In a post to mark the LSE HE Blog’s first anniversary, Claire Gordon, provides an insight into its raison d’etre and what it means a year on
A year on from our launch, I have been reflecting on why we, at the LSE Eden Centre for Education Enhancement, decided to establish the LSE Higher Education Blog. Some might argue that the terrain of our blog is not the traditional focus of an educational development centre, whose remit is usually to work with academic staff to develop their teaching capabilities through a deepening understanding of pedagogy and practice, and in line with this, to improve the design and delivery of education for their students.
My background as a political scientist combined with my engagement with education research and my lived experience as an academic developer navigating the liminal spaces of the university have meant that I have always been acutely aware of the politics that shapes, constrains, and enables academic development work – politics inside our institutions as well as politics in the external environments in which we live and work.
A year ago, we were emerging from an internal review of our centre, itself an intensely political process set against the backdrop of an increasing prioritisation of education work at the LSE reflected in the designation of ‘Education for Global Impact’ as one of the strategic priorities of the new university strategy. As a research-intensive university, LSE has traditionally privileged the place of excellence in research above all else. But in recent times the institution had been adjusting to the new pressures resulting from the establishment of a more heavy-handed regulator in the form of the Office for Students with its new instruments of accountability for universities – the Teaching Excellence Framework (kicked into the long grass for the time being at least) and the Access and Participation Plans (requiring universities to close attainment gaps across the life cycle of the student journey by 2030).
the terrain of our blog is not the traditional focus of an educational development centre, whose remit is usually to work with academic staff to develop their teaching capabilities
The attack on the role of experts which accompanied the lead-up and aftermath of the 2016 Brexit referendum amplified by the strong interlinkages of the UK higher education and research sector with partners in the European Higher education and research space were placing universities, including our own, under even greater strain. In sum, the pressures from the external environment combined with a business model that relies heavily on student fees were forcing a new prioritisation of the place of education at the LSE and in the research-intensive sector more broadly. At the same time, reward and recognition structures for individual members of the academic community – at the very least in the lived experience of our colleagues – did not match. As academic developers and learning technologists in the Eden Centre, we found ourselves at the coalface of this process of cultural change with many exciting possibilities for the development of education but also in the slipstream of tensions that such change inevitably brings.
It was out of this space and in intense discussion with our blog managing editor, Lee-Ann Sequeira, that the LSE Higher Education blog was born. We wanted to create a space for dialogue, debate, and contestation about education practice in global higher education in the 21st century and the complex internal and external environments in which this work takes place. We wanted to give voice to all members of the university community at LSE and further afield – academic staff, professional services staff, and students – to reflect on their position as education workers. We wanted to shed light on the tensions academic faculty experience in their career trajectories in juggling the apparently conflicting priorities of research and education. We wanted to shine a light on the particular challenges facing early-career academics who so often find themselves marooned in years of precarity living hand-to-mouth from one short-term contract to the next. We wanted to grapple with and understand better the exclusionary practices that are performed and replicated through our university structures which marginalise members of our staff and student bodies. We also wanted to share and celebrate the inspiring teaching, creativity, and practices of caretaking place in the all too often hidden spaces of our classrooms, offices, and virtual environments leading to threshold moments of change in understanding or perspective in the lives of the people we teach and learn with.
Understanding the political nature of education work and the cultural contexts we are moving in enables myself and my colleagues to be more effective in fulfilling our work as academic developers.
In the lead-up to the launch of the blog and in the weeks and months since its creation, Lee-Ann and I have been in continuous dialogue. I see my role in this creative endeavour as a critical friend, a sounding board, a contributor of ideas for blog posts and writers from both inside and outside the LSE, and a supporter of the many great ideas for blog postings and different multimedia content that have appeared on the blog over the past 12 months.
And, perhaps most fundamentally, I see my role as a validator of the importance of the LSE Higher Education Blog, both for the work we do at LSE and in contributing to broader higher education debates across the sector. Understanding the political nature of education work and the cultural contexts we are moving in enables myself and my colleagues to be more effective in fulfilling our work as academic developers. And though this may seem ironic to some, it is also a part of the way we at the LSE Eden Centre are realising the LSE’s strategic aims around educating for global impact.