Archives for the month of: October, 2014

The impact of the design and decor of buildings – and the signals that these send about the nature of the work that goes on within – was a theme that arose repeatedly.

Participants commented on colleagues’ access (or lack thereof) to their offices, and they mentioned architectural design and decoration of their workspace and the extent to which these physical attributes enabled or inhibited interaction, teaching and networking:

‘Physically – we are in a locked building, so drop-in is simply out of the question. Perception is an issue too – we are in an administrative building, which puts people off from the start and links us with the admin function, which sits uneasily with what we do.

Similarly we have no teaching space of our own and are only allowed to book space from the central teaching pool once our academic schools have had space allocated for teaching, hence we tend to get second-rate space that no one else wants – again leading to the perception by staff attending that this activity is somehow of lower priority to the University.’ (R 99)

In this instance, the lack of control over how space is used and how it is presented means that academic development can be spatially and visually codified in certain ways, and the physical location can dictate, to a degree, whether it has a corporate feel or an academic atmosphere. Additionally, one interviewee spoke of how a unit’s move into the institution’s main administrative centre and the changed access arrangements, open plan office and lack of an academic atmosphere (including, for example, the lack of bookshelves) altered the perception of her work: ‘for me the space is crucial and has affected things hugely.’ (IE)

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Perhaps not surprisingly, location proved to be a powerful determinant for survey respondents, with 60%  (111)  indicating that it had an impact on their ability to do their job.

There were divided and strongly held views about where those working in academic development should sit structurally within an institution, and  the majority of participants expressed a preference for being centrally located rather being situated in a department or faculty. A significant minority, however, felt that being in academic departments offered better support for research and scholarship and helped sustain a connection to academic practice, particularly teaching, that could otherwise be lost:

‘organisational silos can present barriers to effective support and development’ (R 3)

‘[academic development] works best centrally but needs strength in subject discipline for credibility with colleagues’ (R 85)

‘we transferred from an interfaculty institute to a unit within a Faculty. We are careful that people in other faculties see us as independent consultants… As far as I can see, it works. And on the other hand, being part of a Faculty means closer cooperation with the Department of Education which is a positive influence’. (R 118)

‘marginality can be interesting and stimulating, but it’s a hard place to be powerful from. For real change it helps to have a centrally understood role’ (R 115)

The affordances and disadvantages of a more marginal location expressed in this final comment were addressed several times in open responses and interviews. There was a sense that being on the structural periphery can enable a certain freedom in terms of the way that the job is undertaken, but that it often lacks the mandate that a centrally located placement, particularly in terms of institutional organizational structure, can confer.

However, even among those who signaled a preference for a central location, there was a strong expression that those working in academic development should be ‘independent of management and bureaucracy’ (I 17).

Respondents expressed divided views about whether or not academic development should be aligned with a department of Education within an institution. A group of respondents felt that academic development should be linked to an Education department where possible. However, a small minority of participants indicated strongly that education was ‘the one place you should not be’ (IG). The ambivalence around location within an Education department was articulated by one respondent:

‘In a School of Education, most people are concerned with T & L so it is nice to be surrounded by like-minded people, but it limits interactions across the university.’ (R 111)

A particular focus of this work has been to understand where those working in academic development are located – geographically, architecturally and structurally – and where their work takes place. In this post, we report on these locations and in the next post we’ll explore further some of the implications of location.

Structural locations

The majority of respondents who were employed by institutions (as opposed to those who were working outside of HEIs) were situated in an academic development unit (62 %) with others in education departments (13%), subject departments – other than education (12 %), learning technology unit (12 %) and human resources unit (7 %) . 5 % of respondents were located in the senior management team and other areas indicated were the library (3%), Language Centre (3%) and quality assurance office (3 %). Chart_Q8_140608

Sites of practice

Study participants reported working in a wide range of places both across and beyond university campuses. Core sites of practice were offices, central institutional spaces, department teaching/meeting rooms, home and online environments – all of which were identified by around 70 % of respondents.

Around half of respondents worked in other departments and in classrooms with subject teaching in session. Approximately   40 % used spaces external to the institution (such as coffee bars) to conduct their work and an equal number indicated boardrooms were a site of practice. Around a quarter indicated computer labs and library. Science laboratories were used by only 8 % and other sites mentioned included hospitals, campus coffee bars, hotel seminar rooms and mobile working. (Figures add up to more than 100 because respondents were asked to select all that applied).

Next: what is the impact of these locations?