Great lecturers build on rules 1

February 7, 2003

Academics seem to have a knee-jerk reaction to any suggestion that they did not make ("Get out your module maps", THES , January 31). Module descriptors are not an "iron cage", as Todd Landman suggests, nor do they force academics to become "cookie cutters". If anything, they help to promote academic freedom and autonomy.

Give an identical plot of land, identical planning regulations and identical requirements to five different architects, and they will produce five completely different plans.

Yet give identical level descriptors, generic learning outcomes and benchmark statements to five different course teams and, rather than see them as a framework around which to weave effective and creative teaching and learning, they cry foul and bemoan the red tape.

Level descriptors are not there to restrict people but to support them when planning and improving programmes. Without level descriptors, how do you know you are delivering a programme at the right level? Without learning outcomes, how do you know a student has achieved what you wanted them to achieve? More important, how does the student know?

All subjects have underlying rules and regulations: the methods by which mathematicians demonstrate proof, or by which physicists explain the mysteries of the universe. Even music and language have their own structures, whether it be tonality, temperament or grammar. Without these structures there would be chaos; with them, there is beauty.

So, what makes anyone think they can just go into a classroom or lecture theatre and simply "teach" without asking basic questions such as: What do I want this session to achieve? What do my students know? What should they know? How can I help? With what aftercare? How does this relate to courses elsewhere? Am I pitching this too high?

Boring architects build according to the rules and produce identical little boxes. Great architects build on the rules to create strong foundations and effective, firm structures around which to produce unique designs.

If you want to see iron cages everywhere, fine, but you are locking yourself in.

Jonathan Baldwin
Art, design and communication
Learning and Teaching Support Network
University of Brighton

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