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Discussant On 25 Years Of Efforts To Improve Teaching And Learning In Higher Education: A Retrospective And A Look Ahead

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning

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The posting below is a response to a presentation, "25 YEARS OF


RETROSPECTIVE AND A LOOK AHEAD, by Marcel Lucien Goldschmid, Chair of

Higher Education, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, given at the

July, 2000, 25th INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE on The University of the

Future and the Future of Universities: LEARNER-CENTERED UNIVERSITIES

FOR THE NEW MILLENNIUM. The response is by Ulrich Peter Ritter, J.W.

Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main and it offers two very

interesting comments. The first is on the need for much more student

participation in course development, teaching and planning. The

second comment argues that to bring about real improvement in

teaching and learning it is not enough to do good things, we must

also become "power-promoters," and get actively involved on the

institutional and political front.

Let me know if you would like a hard-copy of the paper but Goldschmid.


Rick Reis

UP NEXT: Using e-mail to Communicate with Students

Tomorrow's Teaching and Learning


--------------- 848 words -------------



Ulrich Peter Ritter, J.W. Goethe-University, Frankfurt am Main


It is difficult to make critical comments on a paper when you are

impressed by its scope and profundity, and when you find yourself in

(almost) complete agreements with the author in his assessment and

visions. So I am going to limit myself to two comments.

First Comment:

The critical remark will not surprise you coming from me. Marcel

does say that increasing student participation is important in

learning situations as well as the evaluation of teaching by

students. However, in his excellent overview of the many attempts at

Improving University Teaching and Learning, Marcel makes no reference

to student participation in course development, teaching and

planning. I have presented the very encouraging results of my

experiences at several international conferences such as EARDHE

(European Association for Research and Development in Higher

Education) Conference in 1977 in Louvain-la-Neuve, at the

IUT-Conference 1995 in Hong Kong and at the conference on Improving

Student Learning in Oxford in the same year. The echo has been

minimal except that maybe it got me elected to be president of EARDHE

for five years. I think this is not accidental. I ascribe this to

what might be called the "parental Complex" of teachers and I

describe it with this gesture (the speaker holds up a fist and opens

it slowly) which means, the deficiency in the ability to let go.

What does this mean? As parents we know how difficult it is to let

go and give responsibility and autonomy to our children. We never

stop being parents, no matter how old our children and we ourselves

may be. We still find it hard, even as grandparents, as I must admit.

The same is true of teachers. Letting go is not in the understanding

of our role. We think, we know better and must tell. We forget what

the famous philosopher Karl Popper said so often: the only meaningful

learning happens through trail and error, which includes the right to

make your own mistakes.

We may be experts in our fields and maybe even in teaching, but who

are the experts in learning if not the students themselves? If we

are serious in wanting to develop the learner-centered university, we

must make use of this potential.

I think, student participation in course development, teaching and

evaluation is not only vital for improving university teaching and

learning but it is also a powerful tool for moving with change.

Second Comment:

In the beginning of this paper, Marcel says: Universities, much like

the Catholic-church, have resisted change despite enormous upheavals

in societies worldwide. And later he goes on to say: The fact is,

that there are, indeed, many critical research questions in higher

education, just as in any other field, but perhaps what we need most

of all is a better understanding of the university as a whole.

Universities are institutions. Their organization and functioning

have rarely been studied in any kind of systematic way.

In this doctoral dissertation the change potential of faculties and

universities is analyzed theoretically and empirically. Making use

of the theories of institutional analysis, the new institutional

economics and the theory of innovation management she shows, that in

as highly decentralized activities as the teaching in universities

small and even larger inventions are easily realized. In this

respect they are friendly to inventions. In an institutional

analysis the author analyzes the whys and hows of the Dinosaur

University or Catholic Church, as Marcel calls it. The application

of new institutional economics clearly shows that the incentives and

disincentives the system impede the spread of inventions and prevent

them from becoming innovations, i.e., innovative practices in

teaching and learning. However, with the lack of incentives and the

lack of political pressure these inventions have no effects on the

institution. They will not spread to become innovations and are

completely harmless for the Dinosaur, i.e., the organizational and

power structure of the university. Ute Schadler therefore postulates

that innovation in teaching and learning must be bound to political

action. To have effect in such churchlike structures they need

promoters or what innovation management calls "power promoters," who

deal with obstacles and resistance and establish support.

When we ask ourselves, as Marcel did and as Ute did in her

dissertation why we were not as successful as we should have been,

then often part of the fault can be put on the environment, i.e., on

the institution "university."

Ute Schaedler's analysis shows that we have been much too modest and

self-centered in our little inventions with the belief that

eventually the world will learn to appreciate, the wonderful things

which we are doing, because the good always wins in the long run.

Face it. This is not true. If we want to have recognition and

success on a large scale, we must also fight on the institutional and

political front. We may not just be innovators on the scale of our

classes but must become "power-promoters," as it is called in the

theory of innovation management. Exactly how this could be done

could be a theme for one of the next IUT conferences.


RITTER, ULRICH PETER: Good-bye Mr. Skinner or The Art of Student

Participation in Course Development, Paper presented to the Congress

of the European Association for Research and Development in Higher

Education, Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium, August 10, 1976, in: A. Bonboir

(Hrsg.), Proceedings, Bd. 1, Instructional Design in Higher

Education. Innovations in Curricular and Teaching, Louvain 1977,


RITTER, ULRICH PETER: The Participation of Students in Course

Planning and Development, in: T.B. Massey, Improving University

Teaching. Twentieth International Conference, Presented under the

auspices of City University of Hong Kong and University of Maryland

University College, Hong Kong 10-13 July 1995, S. 104-116

RITTER, ULRICH PETER: The co-operation with students in course

planning and development, in: Graham Gibbs (Ed.) Improving Student

Learning. Through Assessment and Evaluation, The Oxford Center for

Staff Development, Oxford Brookes University: Oxford 1995, S.226-236.

SCHADLER, UTE: Das Innovations-potential der Hochschulen: Chancen und

Risiken der Lehre an deutshen Universitaten; Frankfurt am Main; Bern;

New York; Paris; Wien; Lang, 1999 (Europaische Hochschulschriften:

Reihe 5, Volks-und Betriebswirtschaft, Bd. 2465