DEHubResearchProject/Charles Sturt University/Findings

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Managing institutional change through distributive leadership approaches: Engaging academics and teaching support staff in blended and flexible learning.
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Full Report

Short Report  Childs, M., Brown, M., Keppell, M., Nicholas, Z., Hunter, C. & Hard, N. (2012). Learning leadership: the big and small actions of many people – a short report.


Summary of Research Fundings

Final report title: Learning leadership in Higher Education – the big and small actions of many people.

This study considered, through a case study approach, four strategies adopted and implemented over the past five years (2008-2011) by Charles Sturt University Australia, and Massey University New Zealand, and eight activities related to those strategies. The aim of the study was to understand, through stories of adaptation, innovation in blended and flexible and distance education. The four strategies and eight activities were developed naturalistically in situ, prior to the commencement of this study. They were chosen as purposive samples out of the many strategies and activities that took place in both Universities to foster innovation in learning and teaching and alignment to strategic intent during the past five years. The study was appreciative rather than evaluative and the findings and theory formation were grounded in the lived experience of institutional change.

Executive Summary: Findings

The study found that, in the contexts of Charles Sturt University and Massey University:

1. Learning leadership was enabled by the large and small actions of many people working individually and collectively in relationship to change (Moncrieff, 1999).
The research found that the strategies and activities associated with fostering change in blended and flexible learning and distance education at CSU and MU involved many connected people involved in numerous tasks developed at different levels of granularity.

2. The large and small actions of many people working individually and collectively in relationship to change were fostered through a range of different operational models.
The case studies suggested that innovation was enabled through collaboration, networked professional learning, sharing and supported experimentation rather than any one approach to leadership development.

3. The operational models used to foster innovation in this sample of case studies were – delegated leadership, distributive leadership model, faculty scholarship model, networked learning model and diffusion of innovation model.
Different approaches had been adopted by the institutions to foster change and strategic alignment to the goals of the institution. Both institutions used a distributed approach to change management through delegated leadership. The way in which delegated leadership was interpreted by positional leaders was to encourage collaboration through distributive leadership, faculty scholarship, networked learning as well as planned and viral diffusion.

4. The operational models varied, but shared an aim to foster and align innovation in BFL and DE to strategic institutional intent through the influences of staff within each institution.
The strategies identified in this research provided ‘time-out’ for academics to develop or report their innovations in blended and flexible and distance education. Workloads and other resources had been allocated to support innovation that was aligned with the strategic intent of the institution. Alignment was however, also to the strategic interests of the staff involved, and their professional and at times socio-political commitments as tertiary educators and researchers. Alignment was not utilitarian, but interpretative.

5. ‘Innovating’, ‘influencing others’, ‘collaborating’ and ‘sharing’ had positive connotations.
The research found that, when asked, staff did not use the term ‘leadership’ or ‘learning leadership’, nor did they see themselves as ‘learning leaders’. Rather, innovating and influencing others to improve the student experience; to form a bridge between a profession or body of knowledge and teaching; to solve an immediate learning and teaching problem; to fulfill a bigger change agenda of personal interest; all formed part of an academic or educational support staff’s professional business. Expanding opportunities for staff to innovate and share was highly valued.

Three Key Lessons (Principles)
Three key lessons emerged from the study.

1. Innovation needs to be aligned to institutional vision – and the institution needs to manage the tensions that can exist between alignment, creativity and innovation.
2. Good practice in blended and flexible and distance education needs to be manifested through sustainable, consistent and supported opportunities.
3. Regardless of the strategy or activity, commitment to approaches that enable academics to take time, collaborate, share, network and connect are key to innovation in blended and flexible and distance education.

Five Take Home Messages
1. Strategies and activities generated from the centre and distributed throughout an institution need to be mapped as a basis for future strategic planning, much in the same way that a course needs to be mapped when undergoing curriculum renewal.
2. Strategies and activities generated from the centre could be evaluated from the outside, rather than evaluated as experienced from the inside.
3. Better understanding needs to be developed concerning what works effectively in a comparative sense. By this we mean – (put colloquially) what gets a bigger and more sustainable bang for the buck?
4. ‘Top down’ leadership is important. Leadership development strategies need to be in place to assist positional leaders to develop leadership capabilities.
5. ‘Micro-leadership’ and ‘micro-influencing’ is important. What are the best ways of supporting their activities, including through workloads and resources?

Case Studies

Eight case studies were developed. Two case studies (MU) are located in Google Docs. Five case studies (CSU) are written as webfolios. The aforementioned case studies can be found at the following urls. One case study (CSU) is provided as a summary herein, and links to CSUED archival materials are provided in Appendix D of the final report.

Brown, M. & Hughes, H. (2012). Streaming down from the top: implementing a new learning management system in a College of Business. Dehub. <>.

Brown, M., Hughes, H. & Symons, S. (2012). Swimming upstream, micro-level redesign in unchartered waters. DeHub. <>.

Keppell, M.J., Hard, N. & Lyon, B. (2012). Teaching Fellowship Scheme. Dehub. <>.

Hunter, C. (2012). The introduction of an ePortfolio Tool, DeHub. <>.

Hunter, C. (2012). Course conversations as learning leadership - The case of the Blended and Flexible Learning Course Team Symposiums, Dehub. <>.

Edlington, B., & Hard, N. (2012). Shifting to student-centred facilitation of learning through professional development initiatives, Dehub. <>.

Rafferty, J. Keppell, M.K. & Hard, N. (2012). The nexus between space, time, teaching and learning. Dehub. <>.

Context Essay

Buchan, J. (2012). The changing nature of learning and teaching at Charles Sturt University 2008-2011, DeHub, Australia. A paper commissioned for Childs, M., Hard, N., Brown, M., Nicholas, Z., Hunter, C. & Keppell, M.(2012). Learning leadership in Higher Education: the big and small actions of many people. DeHub, PLACE?, Australia, <[1]>


Childs, M., Keppell, M., Brown, M., Hunter, C., Hard, N. & Hughes, H. (2011). Fostering institutional change and learning leadership – a study of stories of adaptation in blended and flexible learning and distance education. In G. Williams, P. Statham, N. Brown, B. Cleland (Eds.) Changing Demands, Changing Directions. Proceedings ascilite Hobart 2011. (pp.220-226).
Slideshare presentation [2] (ascilite)

HERDSA 2012 abstract titled Learning leadership in Higher Education – the big and small actions of many people, available here on the HERDSA website.