The Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) will apparently make an attempt to measure “learning gain”. This gets right to the heart of the educative process, the essence of what a higher education means. What we need, therefore, is another simplistic analogy…
I am redecorating a child’s bedroom (traditional summer holiday occupation). It’s one of the rooms we had decorated when we moved in 10 years ago, and which all of our daughters have occupied at some point. We collectively chose a fairy theme (this analogy is not based on the issues of allowing a 4 year old’s fleeting fairy phase to determine long term judgements) and left the decorating company to get on with it. Since then two other firms have done work which obliged them to redecorate portions of the room – recreating the original scheme. I am taking it all down now, and reflecting as I go.
When each of the three decoration phases were completed, we, as consumers, were able to evaluate the process. We had information about cost, time, appearance, ease of working with the contractor (probably a metric about cups of tea) which we could put into a simple matrix. As it turned out, broadly they were all similar in terms of quality and cost – on the surface you couldn’t tell much difference between their outputs. It’s fair to say that ease of working with the decorator was the major difference between the three.
Now, I have a new criterion. How easy is it to get the wallpaper off. Here I have a clear winner. The work of the first company is far easier to undo than the latter two (who have used adhesives of remarkable durability). Suddenly, under a specific set of circumstances – not the normal ones for my appreciation of the decorating – I am delighted with company A and cursing (in different measures) the other two companies.
If I had sensibly rated my decorators, maybe my evaluation criteria should have included future use, change and adaptability. I might have naively thought that absolute durability or inflexibility (under assault from all sorts of attempts to remove) would have been a winner.
So, here’s the challenge for the TEF. What will it measure and when? In the UK we are very keen on recent data: our NSS is undertaken when students are still on the course, the DLHE is done after 6 months. When is the right point to measure teaching excellence – right then and there, or ten years afterwards?