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# International Symposium on Pedagogic Frailty and Resilience – Registration now open.

## The University of Surrey – 6th September 2017.

http://www.surrey.ac.uk/dhe/cpd/pedagogic-frailty-resilience/index.htm

The programme will include the following presentations:

“The Origins and Potential of Pedagogic Frailty”
Prof. Ian Kinchin, University of Surrey, UK.

“Safe Spaces or Strange Places?  Pedagogic Frailty and the Quality of Learning in Higher Education”
Prof. Ray Land, University of Durham, UK.

“Bend or Break? Dimensions of Intrapersonal and Organisational Resilience”
Dr. Naomi Winstone, University of Surrey, UK.

“Do No Harm: Risk Aversion versus Risk Management in the context of Pedagogic Frailty”
Dr. Julie Hulme, Keele University, UK.

“Profiling Pedagogic Frailty”
Prof. Paulo Correia, University of São Paulo, Brazil.

“Developing Online Resources to Support the Exploration of Pedagogic Frailty”
Miss Irina Niculescu, University of Surrey, UK.

# From ‘evidence-based’ to ‘post-truth’: is this a trend in higher education?

Is there a trend within higher education that parallels the general trend in society, from ‘evidence-based’ to ‘post-truth’? There has been a trend (that I have been aware of for several months, though it has probably been going on for very much longer) of a move away from research and data towards a justification of claims in the media by using statements such as, ‘a lot of people think that’. This trend has been played out very publicly in elections in the UK and in the US in the past year, where it seems that if you say something often enough and loud enough, then it will be accepted as part of the canon. Maybe that has always been so? But when we have Government ministers on the TV telling us that we shouldn’t listen to experts because sometimes they can get things wrong, it does sound like Homer-Simpson-reasoning.

We seem to be witnessing a similar trend in higher education where ideas seem to be distorted to fit political and economic aims. If you are really cynical, you might go back through press cuttings and see a move from ‘evidence-based’ to ‘student-centred’ to ‘post-truth’. I am not arguing against student-centredness here, but I am aware of the ways that is can be miss-represented so that the phrase ‘but the students want it’ seems to trump other arguments without any real analysis of what or why. But there is a question (probably many) here about what students want, which students want it and why students want it – whatever ‘it’ might be. There also seem to be a number of contradictions in what ‘students want’. We are told that students want more online learning. So it seems sensible to capture lectures and allow students to review the content in their own time. All very sensible. However, I have been told by a lot of people (in a post-truth sense) that if we insist that lecturers are filmed teaching, then they adopt a more conservative approach in the classroom for fear of being ‘You-tubed’. This might lead to increasingly teacher-centred, didactic lectures – after all, discussion and dialogue don’t always play well in recordings of lectures. But, hang on. I am also told that students want more engagement in class – something that might be inhibited by lecture-capture. So the students want it both ways? Problem.

In the media there seems to be an apparent polarisation of the community in which elements are now referring to students as a ‘snowflake generation’, who we cannot challenge or upset, for fear of unleashing their displeasure as costumers. Such an approach to students seems to be a device to increase the distance between teachers and students. And when I have interacted with students recently, they actually seem to want challenge in their education. So again, what is it that students want? We seem to be in danger of assuming there is a single ‘student voice’ that is truly representative. But ‘a lot of people think’ there are actually a lot of different voices within the student body, and among the academics. As the philosopher said, ‘all generalisations are incorrect’. Perhaps we should be looking at ways to exploit diversity rather than seek homogenisation?

Politicians seem to be in the same position of power over universities as the students. After years of criticism about the NSS and the way it informs us (or not) about teaching quality, we are now set to employ selected elements of it in the TEF to evaluate the teaching quality of institutions. By referring to this as a ‘metric’, we have managed to confer some level of credibility to the numbers generated so that interested parties may call the whole process a rigorous and tested procedure. In the face of such post-truth pronouncements, universities seem to have rolled over and accepted their fate – ready to be measured-up (either for their new ball gown or their coffin, depending upon which axe you are interested in grinding).

There may also be a difference between what students want and what students need. To take a health analogy here – over the years many patients have wanted (and got) antibiotics from their doctors because they are suffering from a virus. This is despite all the evidence that antibiotics do not have an effect on viruses. Any expert can tell you this. However, after years of overprescribing, we are now in the situation where antibiotics are becoming less effective against bacteria – bacterial resistance. This pandering to patients has had a harmful effect on the overall population. Without proper debate and analysis of issues, some colleagues view acknowledgement of the student voice as a similar kind of pandering – and such a dismissive view does not help the development of more informed pathways to student-centredness and student engagement.

So where are we and where do we want to go? It appears that we now live in a society where if we don’t provide evidence, then the fake news sources will make it up anyway. I am now wondering if I will soon read a research report that offers ‘post-truth’ as a theoretical framework to underpin conclusions. Perhaps peer review of research will become even more interesting in the coming years?

# Christmas mindbender – “Learning Jounce”: real or imaginary?

Here’s an idea that may or may not make sense. Stemming from one of those after dinner conversations that ended up with a “what if … ?”. Starting from the idea that things move at a certain speed and in a certain direction – velocity. This has some resonance with current discourse on learning – ‘learning gain’ being the distance travelled by a student over a period of time. So students learn at a certain speed. So we can see an analogy between velocity and learning gain – see the left side of the figure below. Learning gain has been under-theorised up until now – so let us problematize!

Now we can consider things like accelerated learning – where there is a change in the velocity of learning. We could have learning acceleration as an idea. So far so good. So the 1st derivative of the position vector (of understanding) would be learning gain  and the second derivative of the position vector would be learning acceleration:

PDF FIGURE:  learning-jounce

Accelerated learning is widely known, where students are taken along at a faster speed than is typically anticipated. So what if we push the analogy along? It might be more fun than trying to figure out the jokes in your Christmas cracker. And the discussion might make more sense after a glass or two of mulled wine! Anyway, here goes:

A change in acceleration is known as ‘Jerk’. So if the rate of acceleration increases or decreases we would have +ve or -ve Jerk. So if we had a change in the acceleration of learning we would have ‘Learning Jerk’. This is something that perhaps we could get our minds around. If learning gain has a ‘normal speed’ (e.g. one module per semester), then accelerated learning would have an increased speed (e.g. one module per semester, then two modules per semester, then three, and so on). A change in that rate of acceleration (e.g. suddenly back to one module per semester or up to four modules per semester) would be a ‘learning jerk’. So learning jerk would be variation in learning acceleration – a break in the smooth pattern of acceleration. If we then take the student voice into consideration, we could have ‘student-initiated acceleration’, where students felt they could move ahead more quickly, or ‘student-initiated jerk’ where the student body were allowed to vary the rate of learning acceleration at different points in their learning journey in response to changes in other factors.

For those who would like to apply the maths for Jerk:    $j = \frac{da}{dt} = \frac{d^2v}{dt^2} = \frac{d^3x}{dt^3}$  .

So logically (perhaps after another glass of wine), we should be able to proceed to a change in learning jerk – learning jounce. This would be a change in the change in the change of learning gain. In a student-led institution there will be variation in jerk across the student body and this will need a dedicated administrative team: possibly overseen by a new senior post (PVC – JOUNCE). Just imagine the learning analytics (Jounce analytics), wouldn’t they be fun. But what would learning jounce look like? And more importantly, what would be the metric that we could apply to TEF?

The ‘Jounced University’ would certainly be student-focussed, and may even come to the realisation that assessment inhibits  Jounce. Within the TEF, universities that acknowledge Jounce could be awarded a Bronze level in the TEF, those that implement ‘Assessed Jounce’ awarded a Silver, with Gold reserved for those institutions who manage to operate ‘Free Jounce’.

As an aside (and I think we need one here so we don’t get too serious), Jounce (the 4th derivative) is also known as ‘snap’. So can you guess what the 5th and 6th derivatives are called?  Yep – ‘crackle’ and ‘pop’. Wouldn’t it be great if we could have metrics for snap, crackle and pop with which to confuse our political masters? The Boxing Day game here is therefore to imagine your university league table for 2017, ranking institutions for “snap, crackle and pop”.

Merry Christmas!

Reference:

# Student evaluation of teaching: are we reaching for the wrong type of excellence?

Over twenty years ago Carr (1994: 49) wrote:

‘It is a shallow and false view of education and teaching which takes it to be a matter of the technical transmission of pre-packaged knowledge and skills in the context of efficient management’

However, it seems that this false view is still able obscure a more contemporary and research-informed views of teaching. The on-going drive for ‘teaching excellence’ still seems to focus on actions of the teacher that promote Carr’s ‘shallow view’. That is not to say that the student voice is not important, but we need to ensure that students are asked the right questions so that we do not promote student passivity as learners and do not subvert the student voice for purely political ends.

Fitzgerald et al (2002) wrote, ‘I value student perspectives in thinking about my practice. However, the institutional instrument designed to assess student perspectives focuses on a form of practice that ill fits my own values. Each semester students have been asked to rate the course and instructor on a nineteen-item rating scale. Many of the items are consistent with a teacher-directed pedagogy and linear information-processing model of learning (for example, Objectives are Clear, The Instructor Enhanced Knowledge of Subject, Organised Class Sessions Well, Demonstrates Knowledge of the Subject). When I first came to Uni, I was intimidated by these student evaluations because I believed them to be overly focused on clear objectives and a class structure predicated on teacher control of the classroom. These survey items do not adequately capture what I hope to accomplish in the classroom, and I correctly anticipated receiving mixed review on this measure. Students may desire and need clearly presented knowledge, attained in a highly structured teacher-directed context, but educational opportunities are impoverished if this is the only form of pedagogy provided. A rather monovocal assessment tool inscribes a particular vision of education, and fails to provide useful feedback to educators who teach in alternative ways. This narrow representation of education limits our vision of what ‘good’ education might be, and privileges a particular mode of learning.’

So are we still promoting ‘monovocal assessment tools’ ? If so why? Many commentators ask why those who purportedly revere the power of critical thinking go on to employ simplistic, quantitative tools to ‘measure’ teaching quality. Clearly, in the UK, the Government’s agenda to assess teaching is pushing things along with a single purpose in mind. Katzner (2012) has asserted that in their quest to describe, analyze, understand, know, and make decisions, western societies have accepted the myth of synonymy between objective science and measurement. He comments that what we cannot measure gets demoted as ‘less important’. If it has been measured, it must be ‘scientific’ and ‘rigorous’ – especially if we can apply statistical analysis that the common man/woman will not understand.

So we go from monovocal to monocular (possibly also myopic). A system in which ‘ideas diversity’ and ‘methodological variation’ (typically seen as indicators of health for an academic community) are apparently no longer valued. We then end up with a ‘hard core’ set of unquestioned statements and assumptions that are not supported by evidence. The result is that we have an academic community that will survive by ‘maintaining their autonomy and academic freedom through demonstrating symbolic compliance or pragmatic behaviour’ (Teelken, 2012: 287). This could result in innovative teaching being driven underground, like a resistance movement – a situation that is likely to promote pedagogic frailty (Kinchin, et al, 2016). An outcome that is the opposite of that intended. Fitzgerald et al (2002) talked about values as the underpinning concept that drives things forwards with any meaning. I wonder if the explication of values (particularly shared values, rather than any spurious mission statement placed on a web site) by universities will form part of the TEF, which will inform teaching evaluations in the UK over the coming years. Or is teaching supposed to be ‘values-free’ in the modern era? I didn’t get that memo.

References:

Carr, D. (1994) Educational enquiry and professional knowledge: Towards a Copernican revolution. Educational Studies, 20(1): 33 – 54.

Fitzgerald, L.M., Farstad, J.E. & Deemer, D. (2002) What gets ‘mythed’ in the student evaluations of their teacher education professors? In: Loughran, J. and Russell, T. (Eds.) Improving teacher education practices through self-study. London, Routledge/Falmer (pp. 203-214).

Katzner, D. W. (2012). Unmeasured information and the methodology of social scientific inquiry. Springer Science & Business Media.

Kinchin, I.M., Alpay, E., Curtis, K., Franklin, J., Rivers, C. and Winstone, N.E. (2016) Charting the elements of pedagogic frailty. Educational Research, 58(1): 1 – 23.

Teelken, C. (2012) Compliance or pragmatism: how do academics deal with managerialism in higher education? A comparative study in three countries. Studies in Higher Education, 37(3): 271 – 290.

# Are you already researching pedagogic frailty?

The concept of pedagogic frailty ( see earlier post: https://profkinchinblog.wordpress.com/2016/01/20/pedagogic-frailty-a-new-lens-to-examine-university-teaching/ ) consists of a number of dimensions that are directly related to established fields of research in higher education. As a result, you may already be involved in research that informs the development of the model. If you are engaged in research that looks at values, academic identity, academic leadership, teaching quality, the research-teaching nexus, authenticity or academic resilience then your work will resonate with studies into pedagogic frailty. If you are investigating the application of concept mapping (and in particular the development of excellent maps) then again your work will be of relevance here as concept maps have been instrumental in the visualisation of the model.

PDF: Pedagogic Frailty relations: frailty-relations

The value of pedagogic frailty is that it helps to bring these elements into simultaneous focus so that the dynamic relationships between these ideas can be better understood in the ways that they interact to influence the development of pedagogy.

In a special issue of “Knowledge Management & E-Learning” we are hoping to bring together some of the international research that can help to inform development of the concept and to interrogate the model. A call for papers in a previous post ( https://wordpress.com/post/profkinchinblog.wordpress.com/593 ) is still open (until March 2017), and I would be interested in hearing from anyone who is considering a submission.