The Contrary Nature of ‘Differentiation’ in Higher Education
Keywords:differentiation, parallel knowledges, assessment, quality
For some time, there has been an emphasis on the death of the traditional lecture as a teaching resource, and the growth and abundance of literature on differentiated and inclusive learning and assessment strategies since The Dearing Report in 1997. The implementation of governance processes that monitor such strategies, which are bound up in the language of differentiated learning and teaching, illustrates the fervour for the adoption of such principles. Notions of educational progressivism and instrumentalism (Dewey, 2011) have sought to make higher education more accessible and democratic (Armitage et al., 2001) and are specifically aimed at reducing student attrition rates by appealing to a wide variety of ‘different’ learning styles (Honey & Mumford, 1982). In consideration of matters on curriculum, assessments and quality assurance, this initial paper looks at how three selective higher education session outlines have elements of assessment and feedback strategies that match with current trends of inclusive democratic pedagogic theories and asks if this should be the case or whether differentiated curriculum and assessment strategies, and the regulation surrounding their momentum, is just as fundamentally divisive as traditional approaches. This paper presents work in progress and the initial phase of a larger piece of work that sets out to critically interrogate more broadly ‘differentiation’ as an institutional driver, but for the present is a provisional call for learners and teachers to make it their daily practice to question and act upon the social and cultural structures that dominate higher education and the academy and instead both expect and appreciate excellence without transcending the notion that different parallel knowledges of excellence exist.
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