Locking down teaching (and learning)

Data analysis is a big deal these days. Ratings are another. Unavoidably, analysis of measurable data and quantification leads to comparison and, thus, to ratings and rankings.

The Collegiate Learning Assessment (CLA) services offer ways to measure how greatly your HE institution has improved the students’ higher order competencies and thinking skills. Apparently this allows institutions to benchmark where they currently stand. They claim not to do this with ranking in mind, but this is in my view humbug and disguise. They say it’s about “highlighting differences between them [i.e. colleges] that can lead to improvements in teaching and learning”. But we already know that institutions are different in everything: quality of teaching, aptitude of their students, funding, and output. So what do we hope to learn from such a measuring exercise?

The comparison is carried out using specially designed tests! Yet another anachronistic approach for students to be tested not for their own achievement, but to provide a stick for their institution. The only people interested in such an exercise would be a government with further austerity plans to cut public funding for education. Who else would give a damn about the validity of such tests?

What we learned from e.g. the research assessment exercises is that such benchmarking and comparisons hardly improve the quality of the bottom half of institutions. If anything it widened the gap between good and poor quality institutions by turning it into a football like economy where good players are transferred to rich clubs.

Apart from turning the university into a police state, it’s the teachers who take all the blame for student failure. The CLA doesn’t take personal factors into account like crises with boy/girlfriends, working late in hamburger joints, etc. There is little or no room for shared responsibility of learning or even student ownership of their learning and success.

Additionally, as I mentioned in another post, mainstreaming and elevating pedagogic strategies to the level of national uniformity leads to loss of innovation and creative new approaches in learning. It chains teachers to a statistical mean and locks down teaching and learning to a single vision.


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