Quality Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is, to my mind, the elephant in the room across further education (FE) and college higher education (HE). While it appears to be received wisdom that ‘quality’ CPD means ‘quality’ lecturers (Villegas-Reimers, 2003), and many researchers agree that aspects of ‘HEness’ require development, how this could be achieved has been given insufficient consideration.
In this think piece, I will consider the results of my own academic study into professional development in the sector to suggest how the CPD of college HE lecturers could be enhanced through some straightforward steps. I will be considering solely the professional development of lecturers; that is lecturer initiated development of the dual professional, as opposed to staff development, which I see as development focused on organisational priorities.
Identity, both of those delivering the development, and those participating in the CPD, is an important consideration in a sector with a wide range of professional identities (Gleeson and James, 2007). Where lecturers do not see their own identity or context reflected in the development, motivation to engage dwindles, and barriers are created (Jones, 2016). This suggests that compulsion to attend all staff professional development events that are common in FE are counterproductive as they are unlikely to reflect the diversity of experience in the sector.
Much of the CPD I see provided by colleges across the sector, including my own college, are one-off CPD sessions. Here lecturers are sat in halls or small break-out rooms and told or shown how to improve elements of practice. The transmission of information in this manner, allows little opportunity for challenge, criticality, or indeed opportunities to test theory in practice. In short, it does not model the good practice that we would wish to see replicated in the lecturers’ own classrooms.
What is effective CPD?
My recent work suggests a strengthening of professional identity as confidence and skills increase through CPD. It points to the pedagogy through which these skills and knowledge are learnt being important, because that pedagogy is likely to be replicated in the lecturers’ classroom as they share the newly acquired knowledge and skills with their students. This leads me to suggest that CPD for college HE lecturers needs to be developed to reflect and develop the distinctiveness of the college HE lecturers’ practice. Crucially, at a departmental level, CPD should be led or developed by those who have an understanding of the pedagogic and subject specific practices of the area. These people are not only more likely to be valued by those undertaking CPD as they have an understanding of the lecturers’ context, but also have the knowledge to facilitate effective pedagogic or subject updating.
At a college level, if a college wishes to develop, as Lea and Simmons (2012) suggest, a distinctive ‘HEness’, the development for college HE lecturers needs to explore and allow lecturers to develop identities that are distinctively college HE rather than FE. These development opportunities need to be pathways, rather than one-off events; opportunities for collaboration and development over a time frame of a year or more. I would anticipate that the goals of these opportunities were set by the lecturers, in conjunction with their management teams. However, the goals would be firmly focused on the benefits to the students.
I wholeheartedly agree with the contentions of Rapley (2016) and Kadi-Hanifi and Keenan (2016) that the development of collective scholarship and HE pedagogies are central to developing HEness, I would suggest that the place to start is with a thoughtful, professional approach to CPD. CPD that develops criticality of thought allows for the creation, sharing and use of new and existing knowledge. This is achievable in the sector, it simply requires a more efficient use of the dwindling resources allocated to it.
An example of effective CPD
One approach to this is to create space to develop and share scholarly voices; space to develop scholarship and research; space to develop clear college HE identities, skills, knowledge and pedagogies. Collaboration and sharing is advocated as an essential ingredient for effective staff development (Cordingley, 2015 and Putnam and Borko, 2000). My research indicates that where space, both physical and virtual, is shared in order to collaborate with those who already have the identity, skills or pedagogies a lecturer wishes to develop, that the change is impactful.
Such a space has been developed in my own college, a research network run by and for all staff, we have developed our identities, skills and pedagogies supported by each other. In the space of two years these staff members have presented their knowledge gained from independent research, as well post-graduates studies internally and externally. Internally, through a college poster conference, via the research network, and in classrooms. Externally, at conferences, and published in books and peer reviewed journals.
The next steps for this research network are twofold. Firstly, to look outwards by promoting the idea of independent research networks in other colleges and networking with them through bodies like the Learning and Skills Research Network (LSRN).
Secondly, to update with and though our HE students. Lecturers and students as co-researchers, possibly with the involvement of local employers, would be a powerful learning tool for all stakeholders. Using Boyer’s (1990) model of scholarship as a framework, working in this way provides access to, and understanding of, local employers’ contexts. This not only contributes to the scholarship of teaching and learning, but, by putting knowledge into a context to create meaning for students and lecturers, it also contributes to an integrated form of scholarship. Finally, the scholarship of application brings obvious benefits to the employer, using the knowledge to the good, to problem solve and innovate.
Conclusion: three steps to effective CPD
Step one: CPD programmes should be led by subject specialists, which develop the identity, skills and knowledge of college HE lecturers, through the pedagogies we wish to see developed in practice. Step two: we need to facilitate the creation of space, through which college HE lecturers can collaborate to create opportunities for their own professional development and as a safe space to grow in confidence about scholarly activity. Step three: use Boyer’s model to broaden what is understood as CPD; that learning with and through students and employers can develop both knowledge and pedagogy.
Sam Jones is the Advanced Practitioner for Teacher Development and Scholarship at Bedford College and winner of the International Professional Development Association’s award 2017. She also convenes the Herts, Beds and Bucks branch of the LSRN and chairs the Bedford College Research Network
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Villegas-Reimers, E. (2003) Teacher professional development: an international review of the literature, Paris: UNESCO