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The value of professional development activities

Purpose/research question

The purpose of this series of studies is to develop and try out a set of assessment formats that may be used to gauge the outcomes of different kinds of CPD events aimed at university lecturers and educational developers. The overarching research question is therefore:

How can we evidence the value of CPD events for university lecturers and educational developers?

Background

Educational developers (EDs) are not only expected to function as change agents supporting the implementation of institutional policies regarding the quality of teaching and learning, but also to be able to demonstrate the impact of what they do. Impact is typically understood as hard facts (data) demonstrating the effect of a given intervention in very concrete terms – on the individual participants and the work they are expected to perform. As opposed to student examinations at the end of an academic term, such data is very difficult to produce because the effects may not become evident until quite some time after the intervention.

Even though it is therefore no simple matter to demonstrate the ideal of a causal link from a CPD activity (a teacher training program or workshop) to the quality of faculty teaching and student learning, the demand for accountability might still be met by evidencing the value of the CPD activity during and after the event. Evidencing value is thus used as a slightly softer term for different combinations of quantitative and qualitative data from relatively small cohorts of participants that together indicate the effects of the activity.

Data and method

A conceptual framework for analysing the effect of professional development activities has been established. Within that framework, each of the studies has a combination of different quantitative and qualitative data sets that go beyond participants satisfaction questionnaires, sometimes also referred to as ‘happy sheets’. Because of their exploratory nature, the studies have different types of data sets. While the first studies did not establish a baseline against which the effect may be measured, current studies work on establishing such a baseline by means of pre-intervention questionnaires.

Discussion and perspectives

The first two studies have shown that it is indeed possible to evidence the value of CPD activities within this conceptual framework. In the first study, a change in participants’ knowledge and skills led to conceptual changes for them individually and, as a consequence, they also changed their behavior, in this case their teaching practice. The long-term effects of this change has not been explored.

In the second study, an impact analysis at the end of a three-year development project indicated positive results (changes). These changes were consolidated in a second survey conducted 15 months after the end of the project.

Perspectives

As CPD activities differ in nature, from half-day workshops to week- or semester-long courses, their effects must also be evidenced in different ways. By exploring different methodologies within the same conceptual framework, it seems possible to establish a set of assessment methods that together cover the field of CPD within the area of university teaching and learning.

Status: current

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