Changing Higher Education (SEDA). The development of teaching and learning

Editor(s) Paul Ashwin
Publisher Routledge
Published 2006
Pages 152
Price £23.99
ISBN 0415341299
Reviewed by Ms Gill Whittaker
University of Bolton Education Department
Review published 22 December 2007
This timely book offers an examination and reflection on learning and teaching in Higher Education. Since the editor and contributors acknowledge that this book is in tribute to Lewis Elton, we should not be surprised to find that the content is thought-provoking, challenging and, at times, controversial: a fitting homage.

Any of us who care about the quality of learning and teaching in higher education or who are concerned about scholarship and the student experience, will find this interesting reading. However, it may be particularly pertinent to those who are engaged with the professional development of teachers in the higher education sector. Indeed, I would recommend that some chapters, such as David Boud’s, ‘Aren’t we all learner-centred now?’ would make excellent starting points for discussions about pedagogy in higher education.

The book is one in a range relating to staff and educational development which have been supported by SEDA – the Staff and Educational Development Association. It is edited by Paul Ashwin and is divided into three broad sections; the first focusing on the learners – or students - in higher education, the second on learning technologies, and a third section which looks at teaching. The book’s perspective is to use the analysis of change and changes in higher education in order to help us to consider our current situation, and I would suggest that this is effective in engaging us in both objective contemplation about the context in which we work, and in more subjective reflection about the ways in which we engage with students in the higher education sector.

The structure of the book: short, focused chapters written by well-known scholars and professionals, encourages, in turn, focused and purposeful reading. For example, Vivien Hodgson, in a chapter called ‘Participative assessment and the learner experience’, encourages us to consider the power structures that are endemic in assessment and leads us to question how we may change our approaches; Diane Laurillard considers e-learning in higher education along with David McConnell who asks us to think about the issues of collaborative, networked and socio-cultural contexts of e-learning; Will Bridge discusses ‘Non-traditional learners in higher education’ and provokes us to reflect on the impact that these learners have on the ‘structure and content of university provision’ (p.66) while David Boud provides a provocative look at what he calls the ‘unquestioned mantra’ of learner centeredness in a chapter which explores student involvement and power in learning and teaching. In a concluding chapter, Paul Ashwin asks us to contemplate two opposing futures for learning and teaching in higher education; one that is bleak and characterised by ‘isolation and alienation’ and one that is bright, rewarding and engaging. We are then asked to consider four important questions about the development of scholarship in higher education which engage us in considering how we stand in terms of our values, about collectivity, power relations and models of change. The challenging nature of these questions, and indeed the whole book, reflect the on-going influence of Lewis Elton’s work.

Lorraine Stefani in her chapter on ‘a shared understanding of scholarship’ makes the following point: ‘ Despite the growing recognition of the importance of taking a more scholarly approach to teaching, higher education institutions still face many challenges in promoting scholarship across the institution’ (p. 123). I would suggest that this book would make an excellent contribution to promoting that scholarship and to developing a shared understanding of what this might mean. The recognition of change and the changing context in higher education makes the work appealing to both new faculty members and more experienced staff and may help to bring about a more effective community of enquiry in terms of learning and teaching in the sector.