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"Finding balance through compromising." A grounded theory explaining EBP by course leaders in a small-specialist land-based higher education institution

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posted on 2023-09-25, 14:55 authored by Nieky Van Veggel

The context of this research is course leadership in small specialist higher education institutions. Course leaders are pivotal members of the academic team, whose role bridges the interests of all institutional stakeholders. In small-specialist HEIs, course leader roles typically include pastoral care of students, curriculum development, quality assurance, admissions, course marketing and mentoring of colleagues. Despite the importance of this role, course leadership is under-researched. The limited research available focuses on the role itself, rather than course leader practice, with scant recognition of how course leaders use EBP. The purpose of this research is therefore to explain how course leaders use evidence to inform their practice in small-specialist HEIs.

This study took a grounded theory approach to investigate evidence-based course leadership. Semi-structured interviews were held after which transcripts were coded and analysed through constant comparison and intensive memoing. The substantive theory “Finding balance through compromising” emerged from the data. This theory consists of three core categories: “finding balance”, “compromising” and “feeling undervalued”.

The findings show that “compromising” takes place within the course leader role, between the course leader role and other roles held by the course leader within the small-specialist institution, and between the course leader’s professional and personal lives. Due to the underpinning factor “feeling undervalued”, course leaders rely on experience and institutional data, but not peer-reviewed evidence to inform their course leader practice, even though they do use these for their teaching practice. Course leaders explained that a lack of professional development, a lack of recognition and a lack of resources were the main causes for compromising, and that favouring experience-based practice over EBP is a means to find balance.

Based on these findings, increasing EBP by course leaders will require institutional support through appropriate CPD opportunities, institutional recognition of the course leader role, and availability of resources. When these factors are integrated into institutional policy and practice, course leaders will need to compromise less, leading to EBP by course leaders, which will benefit all stakeholders.



Anglia Ruskin University

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  • Professional Doctorate

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  • Doctoral

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Faculty of Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care


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