An area of higher education activity which should be seen as fertile ground for the development of open-access materials is staff continuing professional development. Taking the UK Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education as a starting point, and analysing it for traces of its underlying ethos, it can be seen to be based in an expectation of openness and sharing. The standard descriptors are based on an expectation of developing research, scholarship and/or professional practice both as a principle of personal development and also in the development of learning communities.
The paradigms of action research and reflective practice – which often underpin CPD – essentially involve both individuals and institutions in wider communities of practice. At one stage of the reflective and reiterative cycle you need to review examples of best practice within such communities, and at a later stage you feed back to those communities the fruits of your own development activities via conferences, journal articles, and involvement with professional interest groups.
As our own communities of practice can be seen to be not just local – that is within our own institutions, but simultaneously national or even global – then the development of web 2.0 technologies allied to the philosophy of open access can create powerful resources for CPD. A clear example of this is the recently completed Teaching International Students project hosted at the Higher Education Academy.
I have been involved in the development of two other open-access resources designed to enable CPD, particularly in relation to internationalisation of higher education. The earlier of these is a course pack of open materials commissioned by the Centre for Languages, Linguistics, & Area Studies, Supporting international students in UK Higher Education: a course for staff. The more recent, and perhaps more innovative, is an online tool which is an output of a National Teaching Fellowship project concerning international collaborations.
This project involved researching the growing types and increasing complexities of international collaborations in higher education, with a view to enabling institutions to take advantage of previous experiences within the sector to enhance their own collaborative developments. As well as producing linear reports, consisting of seven thematic chapters and 14 case studies, the project has also designed an online tool which allows users to select different pathways to follow through the materials, as different forms of collaboration might need to address different issues, such as resourcing, or quality assurance.
In all there are 10 such pathways. We believe the tool can be used in two ways relating to CPD. The first can be considered a bottom-up approach, where a group of staff who are developing an idea concerning collaboration can use this tool to help to identify issues which they must address, and also to suggest to them new facets they can add to their project to make it more effective and more likely to win backing. The second is a more top-down approach, where managers might use the tool as part of a staff development or as a team-building exercise. The tool, Strategic Implications of International Collaborations in HE (http://nbsbitesize.northampton.ac.uk/intercollab-tool/interactivetool-intro.php), is now available as an open resource.
In this age of online sharing and learning, plus increasing time restraints on us all to use our time most effectively, professional development through open access materials will only increase in popularity. Its quick and easy to access, and can be tailored to your own needs and learning outcomes. Just look at the popularity of Stanford’s Engineering Everywhere initiative which offers engineering classes free of charge to students around the world, however you want to learn, whether as a traditional student or for the development of your own skills and expertise.
This blog was originally published on guardian.co.uk’s Higher Education Network (7/11/2011)
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