Letter: Firm foundations (1)

July 27, 2001

Gillian Howie's view of the Institute for Learning and Teaching as "vapid and costly" (Letters, THES , July 20) is held by many who belong to professional associations.

In the publications of the Institution of Civil Engineers and the Institution of Structural Engineers, to which I belong, there is much that I assess as vapid and the ICE has just doubled my subscription as a retired member. But I continue in membership out of loyalty, having received much help and encouragement from these same institutions during my career.

What was Dearing's rationale for proposing the ILT? It was to raise the status of the "scholarship of teaching" - its professionalism. We all know and are perhaps jealous of teachers who capture the interest and stimulate serious involvement in the most unlikely and unwilling students or who get a bright, but bored, student to excel. Is this an art, an indefinable gift?

In medieval times, abbots and bishops chose the master masons for their abbeys and cathedrals on artistry alone. Why? Because real understanding of structures and mathematical tools for accurate prediction of their behaviour did not exist. The master masons operated on "gut feeling" and often got it wrong. Nowadays, we do better. Why? Because civil/structural engineers (along with lawyers, doctors, ministers, teachers and so on) get a firm intellectual foundation, on which individuals and employers build.

The ILT is set on identifying a real understanding of teaching, on defining how teachers and students should behave so that real learning takes place. And on letting those of us who are not so good at it know how to do better.

On that basis, it has to be encouraged.

Bill Cranston
Emeritus professor, civil engineering
University of Paisley.

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