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Institutional Contexts in Supporting Quality Online Postgraduate Education: Lessons Learned from Two Initiatives at The University of Edinburgh

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Abstract

While there are a range of practices and principles that underpin quality online postgraduate education, this work cannot all be done through course design and teaching. Good educational practice is also embedded in institutional policies, strategies, cultures and infrastructures. In this chapter, we examine two very different initiatives at the University of Edinburgh-the Distance Education Initiative (DEI) and the Near Future Teaching project (NFT)-to discuss the challenges of generating coherent institutional change towards supporting quality online postgraduate taught (PGT) education. In doing so, we highlight the importance of meaningful negotiation of central and local aims and values, through faculty development, communication between educational and leadership networks, and the embedding of educational practitioners within leadership constellations.
Pre-print to appear as: Fawns, T., Gallagher, M., & Bayne, S. (2021). Institutional Contexts
in Supporting Quality Online Postgraduate Education: Lessons Learned from Two Initiatives
at The University of Edinburgh. In T. Fawns, G. Aitken, & D. Jones (Eds.), Online
Postgraduate Education in a Postdigital World: Beyond Technology (pp. 197216). Cham:
Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-77673-2_11.
Institutional Contexts in Supporting Quality Online Postgraduate Education:
Lessons Learned from Two Initiatives at The University of Edinburgh
Tim Fawns, Edinburgh Medical School, University of Edinburgh, tfawns@ed.ac.uk,
ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5014-2662, Michael Sean Gallagher, Moray House
School of Education, University of Edinburgh, Michael.S.Gallagher@ed.ac.uk, ORCID:
https://orcid.org/0000-0001-6526-1437, & Siân Bayne, Moray House School of Education,
University of Edinburgh, sian.bayne@ed.ac.uk, ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0133-
7647.
Abstract
While there are a range of practices and principles that underpin quality online postgraduate
education, this work cannot all be done through course design and teaching. Good educational
practice is also embedded in institutional policies, strategies, cultures and infrastructures. In
this chapter, we examine two very different initiatives at the University of Edinburghthe
Distance Education Initiative (DEI) and the Near Future Teaching project (NFT)to discuss
the challenges of generating coherent institutional change towards supporting quality online
postgraduate taught (PGT) education. In doing so, we highlight the importance of meaningful
negotiation of central and local aims and values, through faculty development, communication
between educational and leadership networks, and the embedding of educational practitioners
within leadership constellations.
Keywords: institution, leadership, decision-making, change, educational culture
Introduction
While there are a range of practices and principles that underpin quality online postgraduate
education, this work cannot all be done through course design and teaching. Good educational
practice is also embedded in institutional policies, strategies, cultures and infrastructures. In
this chapter, we consider the autonomous and interdependent institutional relations that shape,
support and constrain online postgraduate taught (PGT) education. Comparing and contrasting
two digital education initiatives at our institution, the University of Edinburgh, we examine the
tensions and interfaces between centralised (i.e., institutional-level) and localised (i.e.,
programme level) activity, in order to understand the how policy and practice align and diverge
across the institution, paying particular attention to the online postgraduate taught context.
For the purposes of our chapter, we define senior leadership as University staff
directly involved in centralised governance of teaching and learning, and programme staff as
educational designers, practitioners and administrators involved in localised education of
students. We recognise the problematic nature of these definitions, as some individuals within
centralised, senior leadership roles, with input into central university committees and
institutional teaching and learning policy, also have localised, School- or programme-level
roles. Thus, alongside what we will argue is considerable ambiguity between central and local
aims, values, policy and practice, there is also ambiguity within the roles performed by those
associated with these different categories. Further, we note that there are various elements in
play that operate in the space between centralised and localised activity (e.g., department,
School or College-level governance), and also externally (e.g., regulators and accreditors).
While we should not overstate local and central roles as oppositional, we do find the terms
useful in helping us to gain some purchase on the otherwise volatile and varied composition of
higher education institutions.
While it is relatively easy to see how course or programme level adjustments influence
the learning activity of students, as Fawns and Sinclair (2021) point out in their chapter of this
book, these adjustments happen within a broader terrain. To start with, many of the resources
and infrastructure used within formal curricula, and by students outside of them, are established
at University level. As Enriquez (2009) points out, with the installation of a central virtual
learning environment (VLE), many of the design choices have already been made before
teachers become involved. It is not possible within the configuration of our institution’s
installation of Blackboard Learn, for example, to allow students to contribute to the content or
structure of pages without asking a teacher or administrator to make the changes for them.
In UK universities, the library is another key resource that is usually managed at
institutional level, yet has a disproportionate impact at programme and course level. Where
some books and journals are kept only in physical form, or are difficult to access through web-
based interfaces, online students will be significantly disadvantaged. Services to digitise and
manage easy access to online content are crucial to maintaining quality in online programmes
(and will also shape the practices of on-campus students, since online content is made available
to them too). Office space is another example of a resource that affects online teaching, and
that is controlled at a level above that of the programme. Before the Covid-19 pandemic, during
which most teachers were required to work from home, the physical space needed to teach
online classes was not recognised within building architectures and room booking systems that
gave preference to larger physical classes, leading to situations where teachers had to facilitate
live online sessions from corridors or from shared offices with people talking and working in
the background.
The governance of education will also shape practice, as well as the possibilities for
practitioners to design their approaches and develop their expertise (Bannink et al. 2015). For
example, in the discourse of managerialism, activity is streamlined, through top-down
approaches, towards efficiency and effectiveness, at the expense of local discretion. As Biesta
(2009) notes, though, effectiveness requires a direction, and different elements of the institution
might be aiming in different directions. Institutional approaches to shaping teaching practice
may be unsuccessful due to a disconnect between central decision-making and School and
programme-level activity. This can manifest in unsuccessful attempts at competence control’
(where centralised leadership decides what local expertise should look like), or excessive local
discretion without sufficient support and structure (Bannink et al. 2015). There may also be a
danger in assuming that there is a coherent entity that constitutes the institution (or, indeed,
a coherent centralised leadership group), that arranges and configures these different elements.
In the next section, we ask who is the institution? in order to examine how teaching and
learning practices respond to institutional-level policy and initiatives.
Who Is the Institution?
A whole-of-University approach to online postgraduate education (as suggested in another
chapter of this book by Stone and colleagues 2021), requires consideration of the complexity
of who or what makes cultural and procedural change happen. Decades ago, Weick (1976)
positioned universities as ‘loosely coupled’ systems, referring to a combination of autonomy
(loose) and interdependence (coupling) between different elements of the institution (e.g.,
educational programmes, faculty development units, senior leadership). These elements are
responsive to one another but retain evidence of separateness and identity (Orton and Weick
1990). However, it is important to note that the nature and complexity of these coupled systems
differs across different kinds of institutions and over time.
The discussion taking place in this chapter centres on two initiatives (one launched in
2010, the other in 2017) within The University of Edinburgh, an ancient Scottish University,
founded in 1583. It currently has around 40,000 students and 15,000 staff, organised into three
Colleges Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; Medicine and Veterinary Medicine; and
Science and Engineering. Schools comprising (more-or-less) aligned discipline areas sit within
each of these Colleges, made up largely of academic departments and administrative centres.
While much of the most significant educational policy, strategy and infrastructure is centrally-
organised, in loosely coupled institutions such as ours, financial planning and resources for
teaching and local cultural change are not centrally-allocated but devolved to Schools (of which
there are 21 across the three Colleges; see Haywood 2018 for more details of the governance
of the University). In these Schools, attitudes towards teaching, and the extent to which it is
valued in relation to research, knowledge exchange and other activities, are important in terms
of how workload is allocated, how able teachers feel to undertake activities that help them
develop, and how teachers are supported, recognised, valued and understood (Aitken and
Hayes 2021, this book).
The University’s collegial structures and administration have been largely predicated
on academic freedom and autonomy for scholars, and a centralised administration (Kok et al.
2010). Such structures, common to ancient universities and despite some movements towards
more managerialist approaches, contrast with those of newer institutions, particularly post-92
institutions (named after the Further and Higher Education Act of 1992) where the
administrative emphasis is on control, accountability, and performance, presenting a stricter
and more scrutinised form of administration (Davies and Thomas 2002). In ancient universities,
the extent to which centralised managerial governance impacts the work of online PGT
programmes is muted, beyond merely gradually tightening the traditionally ‘weak regulation
and control mechanisms’ (Sporn 1995: 72). In relation to the University of Edinburgh, our
answer to the question ‘Who is the institution’ is broadly: it is a loosely coupled entity
constituted by the negotiation of centralised and local policy and practice. Therefore, a whole-
of-University approach requires not just clarity of centralised decision-making, but alignment
with local aims and values, and the right kind of balanceas appropriate to our particular
institutionof support, structure and discretion.
Recognising Educational Expertise
Meaningful institutional change in complex terrain such as online PGT education is likely to
require some mutual negotiation of top-down and bottom-up approaches. Bannink and
colleagues (2015) note that, where there is ambiguity (i.e., an absence of a clear set of shared
aims), the use of incentives (e.g., reward and recognition) can be used within a managerialist
approach as a form of control. However, this is not likely to be effective where there is also
complexity (i.e., where knowing what constitutes educational quality is not simple). In part,
that is because management cannot specify precisely enough what should be rewarded across
a wide range of subjects and degree levels, and also because teachers recognise that centralised
reward processes rarely take into account the more complex and localised aspects of value or
quality.
The use of incentives and rewards as a mechanism for aligning local practices with
centralised aims and values is more difficult where online PGT education is marginalised in
relation to other, more traditional activities. At our institution, centralised educational policy
has historically been aimed at, and informed by, on-campus, undergraduate (Aitken and
O’Carroll 2020) and traditional, on-campus postgraduate programmes. Not only does online
postgraduate taught education have different considerations in terms of how it is designed and
enacted, but it involves student cohorts with different characteristics (e.g., a stronger
representation of older, part-time students, Stone et al. 2021 this book). As Aitken and
O’Carroll (2020) found, ambiguity between policy and programme-level context can inhibit
creativity in design and innovation, and result in online postgraduate Programme Directors and
their programme staff contorting their practices to comply with regulations that are not fit-
for-purpose. Such tensions reveal subtle misalignments of programme and teaching support,
structures of faculty development, and centralised agendas of growth.
We would also argue that, particularly in ancient, research-led institutions like ours,
education more generally has been marginalised in relation to research. Despite calls to see
teaching and research practices as interconnected (Gravett and Kinchin 2020), and rhetorical
moves like the encouragement of research-led teaching, these domains remain fragmented
(Tight 2016). At the same time, the economics of teaching and learning are entangled with
those of research, knowledge exchange and other activities. Some authors have argued that
income from student fees (those paid by international students, in particular) subsidises
research activity (Olive 2017), yet teaching in general, and online PGT teaching in particular,
is still perceived as less valued in terms of promotions and institutional agendas (Aitken and
Hayes 2021). At Edinburgh, attempts are being made to recognise and reward teaching, for
example, through formal criteria for teaching-related promotions and a teaching awards scheme
led by the student union. However, such changes need to be approached with care in order not
to further marginalise online PGT teachers.
For example, in the guidance (University of Edinburgh 2015), the term ‘front of house
teaching’ features prominently, carrying strong connotations of classroom lecturing and
tutoring. Where online learning is mentioned, simply teaching online or creating online
materials are taken to be examples of innovation, presumably because they are seen in relation
to traditional, on-campus courses. Yet differentiation within online education practices, as
demonstrated across the chapters of this book, is crucial to understanding quality within this
modality. It will be interesting to see how processes of reward and recognition change in
response to so much traditional ‘front of house’ teaching moving online during the Covid-19
pandemic (promotions are frozen at the time of writing).
In both promotions and awards, there are a small number of winners and a larger
number of losers, and we should be wary of promoting a culture of competition in teaching that
undermines collaboration and innovation (Rogers 2019). Subtler forms of recognition are also
needed, that can be threaded throughout University discourse and rhetoric (e.g., talking about
teachers in strategy documents and websites, greater prominence in non-teaching-specific
materials, involvement of teachers in decision-making processes, etc.; see Aitken and Hayes
2021 in this book). At the same time, discourse, policies and strategies are important in
conveying what is valued and how teaching is understood at an institutional level. The
institutional discourses that arise around digital technology can reinforce a neglect of teaching
by emphasising efficiency, scalability and solutionism (Fawns 2019) at the expense of
acknowledging the expertise and labour of teachers and programme staff (Hayes 2019).
The challenges faced by Programme Directors are illustrative of differences between
what is valued by students and staff at the programme level and what is recognised in policy
and discourse. Aitken and O’Carroll (2020: 1416) interviewed Programme Directors of online
PGT programmes, finding a lack of institutional visibility of this important role. The authors
likened balancing local challenges with disconnected, centralised policies and systems to being
a blind-folded tightrope walker. This is further complicated by the pressure from external
parties that individual programmes might operate under. PGT programmes, in particular,
operate at the interface of academia, the professions and commercial pressures (Aitken and
O’Carroll 2020: 1411). In ancient, research-intensive universities, senior academic roles are
often drawn from the academic base (e.g., Heads of School might become Heads of College or
University Vice Principals). Such staff will have had long-term experience and involvement in
teaching practice but, given the shortcomings noted above of recognising teaching within
promotion process, are likely to have been primarily focused on research. Senior support
service staff are usually not academic and often have a more managerial and commercial
orientation.
However, applying a centralised, managerialist approach in this context is potentially
problematic due to the ambiguity of goals and values between the various stakeholders. For
example, metrics for measuring ‘contact time’, workload allocation models and promotion
criteria that fail to properly account for online teaching all contribute to the marginalisation of
programme staff (Bussey 2021, this book) and, by extension, of online PGT students. At the
same time, a lack of appropriate support and structure, in the form of resources, infrastructure
and faculty development tailored to online education, means that online postgraduate teachers
are left to develop themselves and are disconnected from getting help where it is needed. Too
much ambiguity between policy and practice can have the knock-on effect of allowing
insufficient focus on supporting programme staff, directly and indirectly. For example, it could
lead to insufficient numbers and experience of programme staff, teachers not being
appropriately recognised and rewarded, and inadequate structures for ongoing development.
To build expertise, educators need support and space to develop sound pedagogical
values and principles, and practices that align with these. Fortunately, there are informal
networks for teachers to draw on and informal ways of development (through dialogue around
teaching practices, for example) (McCune 2018). However, without an awareness of the value
of teachers rooted in the formal systems all the way through the institution, such endeavours
may exclude those who are not connected into those networks of teaching expertise. Not only
that, but institutions may then fail to adequately recognise the demands of good online teaching
and the support and flexibility that may be needed for online teachers to be able to do their job
well and maintain their physical and mental health (see Bussey 2021 in this book). Sector
mechanisms for promoting teaching quality, including the Teaching Excellence Framework
(TEF) and external accreditation such as Advance HE, alongside the institutional mechanisms
designed to support uptake of these and other teaching development opportunities, potentially
contribute to the building of wider networks, but do not address the fundamental issue of
creating space to develop teaching practices.
In the next section, we consider two institutional initiatives aimed at shifting
educational practice, which highlight important aspects of the cultural and structural make-up
of decision-making, and the negotiation of educational values at our own University.
Comparing and Contrasting Two Institutional Initiatives Aimed at Shifting Educational
Practice
The Distance Education Initiative (DEI)
In a strategic effort to boost online education at the University, both in terms of student numbers
and programme staff expertise, the Distance Education Initiative (DEI) was launched in 2010.
Five million pounds (a large sum for teaching and learning initiatives) was allocated for the
generation of a suite of fully online postgraduate programmes across the University. The
project had two strategic aims: to bring 10,000 fully online students into the University by
2020, and to establish at least one online PGT programme in every School across the University
(University of Edinburgh 2016; see also Haywood 2018). These programmes went through the
normal quality assurance and course approval processes, thus motivating related academic and
administrative staff to learn about online education (though the extent to which this learning
was informed by research or practitioners with prior experience of online PGT education
remains unclear). Student fees were comparable to on-campus courses.
Teams could bid for up to £250K to support development of new programmes.
Programme staff appointed to do this work could contribute to the design and development
phase, with a two-year period to generate enough income to demonstrate sustainability. This
was appealing in the constrained economic climate following the 2008 financial crisis, and 34
bids were submitted. While not all of these programmes survived, the DEI increased the
breadth of online teaching and design experience, and raised the profile of online learning at
the University. Overall, the DEI approach seems to have been broadly successful in relation to
its targets. According to the University’s unofficial data, it resulted in well over 6,000
graduates of DEI-funded programmes from more than 150 countries since its formation.
Near Future Teaching: Values and Preferred Futures
In the years following the DEI, largely through initiatives in internationalisation within
undergraduate programmes, the University has recruited an increasingly diverse and
international student population, with just under half coming from non-UK countries. Prior to
the Covid-19 pandemic, just under 4,000 of the current student body studied online (primarily
at postgraduate level) in formal degree programmes. It was within this context that the Near
Future Teaching project (NFT) was launched as a formal institutional project to generate a
future vision for digital education which could inform University strategy. Between 2017-
2019, the project team worked with over 400 students, staff, and other stakeholders in the co-
production of institutional values to shape the preferred future for digital education at The
University of Edinburgh. The NFT project was values-driven and participative and did not
bring with it funding for the direct recruitment or development of teachers. Although embedded
within a strategic push for the University to become a leader in digital education, the NFT was
not intended as a direct mechanism for structural change.
The NFT project team employed futures methods (e.g., through speculation and
discussion of possible futures, discussed in Facer and Sandford 2010) and articulated a vision
for a preferred future for digital education based on the underpinning values of ‘Experience
over Assessment’, ‘Diversity and Justice’, ‘Relationships First’ and ‘Participation and
Flexibility’
1
. The results of the project included indicative aims and actions that Schools might
undertake to realise these values in their digital education offerings and within their own
disciplinary context. These results, and the preferable future they advocated, were intended to
be interpreted and adapted at programme level, with the onus of change largely placed on
Schools, units and individuals. In not prescribing how the quality of teaching might be defined,
assured or evaluated, the NFT project allowed for the ambiguity and complexity of higher
educational activity, and the loose coupling between the project output and teaching practices.
Governance and Development
Beyond their material and strategic outputs, both projects were helpful in surfacing some
interrelations of policy, strategy, governance structures and programme-level practices that
influence the quality of online PGT programmes. Firstly, both DEI and NFT projects were
embedded within institutional strategy. In the DEI, there was a clear strategic push by senior
leadership to grow numbers of online students. In the NFT, the strategic context was to lead in
developing a vision of digital and distance education at The University of Edinburgh.
Secondly, the two projects used different mechanisms that imply different underpinning
values or ideologies. DEI was financially-driven and used top-down methods such as the
designation of target numbers which sat alongside School and programme-level discretion. It
was presented as a (primarily financial) mechanism with a clear set of underpinning values
centred on growth, quality and increased revenue via the ‘efficiencies’ of online. Where growth
and revenue were more precisely defined, it is not clear how quality was operationalised,
beyond the premise that online PGT programmes should be ‘at least as high a quality of
education as our traditional, on-campus, education’ (Haywood 2018).
While it was largely non-prescriptive about how teams ran their programmes, the DEI
initiative was also a means to reinforce relevant policies, processes and strategies already in
1
. Full detail of all phases of the project and outputs are available for viewing and re-use on the project web site:
www.nearfutureteaching.ed.ac.uk (accessed 29 March 2021).
play. Programme and faculty development within this initiative largely centred around
normative models, such as training in centrally-supported platforms and programme
governance. In contrast, the NFT, while there was oversight and sponsorship from the central
Senate Education committee (a centralised senior academic group), was research-led and
deliberately used co-design and participative methods to enact change. By the time this project
ran, there was strong central support for academic and teaching development (via the Institute
for Academic Development), which was not available at the time of the DEI. NFT was driven
by a perceived need to establish a set of pedagogical values to underpin developments in digital
education, as a means to support decision-making across different parts of the University and
to create alignment, not in terms of practices, but in terms of institutional direction. It sought
growth, not in numbers, but in alignment of educational values.
Thirdly, both initiatives can be seen as attempts to create space for creativity,
adaptation, and new practices, by redefining some of the loose couplings of the institution.
Both projects were non-prescriptive about implementation and devolved the execution of their
outcomes to Schools and programmes. The DEI gave Schools the remit and resources to
develop their programmes, and the initiative functioned primarily at programme level, with
only quite loose structures to bind together different contributors to the initiative across
programmes and Schools. In the NFT, a loosely structured vision was produced that would be
interpreted at School, programme and practice level. Its origins can be traced to a perceived
need to update the ways in which programmes and courses were designed and run, such that
they could break out of the constraints of real and imagined policies and practices and orient
themselves more to the future and all its uncertainty, complexity and dynamism. The NFT
project embedded a call for space within its constitution (‘open space for reflection and the
application of collective agency to the question of the future of teaching and learning’) and its
aspirational outcomes (‘Teaching should be designed to provide the time and space for proper
relationships and meaningful human exchange’) (Bayne and Gallagher 2019: 15).
Fourthly, both projects contributed, albeit in different ways, to the development of
communities and networks of online educators. In the DEI, although a number of programmes
eventually ceased to operate for a variety of reasons, a set of commercially successful and well-
evaluated programmes are still standing, and, alongside some online programmes established
before DEI (e.g., in Law, Digital Education, Clinical Education), many of their staff are active
contributors to teaching networks across the University. However, there is a potentially
important distinction between those teachers whose core function was to work on new online
programmes, and those who had a smaller role added to their core work. Being stretched across
multiple programmes, or having only a limited amount of time structured into one’s workload
to invest in online teaching can lead to ad hoc, fragmented approaches to online learning and
a greater challenge to developing practices and strategies (Aitken and O’Carroll 2020). The
requirement for more time and new understandings of teaching was not addressed through
central structures, instead falling to Schools which, having bid for additional funding, may not
have had the capacity or knowledge to reconfigure working practices and structures to allow
for these additional requirements.
The emphasis of both DEI and NFT initiatives on the creation of new approaches to
development suggests tensions within the institutional dynamic: that the ambiguity of the
existing loose couplings was necessary but not, by itself, sufficient to generate coherent
advances in online PGT and other forms of digital education. Our interpretation is that to better
support rapid acceleration of development or structural change in online education, established
governance and quality assurance mechanisms (e.g., exam boards, School postgraduate
teaching committees, and the University-level learning and teaching committee) required more
input from programme staff with sufficient knowledge and experience of online PGT, who
were motivated to make changes.
The DEI used economic capital as a way of circumventing the established financial
constraints around setting up a programme with existing resources and only recruiting more
staff once the programme itself had generated sufficient income. This accelerated expansion
into online education, along with structural elements to support such a move: staffing,
technological infrastructure, support infrastructure, and so forth (Haywood 2018). It also
increased the legitimacy of online PGT programmes for many staff at different levels of the
institution, though we recognise that this is an ongoing struggle, even in the wake of the
increase of online teaching due to the Covid-19 pandemic. In many ways, the results of the
DEI initiative established the basis for further online or digital education initiatives at the
institution, including the Distance Learning at Scale initiative,
2
the NFT project, and a large
number of MOOCs (discussed in Macleod et al. 2015), for which more than 3 million people
have registered, and which form a stated part of the University's commitment to knowledge
exchange and community outreach.
3
At the same time, the DEI initiative amplified a strategy
and narrative of growth, which arguably did not take enough account of institutional culture
and the on-the-ground realities of designing, developing and sustaining innovative new
programmes.
As a contrasting example, NFT sought to develop methodologies that could generate a
vision of digital education which connected current practices to a future-oriented dynamic. As
a piece of participative visioning work, it attended to culture, not to strategy, and unlike the
large, well-funded institutional change project that was DEI, it did not have such immediate
impact. Its longer-term influence is yet to be seen (and, indeed, the mechanisms for change
remain ambiguous), but changes in programme-level values and practices encouraged by the
project are likely to be slow to emerge and not easily visible. It is also notable that NFT was
targeted not just at online PGT programmes but took a wider view of digital education as
permeating undergraduate and on-campus. This lack of attention to modalities signalled a
growing awareness of an erosion of the distinction between online and on-campus, or digital
and non-digital (Fawns 2019), leading up to the current emergence of hybrid programmes
(which was already underway before the Covid-19 pandemic, most prominently by the
Edinburgh Futures Institute (EFI)
4
).
The NFT’s assertive dissemination of project results and outcomes contributed to the
ongoing, gradual reconfiguration of informal teaching-related networks within the institution,
and the extension of these outward to connect with others beyond the University. However,
expertise in online or digital education develops slowly, and this means that networks, and
patterns of influence within them, must also transform slowly. In the move to emergency
remote teaching during the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, parts of the University’s online
education community provided both formal (e.g., where experienced online PGT educators
designed and ran courses on online and hybrid teaching and course design for on-campus,
undergraduate teachers; see, e.g., Fawns et al. forthcoming) and informal support (in the form
of dialogue and communication through teaching networks). It is, however, notable that formal
courses were primarily facilitated by teachers attached to programmes that were already fully
online before both DEI and NFT initiatives (e.g., Digital Education and Clinical Education).
Further, the largely informal, loosely-coupled mechanisms of the University mean that making
use of these forms of help is also at the discretion of programme-level staff and, in the absence
of top-down approaches to distributing support, those not connected into teaching networks
must find their own way.
This ad hoc approach to faculty development and support in relation to online teaching,
without reconfiguring teachers’ workloads or recruiting more staff to create space for what is
2
See https://www.projects.ed.ac.uk/project/p0305. Accessed 29 March 2021.
3
See https://www.ed.ac.uk/studying/online-learning/free-short-courses/about. Accessed 29 March 2021.
4
See https://efi.ed.ac.uk/. Accessed 29 March 2021.
increasingly recognised as a challenging enterprise (Aitken and Loads 2019), is a continuation
of the previous institutional approach, where central processes and structures were slow to
adapt to the different context of online PGT. Alongside this, evaluation processes have not
been adapted for online PGT (see Fawns and Sinclair 2021, this book) and there is limited
central oversight of quality. Ultimately, some tension remains between ill-fitting central
structures and policies, and excessive local discretion without sufficient support and structure
(Bannink et al. 2015).
Alignment and Coherence
In this section, we consider what these projects can tell us about how an organisation like the
University of Edinburgh might increase alignment between centralised and localised policy
and practice, and the extent to which such alignment is desirable.
As we have argued above, loose couplings allow for ambiguity between the aims of
senior leadership and the values expressed through the day-to-day practices of teachers. This,
in turn, allows teachers considerable programme-level discretion (Weick 1976) in the way they
interpret and realise top-down policies, strategies and governance structures (Bannink et al.
2015). Through our conversations with the online PGT community at our institution, we are
aware of a range of examples of such discretionary practice. PGT online programmes, being
predominantly asynchronous, deviate from centralised and standardised timetabling processes.
In workload modelling, online teachers have to translate a significantly different set of practices
into an approximation of on-campus equivalence (see, e.g., Stone et al. 2021 in this book).
While most online PGT programmes now use the primary, centrally-supported virtual learning
environment (Blackboard Learn), many other platforms are also brought in to get around its
limitations. Assessment practices for many online PGT programmes deviate from institutional
expectations due to differences in student cohorts, pedagogical approaches, or an increased
emphasis on trust and community-building (for example, some programmes avoid using
Turnitin, or use it for submission and marking but disable its plagiarism-checking
functionality).
Teachers may exercise their discretion to subvert and modify centralised policy, in part
as a way of resisting change that they feel is forced upon them without sufficient recognition
of their local needs and existing practices. Indeed, some of the current resistance to online
learning is remarkably similar to that seen in the University’s first institution-wide technology
initiative, Email for all, in 1992. As Professor Emeritus and ex-Vice Principal of Digital
Education, Jeff Haywood (2018: 109), writes, those looking to drive this change in staff
communication process had to contend with responses such as the traditional face-to-face
methods are better, ... students would find electronic communication impersonal and local
desire to be distinct against a uniform system (“won’t work here”). However, the examples of
programme-level discretion above are also expressions of a programme’s established
philosophies, pedagogies and perceived student needs (Fawns et al. 2019; Aitken and Hayes
2021). Allowing localised discretion may be particularly important in an online PGT context,
where the student cohort has a different set of characteristics from the dominant undergraduate
context (Stone et al. 2021, this book), as well as a different and more varied pattern of
progression (Haywood 2018). Through this, a diverse array of teaching practices can exist
across different programmes and Schools. These can cross-pollinate across distributed teaching
networks and, potentially, inform institutional strategy and policy. For example, the early
developments in online PGT programmes in Education, Medicine and Law were an important
basis for the argument for creating the DEI initiative.
Importantly, however, in a loosely-coupled system, the adaptation of teaching practices
or programmes in response to local contexts, emerging research or external activity in the field
will not, by itself, exert influence over formal institutional decision-making processes, strategy,
or policy (Weick 1976). Indeed, there is a risk, particularly in ancient universities with more
entrenched and systemic loose couplings, that such discretionary practices might exacerbate a
disconnect between programme-level practices and centralised and streamlined governance.
Representation on central committees by teaching-focused staff is limited, particularly in
research-focused institutions, and centralised actors may be unaware of that expanding
disconnect, or may try to address it by tightening the couplings between centralised policy and
systems, and local practice (e.g., by standardisation or incentives). This is particularly likely
where centralised leadership and programme staff hold different views of the nature of
educational challenges (Bannick and Trommel 2019).
Meeting in The Middle: Negotiating Top-Down and Bottom-Up Activity
Mihai and colleagues (2021) argue that if initiatives in blended or online learning are to become
institutionalised (i.e., established and embedded across the institution), they must have the
endorsement of diverse stakeholders (managers, teachers, administrators and students).
However, ‘endorsement’ is not binary–after all, senior leaders and managers officially
endorsed the DEI project at a high level (e.g., by writing it into policy and funding structures
and by promoting it to Schools) but were not directly invested in how it was implemented, or
in the practices or communal knowledge and expertise produced through it. While the creation
of space to develop new practices within both DEI and NFT projects has undoubtedly led to
valuable developments in programme-level expertise, this will not result in a coherent
institutional approach without a collective direction, which suggests that an effective whole-
of-institution approach (Stone et al. 2021 in this book) is cultural as much as it is strategic.
A whole-of-institution approach suggests to us a degree of alignment across a loosely-
coupled system, in which the values, purposes and approaches arebroadlyinternally
coherent. The NFT project can be seen as an attempt to formalise a focus on developing the
wider educational culture (by threading values through the different institutional layers), as an
integral aspect of structural change. Yet, even with such an institutionally-endorsed initiative,
such change takes considerable time, during which the way that values need to be interpreted
is also changing.
Mihai et al. (2021) stress the need for ‘an integrative approach, whereby individual
actions are met with support from leadership’. As notes, endorsement in the form of permission
or setting up a budget is insufficient, and a lack of further action is likely to impede the
development and success of such initiatives. To be sustainable, cultural change requires
reciprocity between central and local elements (as implied by the term ‘coupling’), where
teaching practices emerging from programmes are routinely communicated to and inform those
generating centralised policy and strategy, just as strategy and policy is translated down into
schools and programmes. ‘Whole-of-institution’ means reframing these central / local tensions
in terms of distributed processes and positioning new relations to bring coherence to them.
Notably, attempts to reframe teaching in relation to prominence (in relation to research,
particularly), interdisciplinarity, digital education, and postgraduate-level study can be seen in
annual reviews and strategic plans over a number of years (University of Edinburgh 2019),
signalling the ongoing work that is needed to produce cultural change.
Where DEI was disruptive, introducing a range of new features, practices and decision
mechanisms all at once, the NFT initiative took a more gradual, ‘bottom-up’ approach to the
development of shared values, with the aspiration to support sustainable, incremental change
across the institution (Mihai et al. 2021). The implicit aim of both DEI and NFT to create space
for the development of new practices highlighted the distributed nature of institutional
decision-making at The University of Edinburgh. Yet Maassen and Gornitzka (1999: 302)
explain that ‘institutional fragmentation’, and the ways in which decision-making is
distributed, shape the possibilities for coherent and coordinated change. As Lipsky (1980)
notes, while ‘street-level’ practices may have little or muted influence on formal, standardised
policy and processes, it can be argued that through using their discretion to reinterpret the top-
down forces of centralised management, programme staff exert influence on diverse
‘institutional practices’ and constitute ‘the institution’ as much as central managers do. Thus,
without some alignment with localised culture and practices, strategic plans are limited in their
capacity to signal progress.
Beyond initiatives such as those discussed in this chapter, distributed governance
requires the ongoing involvement of educators and students in developing School-level and
centralised goals and processes of evaluation. Through this, educators might also come to better
understand the rationales for centralised initiatives and may adapt their practices accordingly.
In other words, there may be benefit in including programme-level educators and students
(including online PGT representatives) as legitimate members of what Empson (2017) calls a
‘leadership constellation’, within centralised decision-making contexts, in which they can exert
influence and act decisively without formal authority. Arguably, with its co-creative methods,
the NFT provided opportunities for teachers, students, administrators and others to be part of a
leadership constellation for the duration of that project, and established stronger ties that would
continue beyond it. Of course, this was still an exclusive process (not every teacher or student
could be part of the NFT project group) but it did allow for a greater variety of voices to
influence institutional vision.
It follows that coherent approaches to online education require ongoing, progressive
negotiation of top-down and bottom-up activity. While centralised support and structure, in the
form of policy, infrastructure, resource allocation and faculty development initiatives, are
crucial in providing a base for successful teaching and course design, the discretionary
practices of educators and programmes could also form a valuable source of expertise for
informing institutional change. Institutional alignment could be increased by allowing and
encouraging students’ and educators’ perspectives to feed up into centralised policy and
governance. After all, in a non-traditional educational domain like online PGT, the experience
of practitioners and students is necessary to inform policymakers of the different requirements
of the online modality and the online postgraduate student population.
Processes of faculty development, programme and course approval and quality
assurance, workload models, promotion processes, etc., require adjustment for online
postgraduate contexts. The appropriateness of these processes for our context not only affects
people’s ability to do the work of online teaching but their attitudes towards it (Mihai et al.
2021; Porter et al. 2014). For example, diverse programme-level practices could usefully
inform technological acquisition and use, and subsequent policy and strategy governing that
use. Teachers could also help to shape more sustainable recruitment, workload and promotion
processes by updating institutional definitions of teaching to incorporate online educational
practices. Similarly, students’ insights can be a valuable source of change. Alongside formal
instruments (e.g., student representatives and Student Staff Liaison Committees at the
programme level and student representation on all major University committees) and informal,
programme-level channels (e.g., course discussions and individual student support sessions),
students should have expanded and diverse channels through which they can more readily
contribute directly to centralised decision-making. This was the case with the NFT, which used
collaborative methods involving a range of stakeholders, but not with the DEI, which provided
resources but placed the onus for changes in practice to programme staff.
Supporting those (both staff and students) with programme-level expertise and
experiences to inform institutional discussions around policy, administrative systems and the
procurement of technology is both challenging and critical. Indeed, this was explicit in the
intended outcomes of the Near Future Teaching project and its stated need to ‘put the student
and staff experience at the centre of educational technology development, decision-making,
and procurement’ (Bayne and Gallagher 2019: 19). The backing of the NFT project by senior
leadership also provided a basis for programme-level educators to resist inappropriate
directives, by providing a set of institutionally-endorsed values against which educational
practice can be evaluated (Fawns et al. 2021). The NFT project, with its co-design methods,
can be seen as an attempt to fill a gap between existing governance structures (in which School-
level strategy and governance feed ‘up’ to College and University committees governing
bodies) and the perceptions of those ‘on the ground’ of being disconnected from institutional
governance. However, as a vision project which intentionally did not set out an implementation
plan, it remains to be seen whether it will be successful in this regard.
The NFT attempted to not only centre student and staff experience, but to incorporate
it into a vision that could inform institutional development and procurement, by making
teachers and students a legitimate part of a dynamic and temporary leadership constellation
(Empson 2017), while, at the same time, making senior leadership a legitimate part of an
influential teaching network. In contrast, the methodology of the DEI project involved
primarily senior leaders and teachers in the development of its aims, objectives and quality
criteria. Reducing ambiguity may require an ongoing, reciprocal involvement of senior leaders
within local teaching networks, such that they take on some of the values of educators and
students. In this way, students, educators and leaders might develop more constructive and
trusting relationships and work together to define the governance arrangement and its
application (Bannink et al. 2015).
Haywood’s (2018: 124) position that shared leadership depends upon trust, between
those in the most senior and the most junior positions in the organization illustrates the
challenge this presents. For practical reasons, not all teachers can be involved in governance,
and not all managers can be involved in teaching networks. However, as Evers and Kneyber
(2015: 282) put it, ‘in order for trust to rise, there should be spaces where teachers, students,
the state, teacher educators, politicians and so on actually meet’. To some extent, the
communication channels through which programmes surface exemplary or innovative practice
to policymakers, and through which policymakers consult with educators, are also ambiguous
and emergent. Where existing networks and forms of communication (e.g. formal channels
between Boards of Study, PGT committees, School, College and University-level committees;
or established informal channels such as faculty development units) are insufficient to realise
the aims of leadership constellations centrally and teaching networks locally, new ones may
need to be generated to complement these.
More than anything, trust across the breadth of online PGT programmes and the wider
online education initiative requires attention to the ways in which the pillars of strategy,
structures and support (Graham et al. 2013) are adapted to be sensitive to this context. This all
requires time, and effective communication, for the themes and values emerging from
programme-level practices to inform or translate into strategy and policy. The time and space
needed for cross-pollination of practices to routinely occur will rarely align with managerialist
tendencies towards efficiency and accountability (Boitier et al. 2018). However, the generative
surfacing of teaching practices that emerge across the University’s array of online PGT
programmes requires focusing less on generalised outcomes (consistent with efficiency and
accountability) and more on ecologies (consistent with encouraging an array of online
programmes to surface innovative or exemplary practices, see Fawns and Sinclair 2021 in this
book). Here again, we see a need to negotiate centralised processes with programme-level
discretion (Bannink et al. 2015) in order to produce complementary, holistic evaluation
practices, to both describe and develop the quality of online PGT programmes and teaching
(Fawns and Sinclair 2021). Thus, beyond connecting teaching networks with leadership
constellations, we might look at how more open and formative evaluation practices might help
to inform desirable change at different levels of the institution.
Conclusion
In this chapter, we have argued that quality in online PGT programmes is contingent, not only
on the educational practices within courses and programmes, but also on institutional policy,
governance and infrastructure. Looking at our own ‘loosely-coupled’ institution (Weick 1976),
the University of Edinburgh, we have considered the dynamic negotiation of centralised values
and aims of the wider institution, and the diverse local values and aims of educational
practitioners. Significant ambiguity may be inevitable due to competing pressures (e.g.,
market-forces, quality assurance processes, educational scholarship, discourses of good
practice, etc.), and some ambiguity is also necessary to allow educators discretion in
reinterpreting policy for localised contexts.
Through an examination of two initiatives aimed at enacting institution-wide change in
online education, we have considered the importance of alignment and ambiguity in allowing
for centrally supported and structured, yet discretionary, localised practice. We have argued
that localised problems cannot be solved by centralised interventions, and that to build
expertise, educators need support and space to develop practices based on sound pedagogical
values and principles. This requires a negotiated, distributed approach in which centralised
support and structure complements localised, discretionary practices. To this end, we have
argued for an overlapping of centralised and localised perspectives and practices, in which
programme-level educators participate in centralised leadership constellations, while
centralised staff also participate in localised teaching networks.
Acknowledgements
Thanks to the following people for various and valuable forms of help with this chapter: Lauren
Johnston-Smith, Jeff Haywood, Jane Hislop, Sarah Hayes, Gill Aitken and Derek Jones. To
teachers, and to all those, from our own institution and around the world, who have worked so
hard to make the best of a difficult situation while hurting, stressed, overworked and,
often, feeling undervalued: thank you for all of your efforts and sacrifices.
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‘Pedagogy first’ has become a mantra for educators, supported by the metaphor of the ‘pedagogical horse’ driving the ‘technological cart’. Yet putting technology first or last separates it from pedagogy, making us susceptible to technological or pedagogical determinism (i.e. where technology is seen either as the driving force of change or as a set of neutral tools). In this paper, I present a model of entangled pedagogy that encapsulates the mutual shaping of technology, teaching methods, purposes, values and context. Entangled pedagogy is collective, and agency is negotiated between teachers, students and other stakeholders. Outcomes are contingent on complex relations and cannot be determined in advance. I then outline an aspirational view of how teachers, students and others can collaborate whilst embracing uncertainty, imperfection, openness and honesty, and developing pedagogical knowledge that is collective, responsive and ethical. Finally, I discuss implications for evaluation and research, arguing that we must look beyond isolated ideas of technologies or teaching methods, to the situated, entangled combinations of diverse elements involved in educational activity.
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I explore four topics relevant to research and practice in online postgraduate education. The first concerns the historic neglect of taught postgraduate education by higher education researchers and the challenges this creates for discussions of practice. For example, there is little consensus about how postgraduate and undergraduate courses and students differ, and whether research on undergraduate education generalises to the postgraduate level. I then raise some questions about three lines of analysis that are salient in other chapters of the book, and in wider academic writing on online and higher education. First, I ask whether the tumbril labelled ‘learnification’ is as pleasing a mode of transport as those now pushing it appear to think. Renewed attention to teaching, and celebration of its importance and difficulty, is timely, but is best accompanied by serious, continuing attention to learning. The two need not be in competition. Second, I argue for framing teaching, design and other educational work, as situated, proposing that this has implications for what educational workers, at all levels, can do in those segments of time when consequential change is possible. Third, I suggest that we need to untangle sociomaterial analysis from the temptation to debunk—especially where the debunking is aimed at outcomes of sincere educational work by our peers. The chapter plays a little with the traps and affordances of language, and weaves in some skeins of autoethnography, suggesting there are many ways we can learn from each other’s writing, if we so choose.KeywordsLearning from teachingAutoethnographySituated designMaterialsPostcriticalGoing meta-
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In this chapter, we challenge the current focus on the income generating potential of online postgraduate programmes, arguing that more attention should be given to the value of the education that occurs. High quality programmes in which learning communities develop require the input of creative and innovative educators. The input and agency of these individuals is largely obscured by the wording in institutional policy and promotional materials. We offer a critique of some recent academic strategies before discussing the changing role of academic labour amongst those contributing to online postgraduate programmes. Teaching online requires a diverse skillset and the adaptability to straddle traditional academic roles and more commercial aptitudes. This is a high-pressured environment where online programmes operate in an increasingly global market, and even high-quality programmes are in a constant state of innovation and evolution. We call for a clearer articulation of the positionality of educators in policy documents. Through greater acknowledgment of the agency of educators and students, we increase their visibility and foreground postgraduate education as a means of developing new knowledge and insights, and eroding traditional boundaries between academic and professional spheres.KeywordsPostdigitalPositionalityAcademic labourInstitutional policyPolicy documentsEducator agencyHuman agencyOnlinePostgraduateTeaching
Chapter
Technology and education are interdependent, with both online learning and traditional teaching sharing core principles regardless of the modality employed. In practical terms, online teachers are still acting in physical, embodied ways, even when they conduct their work outside of the university classroom. Any physical or sensory impairment, chronic illness, or caring responsibilities that a teacher may have, should be considered without a prior assumption of ‘ableness’. While there is a profusion of literature describing the rights and inclusion of students, much less has been written about similar issues as they affect teachers (Nalavany et al., Dyslexia 24:17–32, 2018). When considering developing good practice in this area, the perspectives of teachers who themselves face challenges that could impact on inclusion should also be considered, but this is not always the case (Kent, Disabil Stud Quart, 35(1), 2015). Online learning is often poorly understood by institutions (Fawns et al., Online postgraduate education in a postdigital world: beyond technology, Springer, Cham, 2021, this book), and therefore the efforts and challenges of teachers (particularly those with non-typical, yet not infrequent, needs) may not be recognised, supported, or accounted for. This chapter seeks to address these issues by exploring the issue of inclusivity in teaching from a broad perspective, using disability, health conditions and caring responsibilities as examples. It concludes that although online teaching is becoming recognised as a potentially flexible and accessible way of delivering postgraduate education, there are considerations that should be made to ensure that those advantages are also applicable to teachers themselves.KeywordsInclusivityOnlinePostgraduateTeacherEquityDisabilityCarerIllness
Chapter
Through its more flexible approach, online learning is providing a significant opportunity for further widening of participation in Australian higher education. Increasingly, students from backgrounds and circumstances historically under-represented in higher education are able to enter online postgraduate programs based on prior learning and work experiences, not necessarily previous university studies. The online postgraduate student cohort now contains more students who may have little or no experience of university expectations, including those who are first in their families to study at university, let alone at postgraduate level. This more diverse cohort of students needs to be well supported within teaching and learning practices and broader support mechanisms to increase student retention and completion rates. While online postgraduate completion rates within Australia are higher than online undergraduate completion rates, they nevertheless still lag behind the completion rates for on-campus postgraduate studies. This chapter explores findings from recent research into the online student experience, applying them particularly to postgraduate online education. Based on these findings, this chapter proposes that the delivery of online postgraduate study cannot be separated from the social and cultural context within which students are living and managing busy and complex lives. It offers recommendations for institutions on strategies to ensure that the lived reality of the student cohort is properly understood and taken into account in the design and delivery of online postgraduate study, thereby enhancing student retention and success.
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Full-text available
Evaluating postgraduate online courses needs to go beyond the market-driven surveys and output measures currently collected by universities and governments. Such approaches tend to isolate educational elements, such as student satisfaction, resulting in thin and ambiguous descriptions of curriculum implementation and functioning. We propose instead an ecological perspective, which takes account of a broad range of educational elements and the relations among them. This presents a promising direction for evaluation practice that can supplement existing standardised evaluation information with more useful and meaningful comprehensive accounts. Ecological evaluation distributes responsibility for course and programme functioning across institutions, teachers, students and the broader systems in which educational programmes are embedded. To realise this vision, we make a plea for 'thicker descriptions' that acknowledge active participation of students and teachers in shaping assemblages of designs, environments, purposes, ideas, tasks, people and other elements of education; many of these cannot meaningfully be separated from each other. Thick descriptions should incorporate knowledge derived from theory, pedagogy, conventions, or beliefs about what counts as success or failure. We provide examples from educational literature illustrating how evaluation of online courses can produce information that supports development of teaching and increases the formative value of evaluation.
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Full-text available
In May 2020, the University of Edinburgh announced the September launch of a hybrid model for all on-campus programmes. Teaching would be neither fully online nor fully on-campus, but able to take place in either or both modalities (e.g. remote and on-campus students learning together), and change location without major disruption to its design. The significant pedagogical challenges were most keenly felt in professional education, where learning practical skills through engagement in complex practice is crucial. Focusing on examples from medicine, we begin by discussing hybrid learning in a 2-metre world (i.e. where physical distancing requires a 2-metre separation between people), or "H2m". Our "chemistry" notation indicates the influence of the 2m requirement on the structural composition of the hybrid model (H). At the same time, we argue that, as unusual as the conditions are, they do not call for fundamentally different design principles and processes (the "how" of design). Design for H2m learning requires flexible design tools that help teachers see and focus attention on relationships between a priori design decisions and the wider, distributed environments and emergent activity that are co-assembled in situ with students at "learntime". Drawing on insights from a professional development course to help clinical educators redesign their own courses for H2m learning, we show how such relational design tools facilitated the creation of different design outputs (the "what" of designs), better attuned to situational affordances. Among other things, these design outputs foreground: ways of encouraging student co-design of learning environments; explicit consideration of diversity among students; and reflection on the relationships between what students bring to the learning space, their emergent learning experiences, and what they must yet learn for professional practice. We also argue that in order to deal with the complexity of designing for H2m, teacher-designers need a good appreciation of the relationships between designable structures and student agency.
Article
Full-text available
Current evaluation of higher education programmes is driven primarily by economic concerns, with a resulting imbalance towards the summative assessment of teaching and away from faculty development. These agendas are advanced through datafication, in which the transformation of social and material activity into digital data is producing a narrow, instrumental view of education. Taking a postdigital perspective on contemporary practices of evaluation outlined in higher education literature, we argue for an ecological view, in which evaluation must take account of those aspects of teaching, learning, and educational context, missing from digital data. We position quality as distributed across teacher, student, institution and context, arguing for the cross-fertilization of diverse kinds of data and non-datafied understandings, along with greater involvement of teachers and students in ways that enhance their agency, and develop their evaluative judgement of the quality of educational practices. We conclude that datafied practices can complement expert judgement when situated within a trusting, formative environment, and informed by an understanding of both pedagogy and technology, and clarity of educational purpose.
Chapter
In this chapter, we challenge the current focus on the income generating potential of online postgraduate programmes, arguing that more attention should be given to the value of the education that occurs. High quality programmes in which learning communities develop require the input of creative and innovative educators. The input and agency of these individuals is largely obscured by the wording in institutional policy and promotional materials. We offer a critique of some recent academic strategies before discussing the changing role of academic labour amongst those contributing to online postgraduate programmes. Teaching online requires a diverse skillset and the adaptability to straddle traditional academic roles and more commercial aptitudes. This is a high-pressured environment where online programmes operate in an increasingly global market, and even high-quality programmes are in a constant state of innovation and evolution. We call for a clearer articulation of the positionality of educators in policy documents. Through greater acknowledgment of the agency of educators and students, we increase their visibility and foreground postgraduate education as a means of developing new knowledge and insights, and eroding traditional boundaries between academic and professional spheres.KeywordsPostdigitalPositionalityAcademic labourInstitutional policyPolicy documentsEducator agencyHuman agencyOnlinePostgraduateTeaching
Chapter
Technology and education are interdependent, with both online learning and traditional teaching sharing core principles regardless of the modality employed. In practical terms, online teachers are still acting in physical, embodied ways, even when they conduct their work outside of the university classroom. Any physical or sensory impairment, chronic illness, or caring responsibilities that a teacher may have, should be considered without a prior assumption of ‘ableness’. While there is a profusion of literature describing the rights and inclusion of students, much less has been written about similar issues as they affect teachers (Nalavany et al., Dyslexia 24:17–32, 2018). When considering developing good practice in this area, the perspectives of teachers who themselves face challenges that could impact on inclusion should also be considered, but this is not always the case (Kent, Disabil Stud Quart, 35(1), 2015). Online learning is often poorly understood by institutions (Fawns et al., Online postgraduate education in a postdigital world: beyond technology, Springer, Cham, 2021, this book), and therefore the efforts and challenges of teachers (particularly those with non-typical, yet not infrequent, needs) may not be recognised, supported, or accounted for. This chapter seeks to address these issues by exploring the issue of inclusivity in teaching from a broad perspective, using disability, health conditions and caring responsibilities as examples. It concludes that although online teaching is becoming recognised as a potentially flexible and accessible way of delivering postgraduate education, there are considerations that should be made to ensure that those advantages are also applicable to teachers themselves.KeywordsInclusivityOnlinePostgraduateTeacherEquityDisabilityCarerIllness
Chapter
Through its more flexible approach, online learning is providing a significant opportunity for further widening of participation in Australian higher education. Increasingly, students from backgrounds and circumstances historically under-represented in higher education are able to enter online postgraduate programs based on prior learning and work experiences, not necessarily previous university studies. The online postgraduate student cohort now contains more students who may have little or no experience of university expectations, including those who are first in their families to study at university, let alone at postgraduate level. This more diverse cohort of students needs to be well supported within teaching and learning practices and broader support mechanisms to increase student retention and completion rates. While online postgraduate completion rates within Australia are higher than online undergraduate completion rates, they nevertheless still lag behind the completion rates for on-campus postgraduate studies. This chapter explores findings from recent research into the online student experience, applying them particularly to postgraduate online education. Based on these findings, this chapter proposes that the delivery of online postgraduate study cannot be separated from the social and cultural context within which students are living and managing busy and complex lives. It offers recommendations for institutions on strategies to ensure that the lived reality of the student cohort is properly understood and taken into account in the design and delivery of online postgraduate study, thereby enhancing student retention and success.
Article
The Higher Education landscape is constantly evolving. Larger and more diverse student cohorts, the growing demands for flexibility and accessibility, but not at the expense of quality, have been driving universities to reimagine learning spaces by using the affordances of digital technologies. While there is an abundance of literature on individual experimentation with blended learning formats at course level, there are far fewer accounts of institutional implementation. This article analyses four cases of institutionalised blended learning implementation at European universities, with a disciplinary focus on political science and international relations. By exploring the strategies, structures and support (Graham et al. in Internet High Educ 18:4–14, 2013), we aim to understand at what stage in the institutionalisation process each case can be situated. Based on our research, we identify five critical factors for a mature blended learning institutional implementation: an integrative approach, a gradual development model, a rigorous evaluation process, strong relations with the university and openness towards cooperation.
Article
This article proposes a rethinking of the contested concept of teaching excellence within higher education. In order to do, so we engage posthumanist theory to reconsider teaching excellence from a new perspective that shifts the gaze beyond the measured individual to explore our intra-actions within a wider context. Taking Skelton’s original conception of teaching excellence as a starting point, we explore what a values-based concept of excellence might look like, re-imagined for the present times we live in, and we ask whether there is room for a more expansive perspective of teaching excellence which reconsiders the relationality and fluidity of our practice.
Article
Taught postgraduate programmes (PGT) exist in a competitive global market and those leading such programmes have to chart a way through complex and often conflicting demands. Twenty-two Programme Directors (PDs) from one research-intensive university in the UK were interviewed individually about their experiences of leading PGT programmes. Interview transcripts were thematically analysed using Braun and Clarke’s method and we consider results in relation to circus acts, chosen to conceptualise the complexity and diversity of activities undertaken by the PDs, specifically: clairvoyant, conjurer, blind-folded tight-rope walker, trapeze-artist, contortionist and seasoned performer. PDs described the diversity of the role and high levels of autonomy needed to successfully perform it, but also perceived the role to be under-valued and not well understood or supported. Academic identity was considered to be fluid and permeable, largely related to PGT programmes often being situated on the boundary between academic and professional organisations, leading to many boundary-spanning behaviours. Teaching and student contact were the most rewarding aspect of the role, albeit with a strong sense that these senior teaching roles were less valued than research posts. In the absence of obvious support structures, a clear sense of trust and academic citizenship was reported in the provision of mutual support of others in the same position. There is a need to mobilise this nascent community to establish a strong coherent voice for this academic role to inform planning both for the support of postgraduate students and for those delivering the teaching.