Thursday, 18 December 2008

Continuing Professional Development

Roger Schank believes that Education will change dramatically in the future as we make it fit for purposes. One of the problems we have in University Education is the question of what a university is for and what they were created to do. The idea of the university comes out of the medieval period a place to train the scholars who were largely for the religious orders. The red-brick universities sprang up to supply the industrial revolution with new man-power. So what does a university do now? Trying to get the balance right between research and teaching is particularly difficult. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a university position is about your research and to forget the service to the "community" to create new potential. Even if there is consideration to teaching it is often focused on producing the next research student and not on producing someone who will benefit society.

Now we have a global economic crisis it is more important than ever that we produce students who are employable and this is often no compatible with students who would be good research students. We need to focus on the practical and not the theoretical (I am a theoretician so look who is talking). We need to teach students skills and this might not be a bad thing for universities as a whole. Science in particular seems so abstract to many people that it is losing its connections to the real world. John Horgan wrote a book called the "End of Science", where he wrote that science has become ironic science, big experiments with unproven conclusions that are of little importance to most of us. I am not as pessimistic but we do need to think about what we do as scientists. We need fundamental research but this has to be balanced with more applied research and we need a sensible approach to combining them both.

So what has all this got to do with CPD? Well this is something which universities can do while they try and find the balance between the fundamental and the applied. We can at least do some sort of outreach bringing the fundamental research to a wider audience and through this engagement hopefully both parties can benefit. The fundamental researcher can see new directions for their research and the student can get the latest techniques to try and solve the important problems.

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