As an academic developer, part of my role is to profile the work of my colleagues with a view to inspiring others to develop their practice. Back in 2019, new into post, I organised a series of seminars where colleagues kindly volunteered to showcase their innovative learning and teaching ideas and practice. The format for the seminars took the tried and tested: 1 hour lunch break presentation and Q&A.
These seminars ran every month across the 2019/20 academic year and, quite frankly, they were embarrassing! Each seminar took the same format: a generous colleague would spend time preparing a seminar to showcase their learning and teaching innovation and …. no-one would turn up!
My strategy required a rethink!
I shared my concerns with my colleague, Matt, an organisational developer based in the same department as me at my institution and the idea for The Academy’s Developing Practice podcast was created.
As developers, we were aware that there was a vast range of excellent practice taking place locally across the University, however this local knowledge was rarely shared outside of departments or even teams. Therefore we knew that the principle aim of the podcast was to provide a context to share these local experiences and practices with a view to supporting colleagues to explore new ideas, provoke development of practice and to drive education innovation across the institution. Matt liked to refer to this as spreading the tribal knowledge outside of its confines.
A secondary aim of the podcast was to provide an informal platform to colleagues working in or with Higher Education to share their experiences, achievements and expertise. This was undertaken with a view to providing developmental opportunities for all colleagues working in Higher Education.
And so, in January 2020, The Academy’s Developing Practice podcast was launched. Each episode usually lasts a maximum of 50 mins and is accessed through the usual podcast distribution points / platforms (as well as the University website). The aim is to provide the listener with weekly episodes that they can listen to flexibly, for example on their commute, in the car, on a walk etc. Each episode involves a similar format, including an informal conversation with the hosts, concluding ‘take home’ development tips and a summary of potential learning.
In addition to the audio podcast itself, we felt it necessary to provide resources to the listeners that expand on the topics discussed. Therefore, we curate reading lists for each episode containing carefully selected books, journals and academic articles which flesh out content that may not have been fully explored in the conversation.
We have been podcasting now for 18 months and, so far, the episodes have been streamed 5365 times across 55 countries (data accurate as of the 17th August 2021). We have learned a great deal over the course of the last 18th months!
This list, compiled by Matt and Alex, details some of what we have learnt:
- Take a risk when inviting guests to record a podcast. We have had the privilege of speaking to some incredibly interesting guests from academia, professional services and industry who have caused us to think, question and reflect. These are people we would never get to speak to in our ‘normal’ lives but have generously responded to our invitation and offered an hour of their time to chat with us.
- Do your research in advance. Know the background of your guest and their area of interest well. Plan your questions and share them with your guest in advance. Then everyone can relax and (hopefully) the conversation will flow.
- Having hosts with different professional backgrounds (Matt is an organisational developer with experience in online learning and organisational change and Alex is an academic developer with a specialism in the development of learning and teaching practice) adds strength to the conversations as we often approach topics from different viewpoints / experiences / priorities.
- Don’t get too hung up on the way you sound. Early in the podcast poor Matt had to edit out the 100,000 ‘ummms’ Alex said in each recording but now we leave most of them in and allow the conversation to flow.
- Have a genuine interest in exploring new ideas – you don’t have to agree with everything that is said but be open to challenge. The podcast has proven to be an accessible way to share great ideas, innovation and practice undertaken by colleagues that often differ to the ‘norm.’
- Do everything you can to put your guest at ease. Fully prepare questions and send them in advance (even if you then go off script in the conversation) so they know you’re not trying to ‘catch them out.’ Aim to develop confidence in your guests – you want them to leave the experience feeling encouraged and proud of the work they’ve shared.
- Publicise the podcasts wherever you can – send them to Senior Leaders whose team members are featured, use them as a resource in formal teaching programmes, re-package them for further development activity etc.
We believe that the podcast contributes to our goal to fully democratise development across the institution by providing access to those who may not be able to attend (physical or virtual) development sessions for whatever reason. We have found real value in exploring creative, flexible means to support colleagues to develop their practice through the celebration and exploration of ideas and practice.
By putting the podcast together we both had to embrace our fears and insecurities regarding our own ability to research, host, record, edit and publish. Like most new things the learning curve was steep. However, we believe we have improved our abilities in all these areas over the last 18 months – the key was to keep trying new things and to learn from our mistakes.
Link to the podcast: https://anchor.fm/uolacademy
About the authors
Matt Davis is an organisational developer at the University of Liverpool and his role is to create blended and online learning design, to commission learning interventions, to consult with managers and leaders on how to enhance performance through learning, to help facilitate strategic change through learning and to perform learning needs analysis. He is a keen advocate of providing organisational development initiatives to facilitate powerful and positive change in people and thus the organisation they work for. Being very technology focussed and previously running a not for profit eLearning company he sees the huge benefits that online/mobile learning can bring to an organisation’s ability to learn and adapt for the future, as well as the personal benefits that each staff member can gain.
Dr Alex Owen is a senior academic developer at the University of Liverpool and her role is to work in collaboration with colleagues from across the institution, and beyond, to enhance the development of excellence in learning and teaching in line with the University’s strategic objectives. She leads on the design and delivery of a range of opportunities for colleagues to continually develop their professional practice with a view to learning and teaching enhancement. This involves providing ‘Peer Learning’ leadership across a broad range of learning and teaching development activities and working to cascade and share good learning and teaching practice.