Shaping a culture: Oral histories of academic development in Australian universities

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Journal Article
Higher Education Research and Development, 2010, 29 (3), pp. 307 - 318
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Academic development has had an approximately forty-year history within Australian higher education, paralleling the major expansions and changes in the sector, both nationally and internationally. Its principal concerns have been the improvement of teaching and the professional development of the academics who teach. The history of academic development has gone largely undocumented and unexamined at a national level, in Australia and elsewhere. However, as university teaching has increasingly become important in relation to quality in higher education, academic development has become a central player in the work of universities. It becomes of particular importance at this time to garner a more thorough understanding of the continuities as well as the discontinuities in the meanings and practices of university teaching and in the work of those whose role has been to support its development. This article presents a discussion of two key themes identified from a set of oral history interviews conducted with early leaders in academic development in Australia. These themes offer different insights into issues and understandings of academic development in today's university. The first concerns a perennial issue in academic development - the struggle to define academic development's emerging ethos in relation to research and service to the broader university's endeavour. The second theme represents an issue that has been forgotten or marginalised in the official accounts of academic development but which lives on in the 'lore' of the field - the role of activism in the shaping of university teaching and academic development.
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