Rigour, Rites of passage, and Society


Of course I am hypothesising, but it seems there may still be some higher educationalists who would have their students battle through an overly rigorous learning environment specifically to facilitate a survival of the fittest environment. The battle becomes a rite of passage, an earning of stripes that maketh the wo/man, a standard of rigour that guarantees that the graduate has indeed qualified for their letters. It is for the sake of society that such ardour is fostered: for the sake of the credibility of the academic world and for the sake of intellectual integrity.

Such a context is usually characterised by a ‘let them work it out for themselves’ pedagogy. A belief that because it is after all higher education, that students should be able to just be exposed to content and work hard on piecing it together sufficiently to make sense of it all. That they should be able to and indeed motivated to do their own research into solving the puzzle of the offered abstractions, that working things out on your own makes you stronger, makes you more resilient. The suggestion of developing teaching pedagogy is almost irrelevant. And besides, it is after all how it was in the old days, how the journey was for everyone and that there’s nothing wrong with how things turned out. This is the best thing for society.


I think the above is understandable, and likely has for the most part genuine intentions. Of course, we want students of sufficient calibre that advance knowledge and the society at large, but it is my belief that by applying specific principles of instruction and pedagogy we will not only still generate such high achieving students, but also produce significantly more students that raise the general level of intellectual competency in our society.

Instead of losing large numbers of students who are cognitively overloaded to the point of withdrawal, or are only able to hang on by the skin of their teeth, by applying the evolving evidence of what is known about the brain, schema, memory, retention and affective aspects of teaching and learning, institutions will increase the percentage of students who have a good grasp of the content and can apply it adequately. And those highly intelligent students who still get high distinctions despite the context of rigour, well the extra energy these students will have will allow them to take their knowledge and explore it to new and innovative heights. I think this is where the real excitement in my proposal lies: students potentially will innovate both in research and its application at a higher level.

Would such a plan reduce the credibility of a qualification? No, but it will affect the market: the increase in supply will affect the demand, and inevitably competition for jobs. But if you think about it, this is the same situation as now, with employees still choosing the best candidate, the only difference being that the level of intelligence in the community would have shifted positively to the right on the distribution curve.

I know which context I prefer.

I’m Paul Moss. I’m a learning designer at The University of Adelaide. I’m on Twitter too

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