Leading Educational Change Together in Higher Education: Valuing Co-editorship as Professional Development

Activity: Academic Talks or PresentationsOral presentationResearch


General description and conceptual framework (600)
This presentation focuses on a rarely discussed topic: the learning which takes place when editing a book. Specifically, the presentation outlines the journey and lessons learned by the two editors in bringing together academics, senior members of staff and colleagues in the administration to contribute their knowledge and practice on the topic of leadership and change in the area of learning and teaching. In doing so, the presentation is a post-ad-hoc reflection on the, at the time, implicit methodological and practical choices made and the lessons learned as part of the process.

The book Leading Educational Change Together in Higher Education (to be published in 2020) is the result of an evolving collaboration which started in 2016 with a small funded project on leadership and change in UK higher education. Thanks to a fellowship funded by Keele University, the two editors saw merit in broadening the debate by inviting colleagues in the UK and internationally to share examples of how their institutions supported staff to lead educational change.

In line with the recommendations of the initial report and in the spirit of cross-institutional participation, the book presents leadership of educational change in higher education as a dynamic, collaborative and evolving area of practice and research. Contrary to the current gloom and doom rhetoric, the book acknowledges the wide-ranging changes in the sector, but is also takes heart in showing that there are already examples of how grass root practices are adopting new ways of working and adapting to new demands. Yet, much of what is currently developed remains invisible to many and under theorised.

Conceptually, the book aims to fill this gap in two ways. First by giving voice to those who, while being in a position of authority, rarely engage with research and academic writing focused on their professional practice. To achieve this aim the book comprises examples of ambitious, whole institutional cases and it exposes the roles differing members of the wider HE workforce play in responding to and leading educational change – from the development of educators, the roles of programme leaders, educational developers and senior leaders. Second, by being a place for practitioners, academics, senior managers and those responsible for setting regulatory frameworks to share and learn, and for practitioners (authors) to showcase their innovative practices and valuable learning from both the theory and practical experience of what works to support higher education student learning and to lead and manage change.

The process of being and becoming co-editors was one of continuous learning from initial mistakes but also from colleagues in the field, in collaboration with the publisher and through communication with the contributors. Yet, there is a dearth of research on the learning which takes place during this important aspect of academic professional life. Much writing is technical in nature and mainly focused on how to edit journals. However, as Edwards (2012) argues, the positive outcome of being co-editors of an edited book are invisible, overlooked, and not valued for career development or promotion. By sharing our journey, we contend that besides benefits such as number of future citations, build a scholarly community, or contributing to research and practice, co-editing a book should be seen, in the spirit of the book itself, as tangible evidence of the ability to lead educational change.

Methods/methodology (400)
Part of the lessons learned through this project is the lack of methodological and practical support for what it means to be editors. It is somehow expected that as academics we have acquired the art and craft of wading through a process which is rarely straightforward, and which requires not only academic but above all technical and interpersonal skills. It is fair to say that the methodology applied to this enterprise was emergent, opportunistic and evolved as new challenges arose and new opportunities were made open to us. In this sense, we applied what we had learned from doing the project about change management and leadership, and from our own implicit professional practice as both educators and in positions of leadership and management.

However, two principles remained steadfast: giving voice and establishing a supportive and collaborative environment inclusive of all contributors. In doing so, a participatory mix of design methodologies were applied within a more conventional community of practice approach (Lave and Wenger, 1991). Faced with a new and complex task and having to work with colleagues they had, in many case, no prior relationship with or who were located in different parts of the world, the two editors applied what retrospectively can be defined as a combination of ‘design’ and ‘agile’ thinking. While both help to plan in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous environment, they have been applied mainly to technological design and, increasingly to pedagogical instruction (Buchanan, 1992). Design thinking requires the application of creativity, and imagination to the task of creating a new product. Agile thinking, on the other hand, requires the collaboration of all involved to address changes in a quick and satisfactory manner.

The two approaches were applied to the various stages of the book production, that is: the initial idea; ongoing discussions with the publisher and with colleagues; open call for submissions; first process of selection; final proposal; online sessions with authors to share the book’s aims and expectations; reviewing process; and final submission.

Expected outcomes (300)
The journey through being editors brought about expected and unexpected learning outcomes. With regard to the book itself, the contributions broadened our understanding of the arrays of conceptual and practical solutions applied to the task of leading change in a collaborative and inclusive manner. The case studies showed how under the relentless pressure of competition and innovation, universities and higher education associations have responded by embedding and adapting change and leadership theories borrowed from business into an educational context. Distributed forms of leadership and a participatory approach to change were highlighted as having been successful in changing the culture of teaching and learning.

With regard to the process of being editors, the lessons learned touched and impacted on our personal professional development in a number of ways. From a technical point of view, we learned the ups and down of the process of finding a publisher and writing a book proposal for a different and more business-focused audience. From an academic perspective, editing a book requires a continuous framing and reframing of the initial idea and the ability to respond flexibly to a product which evolves as the process is under way.

Methodologically, applying a design and agile thinking approach together with a more traditional community of practice one has enabled us to learn from, but above all, together with the colleagues who have contributed to the book and with a wider audience, including publishers, mentors and the wider public. Doing this has forced us to reflect and revisit implicit assumptions about our own practice and to learn new skills or fine tunes others.

In the final analysis, we suggest that being editors needs to be valued not just for the final product but also as a valuable and valued form of professional development.

Intent of publication

References (400)

Buchanan, R. (1992) Wicked problems in design thinking. Design Issues, 8, 2, 5-21

Edwards, L. (2012) Editing Academic Books in the Humanities and Social Sciences: Maximizing Impact for Effort, Journal of Scholarly Publishing, 44, 1, 61-74

Lave, J. and Wenger, E. (1991) Situated Learning. Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
Period3 Sept 20196 Sept 2019
Held atECER 2019 “Education in an Era of Risk – the Role of Educational Research for the Future?”, Universität Hamburg 3-6 September 2019, Germany
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • educational change
  • higher education
  • book editorship
  • design methodologies
  • acdemic professional development
  • organisation change
  • Leadership