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International Conference on Complex Systems (ICCS2006)

Rethinking Accountability and Quality in Higher Education

Sean Park
BHSc. Programme, McMaster University

Del Harnish
BHSc. Programme, McMaster University

     Full text: Not available
     Last modified: March 26, 2006

‘Accountability’ and ‘Quality’ are concepts that have come to characterize the discourse of improving education in North America. On the surface it appears that these concepts speak to the need for mechanisms that ensure resources are used wisely and that students are getting the best possible education as supported by evidence about effective educational practices.

The goals are sound, yet the ways in which we are using accountability mechanisms can often be counter-intuitive and counter-productive. In an effort to ‘motivate’ better performance there are many unintended consequences; How do students feel about themselves after being told they are not performing at ‘grade level’? What incentive exists to motivate change if an institution comes out on top of an evaluation? How does punishing poor performance foster a willingness to try new things?

We have come to understand that questions of best practice and measuring outcomes for accountability purposes are more appropriately asked from a framework that has parity with the view of human organizations and interactions as complex and non-linear phenomena. The science behind CAS may provide such a framework and the first goal of our presentation is to experientially model the concepts that comprise CAS with a lateral thinking exercise we have developed. Our second goal, once we have established how the participants have come to conceptualize some elements of CAS, is to address implications of this knowledge for undererstanding the behaviour of individuals and groups in an educational accountability context.

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