7.1 Identifying the wider context of practice
The wider context of practice can be taken to mean the methods of teaching and learning which exist in other subject areas or in other institutions as well as policy and guidance documents produced for the HE sector. There is a wide range of information availiable both within the Open University and externally on teaching and learning.
The importance of the wider context is that issues you face in your own teaching may well be faced in other HEIs, and the same goes for the solutions. The view that the Open University is not like other universities simply doesn't hold anymore and so much can be learnt from the practice of other HEIs.
The use of online media is a fantastic way to get an idea of how things are done elsewhere, although of course institutional websites are unlikely to give a 'warts and all' view of things. That said, institutions vary greatly in how much they allow visitors to gain access to their internal sites.
The currency of online media is also hugely beneficial to the practitioner researcher in that it provides an insight into developments in teaching and learning, particularly those using new technologies, which are not yet at the stage of being formally disseminated.
The following sections provide some guidance on where information on this wider context can be found.
Student information and materials
As indicated above, there is a wide variety of practice amongst other HEIs as to what they will allow visitors to access. That said, much of the information aimed at students is outward-facing and a lot can be gained from the messages the different institutions are giving their students about teaching and learning. If your focus is more on the practice of teaching and learning then this information may well be hidden from visitors.
For Open University staff, including Associate Lecturers, there is an abundance of information and materials related to teaching and learning. The most useful starting point for anything related to the student experience is Fingertips. The link to the Module websites from Fingertips can be searched by faculty, module and presentation and provides easy access to teaching and assessment material.
Institutional documentation and practice
Institutional documentation on teaching and learning can cover a broad range of things from policy documents through to staff development provision.
Although HEIs vary in how widely availiable their internal documentation relating to policy and practice is, there is a surprising amount of material which is relatively easy to find.
Of particular value are the online staff portals which many HEIs have. Both policy documents and staff development provision can be a good indicator of what the HEI views as important in terms of teaching and learning.
Accounts of practice
Many teaching and learning related organizations, such as the Society for Research in Higher Education (SRHE) and the Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA) make good use of online social media as well as face to face meetings to have often quite candid discussions between members about the current state of teaching and learning in their institutions.
Both organizations also have peer-reviewed conferences and journals, details of which can be found in the 'Engaging with the research' section.
HE guidance and policy
Practitioner research is unlikely to reach the level of national policy but it The Higher Education funding councils such as HEFCE in England and SFC in Scotland provide a wide range of higher level policy and research documentation. The same goes for the national quality assurance agencies
The Higher Education Academy provides information and runs workshops on a whole range of teaching and learning topics. Although the HEA subject centres have now come to an end, much of the material they produced has been archived on the HEA website This includes guidance on conducting practitioner research as well as examples of practitioner research projects.