A phenomenological analysis of new course development within the context of a Scottish Central Institution

Duncan, James Gordon (1986) A phenomenological analysis of new course development within the context of a Scottish Central Institution. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This research concerns itself with an educational organisation (Scottish Central Institution) and an important intra-organisational process, namely new course development. The Scottish Central Institutions provide a variety of mainly vocationally orientated C. N. A. A. validated degrees outwith the traditional university sector of higher education. The locus of this particular research is a small college engaged over the past years in a multiple process of upgrading a range of diplomas into first degrees as well as evolving into new degree areas. New course development is often and generally portrayed as a rational, planned and an eminently manageable organisational process. The basic thesis of this research eschews such a notion and assumes that it is a complex, diverse and problematic activity. It is conceptualised as a nexus of social constructions, individual and group, which are imbued with the internally situated aspects of culture, ideology and knowledge. These internal components of the organisation's milieu are themselves open to the external influences of a disparate set of organisations, groups and individuals. New courses are developed out of such an amalgum of social forces and constructions. Theoretically, the research is informed by the interpretive paradigm of sociology applied to the organisational context. The social phenomenological perspective provides its descriptive and analytical focus. As such, interpretive sociology offers an established and an alternative view to the predominant functionalist literature in the organisation field. Phenomenology is directly concerned with the meaningful lived experiences of individuals. It provides the researcher with meanings and understanding generated by the individual's own daily experience of organisational affairs and events. Social reality thus lies deep within a network of typifications which individuals use to make sense of the situations in which they find themselves. The complexity of devising new degree courses was addressed around four assumed critical variables - culture, ideology, knowledge and environment. Six academics reconstructed and reflected their individual experiences and interpretations of new course development by talking about the college's environment, their own discipline area, teaching and research, the impact of college structure and processes, formal and informal. The in vivo, semi-structured, recorded material constituted the data base for the research. The academics represented diverse disciplinary areas, college hierarchy, a range of active curricular experiences, disparate philosophical and ideological orientations, and included the traditional and contemporary voices of education. The oral material was authentically reproduced into written protocols which formed the basis for the individual phenomenological descriptions. Each transcript was analysed to reveal the invariants of perception (emergent themes) and was further examined to educe the underlying structure of the conscious experiences (essences/universals). This procedure was repeated for each transcript and then combined to compile an organisational profile. This research has found that new course development is a multi-levelled and multi-faceted social process. The college and its formal processes are differentially perceived by the academics and there clearly exists sharply defined arenas of 'organisational reality' - the political, bureaucratic and professional (academic). The political arena manifests itself in diverse micro-politics -interdepartmental and committee, contested resource allocations, formal and informal pressure groups, subversion of formal processes, overt engineering of planning and so on. Conflict sustains and constructs alternative realities which challenge the imposed definitions and interpretations provided by the formal organisation. A bureaucratic sphere of organisational reality evolved out of the formal processes and practices associated with developing new courses. This arena constitutes the reality of institutional life characterised by its anatomy of rules, prescribed relationships, time-consuming and laborious procedures, control and hierarchy. It was sustained by an objectifying and rationalising language, a strong technocratic (vocational relevance) ideology and attempts to define an 'official' college culture. This bureaucratic foreground was consistently challenged by the political and professional practices of individuals and groups reacting to the perceived inadequacies and inefficiencies of the formal system. Academic professional practice relies heavily upon epistemological traditions, discipline sub-cultures and individual ideological orientations. These factors interacted forceably in the design of both vocational and non-vocational degrees. Again, conflict 'made visible' the boundary demarcations of knowledge and its ownership. A traditional and an opportunistic attitude to the various uses of the discipline was exhibited between the academics and their individual attempts to influence other colleagues on new course proposals. In essence, the 'active voice' of this research illustrates the complex sets of social constructions (meanings, interpretations and understandings) which exist about the process of devising new degree courses. It firmly discounts any notion that new course development can ever be a neutral or simplistic rational planning activity. The experiences of practice confirms its diverse and problematic nature, and helps us further explore and understand the complex dynamics associated with the design and planning of new degree courses.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Vocational education, Higher education administration, Instructional design
Date of Award: 1986
Depositing User: Enlighten Team
Unique ID: glathesis:1986-76638
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Nov 2019 13:59
Last Modified: 19 Nov 2019 13:59
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/76638

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