ALDinHE Regional Symposium, De Montfort University, Wednesday 13th February

Sunny Dhillon (Learning Advisor)

Following an informal meet at last year’s ALDinHE Annual Conference at the University of Leicester, a few of us (Jason Eyre and Tracy Slawson [De Montfort University], Steve Rooney [University of Leicester]) bonded over a shared interest in theory. In particular, we noted how it frames and intersperses our practices as learning developers. We also surmised that amongst the Learning Development in Higher Education community at large, there were perhaps a relatively small percentage of theory ‘enthusiasts’, who were forever dropping in terms such as ‘neoliberalism’ and ‘post-structuralism’ into conversations over tea, as though they were receiving royalties by employing them as much as possible (guilty as charged!), a larger number who were curious about theory, but maybe sometimes a little intimidated by the inevitable jargon, and also some who were pretty averse to theoretically laden discussions, seeing them as anathema to undertaking wholesome, student-centred LD practices.

Whether the above was a fair reflection of the LD demographic is up for debate, of course – It really was more of a hunch than anything. What didn’t seem debatable to us, however, was the need for a symposium to further explore how theory informs LD. The event we hosted thereby sought to provide a space in which to explore how critical theoretical perspectives help us to challenge and reflect on our practices, assumptions, professional identities, and positioning within contemporary higher education.

We were very fortunate to receive a keynote from Dr Emily Danvers (University of Sussex), whose presentation drew upon contemporary feminist, queer and post-structural theory in order to interrogate and re-think how student criticality tends to be framed and conceptualised in the academy. As well as discussing her work in this area, Emily also talked about her experiences of working with theory, sharing some seminal papers in the process (please see below).

The rest of the event provided participants with opportunities to critically explore their own encounters with/questions about/problems with/hostility towards theory, and its role in stimulating critique. The event was attended by 21 colleagues, predominantly from HEIs in the Midlands. There was much lively debate, and many participants repeatedly noted how discussion of theory in day-to-day practices are relegated to the status of mere luxury, which impede ‘getting on with the job’ of a learning developer/advisor.

There were many action points taken from the day, the majority of which will be outlined within a ‘Theory in the Practice of LD’ website:

If you’d like to find out more, please do visit the site!

Further reading:

  • Danvers, E.Who is the critical thinker in higher education? A feminist re-thinking.Teaching in Higher Education, 23(5), 548-562. doi: 10.1080/13562517.2018.1454419
  • Jackson, A. Y., & Mazzei, L. A. 2013. Plugging one text into another: Thinking with theory in qualitative research. Qualitative Inquiry, 19(4), 261-271. doi: 10.1177/1077800412471510
  • MacLure, M. 2010. The Offence of Theory. Journal of Education Policy, 25(2), 277-286. doi: 10.1080/02680930903462316