Scholarship of Teaching and Learning: Chapter 1

Review: Hochschulbildungsforschung Chapter 1

I have been reading this book, the title would translate into Higher Education Educational Research and probably considered a book of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. One of the things I had entirely forgotten–or rather supressed–was how annoyingly superfluously elaborate and cluttered German academic writing can be. In one of the chapters there were a couple of sentences which were grammatically not actual sentences and it made me wonder if even the copy editor at some point gave up. Some of the phrases, when I read them in German they kind of make sense, but have no English equivalent, and when I am trying to translate them, there are more question about what they authors actually mean by a carefully crafted sophisticated sounding word, which in the process of translation reveals itself to be a rhetorical empty shell. So anyway, not all the chapters are that bad, this one was actually well written and clear. And I figured I share some of the key points I took from each of the chapters. Do take this with a grain of salt as this is pretty much a translanguaging, meaning making, and summarizing exercise not a translation.

‘Hochschulbildung zwischen Fachwissenschaft, Praxisbezug und Persönlichkeitsentwicklung’


Elsholz, U. (2019) ‘Hochschulbildung zwischen Fachwissenschaft, Praxisbezug und Persönlichkeitsentwicklung’, in Hochschulbildungsforschung. Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden, pp. 7–21. doi: 10.1007/978-3-658-20309-2_2.

Key Arguments

The author highlights four trends that contributed to the need for adjusting the aims of higher education:

  1. Increased student numbers that lead to mass universities
  2. Significant change Bologna process brought to the German HE system, particular the highly disputed outcome oriented focus
  3. Diversification and differentiation of the sector and singular programmes
  4. Digitization as challenge and potential threat (p.8)

The chapter continues with a positioning of higher education Didaktik (the professional science of teaching (Jank & Meyer, 2019)); pointing out that there was a strong focus on developing academic’s pedagogy in Germany during the last 20 years. However, Elsholz criticises lack of focus on developing curriculum design and thus higher education Didaktik was shortened to learning and teaching methods. Another issue highlighted by the author is that from an educational science perspective higher education Didaktik is often focused on short-term psychological impact, with reductionistic approach and understanding of learning and competences, and further points out the need for a theoretical positioning of higher education Didaktik–which I wholeheartedly agree with!

Elsholz highlights the differences between higher and professional education; with particular focus on competencies. Note here that in German graduate attributes/skills are often spoken about as key competencies, thus competences developed in HEIs are not the same as in professional education (apprenticeships) which focus on habitual learning and experience. Elsholz subsequently suggests a competence model with four dimensions:

  • Subject (disciplinary) competences (knowing and understanding),
  • Methodical competences (development and application of knowledge),
  • Social & Personal Competences (communication and cooperation), and
  • Self-Competences (wissenschaftliches Selbstverständnis and Professionalität)

The author thus situates curriculum between the poles of Science (Wissenschaft), Praxis (Profession) and Person.

adapted Huber, 1983, p.128
Image: This is a sketchnote I created to help me translate and reflect on the text. However, it also features as a focal point here, the text from it is directly below the image

Guiding Principle of Higher Education:

Wissenschaftlich Reflektierte Handlungsfähigkeit

Below is an attempt to translate it (the visual process of which is reflected in the Sketchnote above)

Wissenschaftlich (scientific, keep in mind in German all academic disciplines are sciences not only STEM):

  • Subject specific and disciplinary content and context of a degree
  • Application of scientific method
  • Knowledge that is reversible and can be revised, disputed, challenged

Reflektiert (reflective):

  • Related to individualistic goal setting of higher education Bildung (link opens in new tab)
  • Humboldt’s Persönlichkeitsbildung (Please see quote below for explanation)*
  • Developing professionalism, the ability to distance oneself (Distanzierungsfähigkeit), ability to question learning content or approaches (challenge your professor basically), the ability to take on various theoretical perspectives and positions (critical thinking), support and training for reflexivity

Handlungsfähigkeit (ability to act/agency):

  • Higher education always exists within societal context (employability here is seen cynically and too narrow a focus)
  • While praxis experience and relationship to the world of employment should be integral part of higher education education, it is more than just employability
  • Elsholz suggests that Handlungsfähigkeit (the skill and/or ability to act also implying agency of the learner) ought to replace employability
  • The author suggests that this should include the world of work, citizenship (which is my translation of ‘gesellschaftliche Handlungsfähigkeit und Lebenswelt’)

*Humboldtian Ideal: Its features included the unity of teaching and research, the pursuit of higher learning in the philosophy faculty, freedom of study for students (Lernfreiheit, contrasted with the prescriptive curricula of the French system), the educational ideal of Bildung based on neo-humanist admiration for ancient Greece, corporate autonomy for universities despite their funding by the state, and the notion of academic freedom.

Anderson , R. D. (2004-09-02). Germany and the Humboldtian Model. In European Universities from the Enlightenment to 1914. : Oxford University Press. Retrieved 5 Feb. 2021, from

So what?

This first chapter tried to draw on issues that are of current interest in the German higher education sector, and suggested a couple of models and approaches, such as the competence framework. However, what I liked most about the chapter was the guiding principle Elsholz developed that should be adapted by HEIs which is: Wissenschaftlich Reflektierete Handlungsfähigkeit which I ended up translation into scientific, scholarly, reflexive agency … and am still not sure this makes sense in English, hence the explanation of each of the terms above.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.