6 Getting Through the Door

Author: Celia Popovic

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Emma has been an educational developer for three years. In that time she has worked with her colleagues to raise the profile of the teaching support centre. She is proud of the huge range of workshops on offer through the centre and the collection of resources on the centre’s website. In conversation with Steve, a faculty member, she is surprised and disappointed when he tells her ‘It is great that the centre does so much, but there is nothing that is relevant to me’. She asks herself where she and her colleagues have gone wrong, and what they could do to change the perception of lack of relevance.

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In a desire to have impact and to prove the worth of the teaching centre, it can be tempting to say yes to everything and find resources overstretched and people exhausted. In this chapter we explore ways to create strategic plans, to identify and then align with institutional and department goals, and learn to say ‘no’ occasionally.

Saying No

As developers, we tend to focus most of our energy on building links, on developing relationships, on finding ways to make ourselves useful. While this is not surprising, and is the core of the role, there are times when it is necessary to decline. We should be able to say "No!"

Reasons for saying no are varied of course but I have put them into three categories.

Not possible - for example if resources are simply insufficient it may be necessary to decline. For example, if one instructor takes up most of the time of one developer, this is not sustainable. This can be a problem that creeps up on you. It may start with someone showing an interest in improving their teaching, but over time they spend more and more time with you and make increasing demands. You want to encourage their interest but you have to make it clear how much time you can give them.

This needs delicate handling. The last thing you want to happen is that you drive the person away. You may be able to engage them as a part of the centre. Encourage them to share what they have learnt with their peers. Help them to do this by involving them in a webinar, for example, or encourage them to write a blog about their experience.

Not appropriate - occasionally an instructor will see the role of the teaching support centre as their personal administrative assistant. They may have the expectation that and educational developer should take their PowerPoint slides from a series of 12 hour long lectures, for example, and make them into an online course. If it is the policy for educational developers in your centre to support faculty in this way then that is fine. For most, it is not. In which case it is necessary to explain clearly and firmly to the instructor what he or she can and cannot expect from you. Setting clear expectations with deadlines, that are met, can go a long way to dealing with this issue. However, it is all too easy to alienate an instructor who feels let down. To reduce this happening, communications from the centre can be used to set expectations.

Not policy - I was in the first few weeks of working at one institution when I was asked by an instructor to help them use a different VLE (virtual learning environment) from the one supported by the institution. In my previous institution instructors were encouraged to use the centrally supported VLE but were free to choose another if they felt it met their needs. In my naiveté I assumed this would be the same policy at my new institution. The upshot of this was that I had to meet with the instructor and backtrack on what I had originally said. I could have supported them in using a different VLE but as it was against institutional policy to do so, I had to say no. The lesson I learnt was to make sure I was fully aware of all policies from then on!

Are there other times that you have had to say no, or can envisage wanting to say no? What were they? How did you, or would you, manage the conversation?

Disseminating Your Work

Make sure you tell people about your work. How will they know you are doing an amazing job or can offer the most wonderful support if you don't tell them?

See Helen King's Chapter in A Guide to Staff and Educational Development (Baume, D. and Kahn, P. 2003) - Disseminating Educational Developments.

Check if your work is having the intended impact - see

Kneale, P., Winter, J., Turner, R., Spowart, L., and Muneer, R. (2016) Evaluating Teaching Development Activities in Higher Education, HEA

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Comment on “6 Getting Through the Door

  1. Dr. Popovic, thank you for a very useful module.
    This chapter, especially, reminds me the importance of thinking through the project requests before making a commitment.

    I'm adding this module to merlot.org .

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