Thursday, 13 December 2018

Nobody cares about apathy anymore

In much survey-based research in Social Sciences the value and quality of the research instrument (the questionnaire) is often eclipsed by the importance of getting a "good" response rate.

The Survey/Anyplace blog attempts to measure the "average" response rates that researchers can expect.  There is great celebration in the office when a survey actually gets above the "average".

In-person surveys are always likely to get above "average" rates of response.  These are targetted, difficult to avoid where a respondent is accosted in the street (although Chuggers (Charity Muggers) have taught people to navigate around folks brandishing clipboards) but are also costly.

Mail surveys can be targetted, too, will involve some cost, although FREEPOST can prevent costs from being incurred for non-responses.  But, like some in-person surveys, they will involve the researcher in manual input of data prior to analysis.  Does anyone actually do telephone surveys with random respondents any more?  Call barring and opting-out and GDPR will have shielded many from this.  Telephone polls using panels of respondents fare better, even if they consistently fail to forecast the result of a Referendum or Election.

We all know that surveys arriving by email can be captured by SPAM filters or simply ignored, it's even easier for low-cost on-line or in-app surveys.

Bribery, personalisation, careful targetting and selection, persistence and even advertising a worthy cause can all hope to increase response rates.  Ultimately, however,  the sample used will be biased, self-selecting, obliging (what is the right answer?) and probably unrepresentative.

So why do we get so excited when a 20% response rate for on-line module feedback indicates "below average" performance from a lecturer and reveals that the lecturer had egg on his tie or was wearing mismatched earrings?

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Satisfied but Unemployable

I am indebted to an Australian colleague for coining the phrase "Satisfied but Unemployable" when discussing the focus held by many Universities on Student "Satisfaction".

We cannot blame Universities for responding so positively to the "market" and to the regulatory measures that focus on voter appeal, rather than quality.

But we can blame every individual who votes in satisfaction surveys without truly reflecting whether their "satisfaction" is surface or deep.  Without reflecting that the uncomfortable, challenging module in which a low mark was awarded and, accordingly, received a low feedback score for the lecturer, was, in fact, one of the best learning events in the whole degree.

We can blame those institutions, newspapers, government ministers and agents and, of course, University marketing directors, who propagate the illusion that "satisfaction" is a meaningful measure in itself.

And we can blame ourselves for believing it so readily and then failing to make changes to practice that will add to efficacy - even if students (voters) struggle to see the immediate relevance of the rite of passage called a University Education.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Stack 'em high!

Well known high street retailers, household names for generations, have been feeling the winds of change in consumer tastes.  They could teach Universities a thing or two about hoodwinking consumers.
Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels
Retailers can  give lessons on their key drivers and their implications:
  • The rush to (low) quality - an insane focus on price which blinds consumers to the fact that they are buying rubbish.  Well, until the small child tells the truth about the "King's new clothes".
  • The focus on growth in profits, revenues, influence -which sees firms conspire with suppliers to purvey cheap goods.
  • The march of "science" and "marketing" - which sees consumers ready to fill themselves with chemicals masquerading as food.
  • The importance of "Brand" and image, at the cost of authenticity and trust.
  • The march of technology - which provides consumers with an almost painless shopping experience (until they see their bank statement).
But that's nothing to do with Higher Education, is it?

Thursday, 15 November 2018

The thicker the soup, the more difficult it is to stir

Most cuisines have their own style of soup: Broth soups; Consommes; Cream Soups; Veloute-based soups; Puree soups; Bisques and Chowders.

Some are thick with complex tastes and flavours, some are clear and simple in their recipe. Some are hot, whilst some are cold, some have great art and style and yet others are basic foods within reach of the poorest.

OK, so I'm not that interested in soup, I'm really talking about Business Schools.

The fact is that some Business Schools are so fixed in their traditional recipes that they miss the fact that everyone thinks that Scotch Broth actually looks like a bowl of sick.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Trust us- we're a top 1% Business School

Benjamin Disraeli once, famously, said:

"There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics".


...and of course you want your degree to be from one of those prestigious institutions that is, actually, the cream, at the top of whichever league table you choose to trust (but do remember that most things that float rise to the top - picture not included).  However, some institutions should really be more careful about such claims since it is all too easy to ask for and evaluate the evidence behind the claim.

Take the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), for example: One University announced that it had come third!  Did it mean that it had received a bronze award?  Third place in Olympic terms but actually, 25 institutions received a bronze award in 2017, behind 66 receiving silver and 46 gold.  No, the answer is more prosaic.  The institution got Gold but then did its own analysis of the flawed metrics to calculate it's own position.

Or take written student "satisfaction" feedback.  What does a score of 95% satisfaction actually mean?  The course was easy, so we liked it?  The course was challenging, so we liked it?  The lecturers told lots of jokes, so we liked it?  Who knows?

So why do we take so much notice of statistics?

Thursday, 1 November 2018

I'm a practising Academic - I haven't got it right yet

It may be the Homer Simpson School of life that teaches: "If you don't try, you cannot fail" but it is a mantra adhered to by many academics teaching in Universities too.
Yes, if you try out new technology, a different assessment, changed teaching delivery, team-teaching (OMG!) it may all go horribly wrong.  But it is only by trying that we learn, and only by learning that we succeed.

So, how can you be innovative, try out different things, fail and still not look foolish or incompetent in front of your class (who are bound to remember it when module feedback is taken)?
  1. Keep it simple.  No need to have a fully functioning platform when a simple feedback wall such as PADLET will get classroom engagement instantly.
  2. With a little more planning any number of quiz tools - SOCRATIVE, MENTIMETER, KAHOOT will engage and test your students.
  3. With a lot more planning an interactive case study from IE PUBLISHING will wow the class.  (I can say that because IE do not own the copyright on the word "Wow").
As educators we have a lot to learn, not just about our favourite discipline and the latest research but also about the technologies and pedagogies that can make teaching and learning interesting, engaging and truly educational for teachers and for students alike.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Restore Default Settings

Just what button do I press to restore factory settings on a student's brain?

How do they change from the enquiring, responsive child and knowledge "sponge" to the passive, receiver of information devoid of intrinsic motivation to learn?
Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash
...and, just what are University lecturers doing about it?

The responsibility is shared, of course, but it does seem to me that Universities could actually make their Semester 1 studies interesting and engaging, based on enquiry, rather than information shovelling.

  • How many Universities make a positive decision to put their most engaging teachers in first-year classes?
  • How many Universities face hundreds of first-year students all needing individual learning experiences but respond with standard fare?
  • How many buy-in online content from (some excellent) providers, previously known as textbook publishers, simply to cope with the number of assessments to mark?
  • How many lecturers use harsh marking in early assessments "just to show them that its tough at Uni"?
Just asking...

Oh and, just what button do I press to restore factory settings on a Lecturer's brain?