Monday, 30 October 2017

#will this be on the exam?

Six little words that are designed to exasperate the average academic:

"Will this be on the exam?"

These six words betray so many competing and conflicting ideas in Higher Education.

  • Is Higher Education just about passing exams and assessments?
  • Does the love of a subject and immersion in its literature mean nothing to students?
  • Do lecturers provide lectures, tutorials, and on-line support simply to justify their jobs?
  • Is the phrase "reading for a degree" only meaningful on the BBC's University Challenge?
  • Do students think that the exchange of money is their only contribution to their education?
And, readers of my blog have long known that exams, as an assessment tool, need to be questioned in today's educational environment.

"Will exams be on the exam?"

  • Can exams test the ability to apply knowledge to real scenarios?
  • Do exams do any more than test speed writing and memory?
  • Is it acceptable for students to be able to accurately guess the exam questions by reference to past papers by the same academic?
  • Will I ever need to write an exam essay again in my life?
  • Can academics accurately mark large numbers of hurriedly scrawled exam scripts in a tight timescale?
  • Can Universities ever find the resource to provide meaningful individual feedback on exam performances?
So, let's examine the whole idea of exams and consider other forms of assessment that are timely, efficient and meaningful to the learning goals of the subject.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Sabbatical blog: Building the future of HE in Liechtenstein

A fortuitous meeting with a faculty member of the School of Architecture at Universit├Ąt Liechtenstein showed me just what is possible in curriculum design when a strong pedagogy is combined with a practical subject in a small institution.
Like so many practical disciplines, architecture has the possibility of "learning by doing".  Not only is it a professional necessity to create designs, models, and artifacts but it is also an excellent learning method when combined with the rigour of academic writing.

Curriculum design is a phrase so often used in HE but, I wouldn't mind betting that the emphasis is more often on the "Curriculum" than the "Design".

Design in HE can learn much from Architectural principles:
  • UTILITY: The purpose of the building/curriculum being constructed is of vital importance to the designer - how, where and with whom is it going to be used?  also - Budget can be seen either as a constraint or an opportunity for innovation.
  • DURABILITY: The building/curriculum must last the test of time, need little maintenance over its expected span.
  • BEAUTY: The building/curriculum must be distinctive, remarkable and pleasing to those using it.
Not too much to ask is it?

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

HE Ideas: The guest speaker

How can you fill up lecture slots without the hassle of preparing materials and handouts, but with appeal to students and good feedback (as well as alerting the Dean to links with industry)?

Yes - you have it - invite a guest speaker from industry!!

Picture by Sira Anamwong at
There are a number of important features of the successful guest slot and there are a number of pitfalls to avoid:    Whatever you do.....don't let your guest speaker:

  • Pick the topic
  • Arrive with unseen and unedited slides or handouts
  • Prepare too many slides
  • Have absolutely no idea what the students have studied or the aims of the module
  • Speak without, first, seeing them in action or getting reports
  • Use the phrase "when I was at University..."
  • Expect a high fee
  • Offer a recruitment pitch (unless its a Careers spot)
  • Drink too much at lunch
Actually it might just be easier to do the lecture yourself...

Monday, 16 October 2017

Sabbatical blog: Oslo's future is blended

If you are going to do something worthwhile then do it well - or take the example of BI, Norway's biggest Business School, and do it excellently.
Within the last 5 years, BI has invested in, supported, nurtured and delivered innovation, blended learning and a superb learning environment for students.
Just to view the impressive building that houses the School is a testament to the commitment BI has to its mission.  Meeting BI academics and staff simply underlines the commitment to continuous improvement, harnessing of technology (where it makes a difference) and actually putting the student at the centre.

Key learning points from Oslo?

  • Supporting reluctant staff is as important as fostering innovation
  • Bottom-up and top-down help the whole organisation to journey in the same direction
  • Bold decisions and full commitment beats creeping change and risk aversion
Oh, and simple ideas, followed through, are often the most effective.

Oslo 12-14 October 2017.

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

HE Ideas: Good practice in on-line teaching

The future IS digital for HE.  Like it or not Universities must embrace on-line provision not to simply jump on the bandwagon but also to reflect the fact that they understand that the needs of learners has shifted from the traditional and much loved face-to-face model.

Oh, yes,  there will still be a campus, a "teacher", a timetable, study spaces.....but there will also be personalisation, flexibility, multi-media, "push and pull" (rather than just "push" delivery) and a focus away from knowledge creation and delivery to empowerment in knowledge application.

And this will mean some fundamental restructuring, changes in the business model, investment in infrastructure and a culture change for academics.  In brief, the traditional model that focuses heavily on curriculum and content (and the academics that create these) and less on design and platform will need to rethink their priorities.

I am indebted to Karine Le Joly (HEC Paris) for this construct - although the diagram and any misinterpretation is mine
Successful purveyors of blended and on-line education in HE are partners with IT companies and employ and incentivise Instructional Designers (there's a shortage of these anyway), so that the position of "Sage on the Stage" who is also a Research Professor is that of an equal partner.

In how many HE Institutions are the Instructional Designers given the same pay and promotional prospects as the Knowledge Creators?

Just asking...

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

HE Ideas: Learning to drive your studies

Put a first-time driver behind the wheel of a car and anything could happen:

Pictue by Bill Longshaw at
So we have simulators, driving instructors, practice, mistakes, knowledge checking and repetition before the driver gets anywhere near the Driving Test.

So why do we expect students entering Higher Education to practice their first ESSAY / PRESENTATION / EXAM / GROUP ACTIVITY / TEST* (delete as applicable) without giving them the opportunity to simulate, receive instruction, practice, make mistakes, show knowledge and repeat all of this following relevant and timely feedback BEFORE they are examined using these tools?

Ah, I hear you say, but students won't do anything that does not have marks attached (in HE we call that formative work).

But why not find ways to encourage engagement with formative tasks, rather than give up because it's too difficult?

Just a thought.