Monday, 18 January 2010

Reshaping Teaching in Higher Education

The authors present their view that successful university education depends on having a strong connection between research and teaching. From a policy view this is founded on the opinion that at the university level students should have a curriculum based on an awareness of the current research. The authors then analyse the reality and see how in most cases research and teaching are funded and assessed by different bodies and that this results in a growing separation between the two aspects of a university. While they have looked at case studies from the UK, US and Australasia there is a clear UK bias in the analysis.

Here they have found that the RAE is a particularly devisive part of the funding equation. It is interesting to see this in the context of the most recent RAE which has split the funding much more equitably and also in terms of the new impact statements for future RAE's. The question is how will they value the impact of teaching as that is perhaps both the most immediate and the most long lasting impact that universities have.

They also have a good discussion of the question of whether teaching and research are in fact fundamentally linked as they are both concerned with the acquisition of knowledge. They refer to the literature that has applied Perry's epistemology to understanding how researchers acquire knowledge and how students can also acquire knowledge.

They look at how research and teaching can be brought together at the personal, departmental, institutional and national level. They find that at the personal level the connection is implied but that at the national level at least in the UK the current funding bias towards research through the RAE is pushing teaching and research further apart. One way they see of improving this connection is to strengthen subject specific pedagogy by developing scholarship and including this as a research outcome.

The book also considers the move away from teaching transferable skills to teaching research skills and knowledge acquiring skills which will become more important economically as we move to a knowledge based economy. Given the current economic crisis it is interesting to see how the "knowledge economy" has performed as countries such as the UK with a very heavy investment in the knowledge economy has not done as well as more traditional economies.

This book was written in 2001/02 and there was an expectation that the framework for the 2006/7 RAE (ultimately it was the 2008/9 RAE) would be altered to try and develop the nexus. The research councils have certainly changed the way they fund post-graduate education in the UK using the doctoral training centres in particular to strengthen interdisciplinary areas. So it would be interesting to see how the authors view the changes since 2001 and if they think that the situation has improved or deteriorated.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Brilliant Moral Insight

“The Patrician took a sip of his beer. ‘I have told this to few people, gentlemen, and I suspect I never will again, but one day when I was a young boy on holiday in Uberwald I was walking along the banks of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs. A very endearing sight, I’m sure you will agree, and even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half-submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature’s wonders, gentlemen: mother and children dining on mother and children. And that’s when I first learned about evil. It is built into the nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.’”

Terry Pratchett - Unseen Academicals