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Emerging Third Space Professionals: Supporting directors of central teaching and learning centres and learning designers in employment and career decision-making

Thursday 4 July: Conference day two, 4:15pm – 4:45pm parallel session



Room 11 – 303-B11 Sem  



Dr Christine Slade
The University of Queensland, Australia

Dom McGrath
The University of Queensland, Australia

Dr Ruth Greenaway
University of the Sunshine Coast, Australia

Dr Jeff Parker
The University of Queensland, Australia



Central teaching and learning centres are responsible for translating new sectoral and institutional strategic priorities across universities. Directors look to recruit, employ and retain learning designers (LDs) (also called educational designers or similar) as ‘change agent[s], catalyst[s] and provider[s] of expertise’ (Obexer & Giardina, 2016, p. 138) to help meet this responsibility. As such, LDs enter the ‘third space’ of academic development in which academic and professional role boundaries are porous and overlapping (Whitchurch, 2008; Veles & Carter, 2016). Little is known about how best to attract and retain new LD staff members in this context, from both an institutional and employee perspective (Shurville, Browne & Whitaker, 2009).


The initiative/practice

This aim of this research is to provide a snapshot of current LD practices across Australian universities as decision-making evidence for both Directors and LDs. Key themes include: recruitment (demographic data, professional and educational backgrounds, and current employment trends); employment (role types and employment conditions); and retention (professional development and career advancement).


Method of evaluative data collection and analysis

After gaining human ethics approval, we used pilot study themes and current literature to design two separate surveys to target: 1) Directors of central teaching and learning centres and 2) LDs employed under the auspices of these centres. We contacted Directors through publicly available work emails and engaged professional networks to distribute information for potential participants. Twenty-one directors and 103 learning designers responded. Data were coded and analysed using descriptive statistics and NVivo Pro 11.


Evidence of effectiveness

Directors are using the research results to consider important LD recruitment, employment, and retention challenges, including:

  • Re-examining the current pay levels
  • Seeking to facilitate improved avenues of self-directed learning and professional recognition, such as HEA fellowship scheme
  • Considering how to create senior roles in complex projects
  • Developing professional development opportunities
  • Creating pathways for emerging LDs

The research has also assisted existing LDs to understand current practices and make informed career choices.



Obexer, R., & Giardina N. (2016). What is a Learning Designer? Support roles and structures for collaborative eLearning implementation, 137-146. Paper in GMW2016 Conference Proceedings, Innsbruck.
Shurville, S., Browne, T., & Whitaker, M. (2009). Accommodating the newfound strategic importance of educational technologists within higher education. Campus Wide Information Systems, 26(3), 201-231.
Veles, N., & Carter, M. (2016). Imagining a future: changing the landscape for third space professionals in Australian higher education institutions. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 38(5), 519-533.
Veles, N., Carter, M., & Boon, H. (2018). Complex collaboration champions: university third space professionals working together across borders, Perspectives: Policy and Practice in Higher Education,
Whitchurch, C. (2008). Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: the Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62(4), 377-396.
Whitchurch, C. (2012). Reconstructing Identities in Higher Education: The Rise of ‘Third Space’ Professional, 111-145. New York: Taylor & Francis.
Whitchurch, C., Skinner, M., & Lauwerys, J. (2009). Recent developments in relation to professional staff in UK higher education. Australian Universities Review, 51(1),56-60.


Presentation topic

Academics – Academic Development

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