Motivation revolution

October 10, 1997

CONTRIBUTORS to The Good Teaching Guide (THES, October 3) called for change in academic teaching practices in universities and colleges. Central to any such strategy must be an understanding of what motivates academics and support for teachers to take action for change.

Thirty years of research into educational and organisational development clearly reveals that unless people really want and need to change, for all kinds of fascinating reasons such as professional and personal self-esteem, status and reward, then no amount of impressive tub-thumping rhetoric will make much difference.

Given the appropriate degree of practical support and encouragement, however, people are prepared to open their minds and consider different ways of doing things. But there usually has to be a very clear perception that changed practices will result in measurable improvements and benefits to both students and staff.

Academics of all persuasions, including practitioners who work as fractional and part-time staff in universities and colleges, frequently suspect the reasons proposed for changes in academic practice. And who can really blame them?

The past two decades have seen unprecedented non-professional interference in the way schools, colleges and universities do their business.

Much change has been thinly researched and, rightly or wrongly, often perceived as irresponsible and politically motivated.

Hopefully, is time for a deeper reflection on the purposes and outcomes of higher educational processes and practices. Graham Gibbs and David Jaqcues are both right (THES, October 3). It is time for a revolution and myths do need to be dispelled. But let us not forget that the motivation and power for change really lies within the mind-sets of the teaching staff and students, many of whom still need to be convinced that proposals for change in higher education teaching practices will contribute to greater benefits for all.

Clive Colling

Former HEQC auditor and head of educational development service, University of Northumbria

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