Integrating admin with teaching and research

In an earlier post I offered some thoughts in response to an article by Catherine Armstrong on ‘Integrating Teaching Responsibilities with Research and Admin‘, where I focussed on linking teaching and research for the benefit of both. I promised a follow-up (perhaps foolishly since this now seems a more difficult prospect with less research out there!) on linking admin with teaching and research. So here goes…

In the article mentioned above, Catherine Armstrong suggests that it is worthwhile for early career academics to find some time for administrative work in order to gain some insight into how academic decsion-making works. It also demonstrates that you are a collegial member of staff, who is willing to take on the (often thankless) admin roles that no-one really wants to do (because there is little formal or monetary recognition for doing so). However, there are other reasons to get involved in the administrative side of academic life, and it doesn’t necessarily mean that time spent in committee meetings is time not spent on teaching and/or research. It is possible to use time spent on administrative tasks to support teaching and research.

One way to see this, is to understand that greater input into decision-making processes at departmental level may well allow academics greater say over how their working time is used, and how their role is defined. For instance, Carol Colbeck found that, ” [h]aving a voice in decisions about teaching assignment enhanced faculty members’ opportunities to integrate research and classroom-oriented teaching” (Merging in a Seamless Blend: How Faculty Integrate Teaching and Research, Journal of Higher Education, 69:6, 1998). Sitting on Teaching and Learning committees, taking responsibility for a particular module or simply attending School meetings provide greater opportunities for academics to integrate their teaching and research. This may seem like a bit of a cheat (isn’t this really about bringing teaching and research together?) but using admin to provide you with greater opportunities to link other aspects of your role can bring greater synergy (and meaning) to all three.

A further way to connect the three main parts of an academic role, is to use admin tasks and roles to impact on teaching and/or research efficiency or effectiveness. While academics might view (and feel like) admin, teaching and research as separate tasks with their own time demands, the reality is that they are inevitably connected – it just doesn’t always feel like that when they are all measured separately (through, for instance, the REF and the NSS). Nevertheless, it is possible to impact on one via the others. One example of this is Manchester’s Researchers into Managment programme, an ILM accredited middle managers development course for Research Staff. As part of the assessment for the course, participants have to plan a change project that would have a positive impact on organisational (generally understood to be at the departmental level) effectiveness and/or efficiency. This project clearly provides an opportunity for early career researchers to explore the relationship between management, teaching and/or research. So, for instance, previous projects have looked at how to improve NSS scores, how to make better use of e-learning resources, how to improve the understanding of key research terms within a research group and how to better communicate strategic goals (around teaching and reseach). If these projects were successful, time spent on admin would have a positive impact on other aspects of academic roles – not just for the manager, but for other colleagues too.

As I suggested above, there is relatively little research into how administrative and managerial roles might be integrated and supportive of the other aspects of academic work.  However, hopefully it is possible to see that admin can also be integrated into teaching and learning. Clearly, the way that academic performance is measured may not be conducive to academic staff seeing their role in a holistic way, but nor does it necessarily mean that the different aspect of academic work have to be kept separate.

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