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Teaching innovation and quality
A Technical Memo
Stephen W. Draper
Department of Psychology
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ U.K.
WWW URL: http://www.psy.gla.ac.uk/~steve/
Sue English, Harold Silver, and Andy Hannan gave a seminar to
at Glasgow University
on 4 Nov. 1998. These notes are what I learned from
that. They were discussing
their project on innovation in HE,
based on interview studies with "innovators" at selected HEIs (Higher
At the same time, a discussion paper presented to ITFORUM offered a parallel
set of questions.
My personal emerging view is comprised of a set of polarities,
dimensions, or contrasts to think about.
[From Harold Silver] Top down, or bottom (i.e. grass roots) up. Innovation
may be initiated by policy from the top of an HEI; or it may be done by
isolated individuals. An example of the former would be Glasgow's
introduction of the IT course for undergraduates, which has been quickly
adopted and exploited by departments, and particularly by individuals in
departments, without either costs to those adopters or alienating others by
insisting all staff make use of it. A small example of the latter would be
my development of the
computer supported cooperative lecture notes (CSCLN) exercise.
Can also see this as / this seemed to be related by Harold to:
Proactive (planning to achieve some new good) vs.
reactive (modifying methods in response to situational pressures that have made
old methods fail e.g. rising class sizes). E.g. promoting basic computer
literacy for all students vs. using email for class admin. because the class no
longer fits in any single lecture theatre for announcements.
[From Ron Emanuel] Innovation aimed at old learning objectives attained by
new and better methods; vs. new objectives requiring new methods.
My niche paper
focusses on the former (arguing against technology-led innovation); an
example of the latter would be to add group working skills to the curriculum
and so having to introduce group work as a method.
Innovation vs. teaching quality. Have no necessary
relationship. I.e. innovation may lower quality, or very often with
technology-led projects, approximately maintain the same outcomes by different
methods. Conversely, old methods often continue to achieve high quality
learning; this point is given extra interest by realising that many current
practices that are apparently traditional such as student projects supervised
by researchers score highly on "new" educational theories of apprenticeship and
Conscious or unconscious about teaching as a goal. On the
one hand, a promotion of "reflective practitioners" and a focus on teaching as
an institutional objective might be expected to support both quality and
innovation (and so failure to treat teaching as a rewarded objective might be
expected to block both). On the other hand:
- There is no pervasive association between excellent research and poor
teaching; but often those who innovate in one innovate in the other
- Those who say good teaching has zero value and priority with them do not
necessarily teach badly: intention and consciousness do not have a reliable
relationship with effective teaching
- Academics who only care about research may actually, just because of that,
excel in some important aspects of teaching by example: they will demonstrate
how to do research by example and do their best to force their students to
cooperate in their research (the apprenticeship / enculturation model of
[From Alison Phiggs] What motivates HE teachers? This is
probably intertwined with dimension 4.
- No motivation: some teachers may just do it without a conscious wish to do
it well. Just as some learning is involuntary, so possibly some (even some
good) teaching may be, as discussed above.
- Organisational theories may go on about the need to reward good teaching,
promote on the basis of teaching not just research etc. The relief reported by
Harold on the part of some at just having someone showing the slightest
interest in their innovations does indicate the importance of this.
- But also: Alison's point that many HE teachers care anyway and put enormous
effort and innovation into it without any such rewards. It is to do with
seeing all those student eyes in front of you, and wishing to please them.
After all teachers spend far more time facing students than facing their
managers. This is probably also to do with the performance aspect of teaching:
the aspect of putting on a show and being responsible for the occasion feeling
a success to the participants (both learners and teachers). Musicians, actors
and teachers all want to feel that crowd worship.
[From Harold vs. Melanie] Is / should innovation and best
practice be transmitted within disciplines (and across HEIs) or within HEIs
(and across disciplines). Harold pointed out that funding (for teaching
innovations) is becoming more discipline-based, while Melanie spoke for the
cross-department sharing that is in fact implied by the existence of any
central unit such as TLS. My own experience supports both. Within a
discipline you can actually share specific materials (as we explored in
and you can expect people will immediately understand your aims,
your problems, and the characteristics of your students and their failings
without long explanations. On the other hand, I had the experience on a TLS
course of learning from other participants from totally different disciplines,
often just because what is standard practice for them can be the innovation I
need for one of my problems.
Mind you, in some ways the above is an overly grand contrast. Simply sharing
experience and solutions within a department would be a huge step forward. On
the rare occasions I have sat in on colleague's lectures, I always learn
In a paper presented for discussion to
proposes four questions
to ask about the use of technology particularly in education.
These come from his field of "Science and Technology Studies", and are
designed to resist the two logically opposite but widespread implicit views
either that technology is an inevitable force changing our world or that
technology is entirely neutral and subservient to our pre-existing goals.
Web site logical path:
- Why is this [technology innovation] initiative even occurring?
In particular, is it technology-driven (based on a perceived need to have
the latest technology) or curriculum-driven (based on a careful discussion of
educational goals, and of what means are lacking in order to reach those
- What social visions are built into - and in turn enacted by - a given
technology? Does it enforce particular forms of pedagogy, or of
classroom organization? Does it impose a certain conception of knowledge
or of the learning process? Is it compatible only with particular views
of what education is for?
- How is the context of use likely to shape the way this technology is
employed? Who is using it, why, toward what ends, under what conditions
and pressures, with what supporting resources?
- Disaggregate the impact; do not limit your view to the effects on the
most visible or most powerful persons. How are groups of people in
different structural locations likely to be affected differently by this
initiative? Who will be helped, and how; who will be harmed, and how?
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