KEYNOTE SPEAKERS Professor Ray LandDirector of Centre for Academic Practice, University of Durham
Ray Land is Professor of Higher Education at Durham University and Director of Durham’s Centre for Academic Practice. He previously held similar positions at the Universities of Strathclyde, Coventry and Edinburgh. He has been a higher education consultant for the OECD and the European Commission (EC) and has recently been involved in two EC projects in Europe and Latin America. He is currently advisor to the Norwegian TRANSark project on architectural education. He has published widely in the field of educational research, including works on educational development, learning technology and quality enhancement. He is best known for his theory (with Jan Meyer) of Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge. A recent edited book, Threshold Concepts in Practice (Sense 2016) is the fourth in a tetralogy on this theme. His latest publications with George Gordon have been Enhancing Quality in Higher Education: International Perspectives (Routledge 2013) and Teaching Excellence Initiatives: modalities and operational factors (HEA 2015). He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He lives in Edinburgh, Scotland.
What counts, and what matters: transformative learning in an uncertain world
The UK Government’s forthcoming White Paper on higher education, with its expected proposals to measure and reward teaching excellence in HE, and at the same time to further deregulate provision to increase market competition, gives rise to interesting issues as to what might count as excellence and what we should be measuring as ‘learning gain’. Lee Shulman (2005) observed that ‘without a certain amount of anxiety and risk, there's a limit to how much learning occurs. One must have something at stake. No emotional investment, no intellectual or formational yield’. In contradistinction to this sentiment, a powerful discursive shift has occurred within higher education globally in recent decades in which HE teaching is rendered increasingly as the facilitation of a rather ill-defined ‘student learning experience’, and as a primarily economic rather than educational transaction. The learner is constructed as a consumer, and satisfaction surveys and module evaluation scores place students and teachers in an oppositional stance, intensifying internal market competition between colleagues and courses. This is potentially antithetical to critical or transformative notions of pedagogy. Teaching may become risk-averse, innovation uncomfortable and the language of transformation may retreat. In its worst incarnation learning can be depicted as non-problematic, requiring minimal commitment. A hotel, perhaps, rather than a gym. Students’ ‘pedagogic rights’ (Bernstein 2000), entailing transformation, and challenge, where liminality and uncertainty trigger different ways of thinking, different modes of knowledge and deep ontological shift, might be curtailed. This talk discusses ‘pedagogies of uncertainty’ with their emphasis on transformation through ‘troublesome knowledge’, liminal experience, and ontological shifts, as one possible dimension of a counterdiscourse to the increasing commodification of learning, and as a necessary component of any definition of excellence, or learning gain. As our institutions compete in a global market, however, such approaches may be compounded by both intercultural tensions and the differing expectations of some of our students.