Dispositions and qualities

Barnett, R. (2007) A Will to Learn

How do you recognise Barnett’s ‘qualities’ in the context of a course you work with? Think of a couple of examples.

Bartnett distinguishes between disposition and qualities in higher education, dispositions  being ‘the expression of a will to learn’ and qualities ‘ the form that those disposition takes’. He also emphasises that dispositions take fundamental role in comparison with qualities.

Qualities that he suggests particularly fit in higher education are:

  • integrity
  • carefulness
  • courage
  • resilience
  • self-discipline
  • restraint
  • respect for others
  • openness

In terms of the course I work with, BA Spatial Design mostly, I can recognise most of the qualities as important in students experience and performance on the course. Self- discipline is one of the qualities I believe is the key to systematic progress and I can recognise that students who demonstrate it usually achieve intended goals on time and with satisfaction. It allows them to focus on what is important for them during specific stages of the project and prioritise tasks effectively.

I particularly like the openness as a quality highlighted by Barnett. n the case of my students, I believe that the ‘openness’ manifests through student approach to learning, being hungry to experience and research, being open-minded in their approach to new technologies, testing new ideas, not being afraid to ‘fail’ and learn from their mistakes. Openness is also manifested though the approach to others, being understanding of the cultural differences and prior experiences and learning from it, embracing it and utilising it as their own experience of learning.

To what extent do you recognise Barnett’s ‘dispositions’ in your own approach to learning? Assuming this varies, what influences them?

Barnes’s recognise these  particular dispositions having specific affinity with higher education:

  • a will to learn
  • a will to engage
  • a preparedness to explore
  • a willingness to hold oneself open to experiences
  • a determination to keep going forward

I believe that what Barnes’s characterises as dispositions here closely reflect my approach to learning. Having a will to learn and engage in the subject seems like a fundamental element to begin the process of learning and also to maintain the interest in the subject. I have recently completed Master of Research in Arts and Cultural Research during which I can recognise all of the above being manifested (or not, which affected my progress at some stages). I can now reflect back on it and recognise that the will to explore and engage, and learn would be the dispositions that are fundamental in my approach at the early stages of engaging with a new subject. A determination to keep going and a willingness to hold myself open to experiences would determine how far I want to take the subject and which directions to explore it, as well as, in case of my MRes, complete the research in designated time and to my own satisfaction with found results.

However, I believe that there are many factor that can determine what influence the approach to learning (in relation to Barnett’s dispositions). One of them would be the subject itself. If at certain stage of the learning process I found the subject no longer interesting or not relating to my current experience, I found myself loosing a will to engage on deeper level. I would explain to myself that it is not that relevant and exploring it can wait when it becomes more relevant to my current experience. This is when demonstrating determination to keep going forward might decide if I keep engaged in the subject or not. I believe that delivery of the subject can also influence my approach to learning and I am aware of that in my approach to teaching. I found it easier to engage with the subject that is delivered to me in a fun, interactive, structured and interesting way.

UAL’s Creative Attribute Framework

Are UAL’s Creative Attributes more like Barnett’s ‘qualities’? Or his ‘dispositions’? Is it just a question of phrasing? Comment on a couple of examples.

I believe that based on Barnett’s clarification of dispositions and qualities UAl’s attributes could be characterised as dispositions e.g. Making Thing Happen resonates with Barnett’s   determination and willingness to engage. However, this particular attribute could also be considered as a result of Barnett’s qualities such as courage, self-discipline (pro-activity) and openness (agility).

Showcasing Abilities and Accomplishments with Others could be compared with Barnett’s  willingness to hold oneself open to experiences through qualities such as openness  respect to others expressed in the student’s activities.

Navigating Change could be compared to the Barnett’s preparedness to explore demonstrating qualities such as courage and resilience.

The Creative Attributes are explicitly focused on employability and enterprise, i.e. on preparing students for socially useful occupations. What valuable attributes (‘creative’ or otherwise) can you think of that aren’t employment-focused?

I believe that determination and self-discipline are attributes that are valuable not only in educational setting or creative industry but in any areas of life. For example, being curious but not persuading the subject systematically and with determination will not result in the same level of self satisfaction. Being pro active is fundamental to initiate ideas and take on challenges however with ought determination it might be hard to see the process of exploration and testing of new ideas.

I also believe that to being afraid to ‘fail’ is an attribute that can determined the progress in learning and by testing and experimenting different options one gives itself an opportunity to find the best solution.

How are these attributes taught and/or learned at UAL?

Based on my experience with students at UAL I believe that they are continually encourage to test different ideas and explore various avenues or these ideas without being ‘penalised’ for ‘failures’ along the way. BA Spatial Design students often work on projects that require clear understanding of the brief which is then utilised to direct they ideas. Students are always encourage to use various methods and techniques to test different ideas and not be afraid to ‘fail’ at this stage. I believe that this approach allows them to find determination in them to find the solution that best responds to the brief through continual experimentations and testing.

Barnett’s ‘qualities and dispositions’ are about learning, and the CAF is about creative practice. Are they more or less similar than you would expect, given this difference?

They seem to relate both in terms of Barnet’s dispositions and qualities. In some cases the wording is slightly different in other cases it is repeated in UAL’s attributes.

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