Roundtable Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Positive staff development interventions to enhance academic life and work in our complex world (#49)

Jennie Billot 1 , Virginia King 2
  1. Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand
  2. Coventry University, Coventry, United Kingdom

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

A growing literature exposes the difficulties that academic staff experience in adapting to the new norms within higher education and the evolving nature of their roles (see, for example, Billot, 2010;Bolden, Gosling & O'Brien, 2014;King et al., 2013). Our own international experience of academic staff development reveals high levels of uncertainty amongst academic colleagues as they struggle to keep pace with changing institutional priorities, values and structures. Many respond by working longer hours and by blurring the boundaries between work and home life (Leathwood & Reid, 2013); others leave academia for good (Gourlay, 2011; Smith, 2010). How can we support academic colleagues without adding to their sense of overload? We look to Barnett (2014)who acknowledges that much in higher education could be viewed negatively, but suggests adopting an optimistic outlook and seeking “spaces that afford a glimpse of positive possibilities”(p.301). Barnett (2014) further suggests that positive change can come about through the accumulation of tiny acts.In staff development terms, this could mean broadening induction practices,using traditional training workshops to share new insights, introduce role-models or generate support networks; or it could mean using new technologies and social media to integrate collegial support into working life.

In this round-table, we offer examples of successful training interventions which have enabled participants to see their ‘complex world’ in new ways. We invite those attending to explore ways in which induction and continued academic staff development could support academics in meeting new challenges and function sustainably.

Our discussion will encompass questions relating to:

·         Could induction be enhanced to provide staff with the tools to manage their own academic development

·         How to introduce the positive into existing academic staff development ‘spaces’

·         Barriers and facilitators in employing new technologies and media to support academic staff development

·         Possible Micro-interventions

Addressing the theme/s of the Conference (up to 200 words recommended)

Our Round-table addresses the theme of Navigating uncertainty and complexity through acknowledgement of the difficulties encountered by academic staff internationally, as evidenced by the literature and as encountered in our own practice as staff developers. Furthermore, we propose to examine ways in which academic colleagues may navigate these uncertainties and complexities.While looking to identify new initiatives for staff development, we also intend to explore ways of providing staff with potential avenues and tools for agency for their own academic development (Mathieson, 2011). Academic staff who are able to shape and align their practices in a positive way are more likely to remain academically and institutionally engaged. One of our own training workshops frames its focus on disseminating research with the Bourdieusian concepts of field, habitus and capital. This approach has enabled participants to view the demands of the ‘research game’ in pragmatic ways which they have found helpful. Other examples of positive interventions, such as using Twitter as a means of interacting with an international network of like-minded colleagues, can be introduced to the discussion as appropriate.

  1. Barnett, R. (2014). ‘Conclusion. Academia as Workplace: A Natural Pessimism and a Due Optimism’. In L. Gornall, C. Cook, L. Daunton, J. Salisbury & B. Thomas (Eds.) Academic Working Lives: Experience, Practice and Change. London: Bloomsbury Academic. (pp 296–303)
  2. Billot, J. (2010). The imagined and the real: Identifying the tensions for academic identity. Higher Education, Research and Development, 29(6), 709–721. doi: 10.1080/07294360.2010.487201
  3. Bolden, R., Gosling, J. & O'Brien, A. (2014). Citizens of the academic community? A societal perspective on leadership in UK higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 39(5), 754–770. DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2012.754855
  4. Gourlay, L. (2011). ‘I'd landed on the moon’: A new lecturer leaves the academy. Teaching in Higher Education, 16(5), 591–601. doi:10.1080/13562517.2011.605548
  5. King, V., Garcia-Perez‎, A., Graham, R., Jones, C., Tickle, A. & Wilson, L. (2014). Collaborative reflections on using island maps to express new lecturers’ academic identity. Reflective Practice: International and Multidisciplinary Perspectives, 15(2), 252–267. DOI: 10.1080/14623943.2014.883311
  6. Leathwood, C. & Read, B. (2013) Research policy and academic performativity: compliance, contestation and complicity. Studies in Higher Education. 38(8), 1162–1174. doi:10.1080/03075079.2013.833025
  7. Mathieson, S. (2011). Developing academic agency through critical reflections: a sociocultural approach to academic induction programmes. International Journal for Academic Development, 16(3), 243-256.
  8. Smith, J. (2010). Academic identities for the twenty-first century. Teaching in Higher Education 15(6), 721–727. doi:10.1080/13562517.2010.522341