By Ian Kinchin
Over twenty years ago Carr (1994: 49) wrote:
‘It is a shallow and false view of education and teaching which takes it to be a matter of the technical transmission of pre-packaged knowledge and skills in the context of efficient management’
However, it seems that this false view is still able obscure a more contemporary and research-informed views of teaching. The on-going drive for ‘teaching excellence’ still seems to focus on actions of the teacher that promote Carr’s ‘shallow view’. That is not to say that the student voice is not important, but we need to ensure that students are asked the right questions so that we do not promote student passivity as learners and do not subvert the student voice for purely political ends.
Fitzgerald et al (2002) wrote, ‘I value student perspectives in thinking about my practice. However, the institutional instrument designed to assess student perspectives focuses on a form of practice that ill fits my own values. Each semester students have been asked to rate the course and instructor on a nineteen-item rating scale. Many of the items are consistent with a teacher-directed pedagogy and linear information-processing model of learning (for example, Objectives are Clear, The Instructor Enhanced Knowledge of Subject, Organised Class Sessions Well, Demonstrates Knowledge of the Subject). When I first came to Uni, I was intimidated by these student evaluations because I believed them to be overly focused on clear objectives and a class structure predicated on teacher control of the classroom. These survey items do not adequately capture what I hope to accomplish in the classroom, and I correctly anticipated receiving mixed review on this measure. Students may desire and need clearly presented knowledge, attained in a highly structured teacher-directed context, but educational opportunities are impoverished if this is the only form of pedagogy provided. A rather monovocal assessment tool inscribes a particular vision of education, and fails to provide useful feedback to educators who teach in alternative ways. This narrow representation of education limits our vision of what ‘good’ education might be, and privileges a particular mode of learning.’
So are we still promoting ‘monovocal assessment tools’ ? If so why? Many commentators ask why those who purportedly revere the power of critical thinking go on to employ simplistic, quantitative tools to ‘measure’ teaching quality. Clearly, in the UK, the Government’s agenda to assess teaching is pushing things along with a single purpose in mind. Katzner (2012) has asserted that in their quest to describe, analyze, understand, know, and make decisions, western societies have accepted the myth of synonymy between objective science and measurement. He comments that what we cannot measure gets demoted as ‘less important’. If it has been measured, it must be ‘scientific’ and ‘rigorous’ – especially if we can apply statistical analysis that the common man/woman will not understand.
So we go from monovocal to monocular (possibly also myopic). A system in which ‘ideas diversity’ and ‘methodological variation’ (typically seen as indicators of health for an academic community) are apparently no longer valued. We then end up with a ‘hard core’ set of unquestioned statements and assumptions that are not supported by evidence. The result is that we have an academic community that will survive by‘maintaining their autonomy and academic freedom through demonstrating symbolic compliance or pragmatic behaviour’ (Teelken, 2012: 287). This could result in innovative teaching being driven underground, like a resistance movement – a situation that is likely to promote pedagogic frailty (Kinchin, et al, 2016). An outcome that is the opposite of that intended. Fitzgerald et al (2002) talked about values as the underpinning concept that drives things forwards with any meaning. I wonder if the explication of values (particularly shared values, rather than any spurious mission statement placed on a web site) by universities will form part of the TEF, which will inform teaching evaluations in the UK over the coming years. Or is teaching supposed to be ‘values-free’ in the modern era? I didn’t get that memo.
Professor Ian Kinchin is Head of the Department of Higher Education at the University of Surrey, and is also a member of the SRHE Governing Council. This post was first published on Ian’s personal blog, https://profkinchinblog.wordpress.com and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.
Carr, D. (1994) Educational enquiry and professional knowledge: Towards a Copernican revolution. Educational Studies, 20(1): 33 – 54.
Fitzgerald, L.M., Farstad, J.E. & Deemer, D. (2002) What gets ‘mythed’ in the student evaluations of their teacher education professors? In: Loughran, J. and Russell, T. (Eds.) Improving teacher education practices through self-study. London, Routledge/Falmer (pp. 203-214).
Katzner, D. W. (2012). Unmeasured information and the methodology of social scientific inquiry. Springer Science & Business Media.
Kinchin, I.M., Alpay, E., Curtis, K., Franklin, J., Rivers, C. and Winstone, N.E. (2016) Charting the elements of pedagogic frailty. Educational Research, 58(1): 1 – 23.
Teelken, C. (2012) Compliance or pragmatism: how do academics deal with managerialism in higher education? A comparative study in three countries. Studies in Higher Education, 37(3): 271 – 290.