Tuesday, July 22, 2008

GENERAL Ako Aotearoa regional seminars discussion paper

Back from a two week break, I found a copy of the discussion paper resulting from three Ako Aotearoa regional seminars held in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The seminars were well attended, a variety of institutions and professional bodies represented from across the spectrum (Universities, Wananga, polytechnics, PTEs, ITOs, etc). The document is available as a PDF.

The seminars were on "Whole of Organisation Approaches to Improving Teaching and Learning", a subject very dear to me and very timely for higher education in New Zealand to wrestle with. The seminar identifies improvement in teaching and learning as a strategic priority for HE institutions, which is frequently taken for granted in practice. The ideas generated in the seminars will form the basis for future Ako Aotearoa funding.

The initial findings certainly ring true, betraying a phenomenon that tends to undergird education - the knowledge/application gap. Consider these, from the covering letter by Dr Peter Coolbear, Director of Ako Aotearoa:
  1. Teaching and learning is not driven strategically in most tertiary organisations.
  2. This is of concern to all parties, and there is considerable willingness to address it.
  3. These are complex matters and there is very definitely no one size fits all solution.

Straight away the mission, importance, and difficulty of Ako Aotearoa's role becomes clear!

Key observations for me from the report are as follows:

  • The importance of identifying teaching as a profession in its own right, even at tertiary level. Boyer's (1990) scholarship of teaching, it seems, remains somewhat elusive in practice.
  • The importance of - and associated difficulties of - measuring and rewarding effective teaching. How can you tell if a teacher is 'good' or not? Do you measure student outcomes, so easily manipulated? Do you measure student enjoyment, which may or may not equate to effective learning?
  • "The locus of the debate [about organisaiotnal paradigm] needs to change to how can organisations become centred on teaching and learning; what this means; how it might be demonstrated to external stakeholders and how it might impact on the day-to-day operations of the organisation" (4.1.3, p.10)
  • The importance of effective professional development, which is strategically aligned.

This last item is of major import to me as my role is somewhat strategically aligned with teaching and learning, and professional development is an area I am currently concerned with. It occurs to me that there are different forms of professional development that might focus on technical skill, general principles, reflective practice or strategic alignment; the term 'professional development' does tend to be a rather amorphous one, with a number of assumptions lying beneath its use.

What does the term professional development immediately imply for you? A two hour workshop on preparing PowerPoint slideshows? A contentious debate about what constitutes effective teaching and learning, with a follow-up reflection?A full-course menu of theory, active learning, and discussion?

For my part, I am considering professional development that is explicit on general principles and reflective practice, is aligned with the specific strategic focus of the institution's teaching and learning objectives, and which is implicit in its treatment of technical skill. This is, well, 'complex' to achieve - and there is definitely no 'one size fits all solution' (point 3 above).

Naturally, this fills me with confidence in Ako Aotearoa's objectives. Already, it seems, there is a good handle on real issues and a commitment to engage with them.

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