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Anna Jones University of Melbourne
Themes: skills development
Tuesday 2 September 2008, 10.10-11.10 in the Senior Common Room
This paper sets out to examine the situated nature of teaching through theorising generic attributes within their disciplinary context. There has been considerable work in the area of generic attributes and yet there is still significant uncertainty, particularly in the area of the integration of generic attributes into the curriculum. This paper builds on my earlier work (Jones, 2007a, 2007b) by examining the reasons behind the significant variation in interpretation of generic attributes, providing a more theoretical analysis of the situated nature of teaching and the implications this has for policy and academic development.
This paper uses activity systems theory (Engeström, 1999) to explore teaching through examining the ways in which generic attributes are conceptualised. In exploring the situated nature of teaching generic attributes, it provides a way to conceptualise teaching that acknowledges the significance of disciplinary practices.
This paper is located within a qualitative methodology that investigated teaching in a disciplinary context in two Australian universities and is based around the assumptions of naturalistic inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) . It uses interviews with academic staff across five disciplines (physics, history, economics, medicine and law) and focuses on academics’ accounts of their discipline, their understandings of generic attributes and influences on their teaching of generic attributes. Analysis of the data was emergent and themes and patterns were identified and cross-checked across all data.
This study found that contextual factors such as conceptual frameworks and language, technology, physical settings, social structures and communities of practice have a significant influence upon teaching, as do individual beliefs about knowledge and teaching and thus teaching is at a nexus of a complex of factors. It argues that teaching itself is not a ‘generic skill’ but embedded in local meanings.
The paper examines the influences on teaching practice, including epistemology, the scholarly community and pedagogical traditions. It conceptualises teaching as shaped by what is being taught and the environment in which teaching occurs. This does not imply an absence of principles that are educationally sound across many contexts, nor does it suggest disciplinary isolationism but rather this paper proposes an examination of what is to be taught (in either its disciplinary or interdisciplinary context) and an examination of teachers’ accounts of their teaching and an acknowledgement of what is important in their scholarly, research and professional communities. If teaching is to become more learning-centred, it is necessary to understand the influences which shape teaching practice and this paper is one step in this direction.