Mark Alexander Williams

Mandatory Staff Development

by Mark Williams

I've recently been tasked with developing some mandatory training in enhancing learning through technology for staff at our institution. It comes as a result of an audit into student experience and I think it's great that the institution is taking a holistic approach to the skills that educators need to support our learners.

tl;dr - Involving the learners, shifts the ownership/agency of training and development.

I've mentioned before on this blog about institutional strategy being only successful in the hands of the users(Kregor, Breslin, and Fountain 2012) and I think that it's a fundamental requirement of making any "mandatory" training, that it's developed in partnership with those users. In our case, I asked a handful of academic staff that I had built up a good working relationship with to test out the training. I made a conscious choice of talking to those staff that do engage with technology and those that are apprehensive, but are willing to try.

There are several factors that inhibit progress with this sort of initiative; being discipline or practice led and reluctant to accept change, lack of time, lack of reward for innovation, emphasis on research not allowing for development of teaching practice and lack of technological skills/literacies(Reed, 2014).

As such, I felt it important to emphasise a sense of community through the use of online forums, encouraging participants to share practice and connect with one another. In our institution, we have a large number of associate lectures, who aren't always on campus, online learning can support such a disparate group of learners.

Time pressure is another key concern for educators who are required to engage in contact time, lesson planning, personal tutoring, research, personal and professional development and a whole range of other day to day activities just to navigate through working life at a University. By facilitating training online, staff can engage at a time and in a place that is convenient to them... though this time needs to be put aside by the institution.

I decided to implement Open Badges as a means to identify skills development for staff and with Institutional backing, this can work as a reward for innovation, as outcomes can be aligned to professional practice frameworks; in our case the HEA's UKSPF. The staff that took time to complete the training, were enthused and interested by the application of badges.

By taking a personal approach and identifying the ed. tech team and how we were going to engage with participants throughout the training, I hoped to mitigate concerns around digital capability. A large part of being a Learning Technologist is not just to know how to use technology, but to be able to engage in a critical conversation about it in the context of pedagogy and through being involved in the forums and the activities throughout and offering synchronous support, I hoped that learners did not feel alone in their use of the VLE and the associated activities.

So I'm trying to take an evidence based approach to tackle this age old issue of 'mandatory' and make it into something that people are willing to engage with.

Institutions make much of audits and box ticking and once those boxes have been ticked, it's all but forgotten about until the next unticked box lands on someone's desk. With an experience led approach, you put the users a the center and encourage an ongoing conversation, so next the box is already ticked for next time and the time after that.

So where did this lead us? A couple of months ago, I presented this as a framework to our DVC Academic, who batted it back without even participating in the proposed training (I checked the analytics)... Roll on to today and another audit is heading our way and a "Core Academic Training Program" has been announced that supersedes the previous "Mandatory Training" audit outcome and so some new training will need to be developed, with new boxes to be ticked.

This approach does make you cynical; there appears to be no room for medium/long term strategy and metrics take precedence here over learning, teaching personal and community development. But after meeting with the DVC my optimistic colleague told me something along the lines of "This isn't a failure, you've made them aware, and raised this on the agenda".

Yeah... so I'm going to try and stay in that frame of mind. I may not own this new thing (or even be involved) but I've raised the issue and the evidence and I'm hoping that at least some of that feeds into whatever the next iteration of "mandatory training" is.