As an educational developer, I belong to the “profession dedicated to helping colleges and universities function effectively as teaching and learning communities” (Felten, Kalish, Pingree, & Plank, 2007, p.93).

That I am drawn to the above definition means it resonates with my approach: one that is centered on helping and is attentive to community.


Whether I am consulting, facilitating, program planning, or working on a policy, my ultimate aim is to provide helpful help (Schein, 2009) that will enhance teaching and learning on campus. In my role as helper, I am keenly attentive to academic culture because I am aware that established norms, behaviours, structures, and rituals (on campus, in the Faculty, within the department etcetera) influence us in important ways. As a result, when I am working with individuals, I engage in humble inquiry1(Schein, 2009), asking questions that help us uncover aspects of context and culture that need to be taken into account as we address an issue. For example, when I work within a Department to create and implement their peer review of teaching policy or program, I inquire into relevant needs and goals and past events that might shape and/or have impact upon their peer review process. Then, as I consult with individuals from the department, we can make reference to—and build upon—this shared knowledge and understanding. Indeed, regardless of the project or initiative I am involved with, I operate with the belief that it is those who seek out educational development consultation services who hold the in-depth knowledge of their micro-culture2 (Roxå and Mårtensson, 2015) and who best understand the complexity of the problems/challenges they are undertaking.

In one-way or another, all my work within and outside the center, is collaborative. Collaboration is a core value (Educational Developers Caucus, nd) of the professional community to which I belong and actively participate in. Kezar (2006) writes that “In order for a process to be considered collaboration, it must entail an interactive dimension (relationship over time) and the initiative must develop shared rules, norms, and structures…” (p. 807). The importance of taking time to determine a group’s norms and rules was highlighted recently when I collaborated with colleagues to re-design the Course Design Intensive recently. Though our small team of facilitators had previously collaborated, this project was more demanding than previous ones. We were intentionally attentive to the norms and structures we were negotiating and adopting as we applied a backward design approach (Wiggins & McTighe, 2006) to our re-design project.

Building Community

The academic environment has been described as an “organized anarchy”(Kezar, 2001, p. 71) in which individuals typically operate in siloes, driven by their values (Kezar, 2001). Within this context, academics often feel isolated from their colleagues (Cox, 2013). This aspect of academia disturbs me and, thus, in my educational developer role I help people achieve or strengthen their sense of belonging, endeavour to connect people with shared values to one another, and aim to foster trust and interaction among those who have similar goals for enhancing teaching and student learning. In these ways, I work to build community, where community is defined as “a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (McMillan and Chavis, 1986, p. 9, cited in Rovai, 2002). At the Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology, one of the ways I do this is by providing opportunities for people with a common interest in peer review of teaching (broadly conceived) to be part of a team that conducts confidential, formative reviews for the campus community. As past-chair of the BC Teaching and Learning Network, I work with the executive to create learning opportunities (virtually and face-to-face) for our members and to connect with other provincial entities with an interest in enhancing teaching and learning in post-secondary environments. Given that, personally and professionally, I strongly value quality relationships, it is unsurprising that this field has been such a good fit for me over time.

Scholarship and Reflection

I am curious and inquisitive and deeply enjoy conducting qualitative research; as such, I seek out opportunities to do so on topics that range from conceptual to empirical. For example, at present I am involved in some projects related to student peer assessment. I also love to read and build my understanding of educational development from the research and experience of others so that I can, as relevant, apply these new/modified/enriched understandings to my practice. In addition, I reflect regularly on my work: my co-workers and I passionately discuss and consider our work in meetings (some planned, others spontaneous), I write a blog, I routinely update my portfolio, I make notes on my lesson plans after workshops, and, as mentioned above, I write for publication.

Why I Stay

My educational development practice has grown and evolved thanks to the colleagues I collaborate with, the readings I do and other scholarship I engage in, ongoing self-reflection, and–-of course–-through practice.

Like many others, I came to educational development by chance (McDonald, 2010); my decision to stay, however, has been intentional. I stay because I believe the work of educational developers matters to the individuals and communities in higher education. I also stay because this work fuels my love of learning, continually. And so, I am energized as I grow my skills in process consulting and facilitation, my knowledge of how the brain works, my understanding of program evaluation…and the list goes on! Finally—and possibly most importantly—I stay because the professional values and ethics of educational development align with my own personal values of fostering positive relationships, proceeding responsibly and with integrity, and treasuring growth.



  1. Humble inquiry is used in process consultation and is a term derived from the work of Edgar Schein. Schein defines it as “the fine art of drawing someone out, of asking questions, to which you do not already know the answers, of building a relationship based on curiosity and interest in the other person.”(Schein, 2013, p. 2). For a good summary of humble inquiry, see here.
  2. Microcultures is a “unifying term for culturally formed organizational entities like workgroups, workplaces, programme boards, departments, sub-departments, disciplinary communities, and the like.” (Roxå and Mårtensson, 2015).
  3. Organized anarchies “have inherently ambiguous goals, unclear technology, and fluid participation, and are uncertain, unpredictable, and nonlinear (Birnbaum, 1991 cited in Kezar 2001 p.71).


Cox, M. D. (2013). The impact of communities of practice in support of early-career academics. International Journal for Academic Development, 18(1), 18-30.

Educational Developers Caucus of the Society for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education (n.d). Values. Retrieved from

Felten, P., Kalish, A., Pingree, A., & Plank, K. (2007). Toward a scholarship of teaching and learning in educational development. In D. Robertson & L. Nilson (Eds.), To Improve the Academy: Resources for Faculty, Instructional and Organizational Development, Vol 25 (pp. 93–108). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Kezar, A. (2001). Understanding and facilitating organizational change in the 21st century: Recent research and conceptualizations. ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report, 28(4). doi:10.1002/aehe.2804

Kezar, A. J. (2006). Redesigning for collaboration in learning initiatives: An examination of four highly collaborative campuses. The Journal of Higher Education, 77(5), 804-838.

McDonald, J. (2010). Charting pathways into the field of educational development. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 122, 37-45. doi: 10.1002/tl.396

Roxå, T. and Mårtensson, K. (2015). Microcultures and informal learning: a heuristic guiding analysis of conditions for informal learning in local higher education workplaces. International Journal for Academic Development, 20(2), 193–205. doi:

Rovai, A. (2002). Building sense of community at a distance. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning. Retrieved from:

Schein, E. (2009). Helping: How to offer, give and receive help.  San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Wiggins, G. P., & McTighe, J. (2005). Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

Photo credit: Bramante Staircase by Nikos Koutoulas (CC BY)

Updated: July 2016