The Values Argument for Educational Development in Higher Education

This summarises a paper I will be giving for the Oxford Brookes University, School of Education Research series this semester.

As well as providing locations of learning and teaching, higher education is an important focus of much political debate. Aldridge has set out the terms of the debate here (Aldridge 2014).

The pressing educational debates of the moment tend not, in fact, to be debates about the most effective way to achieve a particular outcome (although they are often portrayed that way), so much as debates between competing understandings of what we are trying to achieve through the educational endeavour.

In educational improvement initiatives in higher education, as an educational developer, I find myself facing a conundrum. Why, when I believe I know what good learning is and, arguably, how to create curricula, courses and events which are designed for good learning, do I continue to experience ambiguity and anxiety in myself, colleagues and society about not only individual roles, institutions and curricula but the purpose of higher education?

The paper sets out to problematise an underpinning framework for good educational development practice and offers places where the evidence might test (prove?) these underpinnings.

I suggest it may be a human universal that we come with ‘frameworks’ (Popper 1996): call them contexts or identities and communities as you will; we come with a need to be useful, even if only to ourselves. And, we co-construct our frameworks, our contexts, our ‘learning environments’: in both physical and abstract spaces with other people.

The conclusions I reach are that means and ends cannot be uncoupled; that the coupling of means and ends must be through the question of purpose; and that purpose is value laden. Therefore the values argument must remain in the light and proxy arguments, illuminated.


The full paper cites and is synthesised from the following

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