Conference PaperPDF Available

NEGOTIATING BOUNDARIES. A brief reflection on a power-and discipline- focused intervention in a hierarchical public sector organization

Authors:

Abstract

Examination and assessment practices in higher education are traditionally hierarchical, assigning clear vertical roles to teacher and student. This article describes a didactic intervention in the grading of university students, called the “49 points offer”‟, that allows students to participate in the determination of their own grades. By giving students some control over the assessment of their academic performance, the intervention empowers them to take responsibility for a decision usually belonging to the instructor alone. More generally, it disrupts the traditional authority structure of the classroom, reducing the formal power of the lecturer by redistributing some of his or her authority to students. This article describes the didactic intervention and briefly discusses its implications for classroom instruction and learning.
262
NEGOTIATING
BOUNDARIES.
A brief reection on a power- and discipline-
focused intervention in a hierarchical public
sector organization.
Roland J. Schuster | Jürgen Radel
Erstveröffentlichung in:
GRENZEN IN ZEITEN TECHNOLOGISCHER UND SOZIALER DISRUPTION
Beiträge und Positionen der HTW Berlin, Hg. Stefanie Molthagen-Schnöring,
BWV Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, ISBN 978-3-8305-3957-5.
263
GRENZEN IN ZEITEN TECHNOLOGISCHER UND SOZIALER DISRUPTION BEITRÄGE UND POSITIONEN 2019
ABSTRACT
Examination and assessment practices in higher education are traditionally
hierarchical, assigning clear vertical roles to teacher and student. This article
describes a didactic intervention in the grading of university students, called
the “49 points offer”‟, that allows students to participate in the determination
of their own grades. By giving students some control over the assessment of
their academic performance, the intervention empowers them to take re-
sponsibility for a decision usually belonging to the instructor alone. More gen-
erally, it disrupts the traditional authority structure of the classroom, reducing
the formal power of the lecturer by redistributing
some of his or her authority to students. This ar-
ticle describes the didactic intervention and
briey discusses its implications for classroom
instruction and learning.
1. DELEGATION OF AUTHORITY AS
DIDACTIC INTERVENTION
Assessment procedures in post-secondary ed-
ucation have traditionally focused on the eval-
uation of student performance through formal
testing. Such prac tices are linked to high levels
of stress [1] and stress-related behaviours [2]
among students, especially those evaluated using
an interval grading system.[3] At the same time,
grading creates a vertical structure of authority
and subordi nation between teacher and student,
[1] Conner, J., Pope, D. &
Galloway, M. (2009). Success
with less stress. Retrieved from
https://stacks.stanford.edu/le/
druid:mf751kq7490/Conner_
Pope_Galloway_EL2009.pdf
[2] Feld, L. D., & Shusterman, A.
(2015). Into the pressure cooker:
Student stress in college prepara-
tory high schools. Journal of ado -
lescence, 41, 31¬42.
[3]
Rohe, D. E., Barrier, P. A., Clark,
M. M., Cook, D. A., Vickers, K. S. &
Decker, P. A. (2006, November). The
benets of pass-fail grading on
stress, mood, and group cohesion
in medical students. Mayo Clinic
Proceedings, 81(11), 1443-1448.
264
with the latter dependent upon the goodwill of the former for his or her ac-
ademic success. The lecturer is powerful [4] not only by virtue of his or her
knowledge, but also by virtue of his or her ability to “punish” [5] students
for non-performance through his or her author ity qua ofce. [6] Often, the
student-teacher relationship is characterized by hierarchical control. [7] The
here discussed didactic intervention differentiates two aspects of teaching,
namely content and hierarchical organization, with the didactic intervention
focused on the latter.
Students are given the option of developing exam questions worth 49 out
of a total of 100 points. Choosing this exam option would result in a likely pass
of the course. The intervention, introduced at the beginning of the course, is
meant to disrupt the traditional authority struc-
ture
of the classroom and prompt
reection on
group and hierarchical dynamics. It is the exam-
ination of group and hierarchical dynamics the
interven
tion emphasizes on. By delegating a frac-
tion of lecturers’ authority over the assessment of
student achievement,
the didactic intervention
forces a (re)negotiation of the boundaries be-
tween teacher and students. The offer addresses
the contradiction that students
should be intrin-
sically motivated to learn but still need to proof
their learning.
[8]
One aim is to increase students’
self-responsibility by encouraging them to be-
come self-regulated learners who oversee the
quality of their own education. Another aim is to
let the students negotiate the traditionally insti-
tutionalized
contradiction
[9]
of normative ver-
sus explorative
learn ing. To achieve a learning
outcome, the lecturer must implement a process
of action and re
ection, enlarging the content of
the course to in clude broader questions of qual-
ity,
responsibility and necessity in the wider sys-
tem of institutional ized education.
The 49 points
offer thus dissolves the certainty around roles,
author ity, power and responsibility and opens a
realm of possibilities for lecturers as well as stu-
dents. It forces them to investigate the existing
implicit and written rules of institutionalized edu-
cation and thereby question lived praxis. This
confrontation with the vast complexity of human
interaction stored in rou tines and implicit norms
can be overwhelming as students recognize the
extent to which their ev eryday decisions are
[4] Richmond, V. P., & McCroskey,
J. C. (1984). Power in the class-
room II: Power and learning.
Com
munication Education, 33(2),
125-136.
[5] For a in depth discussion
about discipline and power see
Foucault, M. (2012). Discipline
and punish: The birth of the
prison. Vintage.
[6] Cf. Schuster, R. J. & Radel, J.
(2018) A Reection on the
(Harvard) Case Method from a
Group Dynamics Perspective.
In Gölzner, H. & Meyer, P. (Eds.).
Emotionale Intelligenz in Orga-
nisationen. Wiesbaden: Springer
Verlag, 286.
[7] Deutsch, M. (1979). Educa-
tion and distributive justice:
Some reections on grading
systems. American Psychologist,
34(5), 396.
[8] For a discussion of paradoxes
regarding education, see
Watzlawick, P., Weakland, J. &
Fisch, R. (1974). Change. London:
Norton & Company, 72.
[9] Cf. Krainer, L. & Heintel, P.
(2015). Process-Ethics. In Weiss,
N. M. (Ed.). The Socratic Hand-
book. Dialogue Methods for
Philosophical Practice. Vienna:
LIT Verlag GmbH & Co. KG.,
251-260.
265
GRENZEN IN ZEITEN TECHNOLOGISCHER UND SOZIALER DISRUPTION BEITRÄGE UND POSITIONEN 2019
shaped b
y
unquestioned assumptions. It is this experience of a — sometimes
frightening, more often annoying — process that can provide a rewarding learn-
ing outcome for students as well as lecturers. The learning outcome includes the
experience of:
A real situation with a real impact
A confrontation with the responsibility to make decisions
affecting oneself and others
Participation in a negotiation process
The diversity of individual viewpoints
Group think and peer pressure
The complexity and interconnectedness of an
organization
(e.g., course, study program, education
institution, society)
The fact of increasing inertia due to increasing complexity
To further elucidate the approach, the following section presents a detailed
account of the intervention, including selected teaching experiences.
2. DESCRIPTION OF THE DIDACTIC INTERVENTION
The intervention described here was used for four semesters to date. During
the rst session of the semester, which takes up 12 to 14 weeks, the following
offer is made by the lecturer:
“You can get 49 points by answering a question you
provide me with. I will include this question on the exam.
The introduction of the offer usually results in confusion, prompting the lectur-
er to initiate a discussion about the usual form of exams within the institution.
The next step in the process is the following announcement:
As a lecturer, I want to make sure that everybody is sat-
is ed with the offer. All students concerned need to vote,
whether they want to accept this ‘gift’ or not. And this
vote must be unanimous in favour of the offer; otherwise,
the exam will be prepared solely by the lecturer.
This step serves to remind the students that they need to nd a mutual solu-
tion and confronts them with the difculty of exploring and negotiating their
individual interests in a mutually advantageous manner. The next step in the
instruction is the introduction of voting procedures:
“To avoid group pressure on individuals, we are going to
take an anonymous vote.
266
At that point, the lecturer can facilitate a discussion about the difference be-
tween an anonymous, unanimous vote and an open, unanimous vote. Usually,
students state their fear that the group outcome depends on a minority who
can “make or break” it, or their concern that others will act unpredictably. From
this point on, the lecturer facilitates the students’ discussion by either being
provocative or diplomatic. An example of a provocative statement is:
“The ones who benet are not the good ones – not the
high-performing ones. The ones who stand to benet
most are those who do not want to learn or who are lazy.
Are you lazy, non-performing or incapable?”
This type of comment usually silences the group so that the next step of in-
struction can be provided:
“I am wondering about the culture in this group.
Are you
willing to support those weaker than you?
Or do you take any advantage you can get in the
com petitive system
you are in? And I am also wondering
how you have treated
each other during the last couple
of weeks (or months). Did you treat everyone with
respect, and were you inclusive as a group? If not,
and if I were the one excluded, I would think that now,
with this vote – with my vote – it is payback time!”
The provocative approach makes it very important to provide a last session
in which the theoretical background of the intervention is explained in more
detail and in which students have the chance to calm down and reect on the
following:
What has changed (positive and negative) in the group
dynamic
since the rst session (after the introduction
of the 49 points offer)?
What has annoyed me?
What are my personal lessons learned?
3. DISCUSSION
The intervention illustrates certain aspects of
change processes, like relationship and role
transformation, by letting students experience
them. The process must be heated to a certain
degree to allow students to release the aggres-
[10] Cf. Schuster, R. J. (2018).
Lehren, Lernen und Emotion. In
Gölzner, H. & Meyer, P. (Eds.).
Emotionale Intelligenz in Organ-
isationen. Wiesbaden: Springer
Verlag.
267
GRENZEN IN ZEITEN TECHNOLOGISCHER UND SOZIALER DISRUPTION BEITRÄGE UND POSITIONEN 2019
sion necessary to initiate negotiations with one another as well as with the
lecturer. The intervention thus also carries the risk of potential overheating.
There is a sig nicant chance of the process escalating to the next level of the
hierarchy, and lecturers should be prepared for this possibility. [10] Because
of the emotional intensity of such group processes, there should be a team of
lecturers applying InterVision. InterVision ensures that the lecturer in charge
has a partner to talk to about the actual state of the process and possible next
steps. Experience showed that this can be done using email, video-conferenc-
ing and phone calls.
Currently, we are documenting the classroom dynamics and carrying
out further research, including how to use this intervention in other, non-uni-
versity environments.
... Within the primary group, each individual tries to maximize the benefit, even making decisions that could be thought of as morally questionable or unethical, like the highly controversial rat experiments in relation to the study about morals and markets show (Falk and Szech 2013) and which were immediately criticized afterward (Breyer and Weimann 2014). In addition to the experiments of Falk and Szech, data from several experiments with students show that their behavior is geared toward maximizing their individual benefit when they are allowed to cheat the system-even if that might mean potentially harming the organization they are in (Radel and Schuster 2020a, 2020bSchuster and Radel 2019). However, the last remarks could especially shed negative light on individuals seeking their own benefit rather than taking care of the society as a whole. ...
Chapter
In diesem Beitrag wird aufgezeigt, wie Interventionswissenschaft mittels Interventionsforschung im Kontext österreichischer Fachhochschulen verwirklicht wird. Außerdem werden jene Aspekte des österreichischen Fachhochschul-Studiengesetzes reflektiert, die aus interventionswissenschaftlicher Sicht einen optimalen Rahmen für Interventionsforschung bieten.
Method
Full-text available
Die vorliegende Arbeit ist die Dokumentation des Konzepts eines Teaching Labs, durchgeführt im Rahmen des von der Magistratsabteilung (MA) 23 geförderten Projekts Innovative Didaktik. Die konkret bearbeitete Lehrveranstaltung Projektarbeit Maschinen- und Anlagenbau (Projektarbeit MuA) ist Teil des Bachelorstudiengangs Technisches Vertriebsmanagement (TVM) der Fachhochschule des BFI Wien und findet jeweils im fünften von insgesamt sechs Semestern statt. Das Ziel dieses Teaching Labs ist es, mit Hilfe einer innovativen Didaktik einerseits den Transfer von Inhalten zu verbessern und andererseits durch die Form der Vermittlung, eine Emanzipation der Studierenden zu ermöglichen. Da im hier beschriebenen Teaching Lab auf den emanzipatorischen Aspekt das Augenmerk gelegt wird, wird in Folge die Bezeichnung innovative emanzipatorische Didaktik verwendet. Der Entwurf des hier dokumentierten Konzepts eines Teaching Labs basiert auf Erfahrungen aus bereits durchgeführter Interventionsforschung (u.a. Schuster 2012). Interventionsforschung ist einerseits eine Forschung, die Interventionen verschiedener Art beforscht, und andererseits eine, die selbst Interventionen setzen will (vgl. Krainer/Lerchster 2012: 9). Dementsprechend werden in dieser Arbeit Erfahrungen vorangegangener Interventionsforschung kritisch reflexiv aufgegriffen und darauf aufbauend zukünftige Interventionen entworfen und argumentiert.
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any references for this publication.