What is Educational Development?

This section defines educational development and its related duties, roles and components for those new to the profession.

What Is Educational Development?

Educational development is a sub-discipline of higher education research and practice.

Specifically, it is about:

  • supporting and enhancing the design and development of high quality student learning experiences
  • facilitating positive change in teaching and learning in post-secondary institutions at the individual, program/department and institutional levels
  • enhancing teaching and learning practices, curriculum design and learning support including the appropriate use of learning technologies
  • helping institutions function as robust, evidence-based, student-centered learning communities
  • promoting the scholarship of teaching, learning and research into higher education goals and practices

Educational development is about the continuous professional and personal growth of faculty members, and the ongoing evolution of teaching and learning across the entire university. It is both theory and practice, both a discipline and a profession and both with clarity and uncertainty.

It is an invisible job that many faculty members, deans, associate deans and chairs do daily – most times without knowing it labelled as such.

Educational development is a way to initiate and respond to change. It is an enhancement to the roles we already play by taking risks with new practices and communicating our discoveries to colleagues. Educational development allows us to take a proactive responsibility for onboarding and mentoring new faculty, engaging in curriculum redesign or renewal and driving forward new changes at the department and Faculty levels.

Sources: Teaching Commons @ York University; Stefani, L. (2003). What is staff and educational development? In P. Kahn, P. & D. Baume (Eds.), A guide to staff and educational development (pp. 9–23). SEDA Series. London: Kogan Page.

Dimensions of Educational Development

Educational development is about facilitating positive change in teaching and learning in post-secondary institutions at the individual, program/department and institutional levels. It is about helping these institutions function as robust, evidence-based, student-centered learning communities. The person undertaking educational development activities will wear many hats, fulfill many roles and be engaged in many activities. Here are just some of the dimensions of the field of educational development.

Handout: Word Doc  |  PDF

Sharing appropriate strategies and learning sequences for optimal student engagement, developing sessions and workshops on how to design learning experiences etc.

Coach and Mentor
1:1 consultations, questions from faculty, listen to issues and concerns, encourage and support faculty to try new things, guide instructors on journey of teaching

Manage groups with diverse viewpoints, listen attentively and paraphrasing, assist in decision-making through appreciative/consultative process, move through an agenda while keeping track of activity and goals

Undertake small and large group communication activities, write documents and resource guides, develop materials and digital content, present/speak and demonstrate teaching strategies

Plan supports and services, work with chairs and faculty to plan changes in program delivery and course design, plan large events and activities such as conferences, campus-wide initiatives

Employ creative solutions and activities for challenges and problems, take faculty through a process to rethink how a class could be redesigned, applying design thinking format to conceptualizing new ideas and responses

Change Manager
Working with individuals and larger groups to manage change in curriculum, new formats for teaching, how to still confident but work with new courses, new staff, changes to how learning is happening etc.

Teaching and Learning Expert
Support requests for pedagogy and learning expertise, instructional methods, assessment and evaluation strategies, student development processes, building rapport and classroom community, teaching online, diversity and student accommodations

Lead in teaching and learning, support faculty members in their work, advocate for resources/supports

Assist faculty with scholarship of teaching and learning activities, gathering of data on learning and practice, supporting dissemination of evidence and sharing of scholarly teaching work

Educational Developer as Third Space Professional

It is an area of work that transcends institutional ‘boundaries’ and often is described as the “third space” situated between administration and faculty, yet not in either. Educational developers often find themselves in this "third space" in their jobs working with institutional teaching and learning initiatives and directions while supporting instructional colleagues with their teaching practice and student learning.

Celia Whitchurch originated the term "third space" and wrote this seminal article explaining it called, "Optimising the Potential of Third Space Professionals in Higher Education" (Dec 2010). Link (downloads PDF immediately). This led her to write a book on the topic, Reconstructing Identities in Higher Education: The rise of Third Space Professionals: Book PDF Link (downloads immediately with access on campus at VIU or VPN).

She also has done presentations on her book such as, Reconstructing Professional Identities in Higher Education: The Rise of Third Space Professionals: PDF of PPT Slides

Julia Stoltenkamp went on to write about this third space in relation to teaching and learning consultants and educational developers through her article, The Third Space Professional: A Reflective Case Study on Maintaining Relationships within a Complex Education Institution: Link (requires VIU access through on campus or VPN) 

The 5 W's of Educational Development

WHO (Who Does It?)
These are teachers, faculty members, instructors, chairs, deans, associate deans (and in most institutions, specific roles in teaching and learning centres) who have a passion for helping faculty become better teachers. Educational developers often have several years of post-secondary teaching experience along with a strong collection of skills, abilities and aptitudes that are focused on facilitating positive change in teaching and learning. 

WHAT (What Do They Do?)
They engage with teaching faculty, administrators and support staff to assist and support them in modifying, enhancing or completely changing courses to more fully engage students in the learning process and hopefully affect change in knowledge, skills and qualities. 

WHERE (Where Do They Do It?)
They undertake their roles in offices, small group sessions, large group meetings, workshops, sessions and institutional events.

WHEN (When Do They Do It?)
They work throughout year and every day of the work week to provide supports and services when required or called upon. 

WHY (Why Do They Do It?)
They do it because they are passionate about quality teaching and ultimately to support the enhancement and development of self-regulated, self-directed and engaged student learning.