A learner developer perspective: critiquing dominant practices and cultures within university spaces
This commentary reflects my evolving understanding of the problematic nature of identity and how this relates to notions of professional identity for those in learning development (LD) roles who engage with and produce research. If identity is, as Quinn (2010) asserts, boundary-less, and experienced as a perpetual becoming between multiplicities, what does this mean for questions of identity? This paper suggests that perpetual becoming is reflected in LD roles that operate within a third space, crossing or spanning the boundaries of traditional institutional sites of research, teaching or services, administration or knowledge transfer (Whitchurch, 2013). From such a place, LD practitioners can become what Ball (2007) calls cultural critics, who through their experiences and knowledge of the variety of institutional practices and cultures, are in an enviable place to critique them.
LD practitioners need to maintain a dialogical position that enables reflection-in-action (Schön, 2001) to understand and respond to the multiplicities present in competing individual, institutional and societal discourses. By way of an example, consider the contrast between the pervasive neo-liberal drive for quantification and performance, set against the complex and often messy realities (Biesta, 2010) of LD issues that we, along with our students, often experience.
Learning developers cannot however ignore the current political and social contexts that represent the environment within which our work exists. Nonetheless, LD practitioners must maintain their access to, engagement with, and production of a disparate range of research from across varied institutional and sectoral domains that go beyond seeking evidence of effectiveness. Hence, the need for and purpose of LD practitioner research is to create knowledge-of-practice (Cochrane-Smith and Lytle, 1999) that generates ontological understanding of, and exposure to, the epistemological bases of LD practices.
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