“It’s the wrong discourse, Grommit!”

In the animated film, “The Wrong Trousers”, fans of Wallace and Grommit will remember how the situation develops in which Wallace is wearing a pair of mechanical trousers that are taking him in various directions that he doesn’t want to follow – controlled by the evil Feathers McGraw. As he is taken off down the road he shouts, “It’s the wrong trousers, Grommit!”.

So, I am asking if universities have found themselves wearing the metaphorical ‘wrong trousers’, following a path that perhaps they don’t want to follow – with someone else at the controls. Rather than trousers, I am asking if universities are racing along in a direction that is guided by the wrong discourse?

There is so much discussion of elements of the instructional discourse at the moment. Colleagues are concentrating on issues such as assessment & feedback and curriculum processes in order to enhance the student experience. Now they probably also have half an eye on the ways in which the UK Government might be heading (Wallace-like) to evaluate these through a set of metrics that might constitute a ‘Teaching Excellence Framework’.

But what about the other side of the picture:

discourse cmap

 PDF of discourse cmap

What of the values, theories and beliefs that underpin all this procedural stuff?  Are we convinced that we have got that covered? Are we all in agreement about everything and so it can just be a ‘given’?  I am not convinced.

Looking at the educational research literature, especially that which tries to visualise the qualitative structure of understanding (as I do), perhaps we have brought some of this monocular view on ourselves? If you look through the concept mapping literature, most of the concept maps that feature in publications tend to have focussed on content. This is ironic given that much of that literature is critical of teaching that is content-focussed. But there are relatively few concept maps that concentrate on the left hand side of the figure above.

If you used the map in the figure here as a guide, I wonder how much of it could be annotated by looking at university web sites that proclaim the distinctiveness of institutions and the quality of student experience that is offered. Within those pages you could probably find evidence to build a picture of the content to be taught, the assessments that will be administered and the curricula that will be delivered (the right hand side). But how much evidence is there of the underpinning values of the institution, the educational theories that inform teaching or the beliefs that guide decision-making processes (the left hand side) ?

I wonder if anyone can identify an institution that has an explicit ‘binocular view’, as expressed in the figure above? And I wonder if the TEF will demand a binocular view, or if it is being driven down a monocular view by a real ‘Feathers McGraw’ ? Let us hope that in 18 months time we are not all screaming, “It’s the wrong framework, Grommit!”.

References

The Wrong Trousers:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Wrong_Trousers

Teaching Excellence Frameworkhttps://www.timeshighereducation.co.uk/news/jo-johnson-commits-teaching-excellence-framework

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