EWR 22 (2023), Nr. 1 (Januar)

Gunnlaugur MagnĂşsson / Johannes Rytzler
Towards a Pedagogy of Higher Education
The Bologna Process, Didaktik and Teaching
London: Routledge 2022
(164 S.; ISBN 978-0-3675-1505-8; 120,00 GBP)
Towards a Pedagogy of Higher Education Towards a Pedagogy of Higher Education sets out to formulate a pedagogical theory of teaching in higher education. The book is motivated by the experience that higher education, in both discourse and everyday teaching practice, is being dominated by political aims derived from international policy initiatives and most notably, the Bologna Process. Such a perspective, the authors hold, reduces the task of teaching to a question of how best to implement policies in the pursuit of ‘student learning’, ‘effective teaching’ and ‘employability’. What is lost, they argue, is a sense of the pedagogical role of the university.

The policy analysis developed in the book views the Bologna process as the catalyst which has had serious effects on the understanding and practice of teaching and learning at university. The authors show how this gave rise to ‘outcome-based education’ and various teaching technologies. One such technology is the widespread concept of Constructive Alignment (CA) – an example of a teaching approach that fits the political aims of transparency, securing return-of-investment and increasing student learning. The problem according to the authors is “its negligence of specific subject matters, and all-inclusive perspective on any kind of learning” (145). As a response to these developments, the book turns to the traditions of Didaktik and pedagogik (both deliberately kept in their German and Swedish spelling respectively) and theories of education formulated by the German pedagogue Klaus Mollenhauer and French thinker Jacques Rancière. The former is used to challenge the present institutionalised education and re-engage with “the fundamental pedagogical questions of human life” (80). Rancière is drawn in to conceptualise the role of the teacher and the event of teaching. The task of the teacher is for Rancière not to explain the meaning of a subject matter to ‘inferior’ pupils, but instead to make an intellectual emancipation possible. This entails to “focus on how students take on the object of study, by demanding from them to attend to it, to speak of it and to work hard and intentionally in their engagement with it” (85). The authors ‘trouble’ these theories by pointing attention to the “forgotten bodily, relational and existential conditions of education” (98) theorized within feminist ethics. The last and third part of the book analyses the case of teacher education (in Sweden) from a Didaktik-perspective. Didaktik is defined “not as a theory about teaching, but rather as a systematic theory about how to think and analyse pedagogical action within the context of teaching” (130). This perspective is then transposed into the context of the university. The final chapter engages with studies which conceptualise the university as a ‘public of students’: a gathering of scholars and students studying some ‘thing’, a subject matter, in the pursuit of knowledge. The aim of such a Didaktik-based university pedagogy is “intellectual and practical emancipation” (147) from the constraints of understanding teaching as a mere implementation of pre-defined learning outcomes.

A strength of the book is its integration of policy analyses and pedagogical-philosophical conceptual work. The policy analysis is at its best in chapter 2 when the authors analyse the effects of specific EU-documents from the Bologna process on teaching and learning. They brilliantly show how the pedagogical role of the university – what it wants with/for its subjects – has withered in higher education and thus needs to be re-claimed and re-formulated. Though the authors do nuance their critique at times, they seem to be writing to the fellow critical teacher and there is little engagement with the logic and local enactment of the analysed policies. At this point, the book would gain a more complex picture from further dialogue with empirical policy studies in higher education such as for example “Enacting the University” by Wright et al. [1] studying the case of Denmark. The introduction of the critical German Didaktik-tradition into the discussion of higher education is absolutely the main contribution of the book. Much work in the philosophy of (higher) education refrains from didactical reflections and policy analyses are often satisfied to point out problems leaving teachers of higher education without any tangible response to these problems. The authors’ attention to the didactical triangle (‘the student-teacher-subject matter’) stays close to the everyday teaching of academics, especially in its elaborated version emphasising the relational, pedagogical, messy and bodily aspects of education. Furthermore, the insistence on re-integrating ‘the subject matter’ and ‘the teacher’ into higher education is much needed under the reign of student-centered learning. The book’s call for an integrative approach is spelled out in one of the many important questions posed in the book (here in relation to teacher education): “How can we allow teacher students to develop both existentially and professionally, not without or in spite of but in relation to the transformative content of teacher education?” (120).

Since the book is strongly written from a teacher-perspective, it leaves another aspect of higher education less developed, namely the question of what characterises the university as a specific educational context? Though there are moments when the specificities of the university are addressed, this becomes peripheral to the discussion. For example, while the aim of higher education at one point is mentioned as “preserving, proliferating and pursuing knowledge” (74), central elements of the university such as scientific research or social service are not elaborated. Accordingly, the main subject addressed throughout the book is ‘the teacher’ and not for example ‘the academic’, ‘the professor’ or ‘the researcher’. Likewise, most theories (e.g. Mollenhauer, Rancière) drawn upon do not take the university as their primary context, which constantly forces a translation of these ideas into the higher education field. That said, the last chapter does include several studies from the philosophy of higher education discussing ‘study’ as the pedagogy of the university. It would have been interesting to have a more elaborated discussion of the relation between the concepts of ‘teaching’ and ‘study’, and whether these are perhaps in tension with one another [2, 3]? More in general, the book draws on a myriad of authors and concepts to formulate a theory of teaching in higher education, but these do not all appear equally relevant to the project. For example, Mollenhauer is presented as “somewhat antiquated”, “Eurocentric” and “patriarchal” (75), and it becomes unclear why the authors chose to include him. Similarly, while the insights from new materialism, feminist theory and ethics into education are important in their own right, their inclusion in the book comes across as hurried.

In conclusion, “Towards a Pedagogy of Higher Education” is a timely book that brilliantly adds a Critical Didaktik -perspective to a field where profound pedagogical considerations have been overtaken by worries about how to effectively implement policy agendas. The authors re-introduce an integrative approach to teaching as the relation between student(s), a subject matter and a teacher, while critically reflecting on the political and aesthetic dimensions of this work in the context of higher education. This enables a re-opening of the discussion of the pedagogical role of the university. Well-written and conceptually stimulating, the book provides valuable food-for-thought-and-action for teacher-researchers in higher education and everyone working with university pedagogy.

[1] Wright, S., Carney, S., Krejsler, J. B., Nielsen, G. B., & Williams Ørberg, J. (2019). Enacting the University: Danish University Reform in an Ethnographic Perspective. Springer.
[2] Thompson, C. & Weiß, G. (2021). The Quest of Participation: Studying from the Perspective of Practice Theory. Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education, 3(3), 71–82.
[3] Willat, C. & Buck, M. F. (2021). Studying as Embodied, Social, and Aesthetic Practice: A Phenomenological Critique. Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education, 3(3), 121–132.
Kasper A. Sørensen (Roskilde)
Zur Zitierweise der Rezension:
Kasper A. Sørensen: Rezension von: MagnĂşsson, Gunnlaugur / Rytzler, Johannes: Towards a Pedagogy of Higher Education, The Bologna Process, Didaktik and Teaching. London: Routledge 2022. In: EWR 22 (2023), Nr. 1 (Veröffentlicht am 26.01.2023), URL: http://klinkhardt.de/ewr/978036751505.html