Is there a symbiosis between faculty development and improving student learning and, if so, is it stable?

  • Laura Hills, Centre for Inclusion and Curriculum, The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom

    S Swithenby, eSTEeM, The Open University, Milton Keynes, United Kingdom 

    The last decade has seen a marked change in how research into the student experience has been perceived and undertaken within Higher Education. There has been an overt shift to immediate practical outcomes with the student being placed in the foreground as the direct beneficiary of the research. Mirroring the shift in focus towards student-experience centred research has been a change in the role of HE practitioners as researchers of their own practice, and therefore of perceptions of practitioner research from an activity of the dedicated few to a higher profile and higher status activity within many institutions.

    This paper posits the notion that there has developed a symbiotic relationship between the development of research into student learning and increased recognition of the role of practitioner research and the personal and professional development of those involved. It explores how changing modes of operation and support for practitioner research have supported the development of knowledge about teaching and learning within the institution. It also looks at how the success of projects to improve the student learning experience has in turn generated a momentum for further research into practice, and the implications that carries with it for the development of the individual, for their practice and for the institution as a whole. What this suggests is a growing dynamic between improving student learning on the one hand and the personal and professional development of the practitioner on the other.

    As the status of practitioner research has grown, so too have expectations, on the part of the individual and the institution, of the outcomes of research into practice. Allied to this is an increasing institutional and sector-wide recognition and reward for the scholarship of teaching and learning. Arguably, the outcomes that are valued, such as conference papers and publications, have become less directly connected to student experience and have the potential to disrupt the synergy between professional development and improved student learning.

    With reference to the past decade of practitioner research at the Open University, and drawing from the broader research literature, this paper examines this issue from a conceptual as well as practical standpoint. It explores how institutional and faculty structures can support the development of practitioner research that is both student-focussed and offers suitable reward and recognition for the individual. It also asks how, in an environment of increasing expectations at individual, faculty and institutional level the stable dynamics between improving student learning and the personal and professional development of the practitioner can be preserved and maintained.