In Chapter 2, we argued that evidence should support teaching practice in higher education where such evidence is available. But what does the claim that ‘evidence should support practice’ actually mean? Here are four words which both individually and as a sentence are highly ambiguous. So let’s unpick this sentence. Evidence in this context means the use of empirical propositions to provide

arguments as to why such and such an action should be taken or why so and so a judgement is justified. The contents of such propositions are statements of fact which should, we argued in Chapter 2, be based on recognised ways of gathering data and inferring, where necessary, generalisations from that data. However, we do not want to exclude the experiential evidence of lecturers that arises from prolonged engagement with students in their own subjects and in the contexts of particular universities. Subjectively, such evidence will always carry great weight with individual lecturers and we acknowledge its relevance to the formation of individual judgement. The question for us is not so much whether such evidence is relevant to our actions (it is), but its relationship with evidence gathered in other ways, through, for example, systematic research. Should signifies a normative requirement, that there is an expectation that evi-

dence will support rather than fail to support practice. It also suggests that, where possible, reasons for action should be based on evidence rather than ‘common sense’ or ‘intuition’, although the possibility cannot be excluded that these will have to be relied on in many circumstances. Support in this context means ‘give good grounds for’. There is no one state-

ment of what it is to give good grounds for a proposition. Generally speaking, when the evidence presented is based on generalisation, or on the enumeration of cases, the argument is inductive (Salmon 1984) and should be sound. This means that the evidence should give good, if not conclusive, reasons for acting or for forming a judgement. The possibility is always present, however, that the action may be inappropriate or the judgement mistaken, even when the evidence provides good grounds. But reasons in such a complex area can rarely, if ever, be conclusive. The most that we can strive for is that the reasons given for action or

judgement are better supports than any alternative set of reasons that are currently available to us which may suggest a different course of action. If the action or judgement is necessary (e.g. we have to pass comment to a group of students today), then we are obliged to base our actions or judgement on the best considerations that are currently available to us, imperfect though they may be. Practice refers to the activities of lecturing, discussing, explaining, instructing,

demonstrating, arguing, assessing, chairing, etc., that constitute the work of a lecturer engaged in teaching in higher education. We assume, for the purposes of our discussion, that such practices are worthwhile. This means that the ends to which they are directed are worthwhile (they will benefit our students, not to mention the wider society) and that the means which are adopted to achieve those ends are worthwhile as well (they will not violate any ethical requirements of confidentiality or consideration for example). Whether or not our practices are worthwhile in this sense is something that empirical research may have some limited bearing on (e.g. such and such an assessment procedure is not really confidential, despite claims that it is), but is ultimately based on our ideas about what acceptable ways of teaching are. Evidence, therefore, should support practice that we, as a community of lecturers, are prepared to endorse. Putting all this together, we can argue that ‘evidence should support practice’

means that it is desirable that, where it is relevant and available, empirical evidence be deployed in order to provide good grounds for actions or judgements that we make in professional contexts, which themselves exist within an ethical framework. This claim can be used to explore the sense in which lecturing is a profession, which we will consider next.