Showcase Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia 2015

Governing the work of academics: The changing role of academic developers and teaching surveys (#175)

Mark Barrow 1 , Barbara Grant 1
  1. University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand

Abstract Content (up to 300 words recommended)

 1.    Background/context

Academic developers were first appointed into Australasian universities in the 1970s.  In the early days they created networks of academic collaborators with whom they worked on a voluntary basis to improve teaching and learning.  This work often involved ad hoc students surveys to gather their views of a collaborators’ lecturing.  Gradually academic development has moved closer to the institutional centre and administration of teaching surveys has become a commonsense university practice.

2.    The initiative/practice

Mechanisms to collect student views of teaching and courses are embedded in tertiary institutions.  Their use is virtually universal; underpinned by psychometric procedures, established university systems, processes and reporting arrangements.  It has not always been thus. 

3.    Method(s) of evaluative data collection and analysis

We have examined the evolving uses, policies and practices related to the evaluation by students of teaching and courses.  Using a framework based on the work of Rose (1999) and Foucault, we have analysed data arising from interviews with the foundation directors of academic development in New Zealand universities and from a review of related policy documentation at the University of Auckland.

4.    Evidence of effectiveness

Surveying of students has shifted from a teacher initiated and controlled activity to an institutional mechanism implicated in governing university teachers.

We trace the changing power relations mobilised through the development of course evaluation systems in order to consider the ways in which academic developers and universities have used these systems to define university teaching and govern university teachers.  More generally we use this example to raise questions about other technologies academic developers might mobilise to shape the conduct of academic staff to achieve the changing policy imperatives.

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

Universities evolve to meet the demands of the societies in which they exist.  This is not a new phenomenon.  While emphases may change, contemporary universities still echo the structures and purposes of their ancient predecessor.  The longevity of the institutional form arises because it is adaptable; its members have learnt to act in different ways and change what they teach (and more recently research) to meet contemporary needs.  This presentation considers one set of change agents and the role they play in universities in affecting the conduct of academics to achieve changing goals.  The presence of academic developers is relatively new in Western universities.  They have rapidly moved from positions as lone individuals working in ad hoc ways at the periphery to central roles in universities.  In making this move academic developers have been implicated in developing tools that influence the conduct of academic staff.  This presentation analyses the way developers have introduced and used a particular set of tools (student evaluation of courses and teaching) to ask what technologies are now available to affect the conduct of academics.