In this Editorial, we take the opportunity to expand on the second Journal of University Teaching and Learning theme, Developing Teaching Practice. Building on Editorial 18(4), which articulated changes to higher education in the period roughly between 1980 and 2021, we believe it is pertinent to explore the changing conceptions of academic as ‘teacher’. We use Engeström’s cultural-historical activity theory as a lens to consider how higher education teachers are situated in the current context of rapid changes arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. We explore possible future purposes of higher education to consider flow-on impacts on the purpose of its teachers and how their roles might change to accommodate future expectations. We assert the need to challenge the notion of the academic as a person who is recruited into higher education largely because of their subject matter expertise while maintaining strong commitment to teaching expertise that is grounded in scholarship, critical self-reflection, and agency. In our various teaching and leadership roles, and consistent with the literature, we have observed paradoxical outcomes from the nexus between risk, innovation and development, driving risk aversity and risk management, with significant (contradictory) impacts on teaching, teachers and student learning. The barriers to implementing innovative curricula include questions of do students get a standardised and ‘safe’ educational experience or are they challenged and afforded the opportunity to transform and grow? Are they allowed to fail? Related, do teachers have genuine agency, as an educator, or are they positioned as agents of a higher education system? We explore these questions and invite our readers to engage in serious reflexivity and identify strategies that help them question their attitudes, thought processes, and assumptions about teaching and student learning. We welcome papers that contribute values-based conversations and explore ways of dealing with and adapting to change in our teaching practices, case studies of learning through failure, change and adaptation and the development of the field.

Practitioner Notes

  1. It is useful and important to explore changing conceptions of higher education teachers and teaching practice in the context of rapid changes and emergent (sometimes perverse) outcomes and impacts.
  2. Engtrom's Cultural Historical Activity Theory is a useful lens for identifying issues and reflecting on the positioning of teachers and students within higher education.
  3. JUTLP welcomes papers that contribute to values-based conversations and scholarly exploration of both the notion and practices of teachers.