which continuing professional development can contribute to employability and enhance the ability of individuals and universities to respond flexibly to changing circumstances.

Representatives from the Higher Education Academy (HEA) and the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) will introduce organisational perspectives. Helen Thomas will talk about credit-bearing CPD in the context of the UK Professional Standards Framework, and Liz Shrives will illustrate why and how HE institutions have used the SEDA Professional Development Framework, both within and out with a credit bearing framework. The design of a research methodology unit as professional development towards undertaking pedagogical research will be the focus of Digby Warren’s (London Metropolitan University) paper, and Helen Gale (Wolverhampton University) will discuss the challenges arising from embedding a professional doctorate in existing institutional strategies, structures and programmes. Finally, the session by Liz McDowell, Nicola Reimann and staff studying on the Northumbria Academic Practice Programme will explore the participants’ perspective and their experiences of flexibility as a core component of credit-bearing professional development.