Campus-based Educational Development & Professional Learning: Dimensions & Directions

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Executive Summary—Purposes and Outcomes

Why might educational development or professional learning be supported by post-secondary institutions?


To respond to this question, we synthesize composite purposes and outcomes that emerged from the data provided by the comprehensive range of British Columbia public post-secondary institutions participating in this campus-based educational development and professional learning study. Institutions that implement teaching and learning enhancement initiatives will benefit in differing ways. Institutional context, mandate and vision will influence the specific structures and practices of campus-based educational development and professional learning programs.

Enhancing high quality learning environments with engaging learning experiences in which post-secondary learners achieve significant learning outcomes

Enhancing high quality learning environments is the over-arching purpose for all educational development initiatives. To accomplish this purpose, educational consultants most often work directly with post-secondary administrators, staff and faculty, who then work directly with learners.

Providing preliminary support as newly minted faculty members launch their post-secondary teaching careers

New faculty members may be veterans of industry or the workplace who are transitioning into academic careers, younger faculty who have completed academic degrees often with limited teaching experience, or they may be those who have extensive teaching experiences in the K-12 system or in community teaching roles. Whatever their prior experiences, the transition into post-secondary academic teaching may be an eye-opening and even traumatic experience. Educational consultants provide guidance and models during these early stages of the academic career to enhance an educator’s transition into post-secondary teaching and learning responsibilities.

Providing catalysts and challenges for mid-career faculty members

Mid-career educators may have effectively mastered the preliminary responsibilities and practices for the post-secondary teaching environment and are now seeking ways to further enhance their capabilities. Educational development consultants encourage and support mid-career faculty by offering them opportunities to share literature on teaching and learning in higher education, research their classroom practices, or share their emerging teaching and learning strengths through conference sessions or institutional workshops.

Providing venues for veteran faculty members to share their wisdom of practice

Leaving a legacy is often a consideration of those in advanced career stages. Sharing the learning and wisdom garnered from many years of extensive teaching and learning experiences, perhaps through mentoring programs, may be coordinated through a teaching and learning centre. Faculty Associate roles offer opportunities for mid-career and veteran faculty members to share their knowledge of effective teaching and learning practices with colleagues.

Coordinating or partnering to provide a range of cross-career support for administrators and support staff

Institutional mandates for professional learning may be inclusive of all within the institution and therefore many educational developers are actively involved with relevant leadership or career advancement initiatives for administrators and support staff, as well as for faculty members.

Providing or coordinating teaching and learning support directly needed by students

Several of the participating institutions define the mandate of educational developers as inclusive of student needs that are specifically related to teaching and learning. Therefore, student support services such as Writing Centres, Math Centres or Graduate Teaching Assistant programs are being integrated within educational development centres.

Participating actively in a range of institutional strategic planning processes and initiatives

Many educational developers network with their colleagues within British Columbia, across Canada and internationally. Therefore, they have access to relevant teaching and learning innovations and approaches that may effectively inform institutional strategic planning. Learning consultants provide timely reviews of alternative practices, challenges to existing processes, and syntheses of relevant teaching and learning literature.

Promoting the significance of teaching and learning initiatives within and beyond the institution

A significant and often escalating factor influencing institutional culture is the perceived tension between research and teaching. To move beyond this tension, educational consultants offer perspectives and expertise for establishing the nexus between teaching and research while encouraging initiatives that value and reward teaching. Educational developers provide institutional, provincial, national and international leadership on a range of teaching, learning and research initiatives.

Partnering with or coordinating curriculum development, program review, Senate or Education Council program or course review processes

Educational consultants may provide expertise and a network to effectively support, implement or enhance curriculum review and (re)development processes as well as provide expertise during the Senate or Educational Council program and course approval processes.

Providing leadership for institutional teaching and learning initiatives

Educational consultants offer expertise and leadership for developing, evaluating, and monitoring institutionally mandated initiatives designed to enhance the teaching and learning environment and perhaps challenge existing practices. They may provide expertise and leadership to institutional teaching and learning initiatives, such as Internationalizing the Curriculum, Aboriginal Education, Learning Outcomes and E-Learning initiatives.

Encouraging inter- or cross-disciplinary approaches that explore common ground and differences

Inter- and cross-disciplinary discussions about teaching and learning questions often evoke realizations of common ground and shared dilemmas as well as substantive disciplinary differences in, for example, key learning concepts and approaches. Learning consultants may create opportunities for these types of inter- or cross-disciplinary explorations.

Honouring discipline-specific teaching and learning approaches

While there are many shared practices across disciplines, there are educational concepts and ways of organizing learning that tend to be discipline-specific. Educational consultants may help structure this focus on pedagogical content knowledge (Shulman, 2004a) and signature pedagogies (Gurung, Chick & Haynie, 2009).

Encouraging reflection and research on teaching and learning

Cogent and thorough syntheses of national and international research on post-secondary teaching and learning identify emerging research questions and distil effective practices. One example is the edited text of Julia Christensen Hughes & Joy Mighty (2010) Taking Stock: Research on Teaching and Learning in Higher Education. Ready access to this evolving research literature is enhanced through online and print journals, such as Transformative Dialogues, the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning and Teaching & Learning Inquiry: The ISSoTL Journal, among many fine higher education teaching and learning publications. Educational consultants initiate opportunities for higher education personnel to delve into this research literature and to reflect on applications within specific disciplinary or cross-disciplinary teaching and learning contexts. Learning consultants may encourage and support individual and collective action research or scholarly investigations to examine classroom teaching and learning dilemmas and successes.

Navigating the Study

To assist your investigation of campus-based educational development and professional learning, this report may be read chronologically or as free-standing chapters. The report begins with definitions of key terms, followed by a précis of research methodology to establish the context for data gathering, analysis and synthesis. Next, a conceptual framework is presented that synthesizes key dimensions of campus-based educational development.

Subsequent chapters provide detailed examinations of structures of educational development: models and staffing, director’s roles, reporting lines, advisory committees, personnel and faculty associate models, funding, and physical location of educational development units.

The report then examines educational development practices: mandate, needs assessment, priorities and planning approaches, educational development initiatives, professional development specifically for administrators and staff, professional learning networks, communication, and evaluation of programs.

Specific directions influencing the future shape of educational development are then investigated, including consultation and mentoring, e-learning, the scholarship of teaching and learning, and leadership for learning. Emerging directions and dilemmas are outlined that create future avenues for applications of research to enhance professional learning.

Key Terms—Naming the Rose

Campus-based teaching and learning enhancement initiatives in Canada are demonstrating exciting and challenging growth, which is accompanied by an evolution in terms naming these initiatives: professional development, faculty development, academic development, instructional development, organizational development, educational development and professional learning.

In many ways these terms act as synonyms with similar purposes and they are sometimes used interchangeably. On the other hand, these terms privilege different types of mandates, structures, and actions. While acknowledging that all these terms have strengths and weaknesses, it is important to investigate their implications within the current BC post-secondary environment. What are the differences and similarities? Which ones better fit the context of current outcomes of campus-based post-secondary teaching and learning enhancement initiatives?

Campus-based locates the context for this study within the post-secondary system of universities, institutes and colleges. A multitude of professional development opportunities are offered by off-campus academic and professional organizations and increasingly through online commercial and academic providers, all of which offer potentially valuable learning opportunities. Professional development and teaching and learning practices and literature originating in the K-12 system are bridging to and informing post-secondary investigations. However, the focus of this study is specifically on educational development and professional learning initiatives organized within college, institute and university campuses.

Professional Development (Chism & Whitney, 2005) is an umbrella term, applicable to any career area, which encompasses the processes of obtaining and enhancing capabilities, certifications and experiences that enable professionals to progress in their careers through enhancing both professional and personal capabilities. Within the post-secondary environment, professional development implies the dual notions of the individual taking responsibility for enhancing both personal and professional capabilities as well as the higher education institution providing structure and practices in support of teaching and learning enhancement initiatives. It is the second inference that propels questioning of the term ‘development’ as it may carry the perception of ‘developing others’ within a superficial learning environment (Webster-Wright, 2009). The comprehensive nature of professional development encompasses the entire continuum from transmission to transformative learning opportunities. Depending on the context of participants, there may be need for this full range of learning opportunities. The term also has significant longevity and impact. For example, for more than two decades the post-secondary network from which this research project emanated has applied the concept of professional development in their title: University, College and Institute Professional Development (UCIPD) Committee.

Faculty Development is a traditional term widely evident in the post-secondary professional development literature (Schroeder, 2011; Ouellett, 2010; Gillespie & Robertson, 2010). Faculty development carries the rather delightful impulse of developing one’s faculties or thinking abilities. This term focuses the realm of activity within those designated as faculty members, principally those people within the institution who have direct teaching or teaching-related positions. Faculty development encompasses a significant range including institutional and instructional approaches, curriculum development, assessment strategies as well as personal development. The term accurately describes and defines many campus-based professional development programs as their focus, by mandate, is almost exclusively for those with direct teaching and learning responsibilities. Instructional development is a sub-set of faculty development with a focus on “activities specifically connected to enhancement of teaching” (Wilson, 2012, p. 2). Faculty or instructional development therefore may be perceived as being exclusive, in that administrative and support staff, and those not directly involved in teaching, appear to be excluded or have a much lower priority in determining mandates and priorities. Those institutions where there is a defined and institution-wide mandate for teaching and learning enhancement initiatives often elect to apply a more inclusive term.

Academic Development (Blackmore & Blackwell, 2006) puts the spotlight on the teaching and learning functions of the post-secondary system. One argument in support of this term is that all forms of learning are academic. Therefore, academic development applies to all within an institution of learning. On the other hand, for those universities, institutes and colleges that provide comprehensive programming including applied, vocational, adult basic education, and non-credit programs, the term ‘academic development’ may imply an exclusion of these equally worthy programs.

Organizational Development (Diamond, 2002) encompasses a wider vision of processes related to planned, strategic institutional development designed to enhance the organization’s effectiveness and viability. Organizational development, within the post-secondary environment, most frequently is evident within the strategic academic planning processes that guide short and longer-term decision-making related to teaching and learning issues. As is demonstrated by the findings of this study, post-secondary professional development units increasingly are being located at the centre of organizational and institutional change, due to growing acknowledgement of their institutional expertise relevant to leadership for learning.

Educational Development (Tiberius, 2001) is the term that Canadian professional developers, forming a sub-group caucus of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (STLHE), decided to apply to their work. An argument may be made that all development is educational in purpose and action. Educational development subsumes the concepts of faculty, professional, institutional and organizational development and therefore is an encompassing term.

Professional Learning is an emerging term (Webster-Wright, 2009) that highlights the evolution of teaching and learning enhancement initiatives. Professional learning incorporates the growing body of literature describing how people learn (Bransford, Brown & Cocking, 2000; Ramsden, 2008; Kuh et al., 2005a; Entwhistle, 2010). Professional learning is interconnected with the notions of communities of practice which are “groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly” (Wenger, 2006). Professional learning focuses on incorporating reflective opportunities, as well as scholarly teaching and learning literature within and across disciplinary communities of practice or faculty learning communities (Cox & Richlin, 2004) to foster individual, group or institutional change processes.


To ‘name the rose’, study researchers will apply the term Educational Development (ED) to centrally organized teaching and learning enhancement initiatives that encompass personal, professional and institutional development. Faculty Development (FD) will signify a narrower focus primarily associated with individual and professional development of faculty members. Professional Development (PD) focuses on personal and career development and is applicable to all across the educational community. Professional Learning (PL) signifies emerging directions towards learning communities and networks. The researchers elected to use these terms to: • create a longitudinal connection, at the system level, with the 2000 Campus-based Professional Development study (Morrison & Randall, 2000); • emphasize the ‘big tent’ nature of campus-based initiatives to enhance teaching and learning; and • acknowledge the evolving nature of campus-based professional learning with a greater emphasis on professional dialogue within and across collegial networks.

Terms to describe the physical and online locus for educational development have many permutations: Learning and Teaching Centre, Centre for Academic Growth, Educational Support and Development Centre, Centre for Academic and Faculty Development, Centre for Instructional Development, and Centre for Innovation and Excellence in Learning, to identify a few of a very long list of centre titles. For consistency and to respect the confidentiality offered to study participants, study researchers will apply the term Teaching and Learning Centre (TLC), which subsumes both the physical and online identity of educational development units. We acknowledge that the term staff has differing meanings in international contexts. For this study, the term staff is applied to those in roles such as technician and administrative assistant who may not work directly with students but who make immense contributions to the quality of students’ education.

Active educational development-related organizations are operating in the BC and Canadian higher education environments. Acronyms abound. To clarify organizational purposes and names, we have updated an inventory initially created by Alice Macpherson (2011) and include it as Appendix 6.

Study Design


Selection of Study Participants

Research Design

Research Methodology

Study Limitations

Key Terms—Naming the Rose

Study Design


Selection of Study Participants

Research Design

Research Methodology

Study Limitations