What exactly is teaching?

My generation of academic has learned to expect a constant re-assessment of what it is we actually do once we are in the classroom, or indeed during any moment of our professional activities. We used to say pretty confidently that we were ‘teaching’. During the late 1980s and into the 1990s it became absolutely necessary to describe classroom engagement as ‘teaching and learning’, which in some cases became ‘learning and teaching’. A more recent expert view has been that what academics do is ‘facilitate a learning environment’.

As we have recently seen in England, teaching (or teaching and learning, or whatever you prefer) is now seen by some as a contractual activity that promises (or at least may promise) particular outcomes, including reputation and career. This perspective of teaching as outcome-driven bargain sits uneasily with the idea of self-motivated and ‘facilitated’ learning favoured in much contemporary pedagogy.

There are lots of things we have, as a profession, never really decided. Do we still need lectures (given the widespread availability of virtually all information online)? Should all teaching now be in small groups? What are students entitled to expect or indeed demand from institutions and their faculty?

However all of this is resolved, let us hope it is not in the courts, because that is probably the least good way of settling these questions of contemporary higher education.

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4 Comments on “What exactly is teaching?”

  1. paulmartin42 Says:

    “given the widespread availability of virtually all information online”

    Yes there is loads of data but is not the purpose of Uni to filter such and, from an expert’s position, tell us what is important. And ultimately teach us how to spot the bad guys.

  2. Vincent Says:

    Given the moneys handed over you’d expect something more than a bland assurance that those delivering the service would be trained to a standard before let loose on people that haven’t anything to measure that service as it’s occurring.

  3. Anna Notaro Says:

    This week’s THE includes the following opinion piece “Universities must become the Googles and Amazons of public life” which might complement the questions posed by this post. The author writes that universities “must think beyond educational ‘products’ and address how to ensure continued institutional involvement with the applications of knowledge and learning in the lives and work of individuals, organisations and communities”, before going on to argue that:

    “University leaders must rise above the interests of their own stand-alone institutions to grow the roles of universities within interdependent systems of learning providers, businesses, public agencies and communities, working together to resolve shared needs and problems.The implications of re-imagining higher education and universities in these ways are profound and difficult, but far from outlandish. They offer a vision for tomorrow’s universities as leaders and orchestrators in a variety of multi-partner ‘learning ecosystems’ – ranging from local community development programmes to national growth strategies to global programmes to address ‘grand challenges’, such as climate change or food security.”

    There is a lot to like about the above, I for one have long been convinced that exacerbated competition in the sector (i.e. considering the interests of one’s own institution’) is a recipe for disaster for all in the long run, gold TEF medals for example are ephemeral victories in a competition with no victors in the end. For universities to survive and thrive in the (near) future they need to embrace collaboration and interdependence, they need to move beyond petty point-scoring and focus their contribution instead towards the varied of ‘learning ecosystems’ described in the piece. Becoming the “Googles or Amazon of public life” might be a bit of a sound bite but it is exactly with such (private) giants of communication and information that the competition lies and not among ourselves!

    • Vincent Says:

      FvP missed the beginning of the Atlantic Philanthropies presence in Ireland. And so missed the early -how do I put this- opening moves. However, you might ask him what it was like post Y2K.
      What they did, all of them, would fly the 180 of your hopeful notion.

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