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Risk: the ethics of a creative curriculum
Janet Hargreaves, University of Huddersfield
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Regulations in Higher Education, e.g. subject benchmarks, the qualifications framework (QAA) and the CATs system. play an important role in ensuring the quality of educational standards. They assure students that each CAT point they acquire has value and that graduateness is of equal worth regardless of location or subject.
In addition, a growing consumer ethos and the introduction of fees encourage students and their financial supporters to view Higher Education as a product. Whilst the students own motivation and input is still important, Universities are expected to deliver learning opportunities that maximise the likelihood of successful completion.
Innovation and creativity do not sit comfortably within this paradigm. Delivering educational experiences where the outcome is uncertain, or where there are less clear and objective methods for measuring student achievement, presents a risk to educational standards and to student experience.
This paper seeks to explore the relationship between risk, ethics and the introduction of creativity and innovation into the curriculum.
It is generally accepted that university education should be challenging encouraging the development of an enquiring mind that does not accept things at face value and the confidence to argue from an alterative viewpoint. These aspirations are related to notions of autonomy as espoused by J S Mill (1859) and others. Nurturing such attributes means respecting the autonomy of the student to make decisions, stand by them and to take responsibility for risk taking and its outcomes. It also means allowing lecturers to design courses that permit change, diversity of practice and risk taking.
By contrast an unintended effect of the paradigm outlined above is a culture in which individual academic freedom is stifled by the need for conformity. Success may be measured by the averagely intelligent student, with average levels of motivation, achieving an award one point higher on the value added scale than they came with. The ethical principle of non-maleficence takes precedence such that the possibility of doing harm to the student or University - outlaws risk taking behaviour in curriculum design and delivery.
Utilitarian ethics (West 2004) is effective in surfacing such dilemmas. Its use in detailed analysis may help students and academics to plot the risks and benefits of innovative practice.
J S Mill (1859) On Liberty (Penguin edition 1974), St. Ives
West, H (2004) An Introduction to Mills Utilitarian Ethics, Cambridge University Press