Last week UNSW had its second ‘Great Debate’, introduced last year as a fun, accessible way for the UNSW community to explore a serious and stirring topic. (For a post on last year’s, click here)
Each team: professor-manager, non-prof academic, and student.
The topic: Of Course Teaching Can be Measured (it’s a 5.3!).
I was on the affirmative (which I knew going in would be tough).
Given it was a private event for staff and students, I’ve written this assuming some version of the Chatham House Rule applies.
The affirmative’s arguments were:
- Teaching can be measured, albeit imperfectly, and certainly better and more reliably than it is now.
- Teaching needs to be measured to enhance the quality, rewards and status of teaching.
The negative’s arguments were:
- Teaching cannot be measured, only learning experiences and learning outcomes can.
- Teaching measures are flawed and unreliable.
The negative committed to the empirical questions, whereas I tried (unsuccessfully in the 4 or so mins we had) to engage both sides in the wider empirical and normative argument suggested in affirmative point 2: whether there is some positive correlation between measurement, and motivation, quality and status, and therefore whether a more robust measurement of teaching is worthwhile.
I wish we’d had the format and time to examine this: whether this is true, or whether, using research measures as example, such measures have too many biases, perverse incentives, and inefficient and/or demoralising effects to be of real value (even if it entails superficial value).
I will share my main arguments here, some of which I am fairly convinced, many posed as part of my role on the affirmative side, and some raised in the spirit of fun and provocation. Above all, I think the topic raised several questions left that need to be contemplated, many of which I’ve posted below – so please share your thoughts!