Case #13: Shared Leadership Bridges Application and Strategy for Teaching and Learning Support Teams


DISCIPLINE:Technology-enhanced Learning, Curriculum Renewal, Higher Education
RESEARCH AREAS: Curriculum transformation, building teaching and learning capability


Deakin University, Australia has a strong focus on learner-centered curriculum, leveraging premium digital learning environments for both on-campus and online learners. Renewal of curriculum in an increasingly complex digital learning environment poses challenges for teachers and teaching support teams. A shared leadership model for teaching support combines deep local knowledge in application with institutional strategy and innovation projects. This sustainable teaching support model bridges the gap between teaching delivery and strategic intent.


In 2014, the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education, Deakin University, re-built teaching support teams for curriculum renewal to facilitate whole-of-institution curriculum renewal. Separate teams were placed in each of the University’s four Faculties: Arts & Education, Business & Law, Health and Science, Engineering & Built Environment. Each team includes design capability (academic developer, educational designer), production capability for learning resources (multi-media, video and web designers), and a project manager for co-ordination and task management. Teams are embedded in their home Faculty with day-to-day management of the team by a senior Faculty learning and teaching leader (Associate Dean Teaching and Learning) and physical location near Faculty members. Teams remain structurally connected to the University strategy through the central teaching and learning portfolio, who retains budgetary control over positions in the team and shares supervision of team leaders with the Faculty. Functional connections are maintained through regular contact and collaborative work on innovation projects. Effective matrix management is maintained by close collaborative leadership between the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education (university central leadership) and each Faculty Associate Dean Teaching and Learning (local Faculty leadership).


Teaching and learning is increasingly a team activity. Teaching in higher education is often shared between ongoing faculty staff and sessional staff or teaching assistants with varying levels of experience. Specialists in technology-enabled learning, inclusive curriculum, learning design, assessment, classroom practice, and evaluation of student experience have complementary skills to contribute to teaching practice, but co-ordination of many stakeholders can be overwhelming for individual teachers. Using constructed teams to support curriculum renewal has been tested in Australian universities (Matthews et al, 2015; Sharma et al, 2017) and shows the values of multi-functional groups. At the same time, universities need to respond to changing educational contexts and the global growth of participation in higher education with large-scale projects and targeted investment. Effective management of complex teams working in dynamic circumstances requires considered leadership, which reflects the 5-Pillar Model of educational leadership.

Two levels of leadership are evident in this support structure. The Faculty teaching and learning support teams bridge the gap between the shared institutional priorities for learning and teaching, and the reality of teaching delivery. The bridge is effective because these teams have responsibilities and commitment to both central and Faculty leadership. They are local leaders and connectors; helping teachers to navigate a complex environment and ensuring information flows back to the centre to shape future decisions. The second level of leadership emerges from the collaboration between the central and Faculty managers of these teams. This is a respectful relationship based on shared aims and an appreciation of each context.

Both forms of leadership succeed through a shared commitment to teaching excellence (Pillar 4) amongst team managers, team members and teachers. The teaching and learning support teams operate through influence so must persuade teachers through evidence-based practice oriented to action and problem-solving (Pillar 3). Teaching and learning support teams frequently partner with teachers in pedagogical research to drive engagement with innovation and build the evidence base to shape future strategic planning (Pillar 5). Distributed responsibility for working with teachers and feeding back into the broader strategy is supported by mentoring and empowering teaching and learning support teams (Pillar 2). This team environment and matrix management is reliant on affective qualities (Pillar 1); particularly trust and empathy to understand different contexts.

“Effective management of complex teams working in dynamic circumstances requires considered leadership, which reflects the 5-Pillar Model of educational leadership.”


Although complex, this organisational structure is resilient and sustainable as it adjusts to pressures from different directions. The Faculty teaching and learning teams have been in place for five years, with structures and functions maintained through changes in all of the central and Faculty leaders and substantial changes in the team personnel. The teams have successfully adapted to support four whole-of-institution projects: curriculum renewal, multiple upgrades of the integrated digital learning environment, introduction of MOOC platforms and development and delivery of new active learning design across multiple disciplines. The teams have simultaneously become embedded in continuous improvement of courses and are now well recognised across the University. This project is recognised within the university as an internal curriculum renewal project. As yet, this work has not been externally referred for publication.


Matthews, K.E., Crampton, A., Hill, M., Johnson, E.D., Sharma, M.D., & Varsavsky, C. (2015). Social network perspectives reveal strength of academic developers as weak ties, International Journal for Academic Development, 20(3), 238-251, DOI: 10.1080/1360144X.2015.1065495

Sharma, M.D., Rifkin, W., Tzioumis, V., Hill, M., Johnson, E., Varsavsky, C., Jones, S., Beames, S., Crampton, A., Zadnik, M. & Pyke, S. (2017). Implementing and investigating distributed leadership in a national university network–SaMnet. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 39(2),169-182.


Headshot of Liz Johnson

Professor Elizabeth Johnson is Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia. She is an Australian National Teaching Fellow and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy, UK and was the inaugural Director of the Teaching and Learning Centre of the Australian Council of Deans of Science from 2013-2018. Liz trained as a plant biochemist and taught university biochemistry for over 30 years. She now researches and publishes in areas associated with curriculum design and renewal, work-integrated learning, digital credentialing and capability-building for learning and teaching. At Deakin University, Liz’s portfolio delivers Deakin’s online learning environment and supports course development and building staff capability for learning and teaching.


As Deputy Vice-Chancellor Education at Deakin University, Professor Johnson is responsible for the institutional policy framework and quality assurance for learning and teaching, development of the digital learning environment and the online student experience and major curriculum innovation projects, including the University MOOC portfolio and micro-credentialing. Liz also has oversight of the University Library and a nationally recognized educational research unit.



Australian Learning and Teaching Fellows Network
Higher Education Academy, AdvanceHE, UK
Higher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia
Australasian Society for Computers in Learning in Tertiary Education (ASCILITE)