Constructions of teaching in an elite university: A case study

Dedos, Skarlatos G. (2011). Constructions of teaching in an elite university: A case study. EdD thesis The Open University.



A case study research was conducted to identify constructs of undergraduate teaching in an elite, research-intensive university. Qualitative data collection and analysis involving transcripts from over 40 semi-structured interviews with heads of teaching committees from each department or faculty of the university as well as heads of several other committees and other key stakeholders was carried out. In the analysis, use was made too of relevant archival materials, publicly available data from the university, and governmental reports or documents.

The university offers courses to its undergraduate students that range from interdisciplinary to very discipline-specific and operates a system of personalised tuitions that is at the heart, and thereby defines, excellent teaching. The high quality of its students, who are attracted by the research renown of the university, is regarded as the trademark of the elite institution. Culturally, the sense-making that supports the procedures and structures of the university is based on the assumption that excellent teachers are intrinsically associated with excellent research. Consequently, teaching excellence is recognised but is less well rewarded or acknowledged as compared to research. Excellence in teaching is further constrained by organisation-wide arrangements in academic staff promotion that favour research.

Operating in a super-complex contemporary higher education landscape, this elite university projects a "mirror-image" of itself both externally and internally, the mirror image itself being justified by the ongoing undergraduate achievements and application rates. Great reliance is placed on external examiners to monitor the high standards of achievement, the effect of which is to stifle collegiality about teaching. Institutional governance structures and procedures enable the organisation to operate a cybernetic (selfcorrecting) model of organisational control, where change is perceived as adjustments: incremental and subtle.

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