Learning from Professional Dialogue, Research and Practice

by Rossana Espinoza 0

Learning from Professional Dialogue, Research and Practice



Dr Ruth Pilkington (Professorial Fellow, Liverpool Hope) reflects on dialogue when assessing practice and recognising learning. She draws on recent Advance HE reports on accredited schemes, and research exploring the workings of assessed professional dialogue published online by the International Journal for Academic Development (IJAD). The blog draws attention to how dialogue has grown around Fellowships in accredited schemes, highlighting its value as a tool for enhancing learning for staff and students.

Over many years as an academic developer, I have valued the use of dialogue for exploring and supporting learning for HE staff. I have also benefitted from collaboration, reflection and learning with and from peers. This blog reports on the value of both and makes the case for all of us to promote and engage in professional and critical exchange and collaboration building synergy when informing and transforming practice.

Ruth PilkingtonMy conviction of the worth of dialogue as a learning tool was reinforced emphatically during my work reviewing the progress of Fellowship scheme activity from annual scheme reports.

These reports by scheme leaders showed they were making important use of dialogue to support colleagues in their applications, and its applicability for drawing out enacted practice and awarding fellowship when assessing applications. This wider use by schemes to underpin Fellowship was reported by over 90% of institutions in most recent reports. Its use for assessment across 40% of institutions seemed significant enough for a group of us to pool our experiences of using ‘assessed professional dialogues’ leading to the production of an HEA report on the use of dialogue for assessment. In it we mapped out effective mechanisms for its use and development sharing this with the sector (Pilkington et al, 2017).

The trends suggested there was a genuine need for disseminating research and evidence to inform what was clearly valued by those experiencing it, yet lacked a concrete evidence base. Here I reflect on a narrative of project work, research and sharing that has produced a body of evidence that dialogue works not only for learning but for its assessment. In doing so I am reminded how important it is to value dialogue as a basis for development, learning and excellence in preparing ourselves, our practice and our students for uncertain times.

Such is the power of dialogue as a reflective tool, and also as a tool for sharing and exchange and learning and culture change, that I encouraged colleagues at my then institution to adopt it when we originally designed a scheme for awarding Fellowship. This built on our expertise in having introduced and used it successfully for assessment in our PG Certificate course in Learning and Teaching over many years. One of the concerns we all shared however was to ensure that our design was informed by evidence. It led me to bid for funding and initiate research into its effectiveness as a tool for assessment. Working collaboratively with a small group of institutions we recorded assessed professional conversations for fellowships and I subsequently analysed transcripts to try to capture how such exchanges worked and their value to participants. This early research has been reported in a series of papers for IJAD, the most recent of which articulates how those assessed professional conversations can be managed and supported by assessors (Pilkington, 2018).

However that is not where the story ends. Any passionate explorer of their practice will appreciate the value of capturing data on the impact of changes to practice. This led me to further conversations with fellow developers and research into how engaging in dialogue for fellowship had subsequently impacted on applicants’ perspectives of CPD and fellowship over time. Again reported in an article (Asghar & Pilkington, 2017), this reinforced for me how experiencing dialogue encouraged fellowship applicants to adopt and develop dialogue for their own learning and in their teaching practices, extending its reach and value.

As I write this, I reflect on how this short blog narrates a story of collaboration and talk. Colleagues and I have come together around a single area of practice and over time: we have subsequently researched together, written together, and pursued our own practice development across multiple institutions; evolving and developing the knowledge and learning acquired from this work to suit our own needs. This highlights for me what we all recognise but often neglect in the ‘hectic’ of activity, namely how invaluable the synergies are that arise when we collaborate and share ideas. It is equally true for our students and in these busy, dynamic and sometimes fraught times, it seems to be worthwhile making the space for conversation and reflective exchange with each other and with our students, encouraging them too to value dialogue for learning. Dialogue with students around learning not only leads to enhancement, it enhances understanding, and consequently the outcomes of learning. I value dialogue so much now in my practice: for advising and supporting and reflecting with peers, and for strengthening students’ learning around assessment activity, criteria, and the learning behind the ‘academic speak’ of learning outcomes.  I appeal at this time of change and uncertainty for us to pursue such avenues with enthusiasm and to promote and make space for dialogue within institutional processes and systems as a transformative and powerful part of our own ongoing professional learning and development as well as that of our students.

Ruth Pilkington is an educational consultant currently employed by Liverpool Hope University as Professorial Fellow in Learning and Teaching and as Visiting Professor at Ulster University. Ruth received National Teaching Fellowship (2014) for work on dialogic assessment for professional recognition in HE, and supporting lecturers’ professional learning from entry through to professional doctorate.

Find out more about HEA Fellowships.


Asghar, M. & Pilkington, R (2017) ‘The relational value of professional dialogue’ in International Journal of Academic Development (RIJA) DOI: DOI10.1080/1360144X.2017.1386566. https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2017.1386566

Pilkington, R (2018) Review of Annual Monitoring Reports 2016-17 HEA https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/downloads/Annual%20Review%20of%20HEA%20accredited%20CPD%20schemes%202016-17.pdf

Pilkington, R. (2018) “Investigating the use of ‘professional assessed dialogues’ when assessing academic practice: revealing learning, managing process and enabling judgments” IJAD https://doi.org/10.1080/1360144X.2018.1512496

Pilkington, R (2017) Review of Annual Monitoring Reports 2015-16 HEA https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/downloads/annual_cpd_review_report_2015-16_-_full_report.pdf

Pilkington, R., Asghar, M., Davies, V., Floyd, S., Smart, F. (2017) Report on Use of Dialogue for Fellowships, HEA. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/hub/download/use_of_dialogue_for_fellowship.pdf