This #Take 5 blog is brought to you by Ed Bickle, Steph Allen and Marian Mayer, the Learning Development (LD) team, Bournemouth University Faculty of Media and Communication, who, with the help of LD colleagues, reflect upon the workshop they delivered at the 2022 ALDinHE conference. Focusing on the concept of change, they examine how LD might look at the turn of the next decade. They begin their blog with a reflection on the excitement of being face to face with LD colleagues again.
On the road
It was with great excitement that the team travelled up to Northampton in June for the 2022 ALDinHE conference. A welcome return to a face-to-face conference for all!
Given the disruption of the past two-three years, this seemed like a good time to reflect on our practice and to start to think about the future. This is particularly the case with LD, given the growing importance of widening participation, student experience, the shift to online/hybrid learning, and the loss of learning encountered by students. As part of the conference, we delivered a workshop that enabled participants to envisage how they see the future of LD.
In the year 2030
Participants were asked to travel to the year 2030. In small groups their task was to produce a form of media (such as a front page of a newspaper, a social media post, or magazine cover) in which LD was the lead story. There were no constraints, participants were creatively free to reimagine the future of LD.
As this blog post will demonstrate, the posters were varied and creative, but all identified the common theme of change, whether that be technological, increased recognition of the work of LD practitioners, modes of assessment, and inclusivity. To better explain the designs, each group was invited to explain their poster.
Poster 1: Technological change (Anonymous contribution)
Given the task to think what LD would look like in 2030 allowed us to explore the technology we felt might be available in the future. We thought about holograms of LDers appearing into the spaces where the students felt comfortable engaging with the service. We thought the online space will be utilised more, as well as differently, and that’s why we came up with actual LDers being projected to the students. This might then eliminate barriers of location of the student and help to facilitate a rapport with the LD tutor. We also thought that the technology would and could allow students to use a hologram to project into campus and discuss their needs. We liked the hashtag: #transportingtheskillstoyou
Poster 2: Increasing awareness of the LD profession
Emily Webb (Leeds University) and Amy May (University of Nottingham)
Amy and I are both fairly new to the field of Learning Development, having both worked as academics within faculties prior. We hoped the session ‘Learning Development 2030’ would give us an opportunity to meet colleagues and discuss the direction our new profession might go in. The focus of our news article was the frequent disparity between student’s reaction to and use of LD support services and how it is viewed by those in positions of authority and those outside of HE.
Focussing on a fictional astronaut, the article highlighted the ways in which learning developers are essential to support and guide students during their academic studies providing academic skills, but also building confidence, resilience and collaborative skills which are vital to student progression. This reflected the feedback that both of us have received from the students who access our services about how much they value our support and guidance. We recognise that not all students will require LD support and guidance, but also acknowledge what a lifeline it is to those that do, and our support and interventions may mean the difference between pass or fail, continuation or non-continuation.
Many academics who have engaged with the service, for collaborative projects or to refer students, do value the contribution that LD makes to student success, retention, and experience. Conversely, often when attempting to form new collaborations with module or course leaders, the service that we provide is often viewed as unnecessary or substandard as they feel that they already provide the necessary support. To reflect this, our newspaper included a headline outlining the scrapping of learning development provision and the associated student ‘uproar’ comments that our service users might declare. This contention is something that we feel may continue for some time as we endeavour to be recognised more formally and appropriately for our contribution to student success. Investing in academic skills and learning development is an essential and growing component of student retention, success, and enjoyment (especially following on from the pandemic where new UG students have had a disrupted education) and we hope that by 2030 this may be becoming more widely recognised and supported.
Poster 3: Assessment
Ian Johnson (University of Portsmouth) and Ralitsa Kantcheva (Bangor University)
When the two of us came together to create an on-the-spot vision for what we’d like to see our field achieve, troubling the concept of grades in HE sprung to our minds.
(Ian) We need to trouble what a grade is meant to do, and its fitness for that purpose. Assume for now (and bear with me if you don’t) that we accept the neoliberal idea that HE exists primarily to prepare our students for labour-market productivity (Olssen & Peters, 2005). The grade then needs to somehow allow would-be employers to differentiate students. How can people in the grade range of 61%-69% be meaningfully differentiated in job applications, when the difference becomes virtually invisible on paper after graduation?
The other problem for me with grades is that they increase the focus on the end product at the expense of the processes of getting there. In an era where Artificial Intelligence could potentially write a perfectly decent essay response to a title, what is the grade really telling academic staff about the student? ‘Ungrading’ is not a new idea – for example Jesse Stommel has become the go-to figure, and there are other free collections of online ungrading resources. What I was dreaming of, however, was about not having to ungrade in the shadows, against the systemic juggernaut. It was about another world, one with real thought to what could work better instead. Perhaps, as Stommel tells us, ungrading isn’t necessarily about removing the grades arbitrarily, just using or expressing them differently – downgrading their priority.
(Ralitsa) Considering what LD could entail in 2030 has led me to the idea of bringing together all country-specific grading systems in HE into a single globalised approach. In my view such a global approach should be directly aligned to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (United Nations 2015). In my vision for 2030 university students undertake interdisciplinary studies and are evaluated on their contributions to the UN’s SDGs they choose to specialise in. Thus, upon graduation a student will receive an evaluation of their understanding of the global community that they belong to. Moreover, a global citizen with a strong appreciation of social and solidarity economy will be able to enhance further their interdisciplinary skills, while becoming a successful professional in their preferred area.
Our ideas above about combining ungrading with the same globally acceptable blueprint for evaluating the impact of university education on an individual’s citizenship and community development skills might seem like something out of a science fiction movie at present, so we might need to wait until 2050 to see this process established as part of an HE LD professional life.
Poster 4: Breaking down borders: the Inversion of hierarchical power
Debbie Holley (Bournemouth University), Simon Strange (Bath Spa University), and Amy West (University of Northampton)
Our perspective viewed the role of LD in 2030 through a more political lens. We developed an imaginary ‘tweetdeck’ with thoughts about what may be current and ‘happening’….
Our policy stance was very much community based, with LDs sharing leadership with Students Unions – and the OfS and Department for Education championing this work through significant funding streams across the sector.
The student stream reflected their excitement about being co-designers and developers in their own learning, with their voice and interests represented. However, we noted a word of caution given that there would still need to be agreed frameworks, especially to reflect interdisciplinary and international agreements and equivalencies.
The shift of learning development to fully inhabit the third space (Whitchurch 2018) would be a positive step, and the CeP/CeLP professional qualifications offered by ALDinHE (2023) would be a national mandatory requirement.
The final theme was around ‘grumpy academics’, which upon reflection, we think is more about academic systems and procedures; we found it difficult to envisage change in under a 5-year cycle, acknowledging concern about Union responses and how to operationalise.
This final theme takes us back to the start, where political leadership and evidence-based practice is needed to influence and move the wider Higher Education sector on to a more community based set of agreed practices. Existing hierarchies of power today (Foucault cited by Ball 2012) would be overturned by the shared values and egalitarian communities of tomorrow.
Following on from the conference, the team successfully applied for some research funding through the Society for Educational Studies small grants. Entitled: ‘Examining change: The future of Learning Development in Higher Education’, the aim of the study is to build upon the ideas generated in the workshop. It will review existing LD provision across the sector, and to begin to map out the future path of the discipline in order to support students in an ever evolving educational ecoscape. Using Appreciative Inquiry as a means of exploring change through a positive lens, the study has four key research questions:
Image: The four key research questions of our research study
If you are interested in taking part in the research, contact us now. The only prerequisite is that you identify as being a learning developer and work within a UK Higher Education Institution.
Register now: FMCLearningDevelopment@bournemouth.ac.uk
Association for Learning Development in Learning Development (ALDinHE), 2023. ALDinHE Professional Accreditation. Available from: https://aldinhe.ac.uk/aldinhe-professional-accreditation/ [Accessed 4th January 2023].
Ball, S.J., 2012. Foucault, power, and education. New York: Routledge.
Olssen, M., and Peters, M. 2005. Neoliberalism, higher education and the knowledge economy: from the free market to knowledge capitalism. Journal of Education Policy, 20(3), 313-345.
United Nations, 2015. Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development. United Nations. Available from: https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/content/documents/21252030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development%20web.pdf [Accessed 31 October 2022]. (UNSDG Goals: 4, 10, 16.)
Whitchurch, C., 2018. Being a higher education professional today: Working in a third space. In: Bossu, C., Brown., eds. Professional and support staff in higher education. Singapore: Springer, 1-11.
Dr Ed Bickle is a Lecturer in Learning Development at Bournemouth University. He has extensive experience in widening participation research and his primary interests lie in the lived experiences of widening participation students, and phenomenological research methodologies. Dr Bickle is a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and an ALDinHE Certified Practitioner.
Dr Steph Allen is a Senior Lecturer in Learning Development and Academic Integrity at Bournemouth University. Her research interests are focused on learning development, academic integrity, academic offences, and the student and staff experience. Dr Allen is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.
Dr Marian Mayer is a Principal Academic, leading a small team of Learning Development practitioners at Bournemouth University. Her research interests include challenging neoliberalism in higher education, transformative education, widening participation, the student experience, HE policy, and student retention and success. Dr Mayer is a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy