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A critical examination of the distributive leadership model used to implement criterion-referenced assessment in an Australian university


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Cordiner, MC 2017 , 'A critical examination of the distributive leadership model used to implement criterion-referenced assessment in an Australian university', PhD thesis, University of Tasmania.

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Distributive leadership (DL) is a seductive yet contested and elusive concept in the higher education (HE) literature, with debate about what is distributed. DL involves academics in formal and informal roles implementing change. The latter have no positional power and their voices are silent in DL literature, plus there is little empirical evidence about what an effective DL model is. My research fills this gap with a case study focussing mostly on interviews with informal leaders, who were given the poorly-considered label of school champions. My aim was to critically examine DL by analysing empirical evidence from an Australian university which used a DL model to implement change to assessment. The research questions focussed on how this model supported or challenged current theoretical conceptions and what it suggested for the roles of the school champions. Most interviewees considered DL a 'high risk' strategy resulting in inconsistent implementation, despite support from academic developers. This was because there was nobody in charge, induction of the school champions was cursory, and most Heads and Associate Deans were uninvolved. The school champion label was an identity badge connoting mixed messages of high and low status and was renounced by most as disempowering and unsuitable for academe. My research led to developing a conceptual framework of three leadership contexts interacting with four academic powers. This framework can account for and possibly predict informal leaders' successes or failures. It suggests that DL is distribution of influence, requiring leaders to have more than just collegial power to be effective. The framework and identity badge concept may be applicable beyond HE to inform selection and labelling of change agents. However, as attention continues to shift away from teaching and learning towards research and rankings, it is doubtful that a revised model would be implemented.

Item Type: Thesis - PhD
Authors/Creators:Cordiner, MC
Keywords: Institutional change, higher education, distributive leadership, curriculum, assessment
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Copyright 2017 the author

Additional Information:

Section 2.6 and chapter 6 appear to be the equivalent of an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Studies in higher education on 17 Jun 2016 available online:

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