On this page I have added some of my writings that have been unpublished. To make it easier to navigate, I have used subheadings.
You are welcome to use this paper freely but I would appreciate it if you could cite it as:Norton, L. (2019) Personal reflections on feedback. Retrieved (insert date i.e. month, day, year) from http://linnorton.co.uk/
‘Feedback that encourages students to become judges of their own work: some musings’
Much has been written about feedback in general, but the clear consensus is that there is a need to shift our approach from thinking about feedback as information we provide to our students (monologic/directive/one way) to thinking about feedback more as a process (dialogic/participative/two way) in which we help students to judge the quality of their own work.
‘…It emphasises dialogue which could be with a teacher, peer, other contact, or the self through some form of inner dialogue; and emphasis is placed on what students do with feedback in relation to their current or future work and/or in terms of modifying the kinds of learning strategies they are adopting’. (Carless , 2015:192) (my underlining).
I have underlined the above phrase as for many years I have tried to encourage ‘meta-learning’ in students (not always an easy task as it’s not a comfortable term); some prefer fostering students’ meta-cognitive or learning to learn skills but the following definition might show what I am trying to get at here:
‘An awareness and understanding of the phenomenon of learning itself as opposed to subject knowledge. Implicit within this definition is the learner’s perception of the learning context which includes knowing what the expectations of the discipline are and, more narrowly, the demands of a given learning task’. (Norton, Owens & Clark, 2004)
Whatever the term, it is important because students with a high level of meta-learning are able to assess how effective their learning approach is and are able to regulate it according to the demands of the learning task. However, students low in meta-learning will not be able to reflect on their learning approach or the nature of the learning task set and are less able to successfully adapt when studying becomes more difficult and demanding.
Relating meta-learning to feedback the question becomes how do we encourage our students to understand that the demands of an assignment are just part of the bigger picture of their overall learning development? If they, and we, simply concentrate on the assessment task itself (including assessment criteria), then are we in danger of legitimizing a mechanistic and strategically orientated approach to learning? Sadler ( 2013) argues that we need to start thinking beyond this rather narrow issue of how feedback can be improved and communicated to the broader issue of how assessment itself frames learning… I like this very much but am conscious that looking beyond how to improve feedback is probably not possible in the current HE climate.
An interim position might be then to think of sustainable ways of enabling our students to become more effective in judging the value of their own work and that encourage meta-learning.
Jolly and Boud (2012) have written an interesting chapter on written feedback exploring its pros and cons as well as making suggestions about how we might improve it. A standout point for me was what they said about trying to avoid ‘final vocabulary’ Their argument here is that there are certain words and phrases in our feedback that leave our students no room to manoeuvre, negotiate or act on our comments. These can be positive (e.g. Good, Excellent, Well done, I like what you’ve written here; A nicely constructed argument) or negative (e.g. Poor, You’ve missed the point; Read more) but the point about them is they shut down rather than open up students’ ability to respond.
Jolly & Boud argue that such feedback is not helpful because:
- It lacks any supportive content and is mainly a one way process (feedback as telling/monologic)
- It says little, if anything about what the student might do in future work
- It inhibits the possibility of dialogue
I am taken by this as it resonates with some of the principles of counselling which stress the importance of open-ended questions or comments that prolong dialogue (and empower the counsellee) rather than comments which bring everything to a grinding halt, and affirm our position as experts who hold all the answers …. or I am overstating the case here?
Jolley and Boud suggest that rephrasing some of our statements to questions can be an effective way of opening up dialogue. They give the example of how the comment ‘The level of detail is poor’ can be rewritten in the form of questions such as ‘What missing details could you usefully include?’ or ‘You have identified three factors contributing to xxx but what others are there? How might you fully justify each of the ones you have included?’
I have tried this approach with some third year undergraduate Education Studies students with somewhat mixed results, but I felt there was enough potential in it to pursue with some of the feedback I give at doctoral level.
 Carless, D. (2015) Excellence in university assessment : learning from award-winning practice. London: Routledge
 Norton, L., Owens, T. & Clark, L. (2004) Encouraging metalearning in first year undergraduates through reflective discussion and writing. Innovations in Education and Teaching International, 41, 4, 423-441
 Sadler, D. R. (2013) ‘Opening up feedback: Teaching learners to see’. In Merry, S., Price, M., Carless, D., & Taras, M. (Eds.) Reconceptualising Feedback in Higher Education: developing dialogue with students. (Ch. 5, 54-63). London: Routledge.
 Jolly, B. & Boud, D (2012) Written feedback. What is it good for and how can we do it well? Ch.7., pp104-124 in Boud, D & Molloy, E. (Eds) Feedback in Higher and Professional Education. Routledge
 The concept of final vocabulary
‘All human beings carry about a set of words which they employ to justify their actions, their beliefs, and their lives. These are the words in which we formulate praise of our friends and contempt for our enemies, our long-term projects, our deepest self-doubts and our highest hopes… A small part of a final vocabulary is made up of thin, flexible, and ubiquitous terms such as ‘true’, ‘good’, ‘right’, and ‘beautiful’. The larger part contains thicker, more rigid, and more parochial terms, for example, ‘Christ’, ‘England’, … ‘professional standards’, … ‘progressive’, ‘rigorous’, ‘creative’. The more parochial terms do most of the work’. (Rorty 1989, p.73)
Reference: Rorty, R (1989)Contingency, irony and solidarity Cambridge University Press
Professorial roles in teaching and learning
Professors of teaching and learning: what they are and why we need them?
Ruth Pilkington and Lin Norton
In this conceptual paper, we review the literature to consider whether a professor of teaching and learning is, or should be, different from traditional professors. The focus is on the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as a specific field of scholarly endeavour in which professors are leaders and advance knowledge as praxis. In an environment where academic career paths are less transparent and more complex than ever (Locke et al, 2016), how should professors direct their attention? Additionally, in the face of a growing expectation by institutions in the UK that a professor acquires Principal Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy (Pilkington, 2017), how does that shift the nature of professorial work? In examining these questions our aim is to stimulate wider discussion around how the role of professor may be profiled or re-profiled and to prompt interrogation of some emerging associated and thorny concepts of academic leadership and the professorial role.
Developing teaching and learning in universities is increasingly important given the pressures of marketization, the global economy and the need for quality teaching and accountability. Various mechanisms have prioritised university teaching in the higher education sector. In the UK these include the National Student Survey (NSS) (Office for Students, 2019a); the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA,2018) and the Teaching Excellence and Student Outcomes Framework in the UK (TEF) (Office for Students, 2019 b). More widely, there has also been the adoption of professional frameworks to direct teaching and learning development and status (e.g. Australia, UK) and teaching excellence awards (e.g. 3M National Teaching Fellowship, Canada, US Professors of the Year). Historically, there has always been a strong interest in leadership in teaching and learning within countries such as Australia, Canada, USA, New Zealand, and Sweden, as evidenced in the establishment of the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSOTL) and the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to name but two. Whilst the term professor can be used internationally to denote the academic tenured position of a lecturer, in this paper it is specifically used for a post in the sphere of research to denote the status of a leader in the field and comes with an associated range of responsibilities to promote, enhance and support research for the discipline. Here we explore the nature of this term in the context of the growing emphasis on teaching and learning excellence, and we ask how the title of ‘professor in teaching and learning’ is being used and how the role is evolving. Our focus on the UK context reflects the particular stage of evolution for the role in the UK as a result of a combination of influences. These include professional status for teaching and learning roles framed through the UK Professional Standards Framework; the universal adoption of Fellowships aligned to Framework descriptors by institutions in job descriptions and expectations; the impact of TEF and the National Teaching Fellowship (NTF) awards which started in 1999 (Eales-Reynolds and Frame, 2009), and the broader context of global teaching excellence, marketization and competitiveness. We compare the professor in teaching and learning to that of the traditional research-focused professorial role and ask whether there is in fact a difference, and whether we can identify particular characteristics to inform what appears to be a significant new step in the evolution of academic careers. In attempting to unpack key questions about the nature of a professorial role and work in the sphere of learning and teaching, this article aims to inform the debates and contribute to the evolution of this important new area of responsibility.
A case study – creating an evolution in academic careers in the UK
The result of current change in HE organisations has been to generate a number of tensions around teaching and learning related to quality assurance, status, recognition, reward and professional learning. They also contribute to the emergence of new roles around teaching and learning excellence. Historically, the HE sector is founded on a highly professional workforce and this means that organisations increasingly rely upon professional staff being able and willing to step up and assume leadership and course management responsibilities sometimes without promotional guarantee. The assumption is that this enhanced career profile might support future promotion opportunities and career progress. Furthermore, the emergence of teaching quality and the student experience as factors in achieving competitive advantage means there is an accompanying drive to profile pedagogical expertise and leadership with respect to the discipline as being credible and having equivalence to subject research. While this has the beneficial effect of increasing the status of teaching within academic work, it carries with it the corollary that teaching and learning roles are becoming more complicated.
The shifts in career for academic work are also impacted by the changing shape of the organisation and of the working lifespan itself as well as competitiveness in the sector. These raise the important issue of how, within increasingly managerialist contexts and reduced resources, changing and lengthier career structures, academics can sustain motivations. How can academics balance their energies across teaching and learning, research and administrative work, and direct their career and professional development?
In the UK, academic careers have been diversified to embrace teaching only and research only routes for progression (Locke, 2014), whilst others emphasise the unified, Bologna-informed expectation of academic pathways as being about three areas of practice: research, administration and teaching. Additional questions arise with the introduction of managerial and hierarchical awards bearing the title ‘Professor’ for those in positions of Dean or Head of Faculty.
Alongside these developments there has been a significant restructuring and clarification of job descriptions and promotion systems in the UK HE Sector within institutions. These increasingly emphasise excellence as a criterion for promotion to principal lecturer or reader and professorial titles (Pilkington, 2017). In the search for transparency, promotion boards seek evidence of teaching excellence as demonstrated through acclaim and internal or external recognition and awards; or they look for research as evidenced through publications, ‘impact’ and income generation. Whilst each criterion is supposed to bear equal weight, lack of clarity around teaching excellence in particular means specific applications for teaching and learning professors can be overly reliant on the particular emphasis and cultural or organisational priorities of the institution.
The impact of the introduction of the UK PSF as a means to frame and award professional status with its four Descriptors (D1-4; Associate, Fellow, Senior Fellow and Principal Fellow) has unintentionally contributed to developments around career progression and defining professorial work. This has been reported in work by Locke et al (2016) examining career profiles in HE, and has also emerged as a trend across three cycles of reports from accredited CPD scheme leaders (Pilkington, 2016, 2017, 2018). These provide unequivocal evidence of changes within a university teaching career. Both sets of research – mapping career profiles and reporting on CPD and the influence of UK PSF – clearly identify a shift in how careers in HE are being restructured and the emergence of new roles.
Current rationalisation of career profiles has positioned the role of principal lecturer and reader at the same level but with a differing focus of teaching or management versus research. The trend is to have ‘associate professors’ and then ‘professorial’ posts within promotion routes although whether these are driven by research or teaching remains unclear. This suggests the lack of clarity about focus continues with teaching and learning professors potentially bridging management and having a profile of excellence in teaching.
Overall, it is clear that planning career progression has become increasingly complex with competing pressures and decisions about where to focus attention and how to direct energies beyond achieving the demands of the ‘day job’.
In the UK, national excellence of individuals in respect of teaching and learning is recognised through the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme which began in 1999 (Eales-Reynolds and Frame, 2009). Adding to possible career confusion NTF holders are often but not always recognised by their institutions as professors. Whether NTFs are potentially receiving promotion as part of a strategic initiative or as a genuine acknowledgment of their contribution to teaching, learning or scholarship in HE is a topic of discussion across the network of NTF holders, as is the correlation between the concepts of praxis associated with NTF and D4. What is important in this trend is the need to interrogate how NTF professors are used: is their expertise actually being harnessed as a leadership resource by the institution concomitant with professorial work? We would argue this is a waste where it is not the case.
Teaching has arguably always been seen as the poor relation when compared with the status and recognition afforded to research (Light and Calkins, 2008). For example, research funding brings with it great acclaim yet teaching and learning funding is regarded as less significant despite the fact that large amounts of money have been involved. In the UK whilst the incentive of funding has been lost, the interest in acquiring recognition through promotional status for those with National Teaching Fellowships as well as those with experience and expertise in teaching and learning is growing.
We would argue there is an increasing demand for a new type of university teacher; one who can successfully deliver research outputs but who is equally excellent in teaching, informed by pedagogical knowledge, skilled in technological learning, and responsive to the interaction of discipline, institution, national and international expectations. In this, it parallels research expectations. Support for developing academics of the future requires mentoring by credible and recognised leaders in the field of teaching and learning.
Setting out parameters: The professor of teaching and learning
While the growth of appointments to teaching and learning professorships appears to be growing, Macfarlane (2011b) argues that such a division undermines teaching and learning and research by creating an artificial separation. The extent to which a teaching and learning professor is a genuine innovation and different role, or whether she or he is actually ‘just a professor’ whose field of research is higher education pedagogy remains unclear. Locke et al’s (2014, 2016) and Cashmore et al’s (2013) work suggest a prevailing focus on how professorial roles may prioritise research aspects of the role in determining promotion to this estate. Pilkington’s (2016) report on CPD on the other hand suggests an emerging interest in clarifying role and job specifications to incorporate considerations of teaching and learning contributions. In her later report, there is a further complication identified in that institutions appear to increasingly associate two ideas with professorial work, namely UKPSF Descriptor 3 elements of leadership as a pre-requisite, and the assumption that professors may be working towards or meet Descriptor 4 expectations for impactful and far-reaching strategic leadership activity (Pilkington 2017). This raises a further question when defining teaching and learning professors: what is leadership in an academic context, and moreover what is leadership within professorial work?
Leading in research work or leading in teaching and learning?
Research leadership is potentially simpler to explain with its emphasis on concrete research outputs, the profile within the discipline community, and notions of knowledge creation and impact in the field. Less clear is the area of leadership within the field of learning and teaching with its complex span of activity and fields of knowledge constructed around the HE workplace and professional practice. The terms of workplace and practice highlight points made by Shulman (1986); namely that the practice of education comprises knowledge and understanding of the organisation, HE systems and the policy environment; understanding and expertise in pedagogy and learning generally as well as in respect of the subject. We would add to this an understanding of the relational nature of change and influence in professional/HE settings, and how to enhance the practices of the community. We suggest that in this complex sphere of learning and teaching the characteristics of professorial leaders are remarkably akin to those required by academic leaders and enablers of change when enhancing student learning (cf. Parkin, 2017). This idea becomes central to the following discussion and any definition of teaching and learning professors.
Recalling Macfarlane (2011a), Bolden et al (2012) describe academic leadership as being about entry into the academic community, and associate the concept with role models and mentoring into the academic profession. Recent discussion of the term highlights how the concept is interspersed with tensions associated with managerial and administrative responsibilities and the need to influence change without authority. The concept requires leadership across diverse and disparate roles and activity; influencing across a predominantly flat, organisational structure in which lines of accountability are increasing. These include managing the current expectations to be a university teacher, curriculum designer, developer, assurer and enhancer of quality. It also requires influencing skills, teamwork and negotiation, subtler skills of leading curriculum enhancement and change within a team or across a department, school or faculty. In the fast-paced competitive university, academic roles and practice also span administration of courses, student transition and pastoral care, supervision, work and study, marketing, team management and co-ordination of activity. This diversity across such flat hierarchic and professional contexts involves academic leadership that is ‘distributed’ (Marshall, 2016), and involves influencing across structures, levels of organisation, requiring high levels of skill to promote, communicate and persuade (Parkin, 2017).
Academic leadership is in itself an area of some considerable debate, not least because of the influence of the UKPSF upon the framing of HE work. It is also essential to HE organisations, which traditionally have flat structures where personal and professional expertise is the foundation for value and personal capital (Bourdieu, 1998). This means that deans, heads, and directors occupy managerial roles within HEIs in which they are responsible for managing and leading large teams of academics and professional staff, with line managerial, strategic and operational responsibility. They are increasingly supported by teams of middle tier leaders such as professors, course and subject leads, team leaders, associate deans, and heads, whose work is not always defined by line managerial responsibilities. These individuals emerge as the focus for efforts to grow Senior Fellowship across HE institutions (50% HEIs in 2015-16; 77% in 2016-17) that is highlighted by Pilkington (2018). Advance HE has also highlighted the significant growth in numbers for Senior Fellows in their data records: 2016-17 = 6,906; 2017-18 = 9,107; 12th August 2019 =11,363 (HEA figures, Sept 2019). The middle tier leaders and holders of Senior Fellowships are the people who implement institutional priorities, policy and get things done in teaching and learning. They engage colleagues and inspire them; introduce and influence how practice is innovated, enhanced and developed within the framework of higher strategic goals that may target equally ill-defined goals such as excellence, quality, and partnership. They occupy an essential tier within the functional structures and systems of HEPs. Since they have limited line management responsibilities, they are more likely to operate through influencing, persuading, negotiation, task leadership, project leadership and team co-ordination. The outcome is that while these roles are to some extent about management and co-ordination, they are largely defined by leadership principles as described within the business field. Kotter (2000), for example, examined strategic leadership in relation to processes associated with change. Within the learning organisational field of theory, Senge (2006) identifies the importance of change agency and leadership in a culture of learning and change. McRoy and Gibbs (2009) point out that leadership is essential for all working in HE organisations as they are working in dynamic pressured environments. They relate this to issues of having capabilities to work within developing organisational contexts. Furthermore, HE settings are renowned for their internal complexities, having service and managerial structures alongside strongly cultured communities of practice (Becher and Trowler, 2001). McRoy and Gibbs point to differing tiers of leadership (2009: 697):
• Senior management has to support the bold steps of change
• Middle managers have an important role in leading change.
In cultural change, the change agents in some cases are faculty who for example embrace the needs of student-centred values. This implies a far greater importance as to how that individual leader can influence others through the weight of trust, credibility and value they have within the community. In this it relies on the accumulation of social capital (Bourdieu, 1986). It is something that is built up over time, and in the development of relationships, through practice, role modelling and the doing of their work (Bolden et al, 2012; Gibbs, 2008). In other words, academic leadership is something that sits within relational processes and environment of a community of practice and is therefore situated, contextualised, process and doing-orientated, and personal. It is not an objective absolute. It stands more within the lived experience than the organisational definition of a role specification (Van Manen, 2016). Furthermore, because academic leadership is often associated with influencing practice through people, there are elements of negotiation, influence, communication, political nous, cultural agility and understanding that fundamentally underpin successful leadership alongside those other elements of trust, credibility and authenticity.
Academic leadership work embraces much of what MacFarlane (2011a) lists as part of a professorial function: role model, mentor, advocate, guardian, acquisitor and ambassador (57). However, this list does not incorporate the elements of academic leadership that are associated with change and the demanding range of characteristics and capabilities identified by Bolden et al ( 2012), Kennie (2009) and Gibbs, (2008). Academic leadership, they suggest, has an institutional role and relates to direction and administration, whereas the term, as discussed in work by Macfarlane (2004) and Becher and Trowler (2001), is more about those significant individuals who support and enable the transition of the individual academic into academe; making the concept more about academic identity, virtue and broader cultural aspects. What emerges from this debate is that there are three very specific functions. These are about:
• management (often) without authority and is about influencing engagement;
• enablement, service enhancement (where service is understood as service to the community of practice and therefore involves reflection on what these communities are); and
• transformation and change in respect of professional practice for oneself and for peers.
Drawing on work by the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, now part of Advance HE, it is possible to make a link from roles and activities of academic leadership to some of the most useful components associated with leadership. These involve generating a vision and direction, communicating the said vision, engaging people and resources and enabling, motivating and inspiring the group in pursuing and implementing the vision; making it their own. This latter point is strongly associated with distributed, transformational and collaborative ideas of leadership (Kennie, 2009, Bolden et al, 2008a, 2012). Interestingly, in a recent work by Parkin (2017) from the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, he presents in full their model for Programme Leadership and discusses the leadership and managerial concepts that support its implementation and validity for this area of academic leadership work. In the model he positions academic leadership centrally in curriculum design processes and leadership, with the purpose of influencing and directing the student experience. This resonates strongly with our earlier discussion of professorial leadership characteristics making the case for a teaching and learning professor role founded on expertise in pedagogy for the discipline or in a broader area alongside the capability to lead and motivate teams, and mentoring peers (Bolden, 2012). It also aligns well to many of MacFarlane’s (2011a) professorial functions.
A summary and adaptation of work by Gibbs et al (2008) cited in Gunn and Fisk’s (2013) literature review and of teaching excellence provides a further valuable definition when conceptualising academic leadership. His work identifies three key foci, namely communication and engagement, change and innovation, and the promotion and support of others. In considering academic leadership roles and practice especially in relation to teaching and learning, these three activities can each be aligned to different streams of activity to support organisational and practice change.
1. Communication and engagement can involve establishing credibility and trust, building a community of practice or involving students (partnership).
2. Change and innovation that may involve identifying teaching problems and turning these into opportunities for development or innovation, providing a rationale for change especially when initiated elsewhere, and offering general support for change and development.
3. Promotion and support of others involves recognising and rewarding teaching development efforts, dispersing leadership around the group, team or department, and finally marketing the team or the innovation as a success.
The aspects of academic leadership described here recall characteristics of good professorial leaders, which emphasise the mentoring, advocacy, promotional and motivational side of professorial work. In short, these are about the necessary relational functions and skills of professors although they are positioned in the field of practice, curriculum leadership, and teaching work.
How might academic leadership differently influence professorial work?
For academic leadership then there is a series of potential areas for linking this work to professorial functions. Firstly, there is a need for professorial academic leadership that encompasses broader professorial work such as that described and listed by MacFarlane. Secondly, there is the academic leadership that is about facilitating and engaging other in change, even initiating it and stimulating it as part of a wider expectation of academic leadership within complex dynamic environments and organisations in transition. There is a need for academic leadership that has more to do with advocacy, mentoring, and acculturation, which perhaps relate more to the established understanding of what it means to be a professor. Finally, there still remains the notion of challenge of an academic leader who stands apart to some extent within the community and who has social and professional capital, credibility and authority that allows and enables challenge: the voice of the knowledgeable, critical and scholarly sage perhaps? This professor of teaching and learning will fulfil the criteria of research, teaching and service by dint of having gained credibility and reward through contributions informed by research/SoTL in the field of HE (in general terms or with respect to the subject/discipline). In achieving such a position, we would suggest that such a person should fulfil both the accepted brief of professorial duty, and should also undertake a further duty discussed below.
Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL)– the crucial factor
To explore a crucial component in the debate around professors of teaching and learning we need to consider how they differ from professors of a specific subject/field in which the three criteria generally accepted are scholarship (research), teaching and service. As suggested earlier, there is now a growing resource for HEIs in National Teaching Fellowship award holders. These are awarded for excellence on the basis of contributions to the pedagogical aspects of their discipline, or development and innovation in HE. They are expected in their claims to show not only how they develop excellence in themselves, but also how they demonstrate excellence in their practice which impacts on the student experience in sustained ways, and how they promote excellence in and to their peers.
Evans (2015) uses the term ‘professorial academic leadership’ in connection with professors, and claims that it is a nebulous concept that has not been clearly defined and is therefore open to a number of different interpretations. Her research comprised 336 questionnaires and 50 follow up interviews with non-professorial academics, researcher and teachers whom she describes as ‘the led’. She makes the interesting distinction between two types of professorial professionalism; that which is demanded and that which is enacted. Broadly, her research found three key elements of academics’ perceptions of their professors, which she described as distinction, knowledge and relationality. The first two are traditionally recognised elements but the third is worth exploring here. Evans defines it as a professor’s capacity for relating and the extent and nature of such relationships. Basically, these can be seen as professional altruism and a desire to help colleagues. Since the nature of professorial professionalism is so diffuse there is a danger that the role is too big, but as Evans maintains there is little reliable research evidence about it, she concludes:
‘there is no such thing as the (singular) UK-based professor, and to try and delineate her or his role, purpose or enacted professionalism-much less analyse its metamorphosis-is an endeavour that approximation and sketchy outlining represent. Rather, the most we should perhaps hope for are multiple roles, purposes and professionalism’ (p.682)
Finally, there are professors whose research and scholarship focuses on the area of higher education itself; sometimes they are called professors of higher education or professors of teaching and learning. Their subject is that of higher education itself, their research is into the pedagogy and practice of higher education, their teaching is often (although not exclusively) focused on university teachers and their service can include matters of quality assurance, sitting on relevant teaching and learning committees and contributing to the development of promotion criteria related to pedagogy. Whether higher education research can be conceptualised as a field or as a discipline is currently being debated. Clegg (2012), for example, questions whether it is ‘a singular practice ‘or whether there are multiple but related fields’ (p.667). The rise in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as a field of valid and credible research may we feel add force in considering this group. This issue has both relevance and stands out as a potentially defining factor.
What is involved in SoTL as characteristic?
Macfarlane (2011a) uses the term ‘intellectual leadership’ in the context of discussing professors and leadership. He suggests it could be ‘a counter-weight to the prevailing managerial culture of higher education.’ He suggests too that central academic development units make limited use of professorial talent perhaps because they are seen primarily as researchers rather than teachers which ‘does not fit the default role of academic development units as concerned with teaching and student development rather than broader aspects of academic practice, such as research or service’ (Macfarlane 2011b, p.181). We would argue service to the profession is at the heart of all professorial work. Walder (2014) in an American research study placed pedagogical innovation at the heart of professorial practice. Her participants were not only full professors but also included assistant and associate professors all of whom had received teaching excellence awards.
As such, it would seem that the time is right to envisage a greater acceptance of different types of professors. This can include various associated titles, such as teaching and learning /higher education/ academic practice/pedagogical research. However, the subject field is higher education and the practice is university teaching and learning. This specific type of professor faces challenges such as being marginalised, otherness, and being perceived as less prestigious than the more traditional subject professors. Ragoonaden, (2015), a Canadian professor of teaching, is one of the few authors who has written about these particular challenges. She explores ‘how working in the area of the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) affects personal, professional, and academic integrity and identity’ (p.3). She cites Boyer (1990) who ‘suggests that scholars must respect the fact that knowledge is not only required through research but also through synthesis, through practice, and through teaching (p.24). However, there is a potential danger here of scholarship being confused with pedagogical research that is empirical.
This links to a crucial point in our position on professors of teaching and learning. It is not sufficient to have credibility and expertise as a practitioner only without recourse to scholarly research and theoretical understanding of teaching and learning, nor is it sufficient to be acknowledged as an intellectual leader (researcher and scholar) of the theoretical rather than of the professional practice – we must have both. It is an irony, however, that Ragoonaden (2015) points out that while the professor of teaching was seen to be the highest rank for the teaching stream and a rank that mirrored that of the discipline-based research professor, the scholarship of teaching and learning was not a necessary requirement for promotion to this rank in her own university. Such a view has a real danger of regarding teaching in higher education as a technical skill. Rangoonaden suggests that what is needed is educational leadership and curriculum innovation underpinned by analytical reflection leading to ‘processes of transformative praxis’. Professors of teaching and learning have an obligation to develop the scholarship of teaching and learning through criticality and by sharing understandings gained from continually revising and re-visioning teaching praxis thereby validating teaching and learning in higher education as a profession in its own right.
One of the important functions of a professor is to act as a ‘boundary transgressor’ in her or his field (Macfarlane, 2011a), and this poses a specific obstacle in advancing university teaching and learning. Part of this obstacle is caused by the ‘practice-experience versus theory- knowledge’ divide and part by the demand to evidence impact, often in a very short time scale. The agenda for quality assurance and accountability is potentially a constraining rather than liberating force when we consider the purpose of a university education. The professorial role in university teaching and learning affords opportunities to create spaces and a new type of academy in which the creation of new knowledge about pedagogy is at the forefront. However, it must do so in the context of globalisation and market forces in which institutions are subject to pressures, which are not underpinned by pedagogical values alone. Further tensions are to be found within the concept of academic development itself, which as we have discussed, is fragmented, and where there is little consensus in a volatile and rapidly changing sector. Pushing at the boundaries by using the latest knowledge about how students learn can mean challenging the status quo of disciplinary thinking and epistemology. This takes courage, determination and a clear-sighted view of the value of new pedagogical theory, research and new pedagogical understandings. The consideration of what is good university teaching and learning becomes a proactive and critical search for a better synthesis of theory and research applied to practice in what Paugh and Robinson (2011) term a vigilant critique. The aim is to build a critical professionalism that is built on interrogating the latest knowledge and evidence rather than building it on ideologies, habits and existing practices and experience.
In our view, the professor of teaching and learning pushes at the boundaries of knowledge all the time, being a disturber and a challenger of the status quo and existing knowledge. The importance of transgressing the boundaries in teaching and learning fits with the notion of critical professionalism and professional dialogue. Higher education like all other sectors in the education system is vulnerable to ‘jumping on the latest bandwagon’, often with very little research evidence as to efficacy although we also acknowledge Biesta’s (2007) argument about the limitations of evidence –based practice. We believe that being able to stand outside the practice is critical in academic development where pressures are increasingly centred on a technical skills orientation to teaching and learning. A fairly recent but well-established example of a practice that is widely accepted as pedagogically desirable is that of the centrality of learning outcomes in today’s curriculum. A combination of our own professional experience with that of the literature (Hussey and Smith, 2008; Sin, 2014) suggests that the ubiquity of learning outcomes as a determinant of curriculum design, teaching and assessment should be seriously questioned. Daniels (2017) argues that professional learning must challenge accepted wisdom, and while she suggests ‘developing praxis is a way of producing relevant and active professional learners’, we would argue that academic leadership should underpin this approach with reference to the scholarly literature and the research evidence; in short, a professorial approach.
In this paper we use the term professorial role to suggest a reframing of the crucial leadership role in the university academic community within the context of teaching and learning, and have drawn on the UK’s experience as a case study. Like research professors, people who fulfil a professorial role in the field of teaching and learning are recognised as intellectual leaders with a national and international reputation, in the scholarship of teaching and learning (SOTL). While we accept Macfarlane’s (2011) professorial roles of critic, advocate, mentor, guardian, enabler, ambassador, knowledge producer and intellectual leader, we would add one vital overarching role, which is articulated around practice and professional learning. Professors of teaching and learning need to support and encourage the university teacher of today. They can successfully deliver research outputs but are primarily excellent in the area of teaching/learning, informed by pedagogical knowledge, skilled in technological learning, and responsive to the interaction of discipline, institution, national and international expectations, all of which will need to be addressed in a professional career that may well span up to fifty years.
In adopting this stance, we encourage those in the HE sector to actively engage with the idea of what a teaching and learning professor might look like and how they might be recognized, and incorporated within academic work, career paths and organizational structures. The outcome, we suggest, could lead to an equivalency of profile for learning and teaching work within the academic landscape, where currently disillusion, frustration and disenfranchisement are often a legacy of the marketization and bureaucratization of HE provision.
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Dr Ruth Pilkington is a National Teaching Fellow (2014), now a freelance educational consultant. She works widely across the sector and with Advance HE and SEDA, and has held professorial roles at Ulster and Liverpool Hope universities. She contributes to HE institutions and nationally on fellowship, academic leadership and dialogue assessment as well as in developing organisational approaches to professional learning.
Lin Norton is a National Teaching Fellow (2007), a psychologist by background and professor emerita of pedagogical research at Liverpool Hope University. She is on the editorial board of the SEDA journal Innovations in Education and Teaching International and continues to actively research higher education pedagogy.
To cite this paper, please use the following format
Pilkington, R and Norton, L (2020) Professors of teaching and learning: what they are and why we need them? Unpublished paper available at http://www.linnorton.co.uk/.