Collaborative Observation

Matt O’Leary & Vanessa Cui (2020) Reconceptualising Teaching and learning in higher education: challenging neoliberal narratives of teaching excellence through collaborative observation, Teaching in Higher Education, 25:2, 141-156, DOI: 10.1080/13562517.2018.1543262

Having ‘paid attention’ (a la Ranciere) to the Teaching and Excellence Framework I considered potential problems with it (see my blog post of on TEF). I then undertook some online research on views of the TEF and, in particular, ideas for teaching that counter its negative neoliberal tendencies.

In an article by Matt O’Leary & Vanessa Cui the TEF as incorporating neoliberal ideas of marketisation, the commodification of education and the measuring of value in economic terms. Within the HE sector education is seen as ‘value for money’ and linked to the wider economy by increasing employability. These neoliberal values are translated in practices including the introduction of quantitative metrics which allow comparisons and competition in the HE institutions and increased control and scrutiny over work through measurements and observations of performance.

Looking specifically at the impact on the approach to teaching and learning that this engenders, according to the authors this promotes “an instrumentalist model of teaching and learning (T & L) with teaching staff often perceived as the deliverers of knowledge and skills and students as the consumers.” The student voice is the voice of the consumer, who evaluates teaching as a consumer at the end of each year by completing the National Student Survey.

Their article examined a more qualitative, collaborative and active approach to improving teaching and learning: collaborative observation. In this approach the student voice as evaluator of product is replaced by learner voice, which “is about students expressing their experiences and understanding about their learning in the context of their programme; what is meaningful to them and their lecturers/academic tutors.” 

Reminiscent of the teaching methods bell hooks describes in “Teaching to Transgress” where an active learning community within a specific environment, in this article the authors maintain that “students and staff should be considered as members of their programme community who have agency and are active participants in understanding and shaping T & L in their community”. Teaching and Learning are not separate, knowledge is not delivered to students, teaching and learning interact together within a community. Teaching and Learning are not individual activities but involve hearing other perspectives. Again, like hooks, a complex learning environment is acknowledged as the authors recognise that “Today’s mass participation in HE means that students are from a diverse range of socio-economic, cultural and educational backgrounds with a wide-ranging set of needs, thus resulting in a highly complex T & L environment.” Reducing the assessment of teaching and learning to easy to quantify and measure metrics is therefore reductionist and ignores this complexity.

My big take away from this article has been to somewhat confirm my scepticism of the TEF whilst also acknowledge my own agency and ability to resist performing to targets. This is possible within a community of peers who, my own interactions and readings have shown me, are curious and creative and have the aim of achieving teaching excellence despite constraints.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *