In part I think this might be due to the perception of some that teaching and learning is something positioned outside of research. Others might see is as a distraction from their own research and therefore cannot understand why it would be the focus for such work. There is also, perhaps, a sector difference due to simple economics. Those universities which gain a greater proportion of their income and prestige from teaching obviously see the crossovers more obviously, although there are some prestigious UK universities which see academic development as important.
The emerging interest in teaching and learning comes at a time when we now have to deal with the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF). The details of this process are still being worked out, but all the indications are that it will eventually lead to a focus on outcomes (many of which will at best have a tangential link to teaching quality). As Halachmi (2014) says,
'The need to demonstrate accountability based on short-term information results in a single periodic report of organizational performance. The short perspective of such a report can be very misleading. It condones, if not encourages, sub-optimization. To look great for the moment at the expense of long-term achievements is an example of such sub-optimization.'
To build teaching and learning approaches on the basis of an accountability imperative will always lead to serious inadequacies because the accountability structures will constantly shift (you only have to look at the work of Ofsted in the schools sector where the inspection framework is constantly changing) leading to constant short-term reactive, rather than long-term proactive, change. Therefore, research into higher education teaching and learning needs to begin to become more holistic and critical. Below is the outline for a 'higher education studio' focusing on understanding, experimenting and embedding changes in higher education practice.
The diagram to the left is split into three multi-levelled foci and three elements of process. Taking the foci first, a studio would need to consider ideas, issues and research at a number of levels, as well as the interconnections between them. This would apply to small-scale issues relating to the individual and the group, through organisations/departments, to networks, systems and ultimately to global patterns and processes. The second sector shows the areas of research and practice development which might be included at these different levels. At the lowest level, it would focus on pedagogy, understanding and developing practice in the widest spectrum of contexts possible. At layers above this would feed into associated issues which support such practice, professional growth, organisation and network change, policy and aims and philosophies relating to teaching and learning. This repositions teaching and learning as part of a much wider network of issues and ideas, part of an open system which needs to be understood and practiced in an interconnected context.
The final sector gives some impression of the breadth of methodological tools such a studio would need to develop and use. One of the worrying developments in the understanding of teaching in the schools sector has been the emergence of a narrow view of what constitutes evidence and 'correct' methodologies. An emerging fetish for positivism and randomised controlled trials has led to the potential for radical complexity reduction and resultant simplification of what constitutes 'good teaching'. HE needs to learn form this and avoid it. We need a rich, multi-perspective approach to help develop new practice. This means that experimental approaches might have a place, but only alongside case studies, action research, analysis of big data, etc. as well as the evaluation of existing research evidence through transparent, structured reviews of the literature.
At the same time as these sectors of activity are built, they need to be tied together through the processes such a studio would create. The research needs to be transdisciplinary. Researchers from across different disciplines need to work together to enable them to bring together their different, and perhaps sometimes conflicting, insights. The different perspectives, together with an explicit attempt to understand how activity at different scales, all within an open system would allow for a complexity orientated way of working, and one based on understanding and developing processes of teaching and learning. The resultant insights would also be contextualised; it would not be an attempt to project a 'single solution' across the diverse contexts but to learn from across them to aid reflection and the continual emergence of new practice. As a result, this would also lead to a focus on change, considered, incremental and contextual.
It is enticing to believe that we can head towards a single, 'best' approach to teaching, based on outcome data gleaned from accountability systems. But this is to ignore the complex diversity of needs, aims and processes involved in different disciplinary environments. A 'higher education studio' would work with the complex processes rather than ignore, or attempt to eradicate, them. And in the long term such an approach would be our best shot at developing emergent, high quality teaching and learning.