On New Year’s Eve 1999, the world held its breath as the calendar ticked over to the year 2000. Were planes going to fall from the sky? Were the banks going to be wiped? And then… nothing happened. It almost seemed as though the panic over the Y2K bug had just been hype from technological Chicken Littles. Except it wasn’t, because invisible people behind the scenes had been working hard for years to fix the problems before they happened.

In many ways, the rapid shift to on-line teaching necessitated by the pandemic followed this pattern. An entire sector transformed entrenched learning and teaching practices in a matter of weeks, and while there was some grumbling and things didn’t always run smoothly, many people were amazed at how seamless this transition was. Once again, an invisible army of “integrated practitioners” – expert education support staff in the form of learning designers, academic developers and educational technologists – had been working for years to build the foundations needed for this change. (We didn’t know the pandemic was coming though, I swear).

Celia Whitchurch (2008, 2012) describes these integrated practitioners as working in a liminal “third space” between teaching and administration, crossing institutional boundaries and breaking through silos in the service of better education practice. Their ways of working are necessarily relational, permeable and agile, which is what our pandemic responses needed. While awareness of the people doing this work has risen during this shift on-line, their expertise and experience in pedagogy and technology are rarely drawn on in the development of the big picture educational strategies that they are tasked with implementing. Professional staff in these roles also experience limited career path opportunities compared to their academic colleagues.

Dr. Emily McIntosh and Dr. Diane Nutt have edited a book being released this week that explores these issues – The Impact of the Integrated Practitioner in Higher Education: Studies in Third Space Professionalism. They will speak on these ideas in a webinar (with discussion facilitated by Sally Kift) for the ASCILITE TELedvisors network this Thursday 31st March at 7pm (AEDT) – all are welcome. Simply go to

Colin Simpson is an Education Innovation Designer for the Monash Education Innovation team at Monash University. He tweets @gamerlearner and writes the “ed-tech reads of the week” in CMM

Sally Kift is a higher education consultant and commissioning editor of  CMM’s “Needed now” series. She tweets @KiftSally


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