A Simple User’s Guide
Are you an innovative university teacher? Would you like your innovations to spread far and wide? Would you like to take more responsibility for their dissemination, while also building your strategic impact and leadership for your CV and promotion options?
If you answered ‘Yes’ to all three questions you might be interested in using the 4Cs Dissemination Strategy (Gribble & Beckmann, 2023) as a systematic approach to guide your activities.
The 4Cs are simply four spheres of your influence—Classroom, Corridors, Campus, Community. (Yes, we all know ‘corridors’ are often virtual these days, but think of these as the places where you are most likely to find the colleagues who teach similar disciplines to similar cohorts).
The 4Cs strategy allows you to think consciously about your sharing of practice—and your impact on students and colleagues—in all these spheres of influence, so that you explain your innovations to the right people at the right time.
Gribble and Beckmann (2023) provide a scholarly narrative of why and how the 4Cs Strategy was developed, while below you can find a User’s Guide—practical ideas on how to implement 4Cs for yourself. You might also like to join an international 4Cs Community of Practice (see below).
IN YOUR CLASSROOM
First, you have to innovate! So look to your classroom. Explore the problems you and your learners are experiencing. What approaches are you using? Are these achieving the outcomes you want and expect?
As an educator who wants to be innovative, you need to become a problem-based learner. Identify the barriers to more effective teaching and learning in your learning environments, and think carefully about what needs to change to bring about improvement in the direction you would like. For example, if you want students to write more clearly, you might need to bring in innovations that help them to do just that.
Be scholarly—look to the pedagogical underpinnings of what you are doing. Think about your ‘why’, ‘how exactly’ and ‘so what’, not just your ‘what’. Have other university teachers dealt with your problem, but perhaps in a different discipline or a different cultural context? Remember, innovation in university teaching is not necessarily about invention—about creating something completely novel. Rather it is just as much about an innovative use of an existing approach in an unexpected context.
Look especially at the everyday technologies you are already using. Most have many features that remain hidden in plain sight, but which are easily implemented to engage learners and assist learning. For example, most common technologies and platforms have audio features as options. Could you use these to give audio instructions, or audio feedback, so your voice can become more integral to your students’ learning even if you are fully online and asynchronous?
Whatever your innovation, whether very small or very large, plan ahead. To collect students’ or colleagues’ data or opinions in connection with your innovation, and then use those opinions in publications, you might need human research ethics approval. But you might not, especially if you are focusing on disseminating the practice rather than publishing specific data. You certainly do need to set in place evaluation, so that you can compare your existing and new practices carefully and critically. Seek peer review early on, so that you can be sure your classroom impacts are real. We only want to be disseminating successful innovations—changes we know that work to improve teaching, learning and the student experience or both.
IN THE CORRIDORS
Meet and talk with your closest colleagues—in real or virtual corridors—about the problems they are facing in their teaching practice. Compare these problems with your own, and see if there are any overlaps. If so, explain what you are doing to address these same problems, and why, and with what outcomes. Keep the focus on how you have addressed the teaching problems you have in common: your experiences may help them.
However, remember that feedback works both ways. Your immediate local and discipline peers can provide deep insights into your own practice: their questioning will lead you to a deeper understanding of what you are doing and if/why/how it is working to improve matters.
When you have an innovation to share, offer to support others who want to introduce something similar into their teaching. Share your feedback mechanisms to increase the availability of comparable and comparative metrics and other measures of impact.
But remember that an innovative practice works for you in a specific way but may need modifying for other contexts. Do not try to main an innovation ‘intact’ if you are trying to disseminate: your idea will be stronger if it has been tried and tested, and proved adaptable, in different circumstances. Be prepared for some colleagues to become second generation innovators, wanting to adapt your approaches quite significantly.
Consider applying for School or even Faculty teaching awards at this stage: the required reflection on your practice can provide significant insights and help you develop the structural and scholarly integrity of your innovative work.
AROUND THE CAMPUS
Once you have had some solid peer review on your innovations from immediate colleagues, and seen your new practice work for others in contexts closely related to your own, consider what opportunities exist for your ideas to reach broader audiences in your institution.
Look for education-related communities of practice, learning and teaching forums, seminar series, teaching newsletters or blogs, or professional development schemes—any environment where you can share your experiences in receptive, preferably two-way forums. Simple demonstrations underpinned by solid pedagogy and truthful experiences can be transformative.
If your institution offers funding for research or implementation of teaching innovations, consider drawing together a group of colleagues who have applied your innovation in their teaching to apply for collaborative funding. Projects that span many disciplines are inherently more attractive to those providing funds!
Consider applying for an institutional teaching award as another form of peer review. The reflective process will be powerfully supportive of your practice becoming more evidence-based, and winning awards builds further confidence and credibility as the basis for more dissemination.
INTO THE WIDER COMMUNITY
Be open to the notion of disseminating your ideas to the community beyond your campus. Remember, your community includes not just institutions that teach in related contexts, and professional associations interested in teaching in your discipline, but also the industry sector that employs your graduates, and perhaps the social setting in which your teaching occurs.
If your innovation has been successfully tested to this point, and you know it is a significant improvement on what has been done before, you want others to know.
Be bold: beyond the standard professional or academic conferences and journal papers that may loom large in thinking about your CV and promotion, also consider writing blogs as a guest author, podcasting (as guest or presenter). and targeting social media that will reach your specific audiences (including potential students).
Always remember that your aim with the 4Cs strategy is to disseminate and share your innovation as an aspect of thought leadership—a way of going about teaching differently—rather than simply as a ‘follow these rules’ recipe. Encourage others to experiment with ingredients!
Make connections and start conversations with like-minded educators, wherever they are in the world. Don’t forget to follow up to see how others are using the work you have shared. Joining the 4Cs Community of Practice could be one way to start.
Lynn Gribble SFHEA CMALT, UNSW School of Management & Governance
Beth Beckmann PFHEA CMALT SFSEDA FAITD, Beth Beckmann & Associates
Gribble. L. & Beckmann, E. A. (2023).
The 4 Cs Strategy for disseminating innovations in university teaching: Classroom, Corridors, Campus, Community.
Journal of University Teaching and Learning Practice, 20(1), 13-34. https://doi.org/10.53761/1.20.01.03
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