Sandra Abegglen, Tom Burns & Sandra Sinfield
This #Take5 blog focusses on three academics working collaboratively in their learning, teaching and research practice: as a way of helping us to better enjoy our time as practitioners.
All three of us work in UKHE, in a post-1992 University with a diverse student body from non-traditional backgrounds. Our job descriptions vary, with TB and SS in staff development and SA as a course leader in Education; we are one full time and two fractional with heavy workloads. Our institution has been through radical reconstruction, including a merger, the institution and then modification of AWAM (Academic Work Allocation Model) and now, of course, the coming of TEF (Teaching Excellence Framework). In common with many staff across the HE sector we experience constant pressure with little time for research and writing. Our response was to work more closely together, co-mentoring and co-writing to sustain our energy and our enjoyment of teaching.
How it started
Before the Centre for the Enhancement of Learning and Teaching became completely staff facing in our new Centre for Professional and Educational Development (CPED), we had set up a module partnership where we shared our learning and teaching practice – and also our students. SA ran (and still runs) a Peer Mentoring in Practice module whose students mentored TB/SS students on Becoming an Educationalist. As we piloted our students through their tricky first year experiences, supported by those second year students, we discussed the what, why and how of our praxes: our ontologies and our epistemologies. From this emerged our first paper (Abegglen et al. 2014), and a determination to model collegiate academic practice to our students within and across our modules. Even though our job titles and foci changed, we have continued to find ways to collaborate; to be collegiate.
How it works
Academia itself is a complex dance in complex landscapes of practice, navigating multiple tensions and meaning (Wenger-Trayner 2014). We discovered that co-mentoring and writing together, like cooking or dancing, required trust and continuous dialogue: ideas need to simmer and bubble before they are ready (Elbow 1998). Our writing relationship became a place of trust and oscillated and oscillates between the social and the personal, offering a space for our own academic identity-construction in this time of super-complexity and rapid HE change.
What we like about the way that we work together is that anyone one of us can suggest an idea for innovation – or share a reflection on current practice – or discuss a new approach or theory. An idea for a new paper emerges – and a draft then circulates – which we all add to, modify, edit and amend. The continuous writing/thinking circle provides intense moments of thought and engagement – mini-writing retreats – stolen from the busy working day.
This co-mentoring and co–writing has surfaced friendship, communication and support; we have wrestled with time and against time – but always supporting each other. We like working together – and from this (vaguely transgressive) behaviour has emerged our quite healthy academic output (e.g. Abegglen et al. 2015).
Our advice to others would be to set up similar support/writing/practice circles: to offer a resource, a helping hand and sounding board to each other; to make time for that which makes our work so enjoyable: thinking about ways to further interest, engage and stretch our students – and in the process to really enjoy being academics in these ‘interesting’ times.
Spaces to take your articles and reflections to?
Try ALDinHE: The ALDinHE Conference (http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/events/hull17.html) and Journal (http://www.aldinhe.ac.uk/ojs/) are excellent places to take reflections about empowering academic practice.
Try #tlcwebinars: You might want to work up your ideas into a professional development session – and offer a Teaching and Learning Conversation (TLC) Webinar. The TLC Webinars are offered monthly via Manchester Metropolitan University in association with the Universities of Northampton, Salford, Surrey, Suffolk, Sheffield Hallam and London Metropolitan (https://tlcwebinars.wordpress.com/about/).
By the way – the next TLC is on Tuesday 13th December, 12.00-13.00 on ‘Using Social Media to create a sense of belonging in students’ – and delivered by our colleague, Danielle D’Hayer (https://tlcwebinars.wordpress.com/2016/11/29/using-social-media-for-belonging-and-bonding/).
#Take5 blog: And finally – you might want to offer us a reflective blog post on your practice to share. Typically our blog posts are anything from 300-1000 words – and we are interested in any area of teaching, learning and assessment practice. Send your ideas for posts to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com – we look forward to hearing from you very soon!
Abegglen, S., Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2015). Voices from the margins; Narratives of learning development in a Digital Age. The Journal of Educational Innovation, Partnership and Change, 1(1).
Abegglen, S., Burns, T. & Sinfield, S. (2014). Disrupting learning landscapes: Mentoring, engaging, becoming. Investigations in University Teaching and Learning. London, 9, pp.15-21.
Elbow, P. (1998, 2nd Edition). Writing without teachers. New York: Oxford UP.
QS Top Universities (2013, 10th Edition). Worldwide university rankings, guides & events. Retrieved from http://www.topuniversities.com/qs-world-university-rankings
Wenger-Trayner, E. (2014). Learning in landscapes of practice: Recent developments in social learning theory, in Association for Learning Development in Higher Education. ALDinHE 2014: Learning development spaces and places. University of Huddersfield, 14-16 April.
Ziker, J. (2014). The long lonely job of homo academicus. Retrieved from https://thebluereview.org/faculty-time-allocation/
 Our HEI comes 18th in the QS World University Rankings for the international diversity of its student body (10th edition, 2013).
 Viz. Ziker (2014): ‘On average, our faculty participants worked 61 hours per week. That is 50 percent more than a 40-hour workweek’.
 AWAM: Academic Work Allocation Model – where all 1492 of an academic’s annual hours were micro-managed – as opposed to the old HE model, where FT academics were allocated 550 teaching hours – and had some control over the rest of their time. Whilst AWAM no longer formally exists – we have defined teaching and overall working hours in which everything we do needs to fit regardless.
 Acknowledging that the formal education landscape traversed by our students is hostile, often alien and typically judgemental, we decided to take an embedded approach to the ‘enhancement of practice’ to develop student apprehension of the codes and practices of HE in authentic ways. Thus in the year 2014-15, alongside an embedded ‘blogging to learn’ project, we also stated as an aim in our Module Monitoring Logs that we intended develop and model collegiate practice to highlight to students a more positive side of university culture and learning in general.