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Debates in Higher Education

The seminar series Debates in Higher Education, organised by UCL's Centre for the Advancement of Learning and Teaching, is intended to provide a forum for consideration of a wide range of topics central to HE. This remit is intended to be inclusive rather than restrictive, and speakers are invited to showcase their particular area of expertise: recent such themes are the impact of student funding, the implications of greater international links, academic & student identity and government policy. The meetings are an opportunity to gain an introduction and overview to current thinking on any issue that impacts the practice and the context of Higher Education in the UK and abroad. All are welcome to attend though we do ask for an indication of your intention to come so we can accommodate the appropriate numbers. The seminar series is organised by Dr Jason Davies.

To book a place at a seminar:
If you would like to attend a seminar then please email Peter Phillips to book a place in advance. There is no charge to attend.

Debates in Higher Education is held on the last Wednesday of the month during term time. It is planned to hold them twice a term. Details of some seminars are still to be confirmed.

For details of previous years' seminars, please see here.

24 November 2010 2pm - 4pm (please note earlier time from usual for this series)
Dr Richard Allen
Title: The Value Of The Inexact, The Relevance of Michael Polanyi to Current Debates in Higher Education

Venue: Malet Place, Engineering Building 1.20 (map here)

Biography Dr Richard Allen is now retired from formal employment: he is Chair of the Society for Post-critical and Personalist Studies and Editor of its Journal Appraisal as well as author of books and articles on Michael Polanyi. Please see his home pages for more information on his career and publications.

Abstract: A central feature of the philosophy of Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) is his account of tacit integration in which all knowing and action is an integration of subsidiary clues or details, from which we intend, into a focal whole to which we attend. All or many of those details, and how we integrate them, are known only tacitly as we attend from them and use them, so that we do not know that we know them, certainly at the time and mostly never. Knowing is therefore a personal and skilful activity, in which we have responsibly to exercise our personal judgment. Articulate knowledge, as in spoken or written words, depends upon and is controlled subsidiary and tacit clues in being uttered and understood. The tacit knowledge that cannot be made focal and articulate can itself be transmitted only by means of learning as an apprentice to a master and tacitly picking up the clues which guide him in his judgments and actions. Some contemporary procedures in teaching and assessment — modular courses, multiple-choice questions and detailed marking schemes, specifying exactly what students are supposed to be able to do at the end of a course, and assessing lecturers by how often their publications are cited — presuppose that knowledge does not have its tacit dimensions and therefore vainly seek to avoid the necessity of personal judgment on the part of learners, teachers and assessors.

This session of Debates in Higher Education is the beginning of a collaboration with the Society for Research into Higher Education student experience network.

23rd June 2010 3.30pm - 5.00pm
Carmel McNaught
Centre for Learning Enhancement and Research, Chinese University of Hong Kong

Title: Developing an evidence base to support the evolution of institutional policy for teaching and learning
Foster Court 101

Abstract: The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) prides itself on being unique. (Indeed, each university does the same.) Yet, we also consider our University to be part of a global scholarly community. There are tensions between the particular and the general, between the local and the global, that need to be continually explored as our universities evolve and grow. In this presentation I will discuss how the Centre for Learning Enhancement And Research (CLEAR), which was established in 2002, began its work by setting up a number of research projects with CUHK teachers and students, and how the results from these research studies have been used to inform institutional policy for teaching and learning. I will cite examples from the areas of quality assurance, assessment and eLearning. Our policies reflect internationally accepted good practice but are contextualized within the local context; this dual character has facilitated acceptance and implementation.

Biography Carmel McNaught is Director and Professor of Learning Enhancement in the Centre for Learning Enhancement And Research (CLEAR) at The Chinese University of Hong Kong . Carmel has had several decades experience in teaching and research in higher education in universities in Australasia and southern Africa, working in the discipline areas of chemistry, science education, second language learning, eLearning, and higher education curriculum and policy matters. Current research interests include evaluation of innovation in higher education, strategies for embedding learning support into the curriculum, and understanding the broader implementation of the use of technology in higher education. She has presented 26 international Keynote addresses, is on 12 editorial boards and has more than 280 academic publications.

28th April 2010 3.30pm - 5.00pm
Sue Cross
Head of Adult Learning and Professional Development, CALT, UCL

Title: Teaching Adults
Rockefeller 337 David Sacks

Abstract: The importance of lifelong learning has been quite widely recognised over the last 20 years or so. It sometimes feels as if policy makers think adult learning just happens if the technology is up to date and some new materials have been produced. Is it that simple? In this talk, I will explore how we might develop a fuller conception of the idea of 'teacher' to include those of us who work with adults. It will also consider developments in the training of teachers for adults and the diverse contexts in which adult learning takes place.

24 March 2010 3.30pm - 5.00pm
Frederico Matos

Title: PhD: original contribution to knowledge?
SB5, 188 Tottenham Court Road


After the publication of the Roberts' Report 'Set for Success' and that of the Joint Skills Statement by the Research Councils, main funders of doctoral studies in the UK, there has been a shift in the aims, focus and structure of doctoral programmes in the UK.

Data for this paper was collected from in-depth interviews with PhD supervisors in the Social Sciences.

The new 'research training' paradigm changes, according to some, the nature of the PhD. The new PhDs are seen by some as a less significant piece of work than the PhDs produced by the current supervisors. The main stated reasons for the perceived difference in quality between old and new theses are the research councils' imposed deadline and the need to spend time on various, compulsory or otherwise, training courses which are often seen as distracting students from what should be their main (for some, unique) focus: the thesis.

These challenge previously accepted individual conceptions of what the PhD should be and should attain. Expectations on doctoral outcomes are said to have changed. The current paper argues that this will in turn have an impact on the type of researchers and academics Universities are producing. Producing simplified and efficient researchers appears to be the objective of doctoral programmes presently. Plus, universities are privileging forms of knowledge with a “operational and strategic character” (Barnett 1993). More risky, even speculative, topics are being censored. This paper will consider what the long term impacts of these changes in the creation of knowledge and disciplinary practices may be. This would be done within a frame of long-term trends in sociological thought and some contributions from epistemology.

24th February 2010 3.30pm - 5.00pm
Dr Lesley Gourlay
Coventry University, Learning Innovation Applied Research Group

Title: Second Life? The virtual student in higher education
Gordon House 106, Gordon Street (map here)

Abstract: Immersive virtual worlds such as Second Life™ are increasingly used in UK higher education. Encouraging debate and discussion, his session will critically examine the pedagogic and sociopolitical roles these multimodal environments currently play in the sector. The session will also explore the related concepts of immersion, copresence and virtuality, in relation to not only virtual worlds, but also to more 'conventional' modes of engagement in higher education.

25 November 2009 3.30pm - 5.00pm
Dr Jenny Marie

Title: Becoming Professional: A Personal Learning Journey
Chadwick 218

Abstract: The central question this paper considers is how do people learn what it is to be professional and how we learn to act in more professional ways. It will consider different formats that the teaching of professionalism can take, including the provision of workshops, modules and reflective logs and the difficulties associated with each of these. It will consider perceptions of being professional and how these can shift, which will raise the question of whether there are new approaches we can take in teaching and supporting this learning.

28 October 2009 3.30pm - 5.00pm
Professor Bruce Macfarlane
University of Portsmouth

Title: Understanding intellectual leadership: academic freedom, academic duty
Chadwick 218

(Powerpoint 2007 poster here)

Abstract: Dominant conceptions of leadership in higher education have become synonymous with formally defined senior managerial roles and responsibilities. By contrast, the role of academics as intellectual leaders is comparatively neglected. ‘Hybrid’ roles among senior academics are commonplace but rarely distinguish between the expectations of managerial and more broadly based intellectual leadership. However, intellectual leadership is a tricky concept to define and can sometimes be represented as a contradiction in terms. The caricature of 'the intellectual' - rebellious mavericks, iconoclasts rather than joiners, etc - can appear at odds with conventional definitions of leaders and managers. In this presentation I will explore the concept of intellectual leadership in higher education by reference to research on the attitudes of the UK professoriate. A number of dispositions and roles will be identified in relation to intellectual leadership that relate to the importance of striking a balance between the privileges of academic freedom and the responsibilities of academic duty.

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