The tyranny of counting in higher ed

by reestheskin on 13/08/2015

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Larry Lessig has some good things to say about the tyranny of counting and how tech can inhibit the sort of architecture we need for teaching (and research). He also highlights how bad some aspects of the UK higher education scene look to a sensible  outsider.  He starts by imagining how easy it might be to ask students to click on ‘likes’ as they leave a lecture theatre  and what this might lead to. [I have transcribed from the video so there may be some minor errors]

I would push hard to resist the tyranny of counting. There is no necessary connection between ease of counting and the production of education. [as in ‘likes’ etc after leaving lecture hall etc]….. And so it will be easy for the institution to say this is what we should be doing but we need to resist that to the extent that that kind of counting isn’t actually contributing to education. The best example of this, I am sure many of you know are familiar with this, is the tyranny of counting in the British educational system for academics, where everything is a function of how many pages you produce that get published by journals. So your whole scholarship is around this metric which is about counting something which is relatively easy to count. All of us have the sense that this can’t be right. That can’t be the way to think about what is contributing to good scholarship.

It isn’t just future tech that worries me. Years ago, in another place (of course) I remember asking whether any of the student evaluation questionnaires we were using had been validated, and if not, why should a bunch of academics pay too much attention to them. There followed what I have christened the ‘petit mal’ phenomenon: a moments collective silence, followed by a resumption of the normal committee business, as though no question had been asked. As the e-world has made collecting junk and sending spam easier, we can collect more and more junk enquiry, which somebody somewhere will feel compelled to act on. This is not just garbage in, garbage out (GIGO), its actually worse than that:  just as bad money drives out good money, the currency of our  senses is debased.