Embedding and Assessing Compassion in the University Curriculum


Psychology, anthropology and neuroscience are currently researching compassion - how it can be defined and understood, and how compassion can be applied into world and local social systems for building more co-operative and integrated societies. Disappointingly, it appears that so far, education has, on the whole, struggled to translate this research and scholarship into practical pedagogy for the university classroom. Models of 'excellence' that are based on individualistic competitiveness in higher education are largely to blame. This paper reports outcomes of a study that made student attention to compassion for fellow students in their university seminars/tutorials, credit-bearing towards degree programmes. Two departments of a British university participated: Humanities and Business. Subject tutors embedded training of students, in compassionate practice in their seminars/tutorials; these were run as small group discussions amongst students only, of their individual, independent subject reading. Student participants (n=240) were local white, local black, local ethnic minority, and international; under and post graduates. Effects on social and learning experiences were explored through seven data collection tools, including film analysis, micro-ethnographic observations of seminar discussions (with and without the compassion-focussed pedagogy); and interviews and focus groups with students, teaching staff/assessors, and external examiners. Template analysis was used to identify themes from the data. On an ethnically diverse business module of (n=38) students, a comparative statistical analysis of all individual, assessed, critical thinking performances was conducted. It showed no attainment gap for critical thinking between the BME/white local students. This study informs theory, practice and policy in Higher Education.

Author Information
Theo Gilbert, University of Hertfordshire, UK

Paper Information
Conference: ECE2016
Stream: Curriculum research and development

This paper is part of the ECE2016 Conference Proceedings (View)
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Posted by James Alexander Gordon