1.4 Workplace advocate


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Based on the Ultraversity Project, this collection of patterns identifies the key innovations developed to teach an undergraduate programme of some 300 student researchers, supported entirely online and having collaboration between learners as a central component.

The Essence of the Problem

How to achieve an appropriate level of work-place support to help student researchers successfully integrate study with their work-role and to benefit all stakeholders.

The Problem in Detail

The approach developed to work-focused learning does not entail a formal agreement with a student researchers employer.  However, as action inquiries are being undertaken it is necessary to have a level of endorsement that allows for successful study and ideally would include active support.  In some cases, employers are paying fees and as such require confidence that the focus of study is directly beneficial to their organisation and some mechanism is required to achieve this.

The Solution

Formalise support from someone at work in the role of workplace advocate, this may be someone who already has responsibility for supporting the student researcher in some way.  If the situation in the work-context is such that there is no-one able or willing to fulfil this role the student researcher should identify another person to act as a sounding board to help them reflect upon the challenges they face and how these might be addressed.  It is important to try and identify someone who the student researcher works well with, who can support their professional development, and who has sufficient authority in the work-place to offer effectively support.  It is important that this person understands that Workplace advocacy is an enabling role; not one of directing studies and determening the focus for inquiries.

Nadine works as a housing officer for a housing association in the West Midlands.  Her work-place advocate is her line manager who although having no experience of working in HE takes a keen interest in staff development throughout the department. In their first planned meeting of the year Nadine explains the ideas she has had for some action inquiries over the coming semester. One idea was to look at improving communications with customers in particular how complex issues that require a multi-team approach are dealt with – this could include police, social services as well housing officers.  Her advocate can see the need to improve this area of work for the association as a whole and how, if Nadine could improve her practice, their would be potentially wider benefits.  The advocate is however sensitive to potential ethical issues and asks that Nadine to consult relevant policy documentation and to include this in her planning and arrange a future meeting to discuss her plans in detail.  Nadine makes a note to consider adding a target in her PDP around ethical work-practice and what it means for someone in her work-role.

Reflection on use

The experience of student researchers was very variable from highly effective Workplace advocates through to ones who offered no support other than tacit approval by their work-place for their studies.  There is a potential for confusion between the more formal aspects of mentoring and coaching and this role which has no formal basis and is the responsibility of the student reseracher to initaite and maintain.  If emplyers are paying fees, there is the temptation for them to wish to direct the focus and nature of the inquiries rather than allow student reseracher to identify what they believe are important issues or opportunities.

Related patterns

1.1 Organise learning places
1.2 Team Teaching
1.3 Exhibition for Dissertation
1.4 Workplace advocate
1.5 Action Learning Set
1.6 Patchwork ‘Media’
1.7 Personalised Learning Contract
1.8 The ‘Hotseat’ expert guest
1.9 Nurture Online Community of Inquiry


2 responses to “1.4 Workplace advocate

  1. I think the description above understates the issues that can arise.

    A ‘learning organisation’ would embrace this approach and the learner would already be familiar with a structure which goes further than individual support from a colleague to one were the ethos and systems provide encouragement, critical friendship and rapid adoption of successful research.

    A hierarchical organisation may have individuals who can support the learner but the organisation or upper levels of management would still feel threatened by ideas and proposals which are perceived as challenging their authority.

  2. Yes agreed, the problem is more significant or at least has other layers. Thanks Mac.

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