For accreditation, see indoctrination

May 6, 2005

Courses in teaching have little to do with producing better lecturers and much to do with learning to conform, says Frank Furedi

Why am I not surprised when I read that young academics are bored by the courses they have to attend in order to gain accreditation as bona fide lecturers? Almost every new academic that I have talked to finds these courses to be a waste of time. They find the atmosphere patronising and the advice formulaic. One computer scientist told me that all she learnt was a "lot of jargon".

Occasionally, academics who are forced to follow a programme leading to a postgraduate certificate in higher education acknowledge that, while the experience overall was unrewarding, they found some of the discussion useful. In particular, they say that what they enjoy is the opportunity to meet some of their peers who also face the challenge of integrating into an institutional setting.

Some believe that PGCHE programmes simply face teething problems and that with a bit of imagination they can be improved. I don't think so. The very idea of accrediting academics as teachers is fundamentally flawed. It is based on the assumption that there are some generic skills that can be transmitted to the academic.

In reality, gaining accreditation as a university lecturer has little to do with becoming a competent teacher. Aside from demonstrating the acquisition of knowledge and skills, all forms of accreditation - university degree, medical licence - involve an element of socialisation. In the case of the PGCHE it is almost exclusively about socialising academics into the ethos of the audit culture that dominates the campus. It is about indoctrinating new lecturers into values of a conformist orientation towards teaching.

Academics learn to talk the lingo of best practice, benchmarking and summative assessment.

Adopting this rhetoric of managerialism is not simply about using a different language to talk about the same thing. The language is designed to sensitise academics to the God of Process so that they adopt the prevailing institutional objectives.

Although PGCHE courses continually go on about the need for reflection and critical thinking, what they offer are models of teaching based on standardisation and homogeneity. It is very much a model-driven enterprise.

This instrumentalist approach is no accident. It is not possible to accredit an academic's flair and originality. Accreditation is based on ticking boxes and capturing outcomes. For most academics attendance at these compulsory programmes is an exercise in time-serving and demonstrating an ability to jump through hoops. Although many individuals resent wasting their time, they are not in a position to express their genuine feelings.

Understandably, their objective is to get accredited and then get on with life. Unfortunately, matters do not end there. Whether we like it or not, the experience often leaves its mark. Even those of us who are scornful of these courses and make light of the experience often find that, in some imperceptible way, we have changed. We find that we are using words and expressions that we would not have used before. Somehow we have become more comfortable with template teaching. As we discover that the process saves us the trouble of having to think we become a little more pragmatic. And, as we shift our attention from real living students to the template world of learning outcomes, we may want to remember that accreditation is not just about getting a piece of paper.

Frank Furedi is professor of sociology, Kent University.

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