Educational transformations: from specialization to collaboration

In the face of a tightening competition for funding, universities are increasingly improving their effectiveness through organisational transformations, such as the establishment of Aalto University in 2010 and the recent Finnish Institute of Technology “FITech” venture in 2017.

As a part of these transformations, universities rely on their faculty to develop the quality of teaching to match the new organisational environment. In most research-intensive universities, however, the role of promoting educational development is often assigned to development specialists, such as professional educational developers and academic leaders. As the idea of involving all faculty in educational development is rather new, it often remains poorly instructed and implemented in practice.

In a recent doctoral dissertation at the University of Helsinki, Maria Clavert, MA (Ed.), found that it is the ability of the departments and research groups to support academics’ processes of educational development that defines the extent to which teaching traditions can be modified in practice.

Based on interviews with 23 engineering educators before and during a three-year period of organisational transformation of a Finnish university, Clavert’s study demonstrated how a perceived mismatch between the university-level objectives for developing the quality of teaching and the local opportunities for developing shared teaching practices invalidates the educational development processes. For example, the participants described how the negative attitudes of colleagues and superiors towards teaching hindered their efforts of contributing to the degree reform preparations at the university.

Working as a Development Specialist at Aalto University Design Factory, Clavert is concerned about the risk of educational transformations remaining “cosmetic improvements” rather than being based on profound changes at local academic communities. Clavert suggests that universities should provide all faculty an equal opportunity for contributing to educational development regardless of their institutional position by increasing the degree of collaboration related to educational development, leadership and support between various departments and centralised development units.

Maria Clavert will defend her doctoral dissertation Academics’ transformative learning at the interfaces of pedagogical and discipline-specific communities at the Faculty of Educational Sciences of the University of Helsinki on Thursday January 18th 2018, at 12 PM. The defence will be held at the Auditorium 302, Siltavuorenpenger 3 A, 00170 Helsinki.

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