Saturday, 23 December 2017

Happy Christmas

To all readers of this blog:

May the Peace of the Christmas Season remain with you all year

Best wishes for a reflective 2018

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Marvellous - a blueprint for student engagement?

Keele University, in the UK Midlands, plays host to a unique character - Neil Baldwin.  Neil wrote a book about his colourful life that was made into a BBC film - Marvellous.  Neil also lists his occupation as "Clown" but has also been Stoke City kit man, Keele University greeter and his own football club player-captain.

Neil knows a thing or two about student engagement.  Lessons that many academics could follow:
Student engagement needs:
  • access to tutors at sensible times
  • knowledge of both academic and pastoral support available
  • time to spend with those who need it most
  • a relationship built on mutual trust
  • people who care
  • lecturers wearing baggy trousers (or is that just Neil the Clown?)
Fake that, and you've got it made!
P.S. Neil @Keele does not fake it.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

HE ideas: There's no "I" in Team

I'm re-visiting this hoary old topic as it simply will not go away (much to the horror of many academics who see all of the pain and none of the profit.)

I previously wrote about using team or group work for student assessment as it promises to develop transferable skills as well as work of academic merit.
Today, however, I turn my attention to Team teaching.

Team teaching can be uniquely rewarding, efficient and effective.  Only a few institutions can muster the resources to allow more than one instructor in the class at any one time so I'd better define what I mean:
Team teaching is the phenomenon whereby students are taught by multiple lecturers over the period of a course - this can be a whole term or an intensive block.  Lecturers can focus on their favoured topics, teach only for a few weeks and then concentrate on their other duties. For students, this can give variety, fresh and enthusiastic lecturers every session...but it can also give confusion.

The same skills of teamwork we demand of students need to be used by lecturers.  Teaching staff must be fully briefed, kept in touch with other elements of the course, remain engaged even when it's not "their" session.

That really demands a team leader, keeping members informed, in-line and integrated.

Like herding cats, really...

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

HE ideas: Youth (and education) wasted on the young?

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was the original source of the quotation "Youth is wasted on the young".  The implication, however, that older, more experienced individuals would not squander the enthusiasm, energy, and openness of youth is sadly lacking in parts of the HE sector.
Let me explain:

In a naive and rather wonderful way, many academics hope that their students will grow to love the narrow branch of their discipline as much as they do.  Sadly, in the vast majority of cases, they will not.

Such enthusiasm and motivation coming from an intrinsic interest in the discipline is a noble aim but rarely sufficient to rely on for actual engagement of a whole cohort.  Instead, academics must deploy techniques to engender real engagement (i.e. engagement separate from the fear and desperation of failure in the assessment).
GBS circa 1915, via Wikimedia Commons

Back to Shaw:
    "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything"

    So, what to change? what techniques to deploy?

    If you were to ask a micro-economics teacher what they would hope that the average first-year undergraduate learned in Microeconomics 101 they might rehearse the typical published Learning Outcomes for their module.  One example would be:

    By the end of this module students should:
     be able to use economic theory to explain consumer behaviour;

    So how will we set about achieving that outcome?

    • Start at Chapter 1 of the textbook
    • Draw lots of demand and supply diagrams and, just before students have grasped the enormity of that concept, start fiddling with them, drawing different lines, moving curves, changing get the drift?

    We teach that such economic models are built upon observation, testing, modelling and re-testing ideas.  So, why not get the students to do just that?  Let them explore a "simple" consumer scenario and ; 
    It means a focus on learning rather than teaching.

    Just a thought.