Educational development: common sense or content expertise?

As teachers and educational developers, we have all undoubtedly come across people who believe our work is “common sense”. Though I am convinced we apply common sense to our work, I am equally convinced that our content expertise (in this case, our subject knowledge of teaching and learning in higher education) factors in strongly.  As Shulman (1986) asserts: The way you understand your subject influences the way you teach. In my work at the teaching and learning centre, the educational developer is the teacher, and the students are the learners who participate in our workshops and with whom we consult.

Because of the course I am teaching (Education, Knowledge, and Curriculum, in the Bachelor of Education Program), I have been reading again about pedagogical content knowledge (PCK), or “the ways of representing and formulating the subject that makes it comprehensible for others”. It has gotten me thinking about how PCK might apply to my educational development work.  Like the teacher candidates in my course, I wonder if I’m under-rating my knowledge of “the subject”—in this case educational development.

knowledge eyechart
Here are some of statements and questions, pulled from the references below and modified, that I find particularly useful as I think about our educational development knowledge and work:  (I have replaced the word “teachers” with “educational developers”):

  • How does somebody who really knows something teach it to somebody who doesn’t?
  • Educational developers are often unaware of the knowledge they possess–it being often contextualised and associated with particular learners, events, and teaching situations.
  • What are the most powerful examples, explanations, analogies that I use to promote the learners’ understanding of x, y or z?
  • Teaching in educational development is not generic (was “teaching is not generic”)
  • How do I prepare to teach (in an ED context) something I have never previously learned?

On Monday in class, I urged the teacher candidates to honour their content knowledge.  I think I need to take my own advice.

Photo credit: Nancy White, “Knowledge eye chart”., Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Shulman, L. (1986). Those who understand: Knowledge growth in teaching. Educational Researcher, 15(2), 4-14.
Shulman, L. & Sparks, D. (1992). Merging content knowledge and pedagogy: An interview with Lee Shulman.  Journal of Staff Development, 13(1). 14-16.
Berry, A., Loughran, J. & van Driel, J.H. (2008). Revisiting the roots of pedagogical content knowledge. International Journal of Science Education, 30(10). 1271-1279.

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