7.2: How to change: staff

Academic staff are, in the main, extremely conservative. Teaching is also regarded by many of them as a ‘private’ activity. I have touched on many of the reasons for this lack of enthusiasm for change in earlier chapters. They stem from:

  • the low status of teaching compared to research in many institutions, leading to;
  • disproportionately few committed teachers among the senior (i.e. promoted)  managers of most institutions and;
  • the relatively higher cost (in both money and time) of any alternative to lecturing.

All these factors inhibit academic staff from devoting additional time to changing their teaching. In order to change the behaviour and attitudes of staff sufficiently, say, for them to take this book seriously, there are three preconditions:

  1. Academic middle managers (Deans, Heads of School) must encourage change. They will probably only do this if their VC or Principal (University President in some other countries) is in favour;
  2. Promotion must be possible on the primary basis of excellence in teaching. This need not necessarily be to the exclusion of research excellence;
  3. Support and encouragement must be available from credible practitioner peers. Academics promoting change must feel part of a welcoming community.

In the UK the Higher Education Academy (HEA) is trying to address all these issues, but has not been helped by swingeing cuts in its funding from 2011. In particular, the Subject Centres of the HEA – now closed – used to contribute substantially to the development of a strong community of engineering teachers.

Promotion (item 2) is a thorny issue which is why it was considered separately in Chapter 6.

The American Society for Engineering Education (ASEE) has produced a pair of reports (Jamieson and Lohmann, 2009) which address the difficult issue of how to effect change in (US) universities. The report strongly supports the themes developed in this book relating to experiential and active learning and the primacy of assessment, and it suggests ways of approaching the change of personal attitudes which is necessary before changes in these directions can be effective.

The plural of ‘anecdote’ is not ‘evidence’, or even ‘data’
Attributed to Lee Shulman (Carnegie Foundation)

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One Response to “7.2: How to change: staff”

  1. Peter Goodhew

    On reflection this is quite a short section. I should add a reference to Ruth Graham’s excellent report (published by RAEng/MIT) on change in engineering education [Achieving excellence in engineering education: The ingredients of successful change]. She reports that changes which have become embedded (not all of them!) have been driven by a powerful need, and have had the support and encouragement of senior management.

    It is also worth mentioning where engineering teachers can get the support and encouragement I referred to in bullet three. There are an increasing number of networks of committed practitioners such as CDIO, SEFI, some Linked-In groups as well as local networks such as EMERG at Liverpool. The Royal Academy of Engineering (in the UK) and ASEE (in the USA) are also increasingly determined to provide a supportive environment.


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