Can Teaching be Measured?

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By Justine Rogers

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:

  1. Teaching can be measured, albeit imperfectly, and certainly better and more reliably than it is now.
  2. Teaching needs to be measured to enhance the quality, rewards and status of teaching.

The negative’s arguments were:

  1. Teaching cannot be measured, only learning experiences and learning outcomes can. 
  2. 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!

Continue reading “Can Teaching be Measured?”

Critique of Australian Tertiary and Legal Education

In case you have not seen UQ’s James Allan‘s passionate critique of Australian tertiary education and law schools, here it is.

Some very good points, but it seems to me to be a bit one sided.  All university systems have annoying, silly and destructive aspects.   One could write just as strong and passionate attack on the other tertiary and legal education systems that Allan holds up as better systems (e.g., with respect to the US: the massive tuition; lack of post-tenure scholarship; the nonsense caused by use of the US News/World Report rankings;  grid-locked governance, and so on).  The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Nonetheless, it would be nice if some of the negative issues he correctly notes were fixed.

By Colin Picker

Law research and ethics clearance

Thanks to one of my colleagues for sharing this interesting discussion from Inside Story about ethics clearance (by Gillian Cowlishaw).

The discussion in the article concerns the difficulties social science researchers (which includes law) face in complying with ethics clearance rules and ethics committees that may not be well suited to the research methodologies typically undertaken by law researchers.  While the story focuses on ethics clearance in Australia, it is likely that law researchers (including PhD students) in other parts of the world face similar demands, many of which may also be irrelevant or inapposite to their research.

The article certainly accords with my own experience – even as I recognise the good intentions and hard work of those serving on ethics committees. I am, however, quite pessimistic that the present ethics clearance system will improve. Rather, I expect that it will continue to be ever more burdensome and far removed from the world of legal research.

Any thoughts/responses?

By Colin Picker

GAJE conference and the India Supreme Court case re-criminalizing gay sex

The 7th Global Alliance for Justice Education (GAJE) conference currently occurring in Delhi India was inspiring on many levels.  It raised questions about the role of law schools in preparing lawyers who are responsible to their communities, and are ethical and caring people.   It also challenged participants to takehome learnings about how they could personally change the way they teach to create lawyers who care about justice on all its levels.

It was a shame that at the same time as the Indian Supreme court delivered a very conservative judgment re-criminalising gay sex (on Section 377 of the Indian Penal code), that the conference did not take the opportunity to discuss this.  The mainstream newspapers and media outlets were full of discussion about the decision and various commentators explaining what is likely to happen next and the impact on the Lesbian, gay,  bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) community.  With such a land mark decision at the same time as the conference, it’s disappointing that a group of justice educators did not discuss the decision in a plenary session.  Perhaps it’s indicative of the still challenging nature of discussing any questions relating to gender identity or sexuality in many countries, including in India.  It’s also partially explained because the conference was at Jindal University, about 2 hours out of Delhi with no access for delegates to radio, television or local papers.  It did have excellent Wifi and I’m sure Indian delegates would have been aware of the decision but didn’t raise it for discussion. The opportunity was lost to discuss these issues in an international conference as no doubt there would have been many perspectives and experiences which would have been shared, with the potential for combined action.  It’s encouraging that so many in the mainstream media in India recognized the decision’s significance and saw it as a breach of human rights.

By Anna Cody

Pressure to publish in select journals results in distortions

Randy Schekman, Nobel prize winner, says his lab will no longer send papers to top scientific journals Nature, Cell and Science because of his belief that the pressure to publish in such journals distorts science. More and more, legal academics are coming under the same kids of pressure to publish in particular “prestigious” journals. As is the case in science, such pressure distorts the kinds of legal scholarship that academics choose to pursue. Since prestigious journals only rarely overlap with practitioner journals, for example, there is a risk that engagement between academia and the profession will decline. Is this simply a game we all accept we have to play for career progression, do we believe that it is ultimately of benefit to the legal academy to go along with this, or is it something on which we should, like Schekman, take a stand?

By Lyria Bennet Moses

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