‘Transitions and Tensions’ – Thoughts for Continuous Professional Development (by Dr Dave Burnapp)

A few years ago I published an article relating to running an educational research project concerning the internationalisation of Higher Education: ‘Transitions and tensions: getting a project off the ground’ (there is a link to the full article at the end of this blog entry). The context was a HEA-funded three-year project under the National Teaching Fellowship Scheme (NTFS). In it I reflected on the changes I had experienced to get to that position – the transitions – and also recognised the ongoing unresolved issues – the tensions – that I would need to address in order to complete the project.

Such reflective thinking is an essential feature of continuing professional development, of any interventions which claim to be innovative, and of action research in general. This blog entry is therefore an update to that original article.

Concerning transitions, in the first article I described a trajectory from being a teacher, to becoming a National Teaching Fellow, then a researcher. To connect this to the current project, I think that our innovation is linked to changes which have occurred, firstly in the specific area of working with international contexts/partners/students, and secondly to more general changes within Higher Education.

For the area of working in international contexts, my concern ten years ago was with the prevalent focus on what could be described as a ‘deficit’ model of international students: for example I doubted the effectiveness of well-intended attempts to fill in what were thought of as missing student competences. My own emerging cultural approach was to focus instead on seeing any educational setting as a culture with its own assumed ideas of what constitutes knowledge and learning: 

to teach an EAP course component about the language of discussion will not of itself bring students to participate in seminars if they have not had the opportunity to explore why, in these situations, discussion is seen as a route to learning, particularly so if their previous education journeys have taken them on radically different routes. Their previous experiences will have equipped them for other tasks; competences which are expected, accepted, and respected elsewhere but not in their new setting.  

The transition in fundamental assumptions underpinning our new research project goes beyond this cultural approach and is based on research which recognizes people (migrants, international students) as being agentive, of actively imagining their future identities, and hence keen to invest time and effort into realising that imagined self.  

For the area of more general changes within Higher Education, our new project is based on ideas of collaboration with students in research/development activities, specifically in this case by the use of alumni as partners to enable us to offer models which new students can integrate into their own imaginations.

Concerning tensions, it is possible to amend the three tensions identified in the first article to describe our current situation. The first tension concerns the competing demands relating to time as both of the researchers have many other tasks which cannot be put off (although the project does provide some remission), and this is perhaps exacerbated at a time of massive institutional change relating to moves to a new campus and redesigning methods and approaches to learning. Note, this form of tension is not something that can be resolved, it relates to going the extra mile.

The second tension concerns the demands we make on other people, and in this project this relates to getting the alumni to supply us with their reflections, for they too are busy professionals, which is precisely why their reflections are so useful to new students. We will need to keep up the patient contact with these volunteer participants as the project continues and they are consulted at each stage.

The third tension, or set of tensions, concerns competences. This new project is heavily reliant on self-produced video materials and social-media based technologies, and our task over the next two months is to ensure that we manage the technology to produce tasks which exploit these possibilities successfully and are conducive to assisting new students in their own transitions. 


Link to original article: file:///C:/Users/David/AppData/Local/Microsoft/Windows/INetCache/IE/M39NID31/Transitions%20and%20tensions.pdf

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