Dear Faculty Member or Academic (whichever you would prefer),
I was delighted to see your response to Joshua Kim’s post on experiences working with Learning Designers which he reports here on the Inside Higher Education web site. I’ll remind you of what you said:
“Enough of this professionalization nonsense. Education != instruction–education, to quote the good Cardinal Newman, “is a higher word.” We, faculty, establish the environment for education. Professional staff such as “learning designers” or “instructional designers” are extraneous and a drain on our precious few resources. Replacing tenure lines with an army of professionalized staff loaded with credentials alongside low-paid and necessarily subservient and contingent adjunct faculty is not the appropriate way forward. You are complicit with the destruction of higher education and the transformation of our institutions into the corporate university. Reject these efforts to redefine education into the instrumentalized system that you are already fully involved in. Enough.”
I think your view represents one that would be widely held in many universities and it’s important that this view be recognised and responded to because, the fact is, it represents the height of academic arrogance and pomposity dressed up as a concern for the welfare of students when, in fact, it’s nothing more than a demand for the status quo and, preferably, a return to some mythical golden age of academia.
Now I have every respect for an academic’s expertise in a particular discipline. I have no intention of arguing with someone who has spent their life studying mid-Asian relaxation techniques in the 14th century in a discussion on trends in Tibetan meditation in the middle ages. I will happily accept that somebody with numerous research outputs in the use of fruit flies in genetic studies almost certainly knows a bit more about it than me. And, more controversially, I accept the right of some academics to expound an unpalatable thesis. I may not agree with them and I may hope that somebody with expertise may counter that thesis but nevertheless it is critical that researchers and academics have the right of academic freedom to explore all possible topics and present alternative views.
What I don’t accept is the supposed automatic right of the faculty member to determine the learning experience of students. Only a small proportion of faculty members have any training or development in the advanced pedagogical techniques that are required in modern higher education. Higher education pedagogy today is much more complex than it was when I started as faculty member in 1990 when, really, the delivery options were still limited. You gave lectures, tutorials, maybe labs or seminars. There may have been some field trips. If you were adventurous you might try problem based learning or simulations or role play. In fact the more I look at it the pedagogy was actually very complex even then.
Today we typically work with a much wider range of options, technologies and types of students. Expectations are much higher in terms of delivery and the pressures on academic staff members to produce higher quality learning materials as well as develop research are inexorable. The internet is here; you may not go wholly online but you will be expected to have an online presence and, probably, a blended learning approach. Are you telling me that you are an expert on that as well? Have you studied the use of flipped classrooms? Do you know how create a social constructivist model of pedagogy in your course? What about adopting a maker culture into your course. It could be a good way of developing a unplagiarisable and authentic assessment strategy and engender a shared learning assessment model. You may wish to include some peer assessment. You did know that didn’t you?
What about the tools for learning? I take that you know how to use synchronous teaching tools or how to set up blogs and wikis in your learning management system and why you would or wouldn’t do either of those things. I could go on but I think you get the point about complexity.
The thing is, I don’t get to tell you about your area of expertise an you don’t get to tell me about my area of expertise. What happens is that we work together as a subject matter expert (that’s you) and a learning designer (that’s people like me) and we’ll probably have a programming/multimedia support as well. We’ll work out what it is you want your students to know/understand/be able to do once they’ve completed the course then we’ll develop a solution that will lead to those outcomes. It’s quite simple really. And the opinions and theses that you develop as part of academic freedom can and will be incorporated into the learning experience because that is a quite different use of the notion of academic freedom and a justifiable one.
You complain about professional staff being a drain on resources but the fact is that a much more realistic and professional approach to course development will give you more time and be much better for the students. You just have to learn to let go. Accept that you’re not an expert in everything and just remember that your right to academic freedom does not extend into a right to create a poor learning experience.