Philosophy and policy in higher education


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  • We couldn’t ask for a better framing context in which to enter this discussion.
  • Philosophy, or theory – learning theory in this case – is often regarded with suspicion by teaching practitioners, even if they are well versed in the theoretical traditions of their research discipline. But there is much misuse of theory and some good reason to be suspicious. I hope to be able to address this suspicion.
  • … and Brookfield also regards theory as one of the four lenses through which the teacher can gain insight into their practice. The other three are: their autobiography, their students and their colleagues.
  • You might want to go to the discussion forum, now, and consider this question. Or carry on and come back to it. But, do just think for a moment. How is it that we come to know things in different ways?
  • Unfortunately the pages have been removed from the site.
  • So, to begin to address the purpose of a theory of learning let’s look at higher education in the context of the institutions of society.
  • What about banking?
  • What about security: military and police?
  • As the relationships between the institutions of society evolvie, there are, as we might expect, differing views of what that institution known as a university might be…
  • This in a nutshell defines UK HE policy. Ars gratia artis? I don’t think so. But, wasn’t that always a bourgeois luxury? Can we understand “social cohesion, regional development and global well being” through a myriad of local perspectives? Is this only a neoliberal, free-trade, carpetbagging vision? To whom in society must universities “demonstrate their contribution”?
  • Set this against a different view of higher education: the university or, maybe, the academy.“Education and training relevant to the labour market”, or “nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself”?
  • Exposing assumptions Ron BarnettExposing cultureScollon, Barthes, Bourdieu, LatourExposing powerBrookfield, Fairclough, Bhabha
  • Nomothetic: theory of critical theoryBut, isn’t all theory critical?
  • Positivism was, in origin a radical reaction to the conservative forces of society, particularlythe church. But as Scollon and many others have shown, that utilitarian rationality of the Enlightenment, built on a positivist approach to knowledge,came to protect an exclusive “club” of “civilised men” and excluded the “savages” i.e. colonised people and (most) women.
  • Socioculturalism takes in a wide range of post-positivist (or new positivist) and critical realist strands of thought including Marxism, Psychoanalysis, Linguistics, Literary criticism, Feminism, and many other bodies of thought. More a broad perspective than a theory as such, socio-culturalism having to some extent supplanted positivism might be seenas a new orthodoxy. And these days, as an orthodoxy is under attack from two directions: a post-foundational emergent systems view of actor networks and a number of new fundamentalisms, both hyper-rational as well as mystical/religious in nature.
  • So for our next discussion
  • See also Prosser & Trigwell (various)Simple but well researched 2-dimensional frameworkInformation transfer (teacher focus) scaleConceptual change (student focus) scaleRelational and context specific
  • Philosophy and policy in higher education

    1. 1. Philosophy and policy in higher education November 2011 George Roberts Oxford Brookes University
    2. 2. That’s all very well in practice, but how does it work in theory?Do you use theory as a drunk might usea lamp post: more for support than illumination?
    3. 3. ObjectivesBy the end of this discussion, you should be able to:• Elaborate a general “theory of theory”• Explain some of the uses of theory for understanding educational development and be able to point the way to others• Locate higher education in the context of the wider institutions of society• Apply the concept of a “hidden curriculum” to explaining higher education practices
    4. 4. Reflective practice?... learning can be enhanced through: a consideration ofthe context and experience of others, familiarity withreceived wisdom, reflection on these, and the use of thefirst hand experience of the learner.[however]Discussions of reflection in learning often emphasise thefirst hand experience of the learner rather than- the role of formal theory,- the importance of the broader social context- and the experience of others (Dyke 2006)
    5. 5. Why do people learn and teach differently?How can we build on this observation and subsequent explanation todevelop our own learning and teaching practice?LEARNING THEORYA THEORY OF THEORY
    6. 6. 2 different orientations towards acquiring knowledge & … 2 functions of theoryInductive: from observation to theoryTheory building explanatory Theory attempts to answer the question: “Why?”Deductive: from theory to observationTheory testing predictive Theory attempts to answer the question: “What happens next?”
    7. 7. another orientation towards acquiring knowledge & … another function of theoryholistic generative
    8. 8. So… theory is: predictive explanatory generative
    9. 9. and, which reminds me… theory is: Nomotheticoops! Typical Or typifying Or typologising Or generalising Here we are typifying “theory”
    10. 10. So, we have a typology of theory… a nomothetic theory of theory explanatory predictive generative typifying
    11. 11. And the last bit? FalsifiableTheory vs.. ideology:Ideology may well be predictive and explanatory,but instead of generative it is restrictive, instead oftypical it is normalising and instead of falsifiable it isenforced. (Popper, 1996)• Theory “proves” nothing• Things/the world/observation challenges theory
    12. 12. So, we have a typology of theory… a theory of theory Theory is: explanatory predictive generative typical falsifiable
    13. 13. TheorySystematic codification or abstraction of:• Accumulated observations (or assertions)• BeliefsConceptual framework• ModelAn attempt to answer the question, “Why...?”An approach or a perspective, e.g.:• Positivist• Socio-culturalSee De-localized Production of Scientific Knowledge. (Galison 2007, October 7). Retrieved from production-of-scientific-knowledge-2/
    14. 14. Learning Theory Discussion• An attempt to answer the question, “Why...?” or "How?" with a statement: "Because...” • Why and how do we learn? • How is it that we come to know things?• How is it that we come to know things by or in different ways?
    15. 15. Institutions of societyHidden curriculumCritical theoryHISTORY OF IDEAS“PURPOSE”
    16. 16. Visual triggers• The images on the next two slides are taken from a discussion of higher education in South Africa stimulated by the arts movement Blackwash in the Journal Arts Review, “Africas Premier Arts And Culture Online Magazine” in 2009. (
    17. 17. Discussion• In light of those pictures• What [the heck] use is “A theory of learning”? – Discuss on the VLE, • By Friday 2 December, post (at least) one idea, that, for you, is central to this question. • Then, respond to at least one other idea posted by a colleague. • By Friday 9 December summarise the on-going discussion in your own words: where did you get to with this?
    19. 19. Institutions of society• Institutions of production• Institutions of reproduction
    20. 20. Institutions of production• Primary – Agriculture, mining, hunting, gathering, etc• Secondary – Manufacturing, transforming• Tertiary – Supply, distribution, marketing, banking
    21. 21. Institutions of reproductionThat is cultural reproduction• The family – kin, clan, folk, nation, etc• Religion• Education• Defense and security – Military, police, etc
    22. 22. • In the last 300 years or so, there has been an inversion
    23. 23. – In the past (when? where?) institutions of production were subordinated to institutions of reproduction • We enter into this endeavour “for the glory of God” or the “defense of the nation”
    24. 24. – Recently (when? where?) institutions of reproduction have become subordinated to institutions of production • The function of higher education is to serve industry • The family provided the stable base from which empolyability skills may be acquired
    25. 25. OECD Purpose of HE?• Higher education institutions are expected to provide education and training relevant to labour market demands, conduct research activities that will build a knowledge-based economy, as well as contribute to social cohesion, regional development and global well- being. They must also strive constantly to fulfil their multiple missions, improve the quality of the education provided, increase their efficiency and demonstrate their contribution to society.,3746,en_21571361_47736552_48511009_1_1_1_1,00.html
    26. 26. The real university?• The real university has no specific location … [it] is a state of mind. It is that great cultural heritage of rational thought that has been brought down to us through the centuries … which is regenerated throughout the centuries by a body of people who traditionally carry the title of [academics] … The real university is nothing less than the continuing body of reason itself. (Pirsig 1974: 143)
    28. 28. • Overt curriculum of the early modern age – “3 Rs”: Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic – Reproduction of these cultural goods, universal literacy and numeracy, would benefit both the individual as well as society
    29. 29. • Today’s overt curriculum (perhaps) – Flexibility – Community/team work – Individualisation or personalisation
    30. 30. Industrial era covert curriculm• Set against the “3 Rs” – Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmatic• Schools taught – Punctuality – Tolerance of repetition – Subordination
    31. 31. Post industrial “knowledge economy” covert curriculum• Set against – Flexibility, community and individualisation• We see – Piecework, precarity, competition – Normalisation – Surveillance
    33. 33. Stephen Brookfield’s four “critical reflective lenses”1. our “autobiography as teachers and learners”, i.e. through our own eyes2. through our students eyes3. through our colleagues’ experience and peer review4. through the theoretical literature Theoretical literature helps us to name our practice and to find that it is not idiosyncratic
    34. 34. Critical theory Expose hidden assumptions Structured reduction of complexity • What is left out of the model? Indirect object of learning • Hidden curriculum Creative appropriation
    35. 35. Typical critical theory• anti-essentialist/critical realist: the basic givens of existence are fluid and unstable• heteroglossic/dialogic: all thinking is largely determined by prior cultural experience• language is an actor (weak linguistic determinism)• meaning is characterised by ambiguity• context is everything• grand narratives v petits recipts
    36. 36. Positivism: an orthodoxy?• Anti-metaphysical/clericalist, accumulist theory of knowledge based on observation plus logic.• Theory is simply the codification of accumulated knowledge and not of particular importance.• Logic plus observation can lead to a grand unification of all knowledge. (Galison, 2007)
    37. 37. Socio-culturalism: the new orthodoxy?Social constructivism• The simplest utterance, far from reflecting a constant, rigid correspondence between sound and meaning, is really a process. … the inner relationship we were looking for was not a prerequisite for, but rather a product of, the historical development of human consciousness. (Vygotsky)• All observation is theory laden (Popper)• Disciplines are like ships passing in the night (Kuhn)• Cultures parse the world differently (Galison)
    38. 38. In Discussion: Consider thisMost academics - in the humanities and social sciences, particularly -come at their subject these days from a relativist perspective: knowledgeis "in here"; there is no knowledge without the knower; knowledge is"constructed" in cultural contexts; knowledge is not "given" or "outthere". There is no "absolute truth".This position is quite different from the classical approach: knowledge is"out there"; the "laws of nature" are independent from the mind of theinvestigator; there is "truth" to be discovered. This approach depends onthe "independent, objective observer", who can stand aside from theobserved phenomenon and form an unbiased view.This classical approach is the traditional position of many scientists, aswell the commonsense view of how knowledge is produced, which(according to Scollon) is held by an international public discourse ofcommerce and government. (Scollon 2003: 71)
    39. 39. The classical approach– Can you illustrate how this classical approach is held by a “common sense”, “international public discourse of commerce and government”?– Or, perhaps, to rephrase the question, what is the purpose of university?
    41. 41. Kolb’s Learning Cycle
    42. 42. Honey and Mumford• Activitists (Do) – Immerse themselves fully in new experiences – Enjoy here and now – Open minded, enthusiastic, flexible – Act first, consider consequences later – Seek to centre activity around themselves• Reflectors (Review) – Stand back and observe – Cautious, take a back seat – Collect and analyze data about experience and events, slow to reach conclusions – Use information from past, present and immediate observations to maintain a big picture perspective.• Theorists (Conclude) – Think through problems in a logical manner, value rationality and objectivity – Assimilate disparate facts into coherent theories – Disciplined, aiming to fit things into rational order – Keen on basic assumptions, principles, theories, models and systems thinking• Pragmatists (Plan) – Keen to put ideas, theories and techniques into practice – Search new ideas and experiment – Act quickly and confidently on ideas, gets straight to the point – Are impatient with endless discussion
    43. 43. Teaching Perspectives• Transmission• Apprenticeship• Developmental• Nurturing• Social Reform
    44. 44. ResultsThis is the second time I did this. The first time my Dv score was equal to my Nu score. Like allthese sorts of inventories, the results are not fixed nor do they represent any absolutecharacterisation of the individual.
    45. 45. Wider aims: a theory of good practice?These items have been shown to explain and predictsuccessful learning outcomes• student-tutor contact• student-student co-operation• active learning• prompt feedback• time on task• high expectations• diverse talents and ways of learning (Chickering & Gamson, 1987) independent of the mode of engagement
    46. 46. George RobertsSenior Lecturer, Educational DevelopmentOCSLDWheatley CampusOxford Brookes UniversityOxford, OX33 YOU