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UCLES: A questionnaire for evaluating portfolio cultures in postgraduate teaching

Taylor, P.C. (1995) UCLES: A questionnaire for evaluating portfolio cultures in postgraduate teaching. In: Teaching and Learning Forum 1995, February 1995, Edith Cowan University, Perth

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Traditionally, universities have been exemplars of the transmissionist paradigm typified by large lecture theatres in which a single perspective has been dominant -- the lecturer's (note the appropriateness of the title). In these forums, it is almost inevitable that knowledge is regarded as a commodity which, metaphorically speaking, can be transmitted from the lecturer's mind to the minds of the mass of students in attendance. Communicating (i.e. lecturing) serves the purpose of conveying seemingly objectified knowledge in as efficient way as possible. Consequently, learning is rendered as little more than the memorisation of uncontestable facts and, especially in science/ mathematics-related fields, the memorisation of standard problem types. This impoverished image of learning is reinforced by the predominance of the traditional practice of summative assessment. End-of-course examinations have the effect of isolating learning (i.e. the process of coming to know) from assessment (i.e. judging the quality of learning processes and outcomes) and generating in the minds of students an implicit belief in an external locus of control of learning.

Little wonder then that new postgraduate students bring with them historically-grounded expectations for more of the same -- more lecturing, more examinations, more absorption of expert knowledge, more external control of learning. In this teaching and learning culture of consumption, the quality of the learning 'product' (i.e. students' knowledge) is judged by criteria established entirely by others (i.e. academic 'quality contollers'). Little opportunity exists for students to develop skills of judging the quality of their own learning, and less opportunity exists for students to learn how to generate criteria of quality.

As a university teacher, it is my concern that unless we reform the prevailing transmissionist epistemology of university teaching, our students will remain trapped in an unhealthy culture of uncritical, unreflective and reproductive thinking that is intellectually and emotionally disempowering. For me, the starting point for epistemological reform is my own postgraduate teaching in which I must model exemplary teaching practice to my postgraduate students who are, themselves, professional school teachers. It is no exaggeration to say that, left to their own devices, most of these mature-age students would readily re-adopt the passive and impoverished learning roles of their undergraduate years. Such is the power of enculturation and habituation.

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