11 October 2007

On taking risks

Today we had a really good staff development meeting across the college network on the pedagogic rationale (hey! that sounds good, must use it again...) of our new Study Days programme. [If you have just stumbled across this blog, you don't need to know this.] The underlying principle will be "Threshold Concepts and Troublesome Knowledge" (papers on this very promising angle on learning and teaching can be downloaded from http://www.tla.ed.ac.uk/etl/publications.html)

However, as we were discussing what constitutes a "threshold concept" in our own discipline (no, I'm not going to explain. Read the papers from the link above. And it doesn't really matter for the sense of this entry.) ... we got onto spontaneity and risk-taking in teaching.

And it is a real battle-ground within institutions nowadays. Quality assurance procedures and watchdogs (such as Ofsted) insist on a "consistent product". They insist on believing in a self-serving myth of setting "minimum standards"; teaching will never fall below these standards, but is (of course) free to soar way beyond them.

Bul***it. In the real world, setting minimum standards involves setting maxima, too; because reaching for the stars involves the possibility of failure.

We didn't set out to make the point, but it became clear as we proceeded that our systems have made the "good the enemy of the best"*

We did that in social care, too, twenty years ago; I'll return to this.

* Yes, I know. This is a deliberate inversion of "Le mieux est l'ennemi du bien" Voltaire (1772)

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