By Stanley Fish
About halfway through his magisterial study “Higher Education in America,” Derek Bok, twice president of Harvard, identifies what he calls the “two different cultures” of educational reform. The first “is an evidence-based approach to education … rooted in the belief that one can best advance teaching and learning by measuring student progress and testing experimental efforts to increase it.” The second “rests on a conviction that effective teaching is an art which one can improve over time through personal experience and intuition without any need for data-driven reforms imposed from above.”
Bok is obviously a member of the data and experiment culture, which makes him cautiously sympathetic to developments in online teaching, including the recent explosion of MOOCs (massive open online courses). But at the same time, he is acutely aware of the limits of what can be tested, measured and assessed, and at crucial moments in his analysis that awareness pushes him in the direction of the other, “ineffable” culture.
Here, for example, is his account of what he takes to be “the fundamental issue”: “Some of the essential aspects of academic institutions — in particular the quality of the education they provide — are largely intangible and their results are difficult to measure.” Indeed, he adds, the “result is that much of what is important to the work of colleges and universities may be neglected, undervalued, or laid aside in the pursuit of more visible goals.”
[ Full article available at The New York Times: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/08/26/the-two-cultures-of-educational-reform/ ]