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The influence of sociocultural and structural contexts in academic change and development in higher education
Umeå University, Umeå University Library, Centre for teaching and learning (UPL).ORCID iD: 0000-0003-3448-7964
Umeå University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of applied educational science.
University of Bedfordshire, UK.
2018 (English)In: Higher Education, ISSN 0018-1560, E-ISSN 1573-174XArticle in journal (Refereed) Epub ahead of print
Abstract [en]

Teaching quality improvements frequently focus upon the ‘development’ of individual academics in higher education. However, research also shows that the academics’ context has considerable influence upon their practices. This study examines the working environments of teachers on an online pharmacy programme, investigating contextual conditions that facilitate or impede academic change and development. Interview data and institutional policy documents are examined within a Cultural-Historical Activity Theory framework. Distinct differences in the teachers’ sociocultural context were identified as influencing change and development. Departmental teaching cultures and patterns of communication influenced practice both positively, by offering collegial support, and negatively by impeding change. The findings have significance for academic development strategies. They suggest that departmental-level support should include communicative pathways that promote reflection upon and development of conceptions of teaching and learning.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2018.
Keywords [en]
Academic development, Cultural-historical activity theory, Teaching cultures, Structural teaching context, Pharmacy programme
National Category
Pedagogical Work
Research subject
educational work
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-144531DOI: 10.1007/s10734-018-0254-1OAI: oai:DiVA.org:umu-144531DiVA, id: diva2:1180518
Projects
Teaching in a complex world: academic development in Higher Education
Note

Published in thesis in manuscript form with the title "Teaching in higher education: contextual factors as facilitators of conceptual change and development in practice".

Available from: 2018-02-05 Created: 2018-02-05 Last updated: 2018-06-09Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. Teaching in an age of complexity: exploring academic change and development in higher education
Open this publication in new window or tab >>Teaching in an age of complexity: exploring academic change and development in higher education
2018 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Higher education (HE) has expanded and diversified at an unprecedented rate over the last two decades in response to a rapidly changing educational and political climate. Change and development are omnipresent, a constant part of university teachers’ sociocultural and organisational practice at multiple levels; the micro-level, the meso-level and the macro-level Against this background, the aim of this thesis is to gain a deeper understanding of the factors that influence academic change. A further aim of the thesis is to provide insight into factors that may be relevant in the design of academic development activities to support teachers and managers in the enhancement of teaching and learning. A twelve-year longitudinal study of teachers on an online pharmacy programme forms the basis for the research, where a multilevel approach is used to investigate academic change and development in a teaching and learning environment supported by educational technology (Edtech). The approach captures the influence of factors such as conceptions and approaches to teaching at the micro-level of the individual teacher, as well as the influence of systemic factors such as the sociocultural context at the meso-level of the department or programme and the structural context at the macro-level of the institution.

To explore and understand the complexity of change and development in academic practice at micro-, meso- and macro-level two theoretical frameworks are used: conceptions of and approaches to teaching (CAT), and Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT). An interventionist method based on the tenets of CHAT was also employed. Data analysed in the thesis includes interviews with teachers (n=57), observations (n=27 hours), student evaluation surveys (n=30) and document analysis (n=11) collected over a 12-year timespan (2004-2016). The analysis indicated that at the micro-level a critical factor in the choice and use of Edtech is the underlying conception of and approach to teaching and learning of the teacher. Opportunities for change and development were found to be facilitated by the sociocultural context at the meso-level of the department, where support from the community and mediating tools for communication were present, but could also be hindered when this was lacking. At macro-level, institutional policy and strategy documents were seen to impede change and development, where research is consistently prioritised over teaching. At the meso-level of the department or programme, the opportunity to work together as a team to collaboratively construct and develop practice was found to be of significance in the development of agency and academic practice.

Taking into account a combined analysis of the five papers included, it can be concluded that if a deeper understanding of academic change and development is to be achieved, it is necessary to adopt a holistic approach, considering factors at micro-, meso- and macro-level and the interrelationships between these factors. This thesis discusses the consequences of the research for the facilitation of academic change and development. A multilevel, holistic approach is suggested, building on the principles of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) model. SoTL initiatives at all levels should be aligned to promote academic change and development through: the development of teachers’ individual practice at micro-level, the collaborative development of scholarly practice at the meso-level of the department and a strategic institutional approach at macro-level linking SoTL to employment and promotion frameworks and the recognition of teaching quality.

The main contribution of this thesis lies in the adoption of a holistic approach to understanding academic practice in higher education, taking into consideration factors at micro-, meso- and macro-level and the interrelationships between these factors. 

Abstract [sv]

Det akademiska landskapet har expanderat och diversifierats i snabb takt under de senaste två decennierna. Detta på grund av stora förändringar i det pedagogiska såväl som det politiska klimatet. Förändring och utveckling är en ständigt pågående del av universitetslärarnas sociokulturella och organisatoriska praktik på flera nivåer: på mikronivå, mesonivå och makronivå. Mot denna bakgrund är syftet med avhandlingen att utveckla en djupare förståelse för de faktorer som påverkar akademisk förändring. Vidare är syftet att bidra med förståelse för faktorer som kan vara relevanta när en akademisk verksamhet som ska stödja lärare och chefer att förbättra undervisning och lärande ska utformas. En longitudinell studie av lärare på ett nätbaserat apotekarprogram utgör den empiriska grunden för avhandlingen. Studien har genomförts under en 12-årsperiod (2004-2016). En holistisk metod har tillämpats för att kunna undersöka akademisk förändring och utveckling i en undervisnings- och lärandemiljö som stöds av informations- och kommunikationsteknologi (IKT). Metoden har valts för att närmare kunna studera: betydelsen av faktorer som begreppsläggning och undervisningsdesign på den individuella lärarens mikronivå; betydelsen av systemfaktorer som den sociokulturella kontexten på institutionens eller programmets mesonivå; samt strukturella sammanhang på institutionens makronivå.

För att på mikro-, meso- och makronivå kunna studera och förstå komplexiteten i en akademisk praktik har två teoretiska ramverk applicerats: begrepp och förhållningssätt till undervisning (i avhandlingen förkortat CAT) och kulturhistorisk aktivitetsteori (i avhandlingen förkortat CHAT). Avhandlingens empiri består av intervjuer med lärare (n = 57), observationer (n = 27 timmar), studentutvärderingsundersökningar (n = 30) samt policydokument (n = 11). Analysen visar att en kritisk faktor i val och tillämpning av IKT i undervisning på mikronivå är lärarens underliggande syn på lärande och undervisning. På mesonivå, framkom att lärarens möjligheter till förändring och utveckling underlättades av den sociokulturella kontexten på institutionen, där stöd från kollegor och medierande kommunikationsverktyg fanns tillgängligt, men när detta saknades hindrades istället både förändring och utveckling. På institutionens eller programmets mesonivå visade det sig vara betydelsefullt om det fanns möjlighet för lärarna att arbeta tillsammans med att gemensamt utveckla deras akademiska praktik. På makronivå kunde förändring och utveckling hindras av institutionell politik och reglerande policydokument, till exempel när forskning konsekvent prioriterades framför undervisning.

I avhandlingen ingår fem artiklar. En kombinerad analys av dessa fem inkluderade visar att om en djupare förståelse för akademisk förändring och utveckling ska utvecklas så är det centralt att anamma en helhetssyn som tar hänsyn till faktorer på mikro-, meso- och makronivå, samt relationerna mellan dessa faktorer. Utifrån avhandlingens resultat diskuteras design av pedagogiska utvecklingsaktiviteter och hur de kan bidra till akademisk förändring och utveckling. Ett holistiskt tillvägagångssätt som bygger på principerna för Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SoTL) föreslås. SoTL-initiativ på alla tre nivåer har potentialen att främja akademisk förändring och utveckling genom: utveckling av lärarnas individuella praktik på mikronivå, kollaborativ utveckling av akademisk praktik på institutionens mesonivå samt en genomtänkt institutionell strategi på makronivå som kopplar SoTL till anställnings- och befordringsramar och som identifierar och belönar undervisningskvalitet.

Avhandlingens huvudsakliga kunskapsbidrag är att den pekar ut betydelsen av att anamma en helhetssyn för att förstå akademisk praktik inom högre utbildning, genom att beakta faktorer på mikro-, meso- och makronivå samt relationerna mellan dessa faktorer.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Umeå: Umeå University, 2018. p. 92
Series
Akademiska avhandlingar vid Pedagogiska institutionen, Umeå universitet, ISSN 0281-6768 ; 125
Keywords
Higher Education, Academic Development, Educational Technology, Conceptions of Teaching and Learning, Cultural-Historical Activity Theory, Change and Development
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-144536 (URN)978-91-7601-833-0 (ISBN)
Public defence
2018-03-02, Hörsal E, Humanisthuset, Umeå, 10:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Available from: 2018-02-08 Created: 2018-02-05 Last updated: 2018-06-09Bibliographically approved

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