The role of experience

Peter Albion picked up on an earlier post of mine and offers a brief description of his own experience within Australian universities. In particular, the increasing focus on compliance with bureaucratic systems as a means of assuring quality, a move back to hierarchies of command and control and apparent adoption of a Theory X view. A view that resonates with what I see within my current institution and one others talk about.

This morning I was listening to this talk by Baroness Susan Greenfield. In the end she suggests that online network is potentially harmful, but I’m going to ignore that. One of the fundamental planks for her argument is brain plasticity. i.e. that the brain is shaped by what we do with it. What we experience, what we think shapes our brain.

What is the current environment of compliance, command and control, and Theory X doing to the thoughts and brains of the academics that work within them?

Dan Pink talks about motivation and suggests that it requires workers to have feelings of autonomy, mastery and purpose. When it comes to learning and teaching within universities, I’ve argued previously that for some the current environment provides anything but that combination.

As it happens, I’m also reading at the moment a book by James Zull called The Art of Changing the Brain: Enriching the practice of teaching by exploring the biology of learning. I think this quote is interesting (emphasis in original)

..no outside influence or force can cause a brain to learn. It will decide on its own. Thus, one important rule for helping people to learn is to help the learner feel she is in control.

For me, the lesson here is that if you want to improve learning and teaching at Universities, the academics have to feel that they are in control. This does not mean they do their own thing. As Peter wrote

There is some benefit in ensuring that certain basics are in place but there is also room for some variation that provides scope for the next improvement to emerge.

The academic has to feel like they are in charge of that next improvement, to have the room for some variation. The compliance, top-down culture infecting universities (in Australia at least) is removing that control and is often ineffective in ensuring that the basics are in place because it has removed the motivation (in the form of autonomy, mastery and purpose) from the academics.

4 thoughts on “The role of experience

  1. I’d absolutely agree with that. Excellent point. With those key things removed (motivation through autonomy, mastery and purpose), it’s as if your job becomes a pointless mechanical process – which never really achieves anything. People seem to become indifferent and stale under prolonged pointlessness.

  2. Pingback: Teachers decide what changes they will make … : DrAlb

  3. kwilco

    “Sounds good in theory.” Empowerment (my summary of autonomy, mastery and purpose) can lead to great things. However, empowerment without the KSA’s to base it on leads to what we have now – a bewildering melange of stuff being sold as college courses. (southwest USA here)

    From David: “The reality is that this academic has other priorities which means the academic wants to do the minimum. To quote, “All I essentially want to do is to copy the last time I ran ..the course.” Most academics are not going to design a course from scratch. They are going to recreate what they know.” Until we get past this, I say empowerment is dangerous. Yes, I know the alternative is not a top-down chain of command. Yes, this means we have to sell, not try to dictate. Long road.

  4. Pingback: The road not taken « The Weblog of (a) David Jones

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