#5: How to engage time-pressed academic staff in research informed practice as an academic manager

Faculty coaching each other over coffee.
Faculty coaching each other over coffee.

Contemporary faculty have considerable workloads, especially those employed in teaching intensive universities.

Institutional strategies often include Performance Indicators such as quality of student experience, volume of income generation and quality of research outputs. These performance indicators eventually become targets for individual faculty, creating tensions between conflicting priorities.

As Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) compete to increase the number of students recruited, while improving the quality and visibility of research, university managers strive to communicate the importance of a high quality student experience.

Faculty can respond in a number of ways. Some focus on teaching, to the detriment of research and scholarly activity.

Others focus their attention on research and pay less attention to the student experience.

Some faculty become scholarly in their subject, but neglect the professional practice of serving their students with effective and engaging teaching.

So, how can academic developers and managers sell research-informed practice to time-pressed faculty?

They can’t excel at everything, all of the time

Taking a research-informed approach to teaching can actually be the most effective way of balancing competing demands.

Here are some compelling reasons why it is a good idea for faculty:

  • Being active in discipline research keeps faculty at the leading edge of knowledge creation creation.

  • Research as a process is an efficient way of teaching, particularly in fast-moving subject areas.

  • When research is applied to practice, faculty are responsive to the different needs of their students and this improves attainment.

But these advantages can be difficult for faculty to imagine if they have a lot of teaching and administration activities.

Here are some steps to make your case more convincing:

  • Set the context

  • Focus on efficiencies

  • Teach technologies

  • Find (or become) a champion

Set the context

Often, faculty are not aware of the institutional strategy. Take some time to relate the strategy to the day job.

Explain the conflicting performance measures. Find out what the orientation of each faculty member is.

What do they spend the majority of their time and effort on?

Do they want to change the balance of their work?

Are they empowered to make the changes they desire?

Focus on efficiencies

Research-informed practice can be viewed as ‘yet another thing to do’. Some faculty might even tell you that they are not interested in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning.

Highlight examples of how teaching your research content can help save preparation time, while making the teaching more engaging for students.

Show how using the processes of research, applied to the student learning experience, can highlight new, more efficient methods of practice.

Engage faculty and students in conversations about assessments.

What works.

What is ‘authentic’ for a particular subject.

What positive differences to the learning experience can assessment make?

Teach technologies

Virtual Learning Environments, online conferencing and a range of constantly evolving software tools are available to support new ways of learning.

Faculty don’t have the time to evaluate the use of every tool.

Especially if they are teaching all of the time.

Take the initiative and discover best practice in technology enhanced learning, and implement pilot studies to establish examples of technological innovations that faculty can put straight to work.

Demonstrate the technology and support faculty as they implement the changes necessary to achieve time savings, while improving the student experience.

Model best practice

Use the processes of research to ensure that your own work is rigorous and repeatable.

Create systems that genuinely save time – this will make it easier to win faculty hearts and minds.

Find (or become) a champion

We are all different.

Some things come easy to us.

Some things are more challenging.

When you find good practice, celebrate the discovery and use it as an example.

Look for enthusiastic, early adopters. Celebrate their successes and support them to become the persuaders.

Or, role model the change yourself.

Lead the change

Persuading faculty to adopt research-informed methods can be difficult.

Develop a case that conveys how the processes of research, applied to the academic role, can save time and increase quality.

  • Set the context

  • Focus on efficiencies

  • Teach technologies

  • Find (or become) a champion

Be rigorous.

Create systems.

Role model best practice.

Lead the change.