Looking for the Number 11 Bus: Rethinking a Traditional Orientation Event for Academic Staff at the University of Edinburgh
Keywords:academic, staff development, orientation, change management
Orientation, the process of easing the transition of university educators into their new roles and contexts, is a challenging aspect of academic development. In this paper, we share our experiences of redesigning an orientation event for academic colleagues teaching in a research-intensive university. Over a number of years, our well-established orientation had come to rely on a transmission model of learning and feedback from participants suggested dissatisfaction with this format. We aimed to bring it in line with some of the guiding principles in the literature on academic development, such as an emphasis on collaboration and facilitation, an acknowledgement of the value of informal learning with and from peers, and an understanding of the complexity of academic practice. We sought to move beyond the idea of professional development as an exercise in plugging gaps in skills or knowledge, focusing instead on colleagues as agents in the learning process. We were conscious of the need to allow participants to engage with the University’s structures and strategic priorities in a manner that was open and enabling rather than top-down and dogmatic. We wanted to instil a culture of academic development as an ongoing process that neither begins nor ends with set events like the Orientation. Importantly, we hoped to make the experience more inspiring and enjoyable for everyone. We use this short piece to indicate the direction of our changes and to begin a dialogue about how universities can better support academic development during the important orientation stages. We look at what the literature tells us about academic development and we then discuss how these findings influenced the redesign of our Orientation. We conclude by acknowledging the difficulty of making changes in existing practice in the area of academic development.
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