Argument is not at fault

March 5, 2009

It is a pity that Andrew Morgan feels that the only way to meet my argument about teaching quality is to descend to personal insults, asserting that I do "not grasp the notion of scholarly research" (Letters, 26 February).

If he understands, as he claims I do not, how to construct an argument, he should know to shun ad hominem attacks. However, as his university's staff development officer, he has a vested interest, of course.

My argument isn't the problem, just Morgan's failure to understand it. I rejected the Liberal Democrats' equation of good teaching with holding teaching credentials (Letters, 19 February).

All of us have experienced some poor teaching by people with such credentials, and some good teaching by people without. Indeed, if I'm wrong then there is virtually no good teaching in universities, since few of us (and barely any senior academics) have these qualifications.

Morgan offers no evidence whatsoever to contradict my argument that there is no evidential basis for saying that teachers with a postgraduate certificate in education (PGCE) are better than teachers without one. He asserts that the value of this training can be demonstrated by positive findings in attitude surveys, and depends on the assumption that if a certain outcome occurs coincidental to a process, the outcome must be the result of the process.

This is the post hoc, ergo propter hoc fallacy: I get up in the morning, the sun rises, therefore my waking causes the sun to rise. One would expect someone new to teaching to feel better and more confident after two or three years' experience: this does not prove that the PGCE brought this about.

I will keep an open mind. If proper evidence is produced, I am willing to be convinced.

How about selecting seminar groups of students all taking the same module, controlled for prior academic attainment and other significant factors, and comparing the results of those taught by tutors with PGCEs and those taught by tutors without them?

Richard Austen-Baker, Lancaster University Law School.

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