Keeping Teaching in the Trading Zone


The FEED Summit
Nicola Simmons

In the fall I attended the one day Faculty Engagement in Educational Development (FEED) summit. The symposium was organized around a short video by Christopher Knapper, a well known person in the Canadian educational development community, and panelist responses to his video. Panelists represented diverse perspectives: faculty, educational developer, librarian, faculty and librarian union representative, senior administration, and UK educational development. Small table groups discussed perspectives in response to trigger presentations – and these discussions, in combination with my own educational development history, left me with some thoughts.

Points to Ponder

1. We in Educational Development (ED) have done a lot of great stuff over a very few years (in terms of culture shifts, it’s pretty amazing work.)

2. We have an EXTREMELY limited body of literature in Canada specifically to draw on about that work – and we’re not getting international literature into the conversations as often as we should (either we do the second or get busy on the first; I’d go with making our own good work more public – do I see an EDC journal in our future?). Lee Shulman (2005) and others’ comments about disciplinary pedagogy aside (and based on his talk at ISSOTL he’s shifting some thoughts on that), I agree with Weimer (2008) about the real challenges in publishing only in disciplinary journals – we don’t get enough traction for the messages.

3. Given the questions seem not to have changed much in the 25+ years I’ve been in the business, I suspect they may not be the right questions. Maybe it’s not about engaging more faculty. I suspect a question we haven’t figured out how to ask is: What do we do with the very few bad faculty (and I pose this in my current roles as a faculty member) who really are not doing the job for which they were hired? This will NOT be a popular question to pose.

4. What’s the productive middle ground that lies somewhere between tooting the horn on our successes (that sometimes sound like we’re avoiding critique) and bemoaning how bad things are. I’d like to see powerful (in all its good senses) critique of our work that helps move us forward.

5. Build on what others are doing: See stuff coming out of Ireland – National Academy for the Integration of Research and Teaching and Learning (NAIRTL). Read the International Journal for Academic Development (IJAD) often. Read the Professional and Organizational Development Network’s (POD) journal. Read the Canadian Journal for the Scholarship of teaching and Learning (CJ-SoTL) and Teaching and Learning Inquiry (TLI) – yes, these last two are journals for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning – and we in ED need to know what is coming from that field. Think about ways of starting a separate conversation from what’s in the papers about the challenges in higher education …. and what medium might be best for that.

Looking ahead

My biggest concern for the future of ED: that our push towards department based work will phase us out as centres. Centres will continue as long as they continue to be one of the few transdisciplinary spaces on campus – a place where diverse disciplinary perspectives can meet to discuss issues that truly are shared across these traditional boundaries. While I believe in situated cognition (Baxter Magolda, 1999), and that there may be times a department-specific workshop is important, educational development came into being to create shared spaces, or ‘trading zones,’ as Galison (1997) called them; permitting ourselves to be pulled into the past of situating this work in departments deprives faculty, in my opinion, of the very thing we set out to do: create spaces where teaching rather than the content of the discipline would be the central focus.


Baxter-Magolda, M. (1999). Creating contexts for learning and self-authorship. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.
Galison, P. (1997). Image & logic: A material culture of microphysics. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
Shulman, L. S. (2005). Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus, 134(3), 52-59.
Simmons, N. (2008). Navigating institutional SoTL cultures: Faculty developers as conversation catalysts. Presentation at the International Society for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (ISSoTL) annual conference, Edmonton, October.
Weimer, M. (2008). Positioning scholarly work on teaching and learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 2(1).


7 thoughts on “Keeping Teaching in the Trading Zone

  1. Hi Nicola, I like that you are asking this question . “What do we do with the very few bad faculty (and I pose this in my current roles as a faculty member) who really are not doing the job for which they were hired?” I have wondered about why some are able to perform their role in ways that are questionable, However, I see issues with the fact that teachers are very autonomous and not getting real feedback from their manager/principle etc via direct observation of teaching practice. From the many reading I have seen in the last 3 years I get an impression a great number of teachers don’t have performance assessments that are constructive in highlighting the areas they could be working on. The lack of accountability for that part makes me question if this is one reason some teachers have motivation to do better, learn more and apply to practice, yet other don’t progress and don’t continue to develop in their role over time, rather just sticking to what they know, because that’s what feels right to them (aka, no motivator to change)

  2. Hi Nicola,

    Thanks for reading my ‘young-ish’ Educational Developer (EDer) mind. I agree with most of your pondering points, but disagree with your choice calling some faculty ‘bad faculty’, who are HIRED to do RESEARCH. They can be great chemists, historians, etc. and they KNOW how to mentor graduate students, showing them how to apply grants, publish papers, lead interesting discussions for small groups of highly motivated grad students, etc. Unfortunately, they often receive limited training on how to teach during grad school and moreover, our tenure-track system still favour measurable publication productivity over teaching excellence.

    Peer review of teaching is a great way to facilitate conversations among faculty members and offers opportunity for growth and development. However, in department where peer review of teaching is not the norm. It may take a long time to establish such culture.

    When I meet with these faculty (unfortunately, not often for many reasons), I focus on showing them small pedagogically sound tips/practices/strategies that may make their dragging teaching ‘load’ easier and more enjoyable. I believe simply happier teaching faculty will eventually lead to greater learning. One small step at a time.

    My questions: How do I document these small steps? How do I keep track and measure the ultimate impact of my work? Perhaps I should start reading IJAD and POD Journal more regularly.


    • I should have been more clear: the notion of ‘bad faculty’ came up at the summit – it wasn’t about (necessarily) those hired to do research – but, in my experience, there are very few who are only hired to do research – the 40/40/20 split seems quite common. I do agree that they aren’t many opportunities before people get the job to get teaching training – but there are lots once they get in, and like the faculty member who decides to add additional methodologies or get into SoTL, these are people who have proved their ability to learn. It raises for me questions about how we change the cultural perspective towards teaching – but – I’m still not sure that the question is about engaging more people – there are so many profs who do an extraordinary job but are unknown to their teaching and learning centres. I like that we’re thinking about the value of our work – and critiquing how to augment that value!

  3. Thank you for your points to ponder – all very useful to add to our individual and collective reflections. Having witnessed over and over the richly productive exchange and collegial support among faculty participating in cross-disciplinary educational development activities, I am convinced that creating more cross-disciplinary learning opportunities for faculty (and students) is an important service our centres for teaching & learning offer. From for-credit, graduate level courses in educational psychology for teaching and learning in the 21st century, to informal faculty book club meetings focused on pedagogy/andragogy, to round table discussions and new faculty orientation sessions, the cross-disciplinary element consistently pleases and surprises faculty colleagues who have often not met each other before, and discover new ways of approaching their respective teaching practices by hearing from colleagues in vastly different areas of specialty. I find the benefits especially satisfying – even thrilling – with seemingly unlikely groupings such as Sculpting (Visual Arts) faculty, with Electrical Engineering faculty, and Geography faculty, for instance.

    That said, I agree that constructive critique of educational development work is needed in order to continue offering relevant and useful services to teachers and the broader educational system of which we are a part. I find Ken Bain’s book “What the Best Teachers Do” (2004) a useful resource when it comes to assessing teaching and assessing our “teaching” of teachers. Chapter 7 on evaluation is especially relevant to this point to ponder. The following quote, while written about teachers, I think can apply to us (educational developers) as well.

    ‘We must struggle with the meaning of learning within our disciplines [and beyond] and how best to cultivate and recognize it. For that task, we don’t need routine experts who know all the right procedures but adaptive ones who can apply fundamental principles to all the situations and students they are likely to encounter, recognizing when invention is both possible and necessary and that there is no single “best way” to teach” (Bain, 2004, p. 174-175).

    Bain, K. (2004). What the Best Colleges Teachers Do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

  4. Dear Nicola,

    Thanks for sharing your post, a few thoughts:

    The return to department level work has been nagging at me, but I couldn’t for the life of me figure out what my problem was! After all, surely any development anywhere is all good?! And we often talk about context and discipline as important for framing ED work. However, your point about the loss of the central ‘trading zone’ is spot on in my mind. One of the first things I tell my graduate students (who are always sceptical at first) is that one of the most important things they will take away from my Teaching and Learning in Higher Education course is the connections they make about teaching and learning across the disciplines, as well as the understandings that are created and the curiosities that are raised and shared and explored. The students tell me by the end of the course that the are convinced of the value of this cross-faculty interaction.

    Second you mention immersion in the literature and the creation of SoTL throughout this piece – one of my concerns is the crazy, insane amount of ED work that we are engaged in and the limited (almost non-existent) time to read, and more particularly to think, converse and even remember what we’ve read. This is no different from any one else in the university and so this is a larger institutional question – how do we maintain our sanity, feed our intellectual curiosity, and at the heart of things remember what a university is for amidst all the email, administration, and meetings? (And still have a life! Right now my 6 year old is sitting here saying, ‘do you want to play with me?’ I’m particularly interested in the fact that so many educational developers are women.) I also wonder how teachers will fit SoTL into their already over-whelming schedules as pressure increases to not only teach, and teach well, (no more ‘bad’ teachers) but to research and publish on their teaching.

    And finally, the ‘very bad faculty’ point, or those who could just do better if they got some professional development but don’t think they need to bother – this comes up time and again in ED. How do we continue to talk to the ‘converted’ but also invite sceptics to join the conversation, especially in a climate where pedagogy is increasingly be seen as being imposed from above – or just ‘imposed’ in general?

  5. Great point Julie. I work as a contract employee teaching clinical to Nursing students and I created my own feedback form that students completed and submitted to me in a sealed anonymous envelope. I was able to form a mix of Likert scale questions and open ended feedback questions. The feedback I received was extremely helpful to my own teaching improvements. I asked the department if they were collecting this data and they stated they did provide students an opportunity to provide feedback on the instructors, yet as that instructor I never received the details of that feedback.

  6. Thank you Nicola for sharing your Points to Ponder for they indeed got me thinking…

    These points and other discussions about Educational development centre around an alignment of our work not too dissimilar to the constructive alignment (Biggs, 1999) we often teach in course development. What are our goals? How do we engage and engage others in them? How do we know if we succeed.

    Regarding goals, part is the culture shift that you speak of in #1, including across disciplines. What are our goals for working with all individuals including those who usually do not seek us out for conversations about teaching? How have our goals shifted and still shifting within each centre and across Canadian Higher Education institutions?

    Regarding activities, how does work in situ on curricular and other projects lead to ad hoc conversation about teaching…and so on? How does the rapport we build with an individual carry over to groups, to others they refer, to other members of our centres, to the institution and to their teaching? As Judy noted, the request is sometimes how to mark faster that leads to conversations about assessment (sometimes right away and sometimes months later). Cultural shifts often require some pragmatic changes, including in the focus and distribution of teaching feedback (raised by Julie and kenpiercey); what is our role?

    Lastly/foundationally assessment, and how do we know what works for what purposes and how do we communicate this information. In formative feedback, the “great job” is much more pleasant to read than the “I didn’t like…” and “Instead, I think you should…” responses, but Educational Development is an ever-evolving field focused on supporting others’ in their own transformations. Without feedback there is no direction for improvement (as kenpiercey noted regarding teaching); similarly without knowing where others have danced or fell we cannot save ourselves the scopes and build on great work and discoveries. With a dissertation on graduate student teaching development now being divided up with pieces then expanded into articles, I know personally the challenge of finding a higher education home within a mostly disciplinary-specific publishing landscape. The question of a separate journal raises a question similar to the frequent department-specific workshop versus campus-wide centre workshop discussion (Thank you Julie for highlighting the benefits of cross-disciplinary). Each serve their own purpose. Do we want to talk to those who know the acronyms and shared concepts within our field, do we want to engage in a discussion that requires articulating and challenging those assumptions in an inter-disciplinary/professional setting, or do we try to join a disciplinary conversation outside our usual home. Is such publications (and which types) important to us as Educational developers, and if so then how as Suzanne mentioned do we fit them into our schedule.

    Different goals, different activities, different measures of success.

    Thank you again for the great discussion!

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