Derek Bok on the two cultures in Higher Education

Underlying the efforts of government officials and accrediting organizations to bring about reform is a quiet war between two different cultures. The first culture, shared by reformers, is an evidence-based approach to education. It is rooted in the belief that one can best advance teaching and learning by measuring student progress and testing experimental efforts to increase it. The second culture rests on a conviction that effective teaching is an art which one can improve over time through personal experience and intuition without any need for data-driven reforms imposed from above. This has long been the prevailing belief among most faculty members. Their instinctive response to the reformer brandishing tests and empirical studies is to retreat into silence and withhold cooperation.
Derek Bok, Higher Education in America, p. 214

FMB Comment-1: This is why the founders of the British Open University decided to start from scratch instead of trying to reform existing institutions. (Note that the British Open University was created by a Labor government way back in 1969.) In my opinion, the founders of the OU were right. Trying to make fundamental changes from within an institution with many decades (or centuries, in some cases) of deeply entrenched traditions is a fool’s errand. It’s much wiser to go around said institutions and start from scratch.

FMB Comment-2: My take on reforming HE from within is that many, if not most, faculty equate their autonomy and job security with the supposed inability of educational psychologists to measure learning in any generally agreed upon, objective way. In other words, they believe that their autonomy and authority depend on learning being a desiderata forever shrouded in mystery.

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