When academic staff work together, formally or informally, they directly and indirectly foster learner engagement. There are many reasons for this. Here are a few.
A consistent and co-ordinated experience
Analysis of student feedback on the experience of learning through the NSS highlights how important it is to offer them a consistent experience and set consistent expectations. Students do not like,
- to receive contradictory messages from their tutors;
- hear about peers being treated differently;
- having detailed feedback and support from one tutor, and comparatively little from another;
- being given competing deadlines on assignments;
- being repeatedly assessed on the same learning criteria.
Inconsistency is relatively simple to address through good course leadership and design. Proper co-ordination can lead to an optimisation of the learning experience whereby useful, complementary connections are made across modules and through the course.
Good academic practice develops and responds to the course context which is defined by,
- the nature of the discipline;
- the teaching strategy and methods used to meet the learning outcomes;
- the external context, including developments in the discipline; and
- the profile of the students and staff.
Teaching, methods of feedback and assessment, and support for learning, need to be aligned so that they enthuse the learning community. This requires a continuous collective review and a culture of course innovation. Critical reflective thinking is best achieved in collaboration with colleagues who can provide a sounding board, an alternative set of experience, particular knowledge, and a challenging and supportive voice. Furthermore, through peer review and enhancement activities, connections between teaching can be made that benefit the leaner.
Sharing academic practice is an important facet of being professional. It serves several complementary purposes. For example, the sharing practice leads to,
- The dissemination of good ideas and their wider adoption;
- Critical peer review and the validation of good ideas;
- Self-efficacy – knowing you’re doing good things will encourage further innovation;
- Osmosis – a community of practice sets expectations for itself in the way it interacts;
- Consistent high quality – common, moderated, understandings of what good practice looks like.
Differentiation through Communities of Practice
Because some people know more than others about different things, have different levels of experience, and different ways of thinking, it makes sense to share these strengths. Often this can lead to mutual benefits, joint enterprise or the sharing of practice. These are the fundamental characteristics of Communities of Practice (Wenger, 1998).
One way of doing this is through the formal process of Peer-Review & Enhancement, but an open door policy and invitations to team teach can help to liven up a sense of course identity for students and their tutors.