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The contrasting environments that early career academics experience in their departmental teaching and on programmes of initial professional development. Dr Peter Kahn, University of Liverpool. Introduction.

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dr peter kahn university of liverpool

The contrasting environments that early career academics experience in their departmental teaching and on programmes of initial professional development

Dr Peter Kahn, University of Liverpool

  • Dissonances identified between these two environments (Trowler and Cooper, 2002; and Fanghanel, 2004) , seen for instance in:
    • practices, structures, attitudes, discourses.
  • One key source of dissonance concerns the extent to which practices promoted on the programme are suited for introduction into practice within departmental settings.
theoretical considerations
Theoretical considerations
  • Theoretical basis for research into higher remains relatively weak (Tight, 2004):
    • field is thematic rather than disciplinary in nature.
  • One consequence is that wide ranging theories are often neglected:
    • Bourdieu’s theory of action;
    • Critical realism: e.g. social realism of Margaret Archer.
  • To develop understanding of one potential source of dissonance
    • What factors influence which practices are actually adopted by participants?
  • To introduce two key (but neglected) theoretical paradigms relevant to research into higher education
  • Action is explained primarily through objective considerations, with one’s position within a social environment (field) shaping dispositions (habitus) and the resources available (capital), that then determine one’s choices and practices.
    • One’s conception of teaching is shaped primarily by social environment, rather than something that is more openly chosen.
    • Social conditioning largely determines individual action in this theoretical perspective.
  • Through patterns of reflexive deliberation, individuals choose to pursue sets of concerns, which are subjectively experienced in relation to natural, practical and social realms.
  • Concerns lead agents to undertake projects, and thus to establish practices; as set within structural and cultural contexts that objectively constrain and enable action.
    • A role for human agency is retained more directly, while still acknowledging the contribution of social constraints.
a pplications to the development of early career academics
Applications to the development of early career academics?
  • What is the balance between habituated action and the challenges of a new context – when first teaching?
  • How do you motivate someone to navigate their way through a new context when their immediate concerns are focused around research?
  • Three exploratory interviews with staff from a programme of initial professional development at the University of Liverpool.
  • Semi-structured (transcribed) interviews
    • Can you give an example of a practice promoted on … that fitted - didn’t fit – proved problematic?
    • Why did you adopt/ not adopt these practices.
  • Data collected and analysed conducted in light of potential match with the two theoretical perspectives.
data analysis
Data analysis
  • Focus for exploratory data analysis: consideration of factors influencing the adoption of practices, in light of the potential match with these theoretical perspectives.
    • A connection is more directly in evidence with Archer rather than Bourdieu.
cultural and social context
Cultural and social context
  • Teaching is seen in these three cases to provide a highly context-specific set of practices.
    • Significant variation evident in social and cultural context, covering class sizes, practices already in operation, particular concerns and attitudes of the given students, roles undertaken, and disciplinary considerations of suitability.
  • Teaching here provides a context with a different pattern of demands to those experienced in relation to research; suggesting that a contextual discontinuity applies during the transition.
  • The capital involved in influencing practice in the cases considered stems most directly from the immediate context (e.g. support and workload) rather than, say, cultural or social capital.
  • Experience of teaching seen to play a significant role in relation to adoption of practice
    • Cultural capital here seen to stem from personal engagement with the given context (but shifts also evident in conception of teaching)
reflexive deliberation
Reflexive deliberation
  • Concerns experienced by the three lecturers within the immediate teaching situation, and especially those related to students, give rise to reflexive deliberation, and changed practice.
  • Reflexive deliberation accentuated through contextual discontinuity, as participants seek to make their way in what is a new context.
  • Concerns Courses of action Practices
contrasts across the environments
Contrasts across the environments
  • We see a series of ways in which there is a potential mismatch in assumptions between the three given contexts and a programme:
    • Significant variation in the disciplinary contexts
    • Focus of reflexive deliberation on teaching and appreciation of its role
    • Extent to which support and other resources enable the introduction of different sets of practices.
potential mismatches on reflexive deliberation
Potential mismatches on reflexive deliberation
  • Limited attention in evidence during a recent review of reflective practice in relation to addressing or motivating concerns on the part of the participants:
    • Focus often on change in the wider context (and the resulting need to develop practice) and wider aspects or conceptions of practice.
    • Role of contextual discontinuity in motivating a reflective process not in evidence in the review. How might you motivate the need for reflexive deliberation in the absence of contextual discontinuity?

(See Kahn et al, 2006)

practical consequences
Practical consequences
  • Implications for teaching on programmes of initial professional development
    • Explicit consideration of variation in context
    • How best to prepare participants for subsequent roles or contexts?
  • Implications for professional development prior to a first lecturing post?
  • On the theoretical perspectives – perhaps greater scope for use of Bourdieu when considering more experienced academics.
  • Archer M (2000) Being Human: the problem of agency, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge
  • Bourdieu P (1998) Practical Reason: On the Theory of Action, Stanford University Press, Palo Alto, CA
  • Fanghanel J (2004) Capturing dissonance in university teacher education, Studies in Higher Education, 29, 575-590
  • Kahn P et al (2006) The role and effectiveness of reflective practices in programmes for new academic staff , Higher Education Academy, York, [Online, accessed 7 April 2008], http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/ourwork/research/litreviews/2005_06
  • Tight, M. (2004) ‘Research into higher education: an a-theoretical community of practice?’Higher Education Research and Development, 23, 395-411
  • Trowler P and Cooper A (2002) ‘Teaching and learning regimes: implicit theories and recurrent practices in the enhancement of teaching and learning through educational development programmes’, Higher Education Research and Development21, 222-24