The common tempestuous cry from students has become “Is this course credit bearing?” or “What credit do I get for doing it?” However, just as frequent is the faculty refrain, like Sirens on the rocks ready to wreck any new fangled management plan cruising past, “Is there workload credit for doing this?” Some fundamental shift has happened, especially in the contemporary, utilitarian, transactional Business School – neither staff nor students will engage, unless there is a credit or two attached to whatever they are being asked to do.
Credit and Business School
Certainly within a Business School, university education has become purely transactional, the idea of an informed conversation has been forgotten about. Spending time together, lost discussion has been tossed asunder for the relentless pursuit of credit. Alfred North Whitehead, an English mathematician and professor of philosophy at Harvard, welcoming the opening of the new Harvard Business School wrote:
“The universities are schools of education and schools of research. But the primary reason for their existence is not to be found either in the mere knowledge conveyed to the students or in the mere opportunities for research afforded to the members of the faculty… The justification for a university is that it preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest for life, by uniting the young and the old in the imaginative consideration of learning…”
The informal chat in the corridor after the lecture, the discussion over a flat-white in the coffee shop, and even the heated debate in the Students’ Union or Staff Club Bar all seem to have been lost. The notion of workload or academic credit now reigns supreme, the idea of the university as a conversation has been lost to the mists of time. Of course, in the Covid-19 crises and the instant appearance of the virtual university, all conversations are gone! This is neither the fault of students nor faculty, nor can one even blame the insidious ‘workload models,’ where faculty have to account for every hour they spend on credit bearing activities. Time for thinking, reflecting and even talking to students or colleagues has been cast asunder, whereas hours upon hours of credit are given to staff for attending the ‘Faculty Resource Allocation Committee’ or the ‘University Quality Enhancement Committee’
Credit and Quality Management
Pre Covid-19, I suspect all of this – just doing it for the credit – really began with the peddlers of ‘Quality’, Not the colourfully wrapped chocolates of Christmas past, but one of the most insidious, pernicious and misapplied management concepts to pervade universities. For students, credit is allocated on assessments completed and work done. However, more often more benefit comes from the non credit bearing opportunities, and it does not matter if you are students or members of the faculty. University life and learning in particular is not purely transactional. Even then is reward for learning and development only valuable if it is tangible, a numerical value entered into the credit cell of an Excel spreadsheet?
Curiosity, not credits, should drive the learner to always want to do more, to go beyond any pre-determined attainment threshold. The fear (with some justification) is that one goes off and learns something that bears little relevance to the set goals and performance indicators which will ultimately determine, in the objective paradigm, how successful ones learning at university has been. When goals are fixed, and solutions set innovation is stifled. Students have become most comfortable in measurement driven learning, set targets and objectives achieved.
Credit or Curiosity and Creativity
If the university gets it right and removes the fear and barriers to curiosity and creativity students can, once again, be encouraged to take risk and ownership of their development and learning and safely explore the values of the growth mindset. Activity with no prescribed solution, with or without specified outcome, offers the chance for participants to determine their own pathway. Without the clarity of credit, measuring progress becomes more ambiguous. This tends to be uncomfortable for those less experienced who often lack the professionalism required to undertake such tasks successfully. Alongside the aforementioned curiosity, it requires skills such as communication, collaboration and critical thinking.
These skills are developed over time and rarely in credit limited blocks. Experiential learning necessitates failure and true reflection. Knowing that it is ‘ok to fail’ without being judged by some arbitrary objective scoring mechanism can turn one’s mind to reflecting both in and on action; breaking free of the fixed mindset into one of growth. Through this cycle, the ability to judge and know in action increases, readying individuals with the mindset and willingness to engage in the life-long learning required for fulfilling and rewarding careers.