Katarina Martensson

  • Leading academic teaching

    Katarina Mårtensson and Torgny Roxå, Lund University

    Research seminar

    Themes: faculty development methods and/or strategies

    Tuesday 8 September 2009, 09.00 - 10.00 in room 121

    The expansion of the higher education sector over the past decades has brought with it an increased attention to what higher education is all about (see for instance Barnett, 2005). New demands and expectations from society upon higher education as a contributor to societal growth has led to efforts from within institutions to critically reflect upon teaching, learning and assessment strategies and educational qualities. Educational development units and accredited programmes are established to support these institutional efforts at various levels (Gosling, 2008; Prosser et al, 2006; Lörstad et al, 2005).

    In the midst of these various efforts, leadership emerges as an important and critical feature of educational development. Most initiatives have focused on improving the teaching practice, laying the full weight of expected improvement on the individual teachers and leaving aside problems and phenomena of more structural nature. Structural issues are often more complex in nature than what an individual teacher can handle. This brings leadership to the fore in relation to educational development. But what do we really know about leading academic teaching?

    Leadership does matter (Ramsden et al, 2007). Bolden and colleagues (2008) argue that leadership should be studied from a socio-cultural perspective, rather than simply looking at individual characteristics or leadership in organizational, formal structures. Middlehurst (2008) takes a similar perspective and criticizes the research on leadership in higher education. She is critical to the image of the heroic leader, although this kind of leadership according to her is still widely practiced. Gibbs and colleagues (2008) investigated successful departments in teaching as well as in research and found a wide variety in terms of how leadership was practiced. Knight & Trowler (2000) takes a similar standpoint, claiming that change initiatives, including leadership, must take as its starting-point the local, departmental culture. Tyrstrup (2005) describes – although not from an academic environment – a strive for meaning making in a chaotic every-day leadership. There is surprisingly little known about how academics want to be lead. Trevelyan (2001) investigated scientific research-groups and their perception of leadership. In her study academics preferred leadership characterized by a delicate balance of engagement from the leader and personal autonomy. This obviously relates to the complexity of academic freedom (see Åkerlind & Kayrooz, 2003) and academic identity (Henkel, 2005).

    This session aims at exploring in what way leadership matters in how to make the most out of faculty development strategies. Theoretical perspectives on leadership will be explored in relation to results from an institution-wide initiative to support leadership in a research-intensive university. This initiative consists of an institution-wide action-research programme to support leaders in their efforts to lead academic teaching/teachers, as well as interviews with leaders (middle-managers). Preliminary results confirm the complexity of leadership, and the somewhat chaotic and un-predictable characteristics of it, as well as an experienced tension between policy- and practice level.

    Participants in this session will actively engage in discussions and contribute with their own experiences and knowledge, to further our understanding of the role of leadership in educational development.