I just read "Rethinking the role of university teacher" by Prof Marcia Devlin in today's Age and I feel compelled to document/share my response. As an ex-academic I know too well the enormous pressures on acaemics to maintian 'active research' status. Such status is essential to university research funding and to academic status, privelege and I would argue professional growth. One's teaching pratcice ought to be evidence informed and that applies to ALL teachers not just those teaching in a higher education setting. Having said this, active research status in Higher Ed is measured annually and for me, this meant I would target research projects that had 'quick' and measurable outcomes (publications) and these sometimes had little impact on my teaching practice.
I now work as a secondary teacher and understand teachers' reticence to 'apply' academic research in their classrooms and schools. Research is highly contexual and the most powerful research in terms of informing practice, is often that which the teacher is involved in. Action research is and continues to be a powerful vehicle through which teachers can critically reflect on their practice but unlike Higher Ed academics - school teachers are not workloaded for this nor are they provided with the support structures that as an academic, I took for granted (access to an online tertiary library is hard to come by for the average teacher). What amazes me is that the same dislocation between research and schools I mention here (and I accept this is not ALWAYS the case) is also occuring in Universities. Devlin, quoting Professor Belinda Probert, points out the emergence of the "Teaching-focused academic' is related to attempts by Universities to improve their research standing for international ranking purposes".
Whilst on the surface the fact that (as Devlin states) "Traditional so-called acacdemic 'content experts' now work with learning learning/educational designers, e-learning specialists, curriculum consultants, languages and academic skills experts, library staff, work-integrated learning experts, careers and employment staff, information technology staff, learning-space designers and others to create and deliver university curriculum anbd learning environments and experiences" seems to suggest the collaborative development of a wholistic learning experience, I am sceptical and my scepticism HAS legs. Recently I dallied with the idea of returning to Higher Ed (in Teacher Ed) and had some conversations with a University based in Victoria who are (in collaboration with an Australian Recruitment Company) offering a suite of commercial Teacher Education Degrees wholly online. To ensure the project is 'scalable' Content Developers (ie. not fully qualified Academics) develop the content which is then passed on to Educational Designers who are responsible for the pedagogy (teaching and learing strategies). This is housed in a Moodle LMS and enrolled students undertake a paced wholly online course. An eLA (eLearning Advisor) supports students as they progress through the course. eLearning Advisors are only required to have the degree they are teaching... This is alarming - pre-service teachers require mentoring and they need to be taught by teachers who are themselves instructional experts (whether it be online, blended or F2F).
I find this incredibly concerning - it reduces the role of the 'teacher' to one of a technicist so whilst I agree with Devlin and Probert that there needs to be greater focus on University Teaching and Teachers - it cannot be done in the context of saving or making money - it has to be done in the context of effective learning.
How important is rigorous curriculum planning and documentation? Whilst the answer seems clear - VERY important, nay, critical to the PROCESSES of learning; I am regularly confronted with curriculum 'plans' that are no more than a dot point list of topics or themes that teachers and learners will focus on. Recently, I was told the following by a School Principal (not mine) "We haven't really focused on curriculum planning or formal curriculum documentation because we've been focusing on pedagogy - teaching and learning strategies - instead".
In terms of change processes and where you start this is an interesting comment and one I shared with a colleague. My question was "where do you start - with curriculum planning or teaching practice" and his answer "well, that's just a chicken and egg debate". But - is it? To my mind it's not - curriculum planning IS teaching practice. The curriculum is enacted as soon as teachers start thinking about it and rehearsing it in their minds. To me curriculum is the WHY and WHAT and pedaogy is the WHEN, WHERE and HOW - without both deep learning is not possible. Same with the chicken and the egg - they cannot exist without each other - the chicken begets the egg which begets the chicken etc...