I think that the quality of most university learning and teaching is somewhat less than it could be. There are some really good examples and really engaged teaching academics. However, they are in the minority. This problem is made worse when the context of a particular university is extremely complex. For example, a number of Australian public universities, in response to reductions in government funding, have developed a collection of partnerships with commercial and overseas organisations to offer their courses in various modes. Some of these universities also have traditional on-campus students as well as distance education student spread throughout the globe.
My experience at one such institution suggests that the focus on improving learning and teaching is being focused on the wrong time frame. The decision makers and organisational units that support teaching and learning are don’t focus on the truly long term (5/10+ years – too long) or the truly short term (every day – too short). Their focus is on a period ranging from a single term/semester (who’s teaching what, what results did students get) through to about 2 or 3 years (creation of policy and implementation of big bang improvement projects). This period is seen to be just right.
For example, after a long period of discussion a new policy will be promulgated. But, little or no effort will be made to implement the policy in a way that can be operationalised. Little or nothing will be done to understand the impact on the day to day life of students and staff.
As a result there is no focus on what academics do day to day. On what they experience, the problems the face or the stories they tell each other to create reality. Instead policy is informed by the experience of those at the term to 3 year time frame.
Policy and processes are not being set based on knowledge of the day to day, but on experience divorced from the day to day. It doesn’t engage with the reality of the teaching and learning context. It doesn’t connect with what is important to the students and staff living that day to day experience.
That disconnect means that:
- It is based on a lack of knowledge, a lack of appreciation. i.e. the decisions are faulty.
- The disconnect is obvious to the day-to-day people and it discourages them. Not a good basis on which to build behaviour change (which is what improving learning and teaching requires).
Engaging with the problems of the day to day experience is what Webfuse did at its best.
It’s an approach that focused on improving the quantity and quality of the connections around the day to day experience of teaching and learning. And this is what learning is all about.