Monday, May 11, 2009

21st Century Graduate

At a colloquium in Edinburgh University on this particular topic as part of QAA Scotland's new set of "Enhancement Themes". An interesting range of presentations and some discussion, but interesting to see that there is little student voice in this. Or indeed even recent graduates. The idea that students' expectations of what the 'university experience' is about doesn't fit with either that of academics or indeed employers or the state was raised and it is an important point. 

Mainly talks from people who were very much graduates of the previous century and distinguished as they are, one mischevious thought that did pass through my mind was the extent to which their wisdom, acquired through experience and decades of study of HE is actually being transmitted to the newer generation of students and staff. I guess that's part of the role of events such as this and the dissemination work of the centres for Teaching and Learning. 

Ron Barnett brought up his 'will to learn' thesis and some mutterings at coffee were a reaction to the corollary of his suggestion that this is a defining factor in 'success' A point that at least one audience member also raised in a question. In other words, how realistic is it to focus on that aspect when there are many other, stronger factors that in reality prevent students from succeeding and rather than a 'lack of will,' they might suffer from overwhelming economic circumstances, or other factors. Non-completion should be an administrative concept rather than a judgement on personal commitment. I know that he wasn't advocating that particularly, but that was what the folk having coffee and pastries with me got from it. Somewhat cheekily perhaps, Ray Land also, in questions, brought up the fact that Dr. Goebels had a strong will to learn and earned three degrees but it didnt exactly imbue him with particularly desirable values, which in a sense led into the later presentation by Bruce Macfarlane on values and how some of the attributes identified in the Dearing Report are actually statements of values. He showed practical examples of university descriptors that highlighted such values rather than just listing 'learning outcomes'.

Jon Nixon gave a rather personal reflection and tried to explore what sort of society we might like to see by the end of the century and whether university education was able to imbue appropriate values and attitudes to achieve this.  Although he didn't himself refer to this, I was reminded of the old Antonio Gramsci quote "pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will."

Carol Bond (Otago) described some of her work based on interviews with students in New Zealand where she tried to explore changing student conceptions of higher learning as they progressed through their degree programmes as part of a longitudinal study. Of course, one could ask that although she demonstrated that they seemed to have a more sophisticated and deeper perspective in later years, to what extent might they also have been affected that by that time she'd have interviewed each of them extensively three times ?! just a thought.

Lori Breslow of MIT gave an entertaining presentation on the background to the Spellings commission and the politics of accreditation in the US.

Afterwards, a very pleasant reception/dinner for the presenters and the teams who are presenting tomorrow at the Learning & Teaching Forum for which I'm staying over. Edinburgh, as always, looking lovely, a grander capital I can't think of, though Paris comes a close second!

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