This is the third blogpost in which I’m summarising some of the key findings from chapters in the book ‘Supporting Course and Programme Leaders in Higher Education: Practical Wisdom for Leaders, Educational Developers and Programme Leaders’, (SEDA, Routledge) (2022) edited by Jenny Lawrence, Susan Moron-Garcia and Rowena Senior.
This blogpost reflects on what we can learn from Chapter 5, in Part 1 on “Harnessing the potential of formal networks and informal communities to support the holistic development of programme leaders” by Graham Scott and Jenny Lawrence.
The Value of a Network
This chapter summarises research into the positive aspects of being a Programme Leader (PL) that come from engaging in a centrally organised Forum or more local discipline specific network.
Central-formal networks enables PLS to keep up with University-specific policy and strategy and to gain insights into wider sector issues. It helps attendees to develop a positive professional identity as a programme leader and raises their profile with senior decision makers.
Discipline based ‘communities of practice’ however helped to better understand the PL responsibilities, often from the input of prior PLs), develop collegiality and to signpost to school/faculty/institutional information sources to help with the role.
There are clear benefits of establishing and encouraging networks at both scales. The chapter provides useful 6-point advice tips on developing both kinds of networks but recognising that there needs to be some flexibility on exact implementation.
Selected tips for the central-formal network include:
- Ensure that the membership is kept updated, at minimum annually
- Have dates of meetings ‘pushed’ into calendars of PLs
- Have regular (e.g. monthly) for a at regular dates and times, some of which may be with decision makers
- Have the topics for discussion originate from PLs as well as new initiatives
For local-informal community of practices, they recommend
- These are established local by PLS and may usefully include PL ‘alumni’ for mentoring and hand-over
- They might have an informal, regular communication stream (the research case involved Slack, for example)
- Have regular, informal gatherings (e.g. over coffee)
The chapter describes in more detail how they sought feedback from the PLs about what was working well. The central-formal network had ceased to effectively operate
‘many abandoned events early citing the top-down transmission of process information unappealing’.
Their efforts then to research what had been positive aspects and what the PLS wanted, informed the shape of their re-launched network in 2018/19.
Why is this relevant to us in Swansea University?
A Programme Directors Working Group was established in February 2022 to scope how to better support those who fulfil this vital role within Swansea University. The Group reported its findings about appropriate induction and ongoing CPD for Programme Directors at the PD Community Forum on December 7th 2022 and is reviewing feedback from the proposals.
One key aspect is ongoing CPD and indeed what the Forum should cover and continue to operate. For those supporting the central-formal network, the chapter has more detailed insights on what pitfalls to avoid, how to make the network a positive, vibrant community which helps to build esteem and recognition for the role, to prevent the role of PL being ‘isolating’ (Ellis and Nimmo, 2018), a ‘career killer’ (Cahill et al, 2015) and making the PL role, one of worth and value (Robinson-Self, 2020).
But its also helpful for schools or faculties to consider how local networks of PLs might work and the nature of, for example, the School Education Forum.
Watch out for other synopses of this great book in supporting Programme Directors over the coming weeks and the seminar series by OCAED and SEDA to support the book.
Recordings of the webinars are expected to be available from their website:
Talking Teaching across the Globe – Oxford Brookes University
Senior Academic Developer (HEA), SALT
(1) Programme Leaders = Programme Directors at Swansea University
Cahill J., Bowyer J. Rendell, C. Hammond, A. and S. Korek (2015) “An exploration of how programme leaders in higher education can be prepared and supported to discharge their roles and responsibilities effectively”, Educational Research, 57 (2), pp 272-286. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131881.2015.1056640
Ellis S. and A. Nimmo (2018) “Opening eyes and changing mind-sets: professional development for programme leaders.” In Lawrence J. and Ellis, S. (Eds), Supporting programme leaders and programme leadership, SEDA Special 39. London: Staff and Educational Development Association, pp. 36-39.
Robinson-Self P. (2020) “The practice and policies of programme leadership: between strategy and teaching”, Potter J. and Devicci C. (eds) Delivering Educational Change in HE, UK: Routledge