Mobilising learning as actor: Actor network theory and the BKO


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English presentation by Ernst D. Thoutenhoofd about the Dutch course in Higher Education teaching (BKO) to the Sectie Leerproblemen, Orthopedagogiek & Klinische Onderwijskunde, Groningen University, Netherlands, 11 April 2011.

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Mobilising learning as actor: Actor network theory and the BKO

  1. 1. Mobilising learning as actor<br />Actor network theory and the BKO (Higher Education teaching qualification)<br />Presentation to the Leerproblemen sectie<br />Department of Pedagogy and Educational Sciences<br />Groningen University (Netherlands), 11 April 2011<br />Ernst D. Thoutenhoofd<br />This presentation is available online at<br />
  2. 2. Contents<br />My argument centres on the following two claims:<br />A There is nothing more to S than P radicalism<br />B There is always more to S than P occasionalism *<br />* Where S is a knowledge object (such as ‘learning’) and P is all statements thought to apply to S.<br />Graham Harman 2009:255, Prince of networks: Bruno Latour and metaphysics<br />
  3. 3. Leren (en) doceren in HO<br />Ton Kallenberg et al. (2009). Lemma<br />The book opens by noting that students have to learn themselves; it is their responsibility (:5). Students must learn effectively, and that is what teaching should make possible. The book claims to cover the most important didactic fundamentals, including learning styles, cognitive, affective and regulative teaching functions, and curriculum design, delivery, assessment and evaluation organised around a central metaphor of learning outcomes.<br />1 Learning is an individual responsibility.<br />2 Education is optimal transfer of fixed content.<br />3 Didactics is cycles of outcome-based improvements.<br />4 There is nothing more to S than P (position of reductionist radicalism).<br />
  4. 4. BKO and learning outcomes<br />The BKO portfolio work includes four topics (a total of 12 assignments):<br />1 design a course around learning outcomes<br />2 execute a course, taking into account learning outcomes<br />3 evaluate a course with respect to learning outcomes<br />4 reflect on your evolving competencies as a lecturer<br />
  5. 5. Learning outcomes<br />Became ubiquitous following the EU Lisbon objectives (2000), aimed at optimal global competitiveness of the EU workforce.<br />Focus on the equivalence and shared targets of education systems.<br />Led to the ‘chunking’ (modularisation) of curricula, and to a focus on outcome measures (e.g. Dublin descriptors) as concretised educational objects. <br />The learning outcome is central to this economised conception of learning.<br />The underlying educational theory is that of American psychologist Benjamin Bloom’s (1913-1999) theory of mastery learning.<br />This policy framework indicates a behaviourist, technocratic and econometric epistemology of learning: there is nothing more to S than P.<br />
  6. 6. Bloom’s mastery learning<br />According to Verloop & Lowyck (2009), mastery learning amounts to:<br />1 Strong external steering—taking over learning functions from the learner.<br />2 Strong influence of behaviourism (and more recently cognitivism).<br />3 Strong focus on learning outcomes.<br />4 Strong focus on summative testing.<br />5 Strong central control over a unidirectional, stepwise progressing curriculum.<br />6 Clear limits on the contribution that a learner may make.<br />There is nothing more to S than P.<br />
  7. 7. Critique of mastery learning<br />Critique developed during the 1980s, focussing initially on the egalitarian principles behind Bloom’s theory: mastery learning was supposed to guarantee equality of outcome for all learners, regardless of background variables.<br />Multiple meta-analyses of research findings have since concluded that equality of time is sacrificed for equality of outcome (a loosing battle). Researchers point to the psychological trap of ‘waiting around time’ for faster students, and the rapidly diminishing returns of extra time invested in slower students.<br />Mastery learning ‘requires a belief that any objectives other than those pursued by the programme are of little value’ (Slavin 1987:186).<br />There is always more to S than P.<br />
  8. 8. Critique of learning outcomes<br />Learning outcomes imply a taxonomy of knowledge and skills (Hussey and Smith 2002). But their purported precision is a fallacy, with decontextualised descriptors replacingknowledge (Tsoukas 1997). Taxonomies create the myth of transparancy, uniformity, consistency and shared vocabulary. But these are largely spurious qualities—compare the construction of ADHD in the DSM-IV: does ADHD reduce to the classificatory descriptions provided?<br />‘There are no formulas for writing course or module outlines; no substitute for the experience and expertise of the educators, and no way of giving students exact and useful instructions without presupposing their ability to interpret them appropriately.’ (Hussey and Smith 2002:229)<br />There is alwaysmore to S than P.<br />
  9. 9. Summary of BKO<br />According to these criticisms, the BKO hides didactic and learning diversity behind a reductionist, technocratic and behaviourist system of self-organising control masquerading as professionalism. <br />The strategy is incoherent, because it defines knowing as an inner causal concept but then denies causality by stipulating knowledge as concrete performance (James 2005:88).<br />Learning outcomes restrict learning by focussing on threshold passes and undervaluing contextual and incidental learning.<br />The BKO makes alternative conceptualisations of teaching and learning invisible and so presents empoverished theory of learning to higher education lecturers.<br />
  10. 10. BKO and ‘new management’<br />A shift away from generative process to formal output has less to do with a rhetoric of improving education than with accountability bureaucracy.<br />Higher education as market bureaucracy has led to calculable individuals. Indiscriminate focus on performance measures is thought to produce a mix of vain, opportunistic and scared individuals—and worse, the focus on reward and punishment deprives the system of innovation potential (Vosselman 2010).<br />We should worry less about what we teach and more about what our teaching makes invisible. <br />There is always more to S than P.<br />
  11. 11. Conclusion<br />‘In practice, outcomes of learning are often strongly contested and there is a multiplicity of ways […] of expressing the anticipated outcomes of learning’ (James and Brown 2005:244).<br />Vosselman cites STS scholar J.L. Turk on freedom being the lifeblood of the university. I would add to that Dick Pels’ insistence on unhasty science as public commitment to sustained shared reflection and Helga Nowotny’s foregrounding of doubt and failure as necessary steps in collective improvement.<br />This is education as actor network: There is always more to S than P.<br />
  12. 12. End<br />References<br />James, M. and Brown, S. (2005) Grasping the TLRP nettle: preliminary analysis and some enduring issues surrounding the improvement of learning outcomes, in The Curriculum Journal 16(1):7-30.<br />Harman, G. (2009) Prince of networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. Repress.<br />Hussey, T. and Smith, P. (2002) The trouble with learning outcomes, in Active learning in Higher Education 3(3):220-233.<br />Kallenberg, A.J., van der Grijspaarde, L. en ter Braak, A. (2009) Leren (en) doceren in het hoger onderwijs. Boom Lemma.<br />Nowotny, H. (2009) Insatiable curiosity: Innovation in a fragile future. MIT Press.<br />Slavin, R.E. (1987) Mastery learning reconsidered, in Review of Educational Research 57(2):175-213.<br />Pels, D. (2003) Unhastening science: Autonomy and reflexivity in the social theory of knowledge. Chicago UP.<br />Tsoukas, H. (1997) The tyranny of light, in Futures 29(9):827-843.<br />Verloop, N. en Lowyck, J. (2010) Onderwijskunde: Een kennisbasis voor professionals. Noordhoff.<br />Vosselman, E. (2010) Accounting en accountability in universiteiten, in Tijdschrift voor hoger onderwijs en management 17(1):49-55.<br />