Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Teaching Research-Led Education

The capstone course for the Graduate Certificate in Higher Education requires me to reflect on what I have done so far. There was a one day workshop and here are my notes on the accompanying readings:

Akerlind (2005) reports research into academics' perceptions of their development. This is useful in seeing the motivations of academics, for further development, but can't tell us how accurate those perceptions are. Akerlind discusses the rise of university centres for academic development and undertook the work at ANU.
Akerlind (2005) criticizes the literature for concentrating on delivery options and development of teaching. However, not all university centres for academic development have prospered, I suggest because some have concentrated on research, rather than delivery of quality teaching. As a result university lecturers have not been enthusiastic to sign up for such courses and those who did sign up have not completed, due to poor course design. As a result such centres, face the prospect of being replaced by outsourced and on-line courses.
Akerlind (2005) summarised their findings into six categories:
  1. Development as becoming more productive and efficient in one’s work output;
  2. Development as achieving academic credibility and recognition for one’s work;
  3. Development as ongoing improvements in the quality and effectiveness of one’s work;
  4. Development as the ongoing accumulation of personal knowledge and skills;
  5. Development as increasing depth and sophistication of understanding in one’s field;
  6. Development as contributing to disciplinary growth or social change.
The first point, productivity and efficiency, is one often overlooked in university education courses, which tend to emphasise improving education as an esoteric goal, rather than improving the productivity of teachers. If university teaching courses were to emphasise techniques for making teaching and assessment more efficient (and less burdensome for lecturers), these courses might be more popular. Akerlind (2005) points to synergies between teaching and research for development, which is very relevant to a research-intensive university, such as ANU. Unfortunately they do not appear to have gone on to develop this idea. Brew (2010) argues “... new ideas about scholarship need to become central to academic life ...” and this will help academics cope with change. One difficulty with this is that Brew seems to be searching for one generally accepted view of what scholarship is and how universities do what they do. But I suggest a diversity of views is essential to the vital nature of university life. Brew interviewed academics about their conceptions of scholarship. Perhaps also legislators and others who fund and set regulations for universities should have been interviewed about their views. Some of the difficulties academics are currently experiencing are due to their forgetting that they are funded by the wider community and so must live up to that community's expectations. Brew argues that to teach, academics need knowledge of their subject and of pedagogical principles. But I suggest more is needed: academics also need to be trained and tested in teaching methods: it is not enough to know the principles, academics need to be able to put them into practice. Brew argues that graduate certificates in higher education allow academics to go beyond the mechanics of teaching to a higher level of reflection. But if the academic has not first been trained in basic teaching techniques, how will they get to the higher level? This, I suggest, has been the basic flaw in many university teaching programs: a failure to first build a sound teaching foundation at the technical level, before moving on to communicative and emancipatory levels. My colleagues from the Australian Computer Society are meeting shortly with government and industry to discuss how to improve education of ICT professionals. It is likely there will be pressure to use overseas on-line courses for basic education, in place of Australian face-to-face vocational and university courses. In theory, Australian educational institutions can then concentrate on advanced courses and research supervision. But I suggest without the basics, the Australian education system will be fatally weakened. The same issues are likely to arise with teaching of educators. Brew asks why problem solving is confined to the teaching and learning domain. Such a question shows a lack of knowledge of what goes on elsewhere in the university. Many other disciplines, including engineering and ICT (where I work) concentrate on problem solving. One of the problems of Brew's analysis is that it focuses in on teaching, as if that is an end in itself (likewise universities focus in on themselves), rather than being part of communities and disciplines. Brookfield (1995) starts out with somewhat flowery language about love and justice (perhaps inspired by 1 Corinthians 13:4). After that some useful questions are asked such as “What Makes Reflection critical?” but these questions are never answered. Perhaps because this is a chapter taken from a book the content makes little sense by being taken out of context. I get the impression that Brookfield is addressing a reader other than myself (I am someone wanting to learn how to teach). McAlpine, and Hopwood (2007) assert that the aim of doctoral education is the development of researchers and scholars. However, the Australian Qualifications Framework (July 2011), describes a doctoral degree as including “professional practice". Those undertaking a professional degree are doing so in order to work in a profession, not undertake research. Even those undertaking a traditional research PHD and remaining in academia are likely to spend most of their time teaching and administering, not researching. So McAlpine, and Hopwood's concept of ‘academic practice’ should be broadened to 'professional practice', in order to equip the graduate for the role they will be undertaking. Boyer’s four scholarships could still be applied (discovery, teaching, engagement and integration) as these are applicable to professional practice. As an example, the skills a PHD will need to supervise research are simpler to those need to mentor staff in the workplace.


Akerlind, G. (2005). Academic Growth and development – How do university academics experience it? Higher Education. Vol.50, pp.1-32 Brew, A. (2010). Transforming academic practice through scholarship. International Journal for Academic Development. Vol. 15, No. 2, pp.105-116 Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher. San Francisco, CA: Jossey Bass (Chapter One: What it means to be a critically reflective teacher) McAlpine, L. & Hopwood, N. (2007) Conceptualising the research PhD: Towards an integrative approach. Retrieved November 10, 2010 from McGill University at www. doc-work.mcgill.ca/past-presentations/shre-7-post-srhe.doc

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