By Colin Simpson (Monash University)
Tertiary learning and teaching has become ever more complex in recent decades, with the parallel rise of the information age and a shift to neo-liberal economics offering new opportunities and challenges in equal measure. With educators under increasing pressure to teach more efficiently with less while simultaneously navigating a new technology paradigm, it is abundantly clear that learning and teaching is best served by treating it as a team endeavour, drawing in experts in pedagogy and technology to enable educators to focus on the discipline, learners and their learning. (Gander, 2018)
Across our various institutions and organisations are teams of people with the skills and knowledge to facilitate this shift, advising educators on everything from the design of learning resources, activities and curricula to the implementation and use of appropriate technologies. These educator advisors – or edvisors – inhabit a range of roles such as education technologists, learning designers, academic developers and many more.
Edvisors occupy a liminal “Third Space” (Whitchurch, 2008) between teaching and administration and their expertise and contributions have historically been either unrecognised or underappreciated. COVID-19 and the associated rush to online teaching at scale has raised edvisors’ profile to an extent but there are still a number of factors that affect their ability to meaningfully bring about change in their institution.
At the end of 2016, noting a need for a community of practice in this space, Kate Mitchell, Chie Adachi and I launched the ASCILITE TELedvisors Special Interest Group (SIG). We started with eight other members – Andrew Yardy, Chad Gladovic, Darci Taylor, Rebecca Goodway, Rosie Nash, Trish McCluskey, Grazia Scotellaro and Fred Chew. In the four years since then, the TELedvisors Network SIG has grown to 500 members in 60+ institutions across 10 countries.
The success of our group has been astonishing and highly gratifying. We have hosted 34 webinars with 110 presenters, as well as face-to-face meet-ups in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia and Singapore with combined attendance in the hundreds. The TELedvisors Network also has an active community site and a public-facing blog and has assisted more than a dozen people to undertake edvisor-related research to access authentic data and feedback.
So why has this group been so effective? Three main reasons: an identified need, clear goals and a focus on action.
As previously stated, edvisors face some unique challenges in doing the work that they do. Role titles are inconsistently used and edvisor practices are unclear and can overlap significantly between roles like education/learning designers, academic developers and even education technologists. While some edvisors are classified as academics, most occupy professional roles which can impact their credibility among some academics, regardless of the depth of their experience, skills or knowledge. Alongside broader aims of fostering community and collaboration between edvisors, the TELedvisors Network SIG aims to advocate for people working in these roles by expanding understanding of the rich and diverse expertise they possess in education and associated technologies. This purpose has clearly resonated with edvisors in Australasia and more widely.
In order to be truly effective, we have a focus on equity and action. TELedvisors members are regularly encouraged to drive new initiatives and to contribute to ongoing activities. Members have proposed and run webinars and a Twalk (Twitter walk), contributed to our The Edvisor blog, and organised local meetups where as many as 90 edvisors have come together for half-day professional development workshops and social events. We strive to make activities and events timely and make use of a range of technologies to support our activities, including MoodleCloud for discussion and community updates, Twitter for wider engagement and MS Teams to support the organising committee.
The TELedvisors Network SIG has succeeded because of our members and our understanding that practice requires action from practitioners. We are grateful for the support that ASCILITE has provided and for its recognition of our work at the 2019 ASCILITE conference, through the Community Fellow award. While it was awarded to me, I accepted it on behalf of the organising committee (Wendy Taleo, Kate Mitchell, Henk Huijser, Penny Wheeler, Lindsay Rattray and Jenny James) and all the edvisors in the group that have made this community as great as it is.
Gander, M. (2018). A descriptive study of professional staff, and their careers, in Australian and UK universities. Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 22(1), 19–25.
Whitchurch, C. (2008). Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: The Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(4), 377–396.