All Ireland Society for Higher Education (AISHE), AISHE-C 2011: The Challenge for Graduates in a Changed World

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Practicing what they preach? Academics' views on professional development in teaching and learning
Maria Slowey, Ekaterina Kozina

Last modified: 2011-11-18


Inherent in the definition of 'professional' is an expectation that, following initial qualification, selection  and admission to a specified field (whether by examination, qualification or a variety of forms of professional 'apprenticeship' depending on the sociology of the particular profession) individuals will seek to continue to enhance their knowledge and skills: not only through reflective practice, but also by engagement with formal and non-formal professional development of various kinds.


Classically, in higher education, the highest level of recognition in research and teaching permits the individual to 'profess' his/her particular  discipline: with formal academic professional development playing little or no part in the process. Professional development-specifically in relation to teaching- is thus a relatively new concept.  Internationally, research on higher education systems and institutions shows a dramatic growth in academic staff support and development activities aimed at enhancing the quality of teaching and learning. The reasons behind this are complex, and are largely associated with the move to mass systems of higher education. Ireland reflects this trend, with the establishment of centres and units in most, if not all, universities and institutes of technology - albeit with different titles, staffing, resourcing and organisational models. Individual institutions from time to time seek feedback from academic staff on their interests and views of such provision. This paper presents preliminary results from an ongoing research project that allows for more in-depth and comparative analysis. This project aims to gain insight into innovative professional development experiences, attitudes towards current professional provision and views on the changing nature of the student body in Ireland. The data was collected through a self-administered questionnaire between December 2010 and February 2011 with responses from c800 academic staff across eight member institutions of the Dublin Region Higher Education Alliance (DRHEA) - a major Strategic Innovation Fund (SIF) transbinary initiative supported by the HEA.


Firstly, the paper discusses the background to the research and the description of the survey respondents. Secondly, we provide insight into the highest and lowest ranking areas of interest for professional development as perceived by respondents. Thirdly, we explore a number of key findings in regard to respondents’ levels of engagement with professional development, their primary academic discipline, level of seniority and institutional type. Potential implications of the findings for policy and practice at institutional, regional and national levels will be drawn.