Leaving the thirdspace

For the last decade, I’ve been working in the thirdspace as a Learning Developer based within the University Library at Hull. Learning Developers work to support student learning, often working to challenge and expose the hidden curriculum to empower student success. This support is delivered in many ways and can include personal appointments, bookable workshops, online courses, resource development and in-curriculum teaching. Over my time as a Learning Developer, I regularly engaged in all these formats. It is also important to note that as a profession, Learning Development is diverse – with some based in Faculties and others in central services. Whatever that base, it is usually a defining aspect of that specific learning development role, framing the role, responsibilities and relationships that surround it.

Learning developers as thirdspace professionals

The position of Learning Development can also impact contracts – either professional or academic. Here lies the problem. Learning Development rarely aligns with the academic-professional dichotomy, and this is the same for many professions that engage in academic-related activities. This has been heavily investigated and theorised by Whitchurch (2003, 2008, 2009) as The Rise of Thirdspace Professionals.

[Thirdspace professionals include] teaching and learning professionals, research managers, learning technologists and staff in academic practice, library and information systems. The situation would therefore appear to be more complex than a straightforward ‘academic’/‘non-academic’ extrapolation from employment statistics. Although they may be classified for employment purposes as non-academic, an increasing proportion of such staff are likely to have a mix of academic and professional credentials, experience and roles.

(Whitchurch, 2003)

My life in the thirdspace

Serving as a thirdspace professional has been a hallmark of my career for the last decade. It has brought advantages allowing me to: engage across a broad range of academic disciplines, develop different forms of (non-academic) expertise and embrace networks of other thirdspace professionals. I even recently collaborated on a book chapter (in press) with a colleague that embraced the benefits of this thirdspace position. There have, however, been disadvantages. Thirdspace professionals can lack the same development and progression opportunities as academics, can have limited opportunities for scholarly practice (contractually) and rarely engage in the holistic whole of academic practice. These opportunities and challenges have characterised my practice and development for 10 years now – but this is all about to change. As I discussed in #NewJob, I’m starting as an academic in my new role: Lecturer in Education Studies. In short, I’m leaving the thirdspace in 10 days time.

The photograph at the top of this page is my empty desk in the Library. Everything is all cleared out and moved to my new office. This moment was kind of symbolic for me. For me, the empty desk represents leaving the Library, leaving colleagues and moving towards something new. BUT, one thing is clear. It isn’t only the Library that I am leaving. I’m also leaving the thirdspace.

The academic space

My new career will see me enter the academic space (whatever that is). I’m on the teaching and scholarship pathway, which should see the majority of my time spent on teaching with some space for scholarly activity – including pedagogic research. What that means in contrast to the thirdspace, I’m not sure. Some people tell me it won’t be so different. Others say it will be different – a new journey. Time will only tell what the reality will be. I look forward to sharing that journey here. ?

I opened this post with a photo of my old, empty desk. My old workspace. As this post marks the start of a new (academic) journey, it feels fitting to close the post with a photo representing that start. So, in contrast to my cleared-out desk, here I am, all set up in my new corner of the office. This is going to be my new home for a while, and I look forward to reflecting on the journey. ?

Far from the thirdspace, this photograph shows my new office. Three bookshelves sit above a computer desk with two monitors. The space is colourful with plants, books and posters.

One final note – I’m clear that this new role does not mean leaving Learning Development. As a Lecturer in Education Studies, I intend to have a scholarly interest in Learning Development, and I hope to take everything I have learned from learning development practice into my future teaching. I’ll also remain involved with ALDinHE, though accept my contributions are from a different position now.

Reference list

Whitchurch, C. (2009) The Rise of the Blended Professional in Higher Education: A Comparison between the UK, Australia and the United States. Higher Education, 58(3), 407-418.

Whitchurch, C. (2008) Shifting Identities and Blurring Boundaries: the Emergence of Third Space Professionals in UK Higher Education. Higher Education Quarterly, 62, 377-396. 

Whitchurch, C. (2003) Reconstructing Identities in Higher Education: The rise of Third Space professionals. Routledge.