Wednesday 23 August 2017

Aesthetic Judgement and Teaching Evaluation

Is the judgement of good teaching an aesthetic judgement? It certainly isn't treated as if it is - the TEF basically adopts a series of disconnected proxy measures. It is nonsense - the TEF is really all about power structures - both within government and universities. How can judging good teaching not be like judging art? How can it not be highly subjective? How can it not be subject to revision after a period of time? How can it not depend on the degree of knowledge the person making the judgement already possesses? How can it not depend on the social dynamics and context where the judgement takes place? and so on.

There is a sense in which any aesthetic judgement is an assessment of context. A judgement is a process of converting experiences into discourse. If it is a painting, then we might say (perhaps incorrectly) that the object of the painting is converted into discourse. Really it's the experience of the object. If it is a performance - like teaching, or music - then it is a process of articulating the context in which an experience arises (boredom, excitement, the realisation that one has new skills or understanding). What about judging lovers? Or food? Or torture? Or a new car?

Articulated judgements are the result of converting experience into discourse, but discourse creates new objects. Critics and academics create objects out of discourse. These objects carry status and to have a judgement accepted by influential communities (like academic journal editorial boards - or even twitter retweets) is the strategic goal of many academics. Often the pursuit of that goal overrides the authentic articulation of experience in the first place. It becomes easier to cite the judgements of others (i.e. reinforce their object status) than it is to articulate experience from its foundations.

The creation of objects in discourse can reinforce the status of the objects which gave rise to the experience in the first place. Marketeers do this all the time. The new car gives rise to experiences which are codified into a discourse which establishes itself as an object and which reflects back on to the object to which it refers. Only when something breaks down in the original object is this cycle challenged (the VW emissions scandal is a good example).

The process of forming aesthetic judgements is a process of managing uncertainty. Teaching performances, art, music all create an uncertain environment which is confusing. This is its power. Adaptation to this uncertainty involves the perception of pattern and form. That process in itself is a seeking of things which are the same and things which are different. Judgement depends partly on induction and induction depends on regularity, similarity, identifiable succession. This process is also uncertain. The formation of utterances about experiences is rarely purely individual - particularly in the case of teaching. It involves conversation between people experiencing the same thing and the coordination of many different descriptions of the performance. However, in the domain of discourse and conversation, some of the distinctions which might be reflexively perceived individually get lost.

In higher learning, there is a continual disruption to the objectification of discourse. There is a continual pulling apart of concepts within a group so that individual perceptions are not lost. This is a dialogical process which seems to be increasingly rare in universities. I fear it is partly because those individuals who are best at it perform the worst in current measures of teaching excellence and are dispensed with!

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