22 SES 08 D, Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Higher Education
Parallel Paper Session
The purpose of this paper is to present and discuss an empirical project which considered the professional development of new higher education lecturers and teachers, comparing knowledge they were expected to gain, as written in formal specification documents, with their own narratives of knowledge they felt they did gain. The project has its background in the widespread use of specification documents in universities in Europe and across the world. The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) defines a programme specification document as: ‘... a concise description of the intended learning outcomes from a higher education programme, and how these outcomes can be achieved and demonstrated’ (QAA, 2006, p. 2). Specifications represent a key tool of the learning outcomes approach, which has its origins in the publication of A Taxonomy of Cognitive Objectives (Bloom, 1956, 1979). The learning outcomes approach is used in higher education systems throughout Europe, as well as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa (Gosling & Moon, 2001). It also represents part of the Bologna Declaration, implemented amongst all European Higher Education Area (EHEA) member countries (Kennedy, Hyland & Ryan, 2007).
Thus, the current project examines the extent to which learners really come to ‘know’ what they are informed they will ‘know’. It presents the view that specification documents are simplistic in their assumptions about knowledge and that they adopt a propositional view, based on knowledge which can be imputed or transferred to learners, similar to what Lave & Wenger (1991) referred to as the ‘standard paradigm of learning’. These issues are considered here in the context of the professional development of new higher education teachers, within a single higher education institution. The central research questions are: (1) To what extent does propositional knowledge that learners were expected to gain through a programme of study as depicted in specification documents map to that which they feel they did gain? (2) How do learners enact knowledge gained from the programme into their own professional practice?
The undertaking of the project necessitated some additional perspectives about knowledge, so two ‘knowledge representation frameworks’ were drawn upon to provide theoretical leverage, these being Blackler (1995) and Eraut (2000, 2004). In different ways, each of these provides a more sophisticated interpretation about how knowledge is developedand applied, which extends beyond the propositional approach. These frameworks aided both the design of the research and provided an additional tool for interpreting the results. It will be argued that whilst specification documents bestow some valuable functions, they fail to provide a complete representation of what learners come to know and enact in their professional practice. In fact, learners come to know both more and less than that presented in specification documents, and in individually different ways.
Blackler, F. (1995) Knowledge, Knowledge Work & Organizations: An Overview and Interpretation. Organisational Studies, 6, 1021-1046. Bloom, B. (1956) A Taxonomy of Cognitive Objectives. New York, McKay. Bloom, B. (1979) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: The Cognitive Domain. New York, McKay. Brett Davies, M. (2007) Doing A Successful Research Project. Basingstoke, Palgrave Macmillan. Cousin, G. (2009) Researching Learning in Higher Education: An Introduction to Contemporary Methods and Approaches. London, SEDA & Routledge. Eraut, M. (2000) Non-formal learning and tacit knowledge in professional work. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 70, 113–136. Eraut, M. (2004) Informal learning in the workplace. Studies in Continuing Education, 26, 2, 247-273. Gosling, D. & Moon, J. (2001) How to use Learning Outcomes and Assessment Criteria. London, SEEC Office. Kennedy, D., Hyland, Á. & Ryan, N. (2007) Writing and Using Learning Outcomes: a Practical Guide. University College Cork, Quality Promotion Unit. Lave, L. & Wenger. E. (1991) Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation (Learning in Doing: Social, Cognitive and Computational Perspectives). Cambridge, Cambridge University Press. Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (2006) Guidelines for preparing programme specifications. Mansfield, QAA. Available online at: www.qaa.ac.uk, retrieved 10.12.2011. Savin-Baden, M. (2004) Achieving reflexivity: Moving researchers from analysis to interpretation in collaborative inquiry. Journal of Social Work Practice, 18, 3, November, 1-14.
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