Category Archives: Academic Life

A Tale of Two Communities of Practice: Building SoTL across a diverse Science and Engineering Faculty

My colleague Professor Mark Langan and I presented this Tale of Two Communities at EuroSoTL 2022 yesterday. For those who weren’t able to attend, or who asked us to share the slides, you can access them via the link below.

Encouraging academics to engage in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning ( SoTL) when they already have busy and diverse workloads is a persistent challenge across the University landscape. Focusing on experiences in the Faculty of Science and Engineering in our home institution of Manchester Metropolitan University , we shared the story of two distinct Communities of Practice, both of which operate differently as they create spaces to enable academics to gather and learn from each other whilst developing shared SoTL practice. 

Community of Practice 1 was formed in 2018. Named “Education Escapes”, we wanted this to be a place to ‘escape from the day job’, and to debate contemporary subjects catalysed by thought-provoking educational speakers. Membership is diffuse and transient with all academics in the Faculty invited to monthly meetings. 

Community of Practice 2 was formed late in in 2019 and named “EPC Community” to reflect its more focused approach to staff development. Membership is by Head of Department invitation, and aligns to members’ commitment to the Education, Pedagogy and Citizenship (EPC) Career Pathway (an education-focused promotion track). We have around 50 academic members, meeting six times a year with the explicit aim of building capability in SoTL and mentoring members for promotion. 

Our session at EuroSoTL drew on the personal reflections of the two convenors, and written reflections of members’ experiences of the two communities, in two ways. Firstly, through the lens of Wenger’s (1998) three characteristics of Communities of Practice (domain, community and practice) and secondly, using Trigwell and Shale’s (2004) three components of scholarship; knowledge, practice and outcomes. We shared candidly what has worked and not worked in both communities and explored tensions experienced by academics as they step beyond their disciplinary fields and into the domain of Scholarship of Learning and Teaching.


Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge University Press.

Trigwell, K. and Shale, S. (2004). Student learning and the scholarship of university teaching. Studies in Higher Education29(4), 523-536.

My leadership journey at Man Met Uni – Reflections 2 years on

This short talk was given on 3rd Dec 2019 to staff at Manchester Metropolitan University, who have recently taken on a new management role. The slides are available here as a reflection on my leadership journey in the 2 years since I have been “Managing at Man Met Uni”. They cover my own rather winding path to an academic leadership position, my leadership philosophy as it has developed and what I have learnt in these two hectic, challenging and formative years.

Learning Academic Leadership – Finding my feet

One symptom of just how busy I have been over my first 8 months at Man Met Uni has been my neglect of my blogging.  I had great plans to continue my series of reflections as I began my new role at Man Met but these have been blown away by the speed at which I have had to learn to adapt to both a new Institution – full of new people, processes and ways of doing things – and to a new senior role.

So how has this last 8 months been and what have I learned that I could share with other academics in the same position?

Well,  its been a bit of a roller coaster to be honest.  I think I started well; I  made my primary focus that of building really good relationships with people and concentrating on two key maxims of leadership – enthusiasm and integrity (John Adair).  I made myself as visible as possible within the Faculty, built  my Education team within the first 2 months, aimed for a couple of quick wins and Chaired my first Faculty committees.  All of this was a massive learning curve; overwhelming at times but by focusing on each day in turn I made it to Christmas and then to Easter without any great mishaps or mis-steps. Continue reading Learning Academic Leadership – Finding my feet

Grappling with management responsibilities in academia

This semester I came back from a refreshing and highly productive six month sabbatical to a maelstrom of teaching activity and my first proper management role within my department.  As is often the case within academia, the role was new and ill-defined.  It involves enhancing teaching quality (whatever that means)  across 40 undergraduate and postgraduate units delivered by 18 academics .  Three months in, I wanted to share some reflections on how I am adapting to my new management responsibilities.

In my view, management responsibilities in academia are akin to a medieval game of football.  There are few rules, many hundreds of players,  several often conflicting objectives,  and pretty ineffective levers of control.  So, here are some strategies for playing the game…..


Continue reading Grappling with management responsibilities in academia

Getting Started in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning

Once a year myself and a colleague deliver a session to participants in the New Academic’s Programme at The University of Manchester entitled “Scholarship of Teaching and Learning (SOTL)”.  Our aim in this session is to spark interest in  the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as a valuable and legitimate scholarly activity.  The slides, which are available in Slideshare here, provide an overview of what SOTL is, how it is similar and yet subtly different to pedagogic research, and tools and techniques for getting started.  It is a resource that I wish had been available when I was starting my academic career and I hope it is useful to you as a means of reflecting on and improving your teaching practice in Higher Education today.