Emergent leadership in a transnational higher education research team

A research chat with EdD graduate Will Kay

Tell us about your research project.

The central issue of my research was observing the emergence of leadership within a scholarly community of practice engaged in a higher education teaching and learning innovation. It was a meta-study examining a community of scholars who were in the process of conducting a scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL) based initiative with their students. The study took place in the Middle East, in a transnational branch campus of a university based in North America.

From my lens as an educational developer, I was interested in learning more about the relationships that develop throughout the community’s process of engagement. I was observing the interplay that existed between the community members themselves, and between the community members and external agents. I was hoping to learn more about the optimal conditions necessary to foster and support these types of learning communities in that situated transnational higher education context.

During the earlier stages of my career in education, I was frequently involved in collaborative action research initiatives with my peers. As I moved into the area of educational development, I became more interested in understanding the supports needed to assist other faculty members in conducting SoTL-related research. While I was working in the Middle East, collaborative research projects amongst faculty members were becoming very popular. Given the relatively limited time some faculty members were committed to living and working overseas, there were often time constraints involved with several ambitious research initiatives. This tended to have either a positive or a negative effect on projects moving forward.

My participants were five faculty and academic support staff from the fields of nursing education, medicine education, and clinical simulation technology and education. As a collective, they represented an interprofessional (IPE) community of practice that were engaged in an experiential simulation-based learning initiative in the area of family assessment.

What did you discover?

The key findings centred on three sub-questions that examined the role of a systems convener that could successfully lead the community’s vision, the level of distributed leadership that existed within the community, and the challenges and successes that the community experienced throughout their engagement process.  The main research question was more expansive in mapping out leadership emergence within my study’s transnational landscape.  Findings in this area were related to power dynamics between the professional practices within the community, the sovereignty of each practice, and the optimal learning that occurred when practices crossed boundaries during the collaborative process.

One major contextual finding that emerged throughout the study was the leading role that nursing practice played in this initiative.  Literature has documented the often contentious relationships between medical and nursing practice with medicine tending to assume a hierarchical role in this relationship.  In this study, the hierarchy was shifted as it was the nursing practice that led.  However, this was a negotiated shift between members from different practices that shared a strong vision and commitment to achieving their collective goal.  It was a very exciting dynamic to observe as a researcher.

I found the potential and capacity of educational developers to serve as important brokers between faculty and institutional leadership to be empowering for the emerging field of educational development.  I think that this research speaks to educational developers in better embracing processes that can facilitate scholarship supports that build capacity and impact. Through a wider lens, I feel that this was a unique study in a very unique transnational higher education context that utilized an innovative and integrated conceptual framework.