Beyond dichotomies: an integrated model of learning design

NB: Originally posted on Digital Education @ UNE


Teaching and learning support functions in universities have long existed along the centralisation/decentralisation continuum. There is often a strong narrative of dichotomy in the sector as a result – a sense of ‘us vs them’, ‘faculty vs central’. However, Time for Change gave us an opportunity to think differently. The Learning Design Team was established within the Digital Education portfolio, bringing all learning designers and education support officers across the university together into a unified team. 

TfC gave us the concept of integrated services, and while Digital Education is not part of the Integrated Services directorate, we draw on the same language – our model integrates learning design into the fabric of the university. We think beyond locus of control to integrate the work we do into everything we are collectively working towards as a university.  

For the last year, we’ve been developing and iterating our integrated model of learning design, questioning fixed assumptions and creating something more fluid and dynamic. It’s required stepping into our agency to define ways of working, rather than positioning workplace change as something that is done ‘to’ us. Workplace change gave us the team, and the role composition was determined by the establishment, but beyond that the agency was ours.  

Structure 

Our structure is fairly simple. The Learning Design Team is made up of 10 Education Support Officers, 4 Learning Designers, 4 Senior Learning Designers and a Manager. The ESOs and LDs report to the SLDs, who in turn report to the Manager.  

In terms of location, the team integrates into faculties on a sliding scale of connectedness – ESOs are strongly connected and for the most part fully embedded in faculties; LDs and SLDs are more loosely connected – some are fully embedded, some are partly embedded, some not at all. A key principle in establishing the integrated team was that nobody would be moved physically or relationally – this was essential for trust and integration. It’s the focus and practice we have been changing – we work as a team but we still work in place. Reporting lines are distributed across areas – each reporting line group draws in people from different areas to connect with the one SLD as supervisor.  

Principles and practices 

These are the key principles and practices of our integrated model, that have shaped our work this year: 

  1. Use language intentionally – we use ‘integrated team’ to signal our divergence from the usual central/decentral or ‘hub and spoke’ models. 
  2. Lead with coffee – make time to sit down and listen to people’s experience and expertise, and build what you learn into your design and planning. 
  3. Be place-based, not place-limited – it’s important to value the relationships and specialist knowledge of people embedded in faculties, but to draw on place as something to grow and build on, rather than see it as reinforcing boundaries and siloes. We are working on ways to share and grow place-based relationships and expertise so that they sit with the whole team, not with one person. We use strategies like cross-area reporting lines, role group meetings, buddy systems to introduce unfamiliar staff to faculties, universal system permissions, knowledge bases and attendance at faculty and school meetings to do this. It means that now people can work fluidly across areas to manage workload, periods of leave and project work, but everyone can still benefit from the rich relationships already in place. 
  4. Establish a team charter that articulates the team vision, values and expectations. It’s essential to have a shared direction for everyone to travel in, and shared goals to work towards. 
  5. Build shared spaces, both digitally and on campus. We have an active digital ecosystem across MS Teams and other key tools like Confluence, Zoom and Miro, but we also have a shared building where many Digital Education staff are located, with hot desks for staff from different campus locations to come and connect. We work in fluid ways across all these spaces, so our work isn’t limited by location. 
  6. Develop shared practices – use the expertise in the team to design new processes that the whole team has ownership of. You can read more about one such project – the DSSP – in this post. 
  7. Nurture a community of practitioners – we embed community of practice work into every team meeting at both Learning Design Team level and Digital Education level. This works to situate identity and value in ourselves and our work, not in our organisational location, and ensures we recognise ourselves as expert practitioners. We also established a shared group with the Learning Environments team that acts as an advisory body for any changes to the LMS or other VLE systems. 
  8. Establish a consultative group – we have a monthly meeting with Education Futures leadership and ADT&Ls to share information, discuss and align priorities and inform decision making. This plays a key role in demonstrating our commitment to integrating our work with the work of faculties and making sure our leadership is aligned. 
  9. Continually evolve – build evaluation and reflection into team practices. We take a developmental evaluation approach, but other methodologies like action research that allow for evaluation and iteration are equally appropriate. We continually monitor how the model is working, make changes where needed and communicate outcomes and achievements to our stakeholders.  

We will continue to develop and refine this model in 2022, and are looking forward to enabling even more effective ways of working across the university. 

 

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