Thursday, 24 September 2015

Have a relationship with a fresher

Now, it's a very very long time since I was a fresher and so my reflections are tinged with mild dementia, willful amnesia and the rosy glow that experience of life brings to almost everything.

Today's fresher, however, arriving at University,

  • Perhaps, for the first time, living away from home
  • Perhaps, for the first time, with loan (i.e. someone else's non-earned) cash in the bank and
  • Certainly, for the first time, being expected to determine his or her own priorities,
is beset with so many different choices, smells, sounds and temptations that the purpose of being at University - Learning, can be a distant but tangible consideration in that heady week of wonderful independence.

So forgive the freshers their hangovers, their inattention and their confusion.

Rather, pick up that learning relationship that started when the student saw the brochure, the web page or came to an Open Day, support the transition to academic study as and when it is needed and develop that relationship so that the student (as bemused about what might constitute a "good 2(i) or "merit" level of work" as many staff members) develops over time.  Students should not be expected to know and understand what it means to "read for a degree" on arrival - it's not 3 more years of school, it's a relationship that lasts a lifetime (if Universities get it right).

Thursday, 17 September 2015

Student Engagement

The excellent Chartered Association of Business Schools' Student Experience conference for 2016 has been announced.  One of the key themes is "Student Engagement" and I, for one, will be responding positively to the call for papers.
The conference is in its fifth iteration, taking the mantle from the Business and Management Subject Centre Learning & Teaching conference.  The tenor of the conference has changed from a workshop and sharing orientation to a more formal research one and could lose its identity if it goes too far (but that's for another day).
So, back to "Student Engagement" - although I wonder why we do not see, in the call for papers, an area on Staff engagement?
Conference participants will. largely be from the Teaching and Scholarship " underclass" from within our marvellous Universities.  All are "engaged", otherwise they would not be there, although a lot of the conversation around the coffee breakout areas will be about less engaged colleagues, systems that do not reward nor motivate staff to be engaged with teaching and stunted careers when compared with discipline focused research colleagues (the same ones who are so disengaged from the key source of their salary - the students).
It was ever thus.....but isn't it about time it began to change?

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Publish and be damned!

Attributed to the 1st Duke of Wellington, this immortal phrase has new resonance in 21st Century Higher Education.  According to Research Excellence Framework fixated Universities the phrase should actually be modified - "Don't publish and be damned!" but they are wrong.

Publication appears to be the aim - not good research, well considered and well funded projects designed to answer real problems.  Academic careers are measured by and advanced by the metrics achieved by so called "research".

I'd like to suggest that the rush to publish in ever growing and ever marginal virtual and physical journals and academic conferences damns the authors to be associated with some poor quality, ill considered and incomplete work that adds nothing to the knowledge they purport to illuminate.

So, Sir Arthur, you were right in 1824 - "Publish and be damned!"

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

Supply, Demand and the market for Learning

I remember my first encounter with the study of Economics at school and how I did so well there that I was selected to (literally) sit at the feet of an eminent Professor of Economics (he did not have many chairs in his office).  The confidence and enthusiasm of my teachers and the practicality of the  subject just made sense to me and, over the years, the key concepts learned have allowed me to see the different forces that set the world in balance.
And so I understand that on the Demand side (the consumers / students, employers, government bodies etc.) have different expectations of University qualifications.  On the supply side (The Universities, individual Schools and Lecturers) the expectations are equally clear - but often different to those of the Demand side.
Let's stop talking in riddles.
A degree programme is a compromise.  A market compromise, where a point of interaction (purchase) is arrived at not solely on the basis of price but also on the basis of a programme structure, the availability of staff, the likely outcome for graduates...............................

Good programmes of study are designed by institutions that take into consideration the needs, wants and appetites of the Demand side whilst making efficient use of teaching and other resources (the Supply side).

So why do programmes start in October and not at any other time?
Why do employers bemoan the preparedness of graduates for work?
Why do academic staff members appear to have such long periods away from their work?