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By Professor Peter Goodhew, Director of the UK Centre for Materials Education

"It is easy to be carried away by the negative aspects of change - particularly forced change. Gather any three materials academics together and you can trigger an hour's diatribe against subject programme review (SPR), benchmarking, modularisation, semesterisation and grey uniformity. Most of us now seem to accept the RAE, but is that simply because it has not changed much recently and we are familiar with it? I have been considering the positive opportunities which some of these externally imposed constraints have opened up for us. Let me give some examples of gains which have been realised and a few which might be:

SPR has opened up the lecture room and exposed both the worst teachers and some excellent practices. It has greatly improved our perception of the importance of the quality of the student experience, and it has forced us repeatedly to ask ourselves the question "why do we do that?" Sometimes the answer is straightforward, at other times it is uncomfortable.

Modularisation should bring a lot of benefits: It has made interdisciplinary courses or programmes more feasible, it would in principle allow us to eliminate almost all progression rules and, perhaps most exciting of all, it permits team projects. Let me explain the last bit - since all departments in each University are now playing to the same rules (modularisation and consistency) it should be easy to set up group projects with students from more than one science or engineering discipline. Our materials students could engage in joint projects with mechanical or production engineers and computer scientists or biochemists. This seems to me to be quite exciting in terms of the scope of projects which could be tackled and the rich experience for the students learning to cooperate with their peers in neighbouring disciplines. I have heard of this being done in the USA, and at one institution in the UK - is anyone else doing it? If so please let me know.

Benchmarking is mistrusted by many, and may indeed have many flaws - but it has made us look at the fundamental nature of our subject, and to specify what we think is special about it. The benchmarkers (and I have to declare that I am currently one of them) must be careful not to impose uniformity and should perhaps apply as a test of their final publication "would these benchmarks inhibit the introduction of an excellent but radical new programme, taught in an unconventional style?". I hope the answer will be a resounding no!

Semesterisation - sorry, my imagination fails me; I cannot find any argument in favour, but if you want an hour of whingeing give me a call."

Peter Goodhew, January 2001


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This area of the website contains articles intended to stimulate debate amongst the Materials community. Some of the articles are deliberately provocative. Please feel free to express your own opinion, or suggest other topics for discussion, by contacting the UK Centre for Materials Education.


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