Academic development: Leading innovative pedagogical research with sustained impact

I have so far proposed how the participatory consortium model could be implemented to widen and help sustain the impact of DBERS. Academic development units, which serve their universities by advancing their missions in the field of educational and faculty development, are well placed to provide the leadership required to build and guide these consortia. A team of UCL academic developers and I from the academic development unit (Arena Centre for Researchbased Education, or “the Arena Centre” hereafter) had the opportunity to create and lead the novel R=T (Research equals Teaching) project from 2015-2018 -to build a participatory research and scholarship consortium for furthering the impact of DBERS in a large research-intensive university in the UK. The focus of R=T was on advancing research-based education, which promotes the practice of allowing students to take part as active participants in the research process (Healey & Jenkins, 2009) and has formed the basis of the Connected Curriculum - the institutional curriculum framework (Fung, 2017). The R=T consortium consisted of a team of more than 80 students and academic staff (both UCL and non-UCL) from across the university, with an unusually diverse range of academic disciplines. In this section, I focus on how opportunities for enhancing the sustainable impact of the DBERS consortium were identified and developed by our team of academic developers.

The leadership role of the Arena Centre was demonstrated throughout the initiative. The name “Research equals Teaching” was chosen to reflect the close alignment between its principal goals and the institutional strategy on researchbased education. Besides, the educational strategy also focuses on working with students as partners and providing academic development to advance researchbased education. These two aspects of academic development were fully reflected in the ethos and embedded into the organisation of the consortium. Taken together, these three complementary themes not only defined the overall scope of investigation (i.e., research-based education) but also offered a values system (i.e., working in partnership (Healey et al., 2014; Matthews et al., 2018)) and practical goals (i.e., academic development) for the entire project.

In terms of building a transdisciplinary consortium, the Arena Centre team invited a group of research professors who had won national or institutional prizes, recruited a team of postgraduate teaching assistants (advanced students who are at the beginning of their research and teaching careers) and other students, and formed transdisciplinary teams to investigate a range of pedagogical approaches that are aligned with the general scope of the consortium. Each team was responsible for their own work package, and all the work packages were linked up to address the overarching theme of “shaping higher education with students for connecting research and teaching.” One of the novel aspects of the consortium was that students were the leads at multiple levels throughout the initiative (Clark et al., 2019). The academic developers also identified staff and students who had been “practising” exemplary research-based education to join the consortium - adding a sense of authenticity in the exploration and recognition of pedagogical methods that are crucial to advancing the new institutional research-based education initiative as it developed.

As for the participatory research approaches, the Arena Centre team focused on using collaborative autoethnography as the way to give the students and student-staff teams a platform to have their voices heard, analysed and used for shaping the initiative. Research ethics, research training and administrative support were provided by the Arena Centre so that students who did not have a background in education research (most of them did not) had the confidence to lead, shape and carry out the research and scholarship work - with their partner professors. A peer-reviewing system was set up by the Arena Centre team not only for improving the quality of their project outputs but also for the different teams to learn from each other. Furthermore, students hosted a series of interviews of academics and panel discussions with fellow students and academics as the projects were under way - all as a means to generate research data and encourage others to take part in the conversation and provide feedback to their research and scholarship work. The Arena Centre used the open-access book written and edited by the student-staff teams, as a key project output, as a resource in their academic development programmes. Links with other academic developers from universities around the world have also been developed to ensure that the book is not only a project output but is used by both the university to further its strategic missions and by academic developers from other institutions in the UK and beyond.

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