Intrepid educators launch new resource for educational development

A black man delivering a lesson to students in a classroom

York is a leading international teaching and research university that provides a highly valued educational experience. The University is preparing students for meaningful careers and long-term success. One recent instance is exemplary.

Two educators, an ocean apart, have joined forces to create a new online resource for those considering becoming educational developers and those beginning this vocation. York University Faculty of Education Professor and the Founding Director of Teaching Commons Celia Popovic together with Associate Professor Fiona Smart, head of the Department of Learning and Teaching Enhancement at Edinburgh Napier University in the United Kingdom, created Educational Developers Thinking Allowed (2020).

Celia Popovic
Celia Popovic
Fiona Smart
Fiona Smart

“With this new resource, we aim to open up our work, to make it more accessible to those who might be interested in becoming educational developers and to help support those of us who are educational developers,” says Popovic.

“It provides answers to key questions such as: What are our key concerns and fundamental practices? Where can we get help? How can we help each other?” says Smart. “We want this resource to develop as an interactive, dynamic conversation.”

Popovic has helped to put York University on the map in higher education. A prolific author, she has provided extensive contributions to the fields of higher education and educational development. She has co-edited and/or co-authored several books, including Advancing Practice in Academic Development (with David Baume), Understanding Undergraduates (with David Green), and Learning from Academic Conferences: Realizing the benefits on individual and institutional practice.

Both Popovic and Smart believe there is a pressing need for this resource.

What is an educational developer?

A growing and vibrant field aimed at enhancing teaching, educational development is a relatively recent entry into the Canadian educational landscape. It has been described as “a key lever for ensuring institutional quality and supporting institutional change” (Sorcinelli et al., Creating the future of faculty development).

Popovic believes there’s a quickly growing appreciation for the expertise that education developers bring to the post-secondary landscape. This is because they offer support and guidance in all things relating to teaching and learning in post-secondary education.

Often a faculty member with a passion for teaching will become an educational developer
Often a faculty member with a passion for teaching will become an educational developer

This role varies from institution to institution and country to country. Popovic elaborates: “In most countries, educational developers are established in centres such as the Teaching Commons [at York University] or embedded in Faculties and departments. Often a faculty member with a passion for teaching will become an educational developer, either by switching roles to become a developer, or by incorporating elements of educational development into their day-to-day work with colleagues.”

New resource is both accessible and engaging

The 14-chapter tool the academics created, Educational Developers Thinking Allowed, is accessible and easy to follow. Popovic and Smart lay the groundwork in the introduction to the first chapter. Subsequent sections discuss working in groups and one-on-one, working online – ideal for today’s context, getting organized, making connections and even fake news. There’s also a link to a community site.

Importantly, many international experts contributed to this original resource, introducing and facilitating the best practices from around the world. These scholars include academics from Coventry University, the University of Edinburgh, the University of London and Brock University.

Vignettes open the chapters, while examples, tables, hyperlinks and photographs are woven into the material. Fulsome reference sections and source citations at the end of most chapters offer visitors the chance to dig deeper on certain subjects.

Illustrations assist accessibility and provide an visually appealing resource (Credit: Liz Smith designer)
Illustrations assist accessibility and provide an visually appealing resource (Credit: Liz Smith designer)

Videos are embedded in a few locations, where Popovic and Smart speak directly to their audiences about key issues in education development, making the topic all the more accessible. Illustrations, by designer Liz Smith, also add visual appeal and aid accessibility.

Engagement, dialoguing and reciprocity – truly connecting with the audience – was of paramount importance to Popovic and Smart, so they included sections for dialogue, questions and comments at the end of most chapters.

“Initially, we planned a book but, on reflection, we realized that what we wanted was something more open than a book, something that could be updated regularly and, possibly most importantly, would allow for dialogue,” says Popovic.

What they have created is an indispensable new tool for today’s and tomorrow’s educators.

To see the new resource, visit the website. To learn more about Popovic, visit her Faculty Profile page.

To learn more about Research & Innovation at York, follow us at @YUResearch; watch our new animated video, which profiles current research strengths and areas of opportunity, such as Artificial Intelligence and Indigenous futurities; and see the snapshot infographic, a glimpse of the year’s successes.

By Megan Mueller, senior manager, Research Communications, Office of the Vice-President Research & Innovation, York University,