I wrote a post last week on the demise of the Australian Learning and Teaching Council (ALTC) but never actually published it. Thankfully David Jones (@djplaner) wrote a much more thoughtful and balanced post about the topic on his own blog which is well worth reading. Particularly his thoughts on the culture of research incentives for career progression. Mine was a little blunter and shorter and won’t see the light of day now. But what I will do is make a couple of observations about what has happened since and particularly of this idea that ALTC is a great driver of innovation in learning and teaching in universities. This has been been particularly spurred a letter in today’s Australian Higher Education supplement from Professor Peter Goodyear and Professor Sally Kift in which the demise of ALTC is seen as a great blow for innovation in L&T.
I’m not sure I entirely agree with their assertion. In fact, let’s be blunt, I don’t agree at all. In my opinion universities can be great drivers of innovation in society as a whole, developing new ideas, new technologies and new solutions to problems. The irony is, however, that universities are the amongst the least innovative organisations in their own right, at least when it comes to innovation adoption. This means that despite huge changes in our understanding of pedagogy over the last thirty years, the development of new technologies for engaging with learners and the rise of a wholly different patterns of knowledge distribution in our society, the fundamental method of learning and teaching within traditional universities has not changed. Sure there is tinkering at the edges and the 10% of innovators in the academic population have tried to change their practice but for the mainstream it remains business as usual.
The reasons for the lack of innovation adoption in universities are not difficult to understand. One only has to read Rogers’ ‘Diffusion of Innovations‘ to understand why universities don’t adopt innovations in their core business. Those reasons can be explored at another time but what I’m intrigued about here is why the ALTC is being held up as a paragon of innovation. Innovation in learning and teaching has always happened within universities (it just doesn’t get mainstreamed). You don’t need a grant of $200K from the ALTC to be an innovator. It’s just a case of spending more public money on innovations that conceptually may be interesting but are, at the same time, of little value because they don’t lead to fundamental change in the way that learning and teaching occurs in universities. To put it another way, too much effort was spent in the innovation bit and virtually nothing was spent on the adoption bit. This isn’t surprising because it’s the adoption bit that’s hard. Especially when dealing with passive aggressive organisational structures that typify universities.
So I guess the questions is, is it worth saving ALTC? To which the answer, I would have to say is no, no it isn’t. To be honest I’d rather the $22M pa went somewhere else rather than investigating how to use clickers in large accountancy classes for the umpteenth time.