Monday, December 06, 2004

Impressions from academic realities

We have four departments and one institute. One of those is as large as the three others. The smallest one is the best known one, the largest one is the oldest and historically most significant both for the community and at the national level, being grounded in the old teacher's college in Volda. This is a skewed organisation where some of the apparent flaws are our strengths - and vice versa.

It's my job to participate in finding a way to reorganise this mess in a way that lets us keep the good parts and lose the bad parts... but who knows which is which?

To find out what other people have done, we went travelling.

Agder College has reorganised according to subject areas or disciplines. They have collected all those teaching Norwegian in one department, all sociologists in another, or natural scientists in yet an other, and then they have put the teacher's study aside in it's own office. The dean of the teacher's study schedules lectures with people in all the other departments, filling an administrative position basically. This makes the disciplines richer and the discipline based research stronger, but it leaves the students at the teacher's study in the hands of people with little identification with the whole study, only with certain parts of it.

Roskilde University Center has as their slogan: "In silence, death, in movement, life." Their organising ideal is not the matrix, as in Agder, but the project. The students create their own study as part of their own projects, and the teachers work together cross disciplinary in order to teach and supervise - particularly supervise - these students. A strong central leadership puts together the groups to work together across disciplins, and each "house" of students have one set of teachers they relate to, teachers whose responsibility it is to see that the students are supervised and assisted in the project of questioning the world.

Malmö College is all new and shiny bright, and we were the fifth Norwegian college to visit them to study their organising paradigm. It was rather traditional, really, with a strong emphasis on a fairly traditional educational study. What was interesting was their integration of the practical work in their teaching. They did also expand the definition of what was the responsibility of the college, by working with immigrant students both at high-school level and at a more job-directed level, normally the responsibility of the office of employment.

Now my job is to extract the useful parts from these structures and use them to evaluate and perhaps suggest a way to re-organise Volda College. I should have been writing my presentation for tomorrow, but my head is filled with this rather daunting task. But tomorrow, I am sure, I promise, most certainly...

I am the last speaker Wednesday. I will have time.


niels said...

I am working on the pre-Master program of my own institute (Communication & Multimedia Design - Belgium) which is part of a Med & Design Academy.

We do combine the more practical approach with a theoretical one.

Although recent studies showed that this practical approach does not enhance student learning, we feel it to be a valuable way of teaching. And so do our students.

You can't make the learning easier for them, but making it more pleasant is a goal to attain.

Torill said...

Niels, that is interesting, I would like to see the research which shows that the students do not become better through practical, applied training.

The information and media as well as the journalism study in Volda are a combination of practical and theoretical subjects. We find that it is absolutely necessary, because so much of what the students need to learn needs to be experienced and subjective. They need to know not only how an article is to look, but how to make one themselves, not just how a campaign is supposed to be structured, but how to plan and go through with one.

They may not become better scholars by this, although I find that our students are brilliant scholars - when they want to. But they become better, stronger and more confident practitioners, the kind who can ask questions and innovate, and that is our main goal.