Creating more ‘elbow room’ for collaborative reflective practice in the competitive, performative culture of today's university

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We live in “a world of clashing interests” [Zinn, H. (1991). Declarations of independence: Cross-examining American ideology. Toronto: Harper Collins, p. xx]. In a grapple for survival, universities choose to spend less money and time on teaching and learning, less time on robust evaluation of student learning and concomitantly less active support for collaborative reflective practice. However, the situation is even more dire than that outlined above because university management seeks to portray its focus on teaching and learning as genuine and a priority. Considerable effort is spent on encouraging teachers to compete for teaching excellence awards at the same time as universities push academics harder and harder into “real research”, that is, research that is not about teaching and learning. This is further exacerbated by the use of teaching quality instruments which have been criticised as unreliable indicators of student learning. This paper argues that individual reflective practitioners collecting and collaborating together can advocate for teaching in the current higher education environment but the outreach of this advocacy is likely to be limited when the advocacy remains within “pockets of resistance”. To further promote change from within the institution and extend the breadth and depth of an individual's influence beyond the pockets of resistance, we suggest that individuals use collaborative reflective practice-based strategies aligned with each of the dimensions of the institution’s “cultural web”. Collaborative reflective practice has the potential to advocate for teaching beyond small groups of enthusiasts because it taps into the often hidden but heart-felt passion and commitment to teaching held by many academics.




Kennelly, R., & McCormack, C. (2015). Creating more ‘elbow room’ for collaborative reflective practice in the competitive, performative culture of today’s university. Higher Education Research and Development, 34(5), 942–956.

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