Hidden Histories of University Pedagogy

F 2.2
Session: F
Parallel Session: 2.2
Research Domain: Reshaping Academic Practice, Work and Cultures
David Mills
University of Oxford, Oxford, United Kingdom
Hidden Histories of University Pedagogy
What intellectual traditions and scholarly perspectives can academics draw on when analysing and
reflecting on learning and teaching reforms? A focus on the changing nature of academic work
risks eclipsing important institutional and pedagogic continuities with the past. I make the case for
developing a stronger historical awareness of the development of teaching practices within British
universities over the twentieth century.
There are three main and overlapping literatures on university pedagogy available to scholars –
ideas, resources and conversations promoted within the field of academic ‘development’, the
higher education research and practitioner journals, and work on learning and teaching published
in disciplinary journals.
The practitioner-focused literature in the first field tends to be dominated by normative conceptions
of ‘good’ practice and has a utilitarian bent (e.g. Ramsden 2003). Research in the second field of
higher education research is discipline bound in its own way, informed by both the paradigms of
educational psychology and the methods of phenomenographic research (e.g. Prosser and
Trigwell 1999). The third field of disciplinary-specific scholarship on pedagogy is a growing area
(such as the SOTL movement in the US described by Huber and Morreale (2001)). However the
recognition that there are strong disciplinary contexts to academic practice (Becher 1989) has not
always been coupled with an attention to the dynamic and evolving nature of these contexts, or to
a comparative analyses of disciplinary pedagogies. In the social sciences and the humanities
practitioner research has also tended to be overshadowed by critiques of contemporary higher
education policy (e.g. Strathern 2000).
What do these three domains share in common? In each the focus is largely ‘presentist’ and tends
to be decontextualised from an attention to historical context. Beyond the work of historians of
higher education (eg Clark 2006), little attempt has been made to historicise contemporary learning
and teaching practices, either within disciplinary and institutional histories or (fast-disappearing)
national pedagogic traditions. Myth histories can result. Figures as diverse as Socrates, Newman,
Humboldt and Whitehead are invoked as ‘souvenirs’ to legitimate or critique current academic
practices, whilst the institutional and historical specificities of university pedagogies and their
reforms are often ignored, simplified or mythologised. In this paper I draw on debates over the
teaching of social anthropology to make the case for the importance of such ‘hidden histories’
(Mills forthcoming). Giving pedagogies their histories would allow a more nuanced and balanced
understanding of change within higher education.
Becher, T. (1989). Academic Tribes and Territories. Buckingham, SRHE/Open University Press.
Clark, W. (2006). Academic Charisma and the origins of the research university. Chicago,
University of Chicago Press.
Huber, M. T. and S. P. Morreale, Eds. (2001). Disciplinary Styles in the Scholarship of Teaching
and Learning: Exploring Common Ground. Melmont, CA, Carnegie Foundation, in
association with the American Association for Higher Education.
Mills, D (forthcoming 2008) Difficult Folk: A political history of social anthropology. Oxford:
Prosser, M. and K. Trigwell (1999). Understanding learning and teaching: The experience in higher
education. London, SRHE.
Ramsden, P. (2003). Learning to Teach in Higher Education. Abingdon, RoutledgeFarmer.
Strathern, M., Ed. (2000). Audit Cultures: Anthropological studies in accountability, ethics and the
academcy. Eupropean Association of Social Anthrppology. London, Routledge.