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Times Higher Education – Knowledge is not enough

28 Jul

Knowledge is not enough…

14 July 2011

…lecturers must be able to impart what they know. Craig Mahoney, head of the HEA, believes training can make any academic a more effective and inspired teacher

“When I moved to England from Australia, I was excited at the prospect of undertaking the postgraduate certificate in higher education,” writes Francesca Haig, a senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Chester, in a 2009 article for the Higher Education Academy’s Academy Exchange magazine.

“In Australia, such qualifications were not required for academic posts, and I thought that the emphasis England placed on teaching qualifications indicated a regard for teaching, usually so undervalued in academia (although not by students). Colleagues in England laughed ominously at my enthusiasm; such qualifications, I soon learnt, are commonly viewed as yet another hoop through which academics must now jump.”

Haig’s comments struck a chord with me, both as someone who has spent most of my career teaching and researching in higher education, and as someone who, like Haig, came to the UK from Australia.

I have always loved learning. When I arrived in the UK in 1986 to complete a master’s degree at the University of Birmingham, the assessment processes were, for me, secondary. I wanted the knowledge. I was hungry to learn. I always attended classes, even during periods of heavy snow when others were apparently unable to make it. I spent huge amounts of time in the library, talking to fellow students, engaging with academic staff, always making myself available for research and the applied work that staff were doing, because I wanted to know everything I could. This is a feeling that has never gone away.

I don’t think I am unusual in this. And I suspect that a love of learning in part explains why academics can get so impatient with the initial teacher training courses offered by universities. If a course leads to disappointment and frustration, or is seen as an exercise in box-ticking, then of course people who just want to get on with exciting and inspiring that same love of learning and knowledge in their students are going to complain.

Any story in Times Higher Education on teaching qualifications sparks lively online debate. So, an academic called David posts that “the ‘pedagogy’ crap rammed down the throats of new lecturers on probation is worse than useless”. Another academic, Barbara, counters with the comment that “some lecturers…know their subject inside out but unfortunately cannot engage the student as they have no teaching skill awareness”. This goes on for a few days and then the agenda moves on. The lively debate is between people who have a strong and valid viewpoint but do not feel confident enough to give their full names.

I have been at the HEA for just over a year and during that time I’ve spoken to hundreds of “Davids” and “Barbaras”. I have heard many criticisms of higher education teaching courses, including the charge that they are patronising or too generic, that they take up a lot of time (that could be spent teaching!) and that as everyone seems to pass them anyway they are barely credible.

But I have heard many positive reports too. Having the opportunity to interrogate critically the teaching practices that many of us take for granted is one. The chance to work closely with colleagues from other disciplines – and perhaps, thereby, to share knowledge and resources and improve the courses we teach – is another. The opportunity to receive constructive feedback on teaching techniques, the wealth of good pedagogic research, the foundation for longer-term development of teaching practice…there are many positives.

Life was simpler Down Under when I completed a teaching qualification in the late 1970s. In my opinion, Australia has always valued the development of teaching skills and pedagogy far more than the UK, at all levels of education. The course I took covered conceptual areas such as psychology, sociology, philosophy, linguistics and educational theory. It taught applied skills such as working with new technologies and “microteaching” (when teaching is filmed and critiqued by peers); we shadowed qualified colleagues who taught; we learned about team teaching and about working in diverse learning environments such as open-plan spaces where didactic delivery is impossible, and self-paced, individualised learning is encouraged. It gave me a broad perspective on how to create and manage a positive learning environment for students.

Alongside this professional development as an academic and teacher, I was also heavily involved in Scouting. I took many leadership roles in supporting the personal development of large numbers of young people, much of this in outdoor environments. I was imparting survival skills; skills that must be understood and used by the individual; and skills that encouraged self-reliance.

In sport, I was both a professional player and a coach; a student and a teacher. Here again, I was making use of my teaching abilities to enable learning and development in others so that they could become discerning users of their own skills and independent learners. All of this has helped me to help others to learn.

Teaching, and the business of qualification, has been high on the agenda of UK governments over the past year. The rise in tuition fees in England and the increase in what Scottish universities can charge students from other parts of the UK will undoubtedly provoke students – who have already made their passion clear – to ask more questions about what they are getting for their money. It is logical to assume that some of those questions will be about who is teaching them. Higher education institutions know this and are responding. I have been invited to speak at the learning and teaching conferences of many higher education institutions this year, and I know first-hand how concerned colleagues are to get their teaching focus right.

I have stated publicly that higher education needs to prepare and qualify its teachers. This is a contentious view – “pompous” and “self-serving” are among the milder criticisms – but it is right for students. Following last month’s White Paper for England, the Higher Education Funding Council for England will now consider ways in which institutions might publish anonymised information on the teaching qualifications, fellowships and expertise of staff. I hope this happens quickly. I do not understand why teaching should be different from other professions. Nurses, psychologists, architects, electricians, airline pilots, accountants, state school teachers – they all have a choice of where to study but they cannot practise without accreditation from their professional bodies and engaging in ongoing professional development.

This accreditation is a recognisable – and checkable – indication that a standard has been met and a quality achieved. It is reassuring to those of us on the outside, a guide to where we might find excellence. And as the parent of a daughter about to enter higher education, with all that opportunity ahead of her, I am advising her to research the teaching quality at the universities she is interested in.

Some may view teaching qualifications as a hoop through which they must jump, but teaching courses need to matter because of the knowledge they pass on; they should not be seen simply as an assessment hurdle to overcome. If we are to give greater credibility and status to teaching, it must be widely recognised as valuable by both students and university leaders. However, the metrics to give effective judgement on what is good teaching are, as yet, too fragile. So is the research evidence that those qualified to teach are better at creating positive learning environments and enhancing student learning than those not qualified to teach.

The anecdotal evidence does exist. The people I have met over my career in academia who have undertaken a qualification to teach in higher education have almost always been better teachers, at least early on in their careers. But because I or someone else says so is not good enough. We must procure the empirical evidence from controlled studies, demonstrating to politicians, vice-chancellors, academics, students, parents and the general public that to be qualified is to be expected, to continually update is a given, and that providing students with outstanding teachers benefits everyone.

For teaching in higher education, there is no Kitemark as such, nor in my view should there be. There is, however, a framework – the UK Professional Standards Framework (UKPSF) – from which universities and other higher education institutions can develop courses for their staff.

Briefly, this framework establishes a threshold for the approval of professional development activity that is related to university teaching. Institutions can use it as a reference point when they set up and run programmes for staff who teach and support student learning. It means that “David” and “Barbara”, doing their initial training at different universities, can be confident that they are working within a shared set of standards that apply across similar courses throughout the UK. Their heads of department and deans know that although the support offered to their colleagues can take different forms, the thresholds that the staff reach will be comparable. And prospective students – from all over the world – are reassured that the UK puts care into thinking about how it trains its higher education teachers.

Many institutions seek external validation of their approach to professional development against the framework. The HEA alone accredits 378 programmes in 140 higher education institutions across the UK. The framework is not, and was never intended to be, mandatory. There are other routes to accreditation too, which the HEA welcomes. Furthermore, I do not believe that the HEA is the only organisation that can deliver accreditation. But I do believe that the UKPSF provides a great foundation for qualifying staff. With its origins and ownership in the sector, it has the potential to be a key indicator of UK higher education’s commitment to teaching and supporting learning, giving confidence that minimum standards have been met.

In November 2010, the HEA launched a review of the framework, in consultation with the higher education sector. We found broad general support for the principle that those who teach in higher education should be appropriately qualified. What is ripe for debate is how this might operate in practice in a sector that is richly diverse, and where institutional autonomy is both highly prized and highly beneficial to students.

A common criticism of courses such as the PGCHE is that they are generic. Recently, I spoke at a discipline-specific learning and teaching conference where I was warned beforehand that the delegates were quite negative about generic teaching courses, and would not be in a mood to hear about their virtues. I was quite surprised by this: having worked as a discipline specialist in universities for more than 20 years, I felt positive about the benefits of sharing experience and scholarship with colleagues from other disciplines in a generic setting.

At the same time, there is much evidence to show the desirability of discipline-specific staff development.

Shan Wareing, dean of learning and teaching development and head of the Centre for Learning and Teaching in Art and Design at the University of the Arts London, has researched the differences between subject-specific and generic training. “The perception of discipline relevance – or irrelevance – is often very important to participants’ attitude towards these programmes, and also to the extent to which their heads of department support the activity,” she says.

There are benefits to both approaches, and the HEA’s work reflects this. Much of our provision is at subject and discipline level. The HEA offers workshops, seminars, resources and support delivered by subject specialists. But many experiences are of course common across disciplines and there is also a place for generic and thematic learning and teaching materials and support.

I said earlier that one of the complaints about PGCHE courses and their equivalent was the time commitment they required. There is some variation in the way that courses are delivered, and this allows participants to choose the course that is best for them. For some academics, an intensive course over a few days might suit; for others, e-learning might be preferable. I think it would be helpful if such options were more common. This is an area that requires more development, but there are also huge opportunities.

So although I advocate a consistent approach, I do not advocate a one-size-fits-all policy – not in the context of whether courses should be generic or discipline-focused, nor in their length, nor in the places in which they are delivered. Flexibility is key to all of this in terms of the support made available to academics to develop their teaching needs to work for them, for their institution and for their subject.

When I think about the higher education “brand” in the UK and in Australia, I return to my view that in Australia teaching is taken more seriously. I know that not everyone likes to describe higher education in marketing terms, but I think it is time to be realistic. It is easy for us to sit back and congratulate ourselves on the number of international students entering UK higher education – almost one in five students on UK campuses is from overseas. But if we are able to speak with a unified voice about the benefits of our system for preparing higher education teachers, it will help to make us attractive to prospective students, from the UK and abroad. We should also consider the growing number of UK campuses and programmes being delivered overseas. How do we guarantee a consistent learning experience for students studying abroad? Giving the people who teach them support and a consistent training programme helps.

UK higher education is a success story. But we are facing intense competition, especially in the current environment of fee changes and economic constraints. What we all want, after all, is for UK higher education to flourish and to continue to attract world-class students and academics. Providing a comprehensible and comprehensive framework for developing teaching is part of that.

Above all, taking teaching seriously means looking after the academics who provide that teaching, so that they in turn can look after their students and inspire in them the same love of learning that has enriched my life. The student learning experience will be all the stronger if we get this right.

Teach the teachers: the decades-long drive towards qualifications for all lecturers

The landmark Dearing Report of 1997 was a key driver of the development of qualifications for academics teaching in UK higher education, writes Rebecca Attwood.

In the 1970s and 1980s, induction courses for new lecturers tended to be short, unaccredited and unassessed. By the time of Dearing, just over half of academics with teaching responsibilities had received training in pedagogy at some stage.

But according to figures cited by the Dearing committee, only about one-third of researchers who taught had had training, and the majority of academics were offered training only at the start of their career.

Dearing advised those universities without training courses to develop them immediately. For the UK to stay at the forefront of higher education teaching, both initial training and periodic updating throughout an academic career were needed, it argued.

There was widespread support for accreditation that would ensure that training programmes met national standards, the report said.

Such systems already existed. As the Dearing Report noted, the Staff and Educational Development Association piloted a teacher accreditation scheme in 1992. By 2002, more than 3,100 teachers had been accredited.

According to reports in the Times Higher Education Supplement in 1997, the Dearing committee considered a compulsory training programme for all lecturers, but this was rejected because it was thought to be too unpopular with lecturers.

Instead, it recommended that universities devise their own courses for higher education teacher training that would then be accredited by an outside agency, the Institute for Learning and Teaching in Higher Education, which was formed in 2000.

“The necessary recognition of teaching in higher education will only be achieved through a national scheme…to which all institutions voluntarily commit,” said the committee’s report.

The institute, along with its accreditation mandate, was later incorporated into the Higher Education Academy, which was set up in 2004. Today, many new lecturers in the majority of universities undertake an HEA-accredited programme.

When the current head of the HEA, Craig Mahoney, took up post in the summer of 2010, he said he would like to see every member of university teaching staff – and certainly every new member of staff – hold a teaching qualification. But in November, he told a conference that even when universities required staff on probation to gain a qualification, the rule was not always enforced because research could be given priority.

The Browne Review on the future of higher education, published in autumn 2010, called for such qualifications to become compulsory for new academics.

“It will be a condition of receipt of income…for the costs of learning that institutions require all new academics with teaching responsibilities to undertake a teaching training qualification accredited by the HE Academy, and that the option to gain such a qualification is made available to all staff – including researchers and postgraduate students – with teaching responsibilities,” the report said.

Postscript :

Craig Mahoney is chief executive of the Higher Education Academy.

Readers’ comments

  • Cicero 14 July, 2011

    The reason young lecturers hate the teaching development programmes is that such programs are sub-standard. No, they are worse. They are lousy. The people that end up teaching these programmes are usually failed teachers themselves. Smart people want to learn from the best.

    The Universities that care about teaching should employ the best teachers in the world to to run their teaching development programmes and integrate such programmes into daily work, e.g., run teaching development days, provide one-on-one tutorials and feedback sessions for lecturers, highlight teaching innovations and best practice. Asking young lecturers to put up with a mandatory PGC course is a lousy way of developing teaching.

    I hope the Government is not going to mandate it, forgetting all of its own lip service to "deregulation".

  • Polycarpus 14 July, 2011

    Let’s cut the centres doing useful subject-specific stuff and big up the pointless generic credentialling!

    Done.

  • Am I being cynical . . 14 July, 2011

    A lot of words from the HEA CEO about the need for ‘accreditation’ Whatever the motives of the HEA (self-interest perhaps), the reality is that a one-off HE PGCert doesn’t make a good teacher. There are many problems with this aim, not least of all how to stop it becoming a ‘box ticking’ exercise with all of the other pressures and incentives on staff/institutions and what about CPD and some form of accreditation and incentive for lectureres to keep up to date in teaching within their discipline. Unfortunately, increrasing institutional autonomy (see other article from head of HEFCE) means the approach to ‘teaching quality’ will vary even more than it does now across and within institutions, with some VCs simply wanting to use the ‘accreditation’ as a means for improving student satisfaction and only where it translates into numbers and evidence (reputation and cash). So, how does the HEA ensure ‘teaching quality’ is improving student learning across the sector as a whole AND remain a champion for students, especially as it has to move towards income based largely on institutional subscriptions. Is it becoming an organisation that targets VCs interests rather than students?

  • plain jane 14 July, 2011

    The course I took was actually rather rigorous and impressive. The main problem with it was that we were required to do it on top of a full teaching and research load, with the result that noone could afford to take it seriously, and it made my job even more seriously exhausting and demoralising than it already was.

    Result? I left that university and got a job elsewhere.

    Reflection? That if universities want us to take teacher training seriously, they need to give 50% remission for two years to new lecturers, and deliver a proper two-year part-time PGCE in HE.

  • Tom Buckley 14 July, 2011

    There should be tighter assessment, summative portfolios and spot checking in lecture or seminars. An awful lot of young researchers hate teaching because older lecturers and academics tell them it’s worthless or pointless or that developing a skill set in it is pointless. There needs to be a culture shift enforced with real penalties for those who accept positions with teaching responsibilities but do not take it seriously.

  • Tom 14 July, 2011

    I have to agree with Cicero: a start would be having the best teachers delivering PGCEs. I graduate from my post-compulsory education PGCE today having not enjoyed the course I’ve just completed. It was pass or fail with no emphasis on actually having to turn up to class other than being made to feel guilty for it.

    Most people were there because they couldn’t think of anything to do, didn’t want to work and wanted a nice bursary to support them. Our tutor only did his degree less than 10 years ago and worked as a teacher for less than three years before becoming a PGCE lecturer. It’s not enough, and we ended up feeling that we were at a similar – if not higher – level than they were by Christmas. They actually ran out of things to teach us by the end and several other classes in the department started to be given days off (the course was only two days a week in university, amounting to around eight hours a week at most).

    They didn’t have any communication with our teaching placements and weren’t concerned about how we did there as long as we completed a timeshare and had it signed off by the teacher we were shadowing. In the end it was a pass/fail course and nobody failed. Couldn’t have been easier. This is one of the reasons teaching standards are falling.

  • Tom Buckley 14 July, 2011

    There should be tighter assessment, summative portfolios and spot checking in lecture or seminars. An awful lot of young researchers hate teaching because older lecturers and academics tell them it’s worthless or pointless or that developing a skill set in it is pointless. There needs to be a culture shift enforced with real penalties for those who accept positions with teaching responsibilities but do not take it seriously.

  • slanter 14 July, 2011

    Lecturer training is going to happen, it came in first in teaching, then sport, most recently in the lifelong learning sector, its us next I’m afraid. If it is done well it can only be a good thing can’t it? Fact: the current student cohorts are no longer evolving, they have evolved. However, previous comments are largely correct, if not exactly eloquent, in their suggestions that lecturer training programmes have some way to go before they are fit for purpose. So the choice is either to assist in creating high quality, meaningful programmes to enhance lecturer delivery, or a prolonged rearguard effort against the inevitable. Choose.

  • Tom 14 July, 2011

    You’re right Slanter, and ‘the inevitable’ will happen sooner rather than later once fees increase and teaching standards don’t. Then we’ll have the whole ‘value for money’ debate.

  • David Baume 14 July, 2011

    Craig Mahoney correctly says:
    "Nurses, psychologists, architects, electricians, airline pilots, accountants, state school teachers – they all have a choice of where to study but they cannot practise without accreditation from their professional bodies and engaging in ongoing professional development."
    A problem for the Higher Education Academy may be that it isn’t a professional body. Specifically, it doesn’t have members, unlike its predecessor body the ILTHE. All the consultation in the world won’t get round the feeling that ‘they’ (the HEA) are trying to do something to ‘us’ (the academics).
    The HEA should give serious consideration to reconstituting itself as a membership body – a true professional association – working very closely with the many other professional and disciplinary associations to which academics are already committed.

  • The Lovely Samantha 14 July, 2011

    Two questions for Mahoney:

    When will the HEA publish the results of last years consultation on the UKPSF? He cites it as a validation of current organisational plans. Is it?

    Are the HEA seeking degree awarding powers in order to offer one-stop tuition and accreditation for HE teachers? How do UUK and GuildHE (the owners of the HEA) feel about this?

  • Chris 14 July, 2011

    The problem is in the final sentence – "accredited by the HE Academy". No national body can enforce quality from outside. It is for each institution to guard its own reputation. When is our "compliance" culture going to learn this lesson?

  • The future of the HEA? 14 July, 2011

    The HEA is currently funded mainly by HEFCE – somewhere near 75% of its £20-£30m pa and they have been told by HEFCE and other funders that they must be much more self-sufficient (as the JISC has) moving to subscriber (HEI) funding. The HEA has (probably) a few years to do this, so as an organisation the CEO’s responsibility is to ensure its continuation and will obviously try and exert a ‘monitoring and accreditation’ sector-wide function irrespective of any other considerations. A move to a membership organisation as David Baume suggests would be the right way forward to engage fully with and ensure ownership by the very people who can ensure ‘teaching quality’ – academics and all those directly involved in student learning.

  • Ian Scott 14 July, 2011

    I’m with David Baume, let’s have a proper professional accrediting body. We could always set one up ourselves and let the HEA play catch-up.

  • tariff 14 July, 2011

    I suppose Craig Mahoney, under the difficult financial circumstances, has to do more to "market" the HEA and its products.
    What was the THE’s advertising tariff to run this article?

  • tic tac toe 14 July, 2011

    ditto the professional body remarks … there is no teeth, no rigour, no sense of accountability in dealing with the HEA when it comes to accreditation. Accreditation visits used to be quite involved affairs with a panel visitng the university, meeting students, tutors, senior managers; looking at assessed work, external examiner reports, quality assurance documentation etc. Now programmes essentially accredit themselves via a vacuous meeting at the HEA with other institutions that often have very little in common with one another. The whole thing is a hollow, tick-box process that does nothing to ensure or motivate real quality. I want to know that the course has some backbone to it because it has been genuinely peer reviewed by experts against objective and clear critiera, not because a piece of paper has been submitted by those running the course saying that it does indeed meet those criteria thank you very much.

    Incidentally, I also strongly agree with jane – time is the issue. I run one of these courses. Perhaps I’m living in a bubble but, bar the odd passing resentment of having to do it at all (and it is odd and often passing) the real issue with engagement is a lack of time. If these things are wanted, then departments need to be given the resources that will allow them to release staff from other duties for the duration of their involvement.

  • the Soviet system 14 July, 2011

    @David Baume, who says – "The HEA should give serious consideration to reconstituting itself as a membership body – a true professional association – working very closely with the many other professional and disciplinary associations to which academics are already committed. "
    — You mean all academics would have to join it? — Like the old Soviet writers’ and composers’ unions?
    I think I now understand what the debate is about.

  • @soviet system 14 July, 2011

    @soviet system – I think you are missing David’s point (apologies David if I’m off the mark here), but its not about a ‘central’ accreditation system or an alternative which ‘requires membership’. The issue is about how we all can improve student learning/teaching quality and that needs to directly involve those who work with students – ownership and engagement between staff and students – not easy to achieve in the current climate and the previous ILTHE didn’t quite get there for many reasons, bu it is a model that can work.

  • Dr Know 14 July, 2011

    The head of the HEA thinks so? What a surprise.

  • Institutionalised 14 July, 2011

    Colleagues may not be aware that there is currently a similar very heated debate in FE around the Institute for Learning, which is a mandatory professional body & has recently imposed a membership fee. There are serious concerns about whether it is fit for purpose, transparent and democratic. UCU is in the process of balloting members about a boycott. Arguably in FE we missed a trick in allowing this potentially supportive sectoral silk purse to develop into a hated pig’s ear without ensuring a robust debate about whether it should be obligatory at all, & how it should be governed in the interests of its members.

  • Chris 14 July, 2011

    The Institute for Learning (IfL) requires by law all teachers in FE to identify 30 hours of CPD which they have undertaken each year (and pay for the privilege). This CPD might be audited for individuals chosen at random. IfL doesn’t do anything else for teachers, although it would like to represent them.

    As might be expected, this is a tick-box activity that does nothing to affect quality. Quality cannot be imposed from outside and HE should take care this doesn’t happen there.

  • soviet system 14 July, 2011

    Sorry, @soviet system, but I was only commenting on what David Baume in fact says.
    He doesn’t say what you say he says – that it’s all just about "directly involving people" and other vague and presumably harmless ambitions like that. He explicitly cites professions – "nurses, psychologists, architects, electricians, airline pilots, accountants, state school teachers" who "cannot practise [note: cannot practise] without accreditation from their professional bodies and engaging in ongoing professional development."
    He then writes that "a problem for the Higher Education Academy may be" – precisely – "that it isn’t a professional body" – presumably like the professional bodies cited by him in extenso above, otherwise why cite them, without any qualifying words, as examples?
    And he ends by suggesting that the HEA "should give serious consideration to reconstituting itself as a membership body – a true professional association" etc.
    So let me repeat his phrases – he talks about *professional bodies* whose characteristic is that their members *cannot practice* without accreditation from those bodies; and he wants an HEA which would also be a "professional body" – "a membership body – a true professional association".
    But perhaps (nothing personal) he just failed to say clearly what he meant. I don’t think it is worth bothering about the point any further … as long as we fight – I would almost say, to the death, for the sake of the survival of academic autonomy – against all attempts to impose any "accreditation" scheme from above, whether by government, by government vassals like Hefce, or by any would-be "professional body".

  • stef 14 July, 2011

    For all those "anti HE PGCE" types out there. Perhaps you forget that student influx keeps you ina job and enables you to indulge in the much beloved research. Students, at least undergraduates, attend for the learning experience; a lecturer who can teach well is held in respect and esteem for most of a person’s life. If you are honest with yourself you will will doubtless have memories of an inspiring teceher or two, whether at school or university. There may be merits and demerits with an HE PGCE but you insult the entire undergraduate body with your decrying of attemps to improve the teaching skills of lecturers/experience of students. Do you simply not want to make an effort in developing new skills or are you just trying to hang on to the self promotional life of a "researcher" – the term research being highly debatable in many cases?

    Shame on you for not respecting the students who look up to you.

  • against HEPGCE 14 July, 2011

    @stef –
    What a distasteful expression "the learning experience" is. (Do you understand why?) Did you pick up the expression in an HEPGCE?
    What a lot of us are trying to say is what you have confirmed. You think – weirdly, in our view – that those who don’t agree that an HEPGC is of some use – rather than inflicting considerable damage – must be "insulting the whole undergraduate body".
    I don’t think that even quoting this whopper and absurdity back to you can get you to revise your view, because it is a view seemingly embedded in a self-legitimating ideology, propagated by the instigators of HEPGCE and the like.
    But perhaps you will at least understand why you are trolling when you end with the familiar and banal call of "shame on you". We can all shout "shame on you" at anyone who disagrees with us – you shout, I shout the same back, and so on. Do you therefore see why it is without content and pointless to do so?

  • @stef 14 July, 2011

    The position of many of us is that (1) teaching is important and (2) teaching is not something which is well taught in the kind of setting that leads to certificates being given out.

    "There may be merits and demerits with an HE PGCE but you insult the entire undergraduate body with your decrying of attemps to improve the teaching skills of lecturers/experience of students."

    It is necessary to decry *bad* attempts to improve teaching skills. These take away resources from other things which are more valuable. Most lecturers can teach effectively to small groups. As the group gets bigger, fewer people remain effective. Even the people who can communicate well in large groups don’t develop the interpersonal relationships with students that students value a lot.

    Thus, if the "Learning and teaching", etc. programs are ineffective, then firing all those people and hiring more lecturers, so that class sizes could be reduced, would make things better. Unless something is proven to work, it should not be allowed to take resources away that could be used to make class sizes small.

  • tut tut 14 July, 2011

    if universities should hire the world’s best teachers to teach new lecturers does that mean that new lecturers are so hard to shift towards good teaching that they cannot learn from average teachers (like most students have to)? And would it not be simpler in the first place for the universities to hire the world’s best teachers to teach the students, so there is no need for academic staff development programmes? And if staff developers are failed teachers, does that mean that discipline based lecturers are failed researchers and researchers are really failed entrepreneurs, who are failed politicians, who, by the way, are failed lecturers? Anyone out there who thinks teaching is worthwhile, complex and fundamentally to do with self-development, rather than mere technique? I am an ‘educational developer’ but also teach and supervise ‘real’ students and do some research. I like working with colleagues who are committed to improving their teaching. I see the role of professional accreditation with HEA as a mark of esteem, rather than an end in itself. To make professional accreditation compulsory would probably not be in the interest of students and it would become unbearable to be an eucational developer (imagine a room full of recalcitrant academics!). Instead, I would much rather see more incentives for good teaching in universities. End of ramble. Over.

  • David Baume 14 July, 2011

    Good professional associations safeguard those who use the services provided by their members. (I could put quotation marks round most of those words, to acknowledge that they represent contestable concepts, but life’s too short.)
    Good professional associations also safeguard their members, hopefully short of professions becoming, as Shaw called them, “conspiracies against the laity”.
    Supporting both kinds of safeguards are, among other things, professional standards – accounts of good, or at any rate acceptable, practice; accounts hopefully based on research into what makes for effective practice; and, yes, accounts backed by consequences both positive (including respect from the wider community) and negative (ultimately, loss of licence to practice).
    Good professional associations aren’t imposed on the profession, although a professional association may sometimes form in response to the external threat of regulation. Good professional associations arise from within the profession, as an expression of a common will to show the soundness, the value, the high quality of the work of members of the profession.
    The situation for academics is confused by our prior loyalty to our original profession or discipline, the one we studied and the one which we teach, research and practice. But it shouldn’t be beyond our wit to find a form of professional association which brings the benefits suggested above whilst embracing the strength and variety of our original profession or discipline.
    A good professional association wouldn’t reduce our autonomy – it would increase it. It would make us better able to resist bad national and institutional policies and practices, better able to argue for what we can show to be good practices.
    Unless we’d rather stay as divided, grumbling wage slaves.

  • stef 14 July, 2011

    Some interesting replies here but all dancing around the maypole. An HE PGCE may or may not produce better teaching, which in turn may, or may not, depend on class size, but is an attempt to encourage a better learning experience (@against HEPGCE: that expression has been around for a long time – perhaps your experience beyond university has been so limited as to inure you against that knowledge?).

    The fact remains that students have a right (even moreso now that they are being financially fleeced) to expect their lecturers to deliver lectures in an engaging/provoking/informative way. Yes, these are all subjective terms, but perhaps a PGCE allows for those terms to be interpreted in such a way as to allow delivery to be improved, at least in the eyes of the student body – which is what matters. Doubtless someone will wish to debate this but the fact remains that PGCE is an attempt to assist with the classroom experience whatever its merits/demerits/circumstances.

    It strikes me that those against this initiative are showing a degree of arrogance i.e. I have a PhD so therefore I don’t need training/CPD. Well it’s time to wake up because most of us in professional positions outside of university face this year in and year out. We maintain our professionalism by facing the challenges and improving our performance – why do some lecturers think they are different? Is this why some commentators "troll on," bizarrely, about a PGCE damaging student interests"?

  • Mitch 15 July, 2011

    What strikes me about the ‘debate’ regarding development in academic practice is how unprofessional and, at times, juvenile it is. Assumptions are thrown into this discussion unchallenged in a way that would never happen when discussing other aspects of HE.

    What gives academics the green light to be so dismissive, so contemptuous, so insulting of their colleagues who run the academic practice programmes? If academia has become such an unpleasant place, because of the presence of such programmes, why not leave? There are 5, 10, 20, maybe more, people very happy to fill your shoes.

    The portrayal of academic practice staff in this discussion is highly distorted. Naturally I cannot speak for every university but having worked at 10 in the past two decades and visited 40 in England, Wales and Scotland in the past two years, I feel I can speak with confidence. Academic practice staff tend to be very experienced; many are drawn from Schools of Education. They love their discipline as much as academics in any other subject area and yet constantly have to face unprofessional behaviour from colleagues.

    Why are the people who teach PGCEs held in such regard compared to those of us who teach PGCHEs? Academic practice staff research, give papers, write journal articles, etc. We may be a comparatively new discipline, but would anyone tolerate a discussion here which started from the assumption that say, Social Work, Media, Journalism or Sports Sciences staff were all incompetent? No.

    The contempt shown here for academic practice staff spills over into the workplace, leading to alarming behaviour from academics in sessions that you would not tolerate from secondary school pupils let alone undergraduates. If you are unhappy with academic practice enter the debate properly, do not simply throw a tantrum.

    As many have noted, students will no longer tolerate academics who cannot teach effectively. Staff at all stages of their career need to reflect on what they do and be trained in the latest approaches. Why should academics be exempt when other professionals are not?

    To ignore your development in academic practice is to ignore what students, senior management and many HEIs institutionally are demanding. Go ahead, ignore it, but you will find it far harder to get a job when your module feedback continues to be so poor. Despite what many people here think, teachers have never been born, they have always been developed. This goes for those in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors, to ignore that is simply to be pig-headed.

    There is a debate to be had about developing academic practice in HEIs and to be had now. Those involved in delivery unsurprisingly constantly reflect on and hone their delivery, but we always welcome mature, constructive input; not abuse and unprofessional contempt. Those staff who care about the future of their university rather than simply their own foibles are involved productively in the debate. Those who are simply self-centred once stood behind the shield of RAE and now use over-emphasis of the peculiarities of teaching in each subject area, in order to fight off what they see as as a very personal intrusion, but in fact is simply their employer looking to elicit the best from their staff for the benefit of the students who spend so much time, commitment, effort and money in coming to university.

    Academic practice must be addressed at every university that wants to survive, let alone thrive. Tackling it can only begin when more academic staff begin to treat it in the professional way rather than something contemptuous that seemingly gives them an arena in which to behave like spoilt children.

  • whatever… 15 July, 2011

    Never mind teaching qualifications in some universities staff do not even have the appropriate academic qualifications.

    Aphra Behn 15 July, 2011
    In my university staff are appointed to teach at Masters level when they do not have Masters level qualifications themselves. When I raised concerns about this the university took them very seriously and a thorough investigation was carried out. If only!!

  • Shanted 15 July, 2011

    Having been through ‘training’ I can honestly say that it was totally worthless.

  • Mitch 15 July, 2011

    Shanted, any course is worthless if people embark on it with a negative attitude. Why was it useless? Is it because you feel that you are no better a teacher than when you started? Does that not say something about you and how you not only view your teaching, but also how you might improve it? What criteria do you base your judgement on? Would you judge a research proposal so casually?

    Have you fed back your view to your institution? Have you worked with colleagues to develop an effective programme which addresses what you need and what your students need? I expect not. People seem to be very happy to whine about academic practice and yet not do anything about it. It is an evolving discipline, but the desire seems to be to strangle it in its infancy because so many academics are not mature enough to face up to the requirements of being a true professional in the 2010s and would prefer simply to dismiss many of these aspects in a very self-centred way.

    There seems to be an assumption that the only decent academic practice programme is one that somehow magically transforms academics into the best teachers around with no effort on their part. However, the reason why it is so often termed ‘development’ is because it is about helping academic staff reflect on their own practice and see ways of doing it better for themselves and in their own discipline. You would not expect an undergraduate programme to magically turn all new undergraduate students into potential PhD students. Yet, somehow you expect to go through a programme passively and negatively and yet, when you come out of it, you expect somehow to have been utterly transformed, otherwise you whine that it is ‘worthless’. Without self-reflection and personal development you will never change and in this current context, will increasingly struggle to prosper.

    Academic practice staff are put in an impossible position. We have academics unwilling to shoulder their responsibilities and to engage with the development that they are offered. Then when it fails to alter their abilities in teaching, they complain that it is useless. Imagine how you would respond to a student who came with such an attitude or a school teacher who had done a PGCE.

    What makes academics so unique that they not only feel they can ignore a professional requirement but also slate all of those connected to it and the quality of what they deliver? If I stomped into a department and said this about the quality of the teaching or research in it, I would be howled down. Yet, omehow, even in a public forum, it is seen as permissible to behave in that way and treat academic practice staff, themselves academics, as pariahs.

    There is a truth: someone who makes no effort to engage with a programme will gain absolutely nothing from it. A number of contributors here keep demonstrating that fact.

  • stef 15 July, 2011

    @Mitch. Well said. One can choose, or not choose,to benefit from such a course. Clearly some commentators do not wish to benefit. As someone who has done PGCE there were elements that I found useful and some less so but what it did do was to encourage me to look at various aspects of my practice which, in turn, I was able to adapt using the techniques/ideas/theories given to me during the PGCE. Yes, it was hard work and yes there were times when i really didnt wish to do it but ultimately I have turned it to advantage.The staff who helped me achieve that should be given a vote of thanks.

  • Mr Flannigan 15 July, 2011

    @ Mitch

    In your response lies the essence of the problem. You assume that the ‘responsibilities’ of the academic staff lie in ‘engaging’ with centrally directed ‘development’ – i.e. your dogmatic conception of ‘best practice’ – rather than what they are actually employed to do: research problems and communicate that research effectively.

    Most academics want to be better teachers. They often discuss teaching strategies with each other. But what they don’t want is to be force-fed directives that bear no relationship to the actualities of the challenges they face. Some of the training courses younger colleagues tell me about are supremely patronising: sessions instructing academics what a seminar is, when all those present have experienced hundreds of seminars as teachers and students; sessions exorting participants not to be abusive to ethnic minorities, the assumption being that everyone harbours uncontrollable prejudices; sessions which insist on ‘best practice models’ which run contrary to the experiences of the participants, a contradiction that the session leader will not discuss; modish sub-Freudian garbage about different learning-personality types, the idea being that people are themselves embodiments of teaching-theory models.

    Many of these training courses do not properly address the challenges of communicating ideas and research to students: they reduce everying to textbook formula; they treat ‘teaching’ as something that can be separated from content, and worse, they are often led by people with no practical experience of the university classroom and the appropriate level.

    If you experience overwhelming ‘negativity’ from academics, maybe that’s because the service you supply is not up to standard: insisting that ‘I am right, and they are all ignorant/recalcitrant’ is a flase logic. Maybe you should take a leaf from your own book, listen to what your target audience would find most helpful – and then deliver it.

  • Shanted 15 July, 2011

    Mitch: The course was useless for many reasons, but I will give you two:

    Firstly, all the teachers were failed academics who had moved, or been pushed, into their new roles as trainers. However, it rapidly appeared that they knew very little about teaching either. In fact given they could not maintain the interest and attention of a small group of academics, I very much doubt they could give a good 50 min lecture. One poor sole giving a class on ‘ticks’ and how they can be distractions for the class constantly raked his bald pate, so vigourously in fact that by the end of the class he had numerous red lines! I thought at first that this ‘tick’ was to illustrate just how distractive this sort of thing was. However, when I raised this he clearly did not realise he was doing it. A second chap insisted that we read from a book while standing on a ball! The fun and games went on until I and a couple of others walked out… Interestingly this lack of attendence was not reported and I got credit for attaining ALL the classes and I now have the paperwork to say I have passed the course.

    Secondly, The ‘training’ was very focused on the humanities and had no relevance to science teaching. This is a common complaint and not just limited to my particular course.

    I would be very interested to attend a class by someone who has something to say, but I am not interested in wasting my time attending classes which can at best be described as nonsense.

  • Des Cartes 15 July, 2011

    @ Mitch

    It is axiomatic that those that deliver live material to any audience need to be engaging; in academe such engagement, arguably, stimulates immediate and subsequent learning. Possessing a certain presence and having an authority over the environment they control enables the interesting to connect with the interested, but it is a two way process. Without trying to turn this issue back onto the students it should be acknowledged that they have responsibilities of their own; lamentably there is an increasing expectation on their behalf that learning through entertainment is the only way to achieve such engagement, a clear sign for some of us that they are not really interested in the discipline they have chosen to study. For many modern students the way ‘it’ is said is more important than what is said. Nevertheless, if a lecturer can’t engage because they can’t say anything interesting to those genuinely interested in their chosen discipline, despite being a master of that discipline, then they either need help or they should have their talents redirected. The issue is about how best to achieve better teaching outcomes.

    Clearly you believe you have answers but your complaint against those you believe to be unprofessional and juvenile by using references of ‘tantrums’ ‘pig-headedness’ and ‘spoilt children’ (which, by implication, suggest that you are not), is not helped when you suggest that if we don’t like it we should leave academe. This suggestion alludes to your side claiming ownership of academe and to any other side interloping on established ground. Frankly, you should reconsider your claims because it is likely that your side is in a minority despite additional claims of an expertise developed over a period of time from a good number of Universities: such claims simply reinforce the view that your side continually appeal for an audience because you know best … frankly you don’t.

    We pig-headed spoilt children who throw the tantrums you make reference to remain in academe because we love the research, the scholarly life, our disciplines, our students & their development and the contributions we make to the social and economic fabric of the communities we serve. Often our work is interrupted by crusaders who seem to obtain satisfaction from telling all of us that we are not doing our job properly because we can’t teach and because we are not following the new directions emanating from lofty bodies that we never asked for but purport to be in existence for our benefit. The debate that you want is loaded because the expectation from your side is that we pig-headed spoilt children who throw tantrums simply listen to you, and then conform, because you and your followers know best. The message from the other side is that your side have failed to deliver any believable substance over many years and that many of those who have engaged with the mantras you offer remain some of the worst teachers in the sector. Why can’t you accept that a reluctance to embrace either your training or the results of your research does not indicate an inability to teach?

  • stef 15 July, 2011

    @Mr Flannigan + Shanted. All you are saying is that your personal experience was not good – but does that also reflect Mitch’s point that this was your starting point and therefore was bound to be your conclusion; if God came down to advise you, the result, in your eyes, would be no different!

    Assuming however, your experiences are accurately reported it doesn’t get away form the fact that some form of training, assessed neutrally, is a better approach, at least for the consumer, than allowing academics to "do their own thing" which is, effectively, what you wish to cling to. For the students, who may know nothing about your wonderful individual skills, how do they make judgment of teaching ability when looking at where /whom to give their 9K? Their only guide to your potential teaching ability is the possession of that qualification which you like to belittle.Try to think beyond your own academicand self interests and consider those who to a large extent keep you in a job

    This is just another case of academic arrogance and laziness.

  • Aphra Behn 15 July, 2011

    Subject knowledge is viewed as an important aspect of pedagogy. If lecturers/tutors have not studied themselves at the appropriate academic level
    no amount of additional support can help them to teach effectively. Subject knowledge counts.

    If you are involved in training/educating lecturers about pedagogy I suggest the first thing you do is check that their academic background is at an appropriate level for the sessions that they are teaching.

  • Mr Flannigan 15 July, 2011

    @ stef

    ‘Just another case of academic arrogance and laziness’

    Please refer to Des Cartes post above, particularly paragraphs 2 and 3. This effectively rebuffs your rather self-serving evangelism.

  • Ken 15 July, 2011

    Here we go, again! Readiing this reminds me of a boxing match. So many trying to ‘knock out’ their opponent with a good left hook. Why does this debate become so polarised?

    Personally, I prefer to move around the canvas rather than being stuck in a corner. How many of us have watched students going through the ‘system’ just for the paper qualification? And, at the same time, others follow a trajectory that inspires us to teach, research, administer etc..

    As we all know, students have a choice to either immerse themselves in a course of study or just go through the motions!

    So let’s not go for the killer punch. Let’s get out of our corners and encourage each other to be standing after Round 15.

    I undertook a PGCE about 20 years ago and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Some of my lecturers were unconventional, to say the least, but I am not perfect either!

  • stef 15 July, 2011

    @Mr Flannigan. Rebuffs my argument? There is that arrogance again. The post referrred to indulges in the usual semantic nonsense. Let’s cut through this pseudo intellectual nonsense – you are averse to training due to either fear, idleness or arrogance, or a combination thereof.
    To think you, or others like you, are above that applied to others around the country, is quite nauseating. Your insistence on trying to be above others only hastens the crumbling edifice of Higher Education. Do you sometimes wonder why there appears to be limited sympathy for University academics?

  • Des Cartes 15 July, 2011

    @stef

    Semantic nonsense?? pseudo intellectual nonsense??

  • Mr Flannigan 15 July, 2011

    @ stef

    Dear, oh dear; calm down, for goodness sake…

    What I’m saying is that I’m opposed to particular (but widespread) type of university based teacher training course, which does not adequately fulfill its purported purpose, and thrives only on misguided compulsion. My opposition is not based on ‘fear, idleness, or arrogance’; it is grounded in the failure of those courses to adequately engage with the challenges of university teaching, preferring instead to indulge in pseudery, formulae and diktat.

    I would like to see better, more focused courses in place, preferably designed at a more localised level by practitioners in the relevant fields. But it is your refusal to concede that there is anything at all unsatisfactory about the current situation, and your attempt to deflect the blame onto naysayers defined only by their disagreement with you, which smacks, sadly, of ‘fear, idleness and arrogance’. You preach good teaching, but you won’t listen to dialogue or informed experience and that, precisely, is what leads academics to feel disillusioned with the position you represent.

  • stef 15 July, 2011

    @Mr Flannigan. If you read my earlier posts you will note that I do not maintain that the PGCE is a perfect course which will be all things to all men and will wave a magic wand in the lecturer theatre (if there can ever be such a thing,) but that such a scheme is a logical attempt to show students that their lecturers are capable teachers. Yes, it is flawed in that it will not turn everyone into wonderful teachers for many and varied reasons, but it does represent an attempt to show some kind of quality. It is ifinitely preferable to the current situation where there is no "kitemark" to be seen; lecturers self image/belief and reputaion amongst themselves is not a kitemark.

    Ok, localised and focused courses strikes me as a reasonable request
    but then isn’t that also a call for some kind of training and formal recognition of that training – which is what the PGCE is all about, albeit not at local level – which in turn recognisies the need to upgrade the teaching ability of some lecturers?

  • Qazi 15 July, 2011

    Scientific research from psychology into this topic shows clearly (and rather inconveniently for the promulgators of such things) that the underlying bases for these courses (e.g., “learning styles hypothesis” or “theories of learning”) are palpably false. They lack basic psychometric properties, rigour and practical utility. These courses are not even based on an authentic, empirically falsifiable theory of how people learn. For a thorough scientific review of this literature (so you can make your own minds up) please see the following references:

    Coffield, F., et al. (2004). Learning styles and pedagogy in post-16 learning. A systematic and critical review. London: Learning and Skills Research Centre.

    Pashler, H., et al. (2009). Learning styles: concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, vol 9 (3), pp105-119.

  • DesCartes 15 July, 2011

    @stef

    Ken and Mr Flannigan try to introduce a quieter and calmer dimension to this debate as perhaps we all should. In response to your comment;

    ‘you are averse to training due to either fear, idleness or arrogance, or a combination thereof’.

    Where do you feel empirical evidence fits as a reason not to share in your view that the PGCE has some role in developing and communicating teaching competence? There are many of us who have not only invested in a PGCE but have also offered patronage to the kind of in-service training you favour in the years when there was great excitement for it. We gave those protagonists of continuing educational/teaching development plenty of opportunities to convince us that there was something of substance in what they were preaching; sadly for many of us their sermon amounted to little more than vacuous platitudes or career aspirations and they got found out. You reject our experience at great cost to the genuine development of teaching because we really do have something to say. We are not simply argumentative since we bring a balanced perspective to the debate, even though some might confess to being a little frustrated at the shift in power and influence towards bodies such as the HEA because we trust them little; they are, after all, an agent of Government despite what they might say.

    It is heartening that your positive experiences have served you well, but contrasting negative experiences have served others equally well because we now know what to avoid. Nobody who has negatively posted on this thread rejects the idea of personal development and most, if not all, have undertaken such development in their own way. Indeed such personal development will always occur despite the existence of bodies such as the HEA and qualifications such as the PGCE, not because of them.

  • tic tac toe 15 July, 2011

    @ Qazi
    Absolutely and completely agree. However, I do run one of these programmes and wouldn’t be seen dead trying to promote learning styles instruments / theories as a legitimate foundation from which to develop teaching. The only reason they’d appear is to provide an avenue into the references you provide so that the insidious promotion of mbti, tmsdi etc. etc. can be critically challenged.

    On a broader point…strikes me there are going to abysmal courses, satisfactory courses and good courses as in most things … aren’t there?

  • HL Mencken 15 July, 2011

    There is always an easy solution to every human problem_neat, plausible, and wrong.

    The fact that I have no remedy for all the sorrows of the world is no reason for my accepting yours. It simply supports the strong probability that yours is a fake.

    Stef – consider these arguments before suggesting education courses for lecturers. There are many studies in the United States that show that full education degrees do not produce better teachers even in primary schools – primary schools where any university graduate should know the entire curriculum back and forth, and only teaching ability should matter. There is simply no evidence that educationists actually know anything about education that is useful for teachers.

  • Marcus 15 July, 2011

    @Mitch
    My ‘module feedback’ is excellent, both my students and my departmental colleagues rate my teaching very highly. This has proven to be completely irrelevant in the PGCHE assessment. The assessors have a particular educational ideology and the only thing they assess on is whether you agree with that ideology.

    Also enlightening in this respect is the ‘UK Professional Standards Framework’ that is mentioned in the article. It doesn’t actually mention anywhere that teaching well is necessary for accreditation by the HEA.

    The ‘UK Professional Standards Framework’ does say something about the need to have ‘respect for individual learners’. You clearly do not show this for your learners (the participants of the PGCHE that you ‘facilitate’). You seem to have nothing but contempt for them (at least: the ones who don’t agree with you).

    This strikes me about many facilitators of PGCHEs: their complete inability to deal with criticism. Many PGCHEs are perfect example of how NOT to deliver a higher education programme.

  • Thanks, stef 15 July, 2011

    … "Stef" seems to be a recidivist … Trolling insults wielded by stef against those who do not agree include: "self-serving evangelism" … "student influx keeps you in a job" … "why do some lecturers think they are different?" (presumably, they have different views from stef – how dare they!) … "Clearly some commentators do not wish to benefit" (from HE PGCEs) … "academic arrogance and laziness" (again, displayed by those who do not agree with stef … and so on).
    The point, it seems to me, is that stef has provided the very best case against the HE PGCE that could be made, much better than its open opponents could manage.
    Imagine the local "managers" (you know them) coming along somewhere and telling academics that they must do a "course" of the kind in question – then imagine stef bullying the academics with her wild and comical accusations – "Arrogant"! – "Do you think you’re different?" – Shame on you!" and so on.
    So thanks, stef, from our point of view. You have done so much in this short exchange of views to discredit the HE PGCE that it may never recover.
    In fact – stef – were you really one of us, pretending to be a PGCE’er so as to put us all off the thing for ever?

  • Mick 15 July, 2011

    What is the chances that Craig Mahoney would bore the pants off of any student and thinks that an inspired thinking process can be definesd and strategised. What exactly is wrong with not having a clue what is going on and having to adapt to it?

  • Michael Bulley 16 July, 2011

    Where does it stop? If there really is the art of teaching those who are going to teach, should there not also be an art of teaching those who are going to teach those who are going to teach, and so on?

  • Alice 16 July, 2011

    @Michael Bulley – Brilliant. And true. And relevant.

    It’s the kind of thing that Lewis Carroll wrote about in the Alice books.

    A similar sensibility to absurdity is required when one is confronted by the HEA plans.

  • expat 17 July, 2011

    I am Russian and know a couple of dozen of (former) Soviet academics now working in British universities. Remarkable how unite we are in our description of induction / lecturer training / professional development activities: "politucheba", political training. It surprises and amuses us that Human Resources and Staff Development appear to fill in a niche in the society similar to one that, back in the Soviet Union, was occupied by the enterprise/university level tier of Communist Party organisations.

    I understand that this sounds bizarre and incredible, and I feel that at least one clarifying remark is necessary: one should not think that "politucheba" was aimed at brainwashing — no-one actually cared about its efficiency. Also, people who run "politucheba" did not care about learning outcomes, etc. All that was required on part of participants was compliance with the procedure as an expression of their loyalty to the system.

    Unfortunately, at the core of lecturer training / staff development activities in British universities lie the same irrational rituals.

  • mick 17 July, 2011

    @Michael Bulley

    Yes it is apparently true that training teachers is absurd, but would you apply the same logic to eg doctors or physicists or engineers or actors?

  • @mick 17 July, 2011

    Yes, one would apply the same critical logic to other professions, if the "training" consisted of the box-ticking exercises (sociopathic audit systems) presently used to "evaluate" and "accredit", among other things, the work of academics.
    These systems override common sense and are tools for the assault on academic competence, via the attack on academic autonomy.
    When common sense does operate (it has nowadays been marginalized in such surveillance-and-control systems), it solves the Michael Bulley problem.

  • Practicalities 17 July, 2011

    If Craig Mahoney of the HEA gets his way using the Professional Standards Framework to monitor and accredit uni PGCHE courses then not only do we have the uni interpreting this framework, but we have central staff like Stef doing it for them and using it to get their own way – how else do they demonstrate that they are needed. To survive, the HEA needs to convince funders and HEI subscribers that it has influence (and power), so don’t let Mahoney’s words about a framework ‘open to interpretation’ fool us. Of course we need to demonstrate to students that we value teaching and seek to improve their learning experience – but the HEA shouldn’t have any central ‘monitoring’ role. David Baume in an earlier posting made a good point in that the HEA (or whatever) should be a membership organisation and that seems totally different to how Mahoney sees the HEA.

  • Michael Bulley 17 July, 2011

    @mick: your example of doctors is a happy choice, as Plato used it as an analogy in the Republic, deciding there was not some other art that had the art of medicine as its object. By analogy, then, in the university context, some people need to have knowledge (the knowledge of medicine) to impart to those who wish to understand medicine, but is there some other knowledge (that we might call "the knowledge teaching about medicine") that another class of people need to have to impart to those who teach those who wish to understand medicine? I’d say not.

  • Michael Bulley 17 July, 2011

    In my comment above, line 5, I missed out an "of": it should read "the knowledge of teaching about medicine".

  • David 17 July, 2011

    @Michael Bulley – quite right, we don’t need another class of people with the knowledge of teaching about medicine. However, those engaged in the teaching of medicine definitely need it. I see the consequences of those teaching medicine without this extra knowledge every day and it is often damaging to students. I suggest the same goes for all disciplines.

  • Des Cartes 18 July, 2011

    The HEA is, arguably, the result of one of the oldest tricks in the book; invent a problem for which a carefully crafted solution has already been created and then sell this solution to those who would do anything not to appear to be the only dissenter since they are unsure of their ground. The ownership of this solution would guarantee professional longevity and career enhancement. It therefore suits the HEA to propagate the view that HE is infected with woefully poor teaching and it suits the HEA’s allies within the field of teaching; i.e. that growing number of teaching experts who are not only able to marshal the process by which poor teaching is uncovered but can then magically offer remedies to those identified. Trust me I’m a Doctor has some gravitas but trust me I am an educational expert does not; we have scratched the surface and found nothing; you have been found out; for pities sake … just go.

  • geoff garside 18 July, 2011

    The giveaway phrase here is: ‘I have always loved learning.’ Nobody who is a true scholar or intellectual would say this.

  • Mick 18 July, 2011

    @Michael Bulley

    So what is educational psychology?

  • mick 18 July, 2011

    @geoff garside

    Ehh!

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