Pracademics: fostering the links between teaching and practice 

Dr Jill Dickinson and Teri-Lisa Griffiths (Sheffield Hallam University) discuss their work around ‘pracademics’ and the link between teaching and practice. Members of the Housing Studies Association might identify themselves as ‘pracademics’ and there are a growing number of ways of engaging in this work.  

Our research demonstrates how former or current practitioners who teach at university bring their practitioner experience to their lecturing roles. The findings evidence how these ‘pracademics’ draw on their skills and knowledge from practice to develop students’ understanding of professional values. Our research illustrates how this may happen in a variety of ways; for example, through academic pastoral roles, scenario-based teaching, and support with graduate employability. The findings illuminate the key role that pracademics can play in enhancing the student experience. This becomes particularly pertinent when considering the key challenges faced by the Higher Education (HE) sector, for example around the mental health and wellbeing of both staff and students. The fallouts from both Brexit and the pandemic have also compounded existing issues around a crowded graduate recruitment market, leaving many concerned about graduate recruitment prospects. 

Within this context, our research programme explored the experiences of former or current practitioners and their transitions from practice into academia. Previous research on pracademics has focussed on the benefits to research partnerships and knowledge exchange, see for example Posner (2009). However, we were interested in investigating the impact of pracademics on teaching in HE. Focussed on a case-study institution with a teaching-oriented portfolio, our findings reveal how pracademics employ their experiences from practice to engage students and prepare them for graduate recruitment within their fields. Furthermore, our participants reported how their professional values from practice had transferred to their teaching practice, through encouraging students to think critically about current practice and consider how professional practice should develop for the future. One of our key recommendations resulting from this research is for HE institutions to recognise the important role that pracademics play in shaping the student experience and support the development of pracademic-led communities of practice. 

In direct response, we successfully applied for Hallam Guild funding to create the Hallam Pracademia programme to champion the unique role played by pracademics in contributing to the HE community, and to support all academics across our University with developing their teaching and learning practice, research programmes, and career trajectories. The programme’s flagship event is the Connecting with Professional Practice Conference. Established as an annual event in the University’s calendar, the Conference responds to calls for the further development of links between HE and industry by bringing colleagues together from across the University and external organisations. Funded by the University’s Social and Economic Research Institute, we also run an associated seedcorn funding stream to support the development of collaborative research initiatives between colleagues across the University and external organisations. One of the successful applicants has commented how:

“The seed funding was critical for getting our project off the ground. We used the funding to hire a student casual researcher, who carried out time-consuming but crucial foundational scoping work and some initial research, which then gave us something of value to offer in initiating conversations with external practitioners. In addition, the seed funding helped us to attract further internal and external funding.”

In addition to this Conference, we utilised the opportunity afforded by Advance HE’s new, international Network, to create an online community of practice for pracademics across the sector. Entitled Pracademia, this initiative encourages academics and practitioners from all disciplines, and at all stages of their careers, to share best practice, and develop opportunities for collaboration around research, teaching, and professional development for the benefit of all academics, students, employers, and other organisations involved with the Higher Education sector.

Through working on this research programme, and building these communities of practice, we have identified an opportunity for collating pracademics’ narratives about their own experiences of navigating the transitions between practice and academia. Working with contributors from across the United Kingdom and further afield, we are delighted to be editing a collection for Springer on this topic. Underpinned by the literature, this multidisciplinary book provides insights for those who may be either contemplating or already involved in navigating career transitions from practice into academia and subsequent professional development within the HE sector. It also seeks to develop a deeper understanding of the value of pracademics within this sector. Dr Helen Taylor, the Chair of the Housing Studies Association and one of our contributors, notes how: “engagement with the HSA early on in my PhD made me feel like I’d found ‘my people’. Being influenced to return to academia following working in homelessness organisations, it was fantastic to be amongst a community where there was less of a divide between ‘academics’ and ‘practitioners’. For me, the real strength of the Housing Studies field is the impact our research can and should have on communities and individuals and I feel proud to part of a ‘pracademic’ discipline’”. The edited collection is due to be published next year – watch this space!

Bios

Dr Jill Dickinson is a Senior Lecturer in Law, and is currently on secondment with the Student Engagement, Evaluation and Research team at Sheffield Hallam University. As a former Solicitor, specialising in property law, Jill’s research interests encompass both place and professional development and she is an Associate Editor for the Journal of Property, Planning and Environmental Law.

@jill_dickinson1

Teri-Lisa Griffiths is a Senior Lecturer in Criminology at Sheffield Hallam University. Her research interests are focussed on student experience and professional development. Her previous research has explored themes around student engagement and academic development, professional identities, and how meaning is constructed in educational spaces. 


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