accreditation, see indoctrination
Courses in teaching have little to do with producing better
lecturers and much to do with learning to conform
Why am I not surprised when I read that young academics are bored
by the courses they have to attend in order to gain accreditation
as bona fide lecturers? Almost every new academic that I have talked
to finds these courses to be a waste of time. They find the atmosphere
patronising and the advice formulaic. One computer scientist told
me that all she learnt was a "lot of jargon".
Occasionally, academics who are forced to follow a programme leading
to a postgraduate certificate in higher education acknowledge that,
while the experience overall was unrewarding, they found some of
the discussion useful. In particular, they say that what they enjoy
is the opportunity to meet some of their peers who also face the
challenge of integrating into an institutional setting.
Some believe that PGCHE programmes simply face teething problems
and that with a bit of imagination they can be improved. I don't
think so. The very idea of accrediting academics as teachers is
fundamentally flawed. It is based on the assumption that there are
some generic skills that can be transmitted to the academic.
In reality, gaining accreditation as a university lecturer has
little to do with becoming a competent teacher. Aside from demonstrating
the acquisition of knowledge and skills, all forms of accreditation
- university degree, medical licence - involve an element of socialisation.
In the case of the PGCHE it is almost exclusively about socialising
academics into the ethos of the audit culture that dominates the
campus. It is about indoctrinating new lecturers into values of
a conformist orientation towards teaching.
Academics learn to talk the lingo of best practice, benchmarking
and summative assessment.
Adopting this rhetoric of managerialism is not simply about using
a different language to talk about the same thing. The language
is designed to sensitise academics to the God of Process so that
they adopt the prevailing institutional objectives.
Although PGCHE courses continually go on about the need for reflection
and critical thinking, what they offer are models of teaching based
on standardisation and homogeneity. It is very much a model-driven
This instrumentalist approach is no accident. It is not possible
to accredit an academic's flair and originality. Accreditation is
based on ticking boxes and capturing outcomes. For most academics
attendance at these compulsory programmes is an exercise in time-serving
and demonstrating an ability to jump through hoops. Although many
individuals resent wasting their time, they are not in a position
to express their genuine feelings.
Understandably, their objective is to get accredited and then get
on with life. Unfortunately, matters do not end there. Whether we
like it or not, the experience often leaves its mark. Even those
of us who are scornful of these courses and make light of the experience
often find that, in some imperceptible way, we have changed. We
find that we are using words and expressions that we would not have
used before. Somehow we have become more comfortable with template
teaching. As we discover that the process saves us the trouble of
having to think we become a little more pragmatic. And, as we shift
our attention from real living students to the template world of
learning outcomes, we may want to remember that accreditation is
not just about getting a piece of paper.
published in the Times Higher Education Supplement,
6 May 2005