Evidence: Higher Education’s USP

I came to work at the University of Leicester last February, after having spent most of my career in corporate training and the NGO sector. Some of my friends and colleagues from the world outside of Higher Education expressed their scepticism about my new role in the world of academia, based on those widely held stereotypes of academics as self-indulgent, head-in-the-clouds kind of people, who waste tax-payers’ money in obscure and useless research. I found it difficult to defend my new position at the time, although I felt sure there was more to it than that.

I have since become convinced, from seeing the way our research is conducted here at Beyond Distance, and at other institutions involved in similar JISC– and HEA-funded research projects, that the stereotype is unfounded. The one undeniable factor in common with all our research work is that we are committed to generating knowledge based on rigorously-gathered, relevant and transparently-interpreted evidence.

The commitment to evidence-based practice is what separates out Higher Education from other sectors of professional practice, or to put it in marketing lingo, it is HE’s USP (Unique Selling Point). In recognition of this, the UK’s Higher Education Academy has created EvidenceNet, “a free, open-access service to promote and support evidence-informed practice in learning and teaching in higher education”. EvidenceNet contains thousands of resources, mainly submitted by the UK subject centres, covering a range of disciplines. They have an events list, links to various  Special Interest Groups, a Ning social network and a wiki for academics to post work in progress. They are also seeking contributions from academics, such as case studies, that contain themes dealing with evidence related to teaching and learning, and are offering to post links from their site to relevant external websites.

EvidenceNet seems like a worthy contribution – not only to the Higher Education sector, but to all groups and organisations involved in teaching and learning.

Gabi Witthaus

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