I’ve been slowly developing a philosophy of academic development without realising this is what I was doing

One of the multiple hats I wear is academic developer as much as I tend not to use the term. I’ve been training academics in the use of social media for over a decade through workshops, seminars, books, articles, blog posts, podcasts and videocasts. As much as I’m pleased that people often seem to find my work useful, I occasionally worry that my remarks in these settings tend to be somewhat banal. In part I think that’s because my original training as a theorist leaves me with a fixation on depth which I’ve still yet to completely exorcise from myself. It also reflects the fact that theoretical observations don’t have to be especially sophisticated to be useful, particularly when it comes to applied practice. In fact it’s the switch to a theoretical register in itself which is useful, as Tim May points to in a remark in ‘Reflections and reflexivity’ (pg 160):

My point in drawing attention to the relationship between research decisions and funding agencies, is that what is often called ‘practical’ in the research process can so easily lapse into the instrumental. At this point, theoretical and philosophical discourse can assist in the process of gaining a critical distance form everyday exigencies in order to reflect upon such decisions, the results of which feed back into practice itself.

This is what I’ve always instinctively done as an academic developer. I encourage academics step back, think about what they’re trying to achieve and what they need in order to do it. I try to clarify what is at stake in these undertakings in general terms and how we might usefully think about these stakes. In this sense it’s a matter of practical reasoning but it’s also about creating the conditions for that reasoning by enabling a conceptual distance from the everyday responsibilities which academics are confronting. What I think makes my work unusual is that it’s also shaped by a sociology of higher education which tries to understand why practical reasoning is difficult within higher education (e.g. my work with Filip Vostal on the accelerated academy, my work on cognitive triage) and in this intersection between philosophy & sociology you can see how critical realism operates as the underlying meta-theory of pretty much everything that I do.

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