Embedding and Assessing Compassion in the University Curriculum
Scholarship in clinical psychology (Gilbert, P., Neff; 2003; Kirkpatrick et al, 2007) anthropology (Goetz et al, 2010) and neuroscience (Immordino Yang et al, 2009; Stanford University’s CCARE) agree the definition of compassion to be: the noticing of distress of others and a commitment to reduce that. As they advance research on how the science of a secular compassion can be applied into world and local social systems for building more co-operative and integrated societies, higher education struggles to translate this research and scholarship into practical pedagogy. Models of ‘excellence’ based on individualistic competitiveness in higher education persist. Ironically, this model appears to fuel particular psychosocial stressors on students that not only undermine students’ social experiences in group work. They also impede their on-task, thinking processes. This paper reports outcomes of a study of how these stressors, occurring in group discussion practice in seminars/tutorials, are articulated by students and tutors. Focus groups and interviews amongst (n=34) students and interviews with (n=9) tutors were conducted in two departments of a British university: the Humanities and Business. 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 after students were supported and assessed in their ability to notice distress or disadvantaging of others and address it during seminars. It showed no attainment gap for critical thinking between the BME/white local students. This study informs theory, practice and policy in Higher Education.