Thursday, 20 December 2018

Is Christmas really necessary?

Planning a relevant, thoughtful, challenging but accessible learning experience for HE students in UK Universities is a skilled passtime.  Carefully navigating the strictures of institutional "norms" on contact hours, timetabling, blended inputs, assessment types and weights have to be balanced with programme outcomes and intended learning goals.  To top it all the material, the engagement and the enthusiasm have to be maintained at a high level to ensure "good" feedback and to avoid that awkward conversation with the Dean over a "sub-standard" score of 3.9 on the Richter scale of academic value.

Now add in the generosity of Church, State and tradition to engineer a 4 week "break" at Christmas and another at Easter.  The former divorces the learning experience from the assessment in many Universities, whilst the latter splits the teaching into two unequal parts but, at least, presents assessment opportunities fairly close to the end of the teaching.

The answer?  Ban Christmas and ignore Easter?

No. Simply allow for flexibility in planning teaching and assessment so that the barriers and hurdles are seen as opportunities and so that the student journey is dictated more by good learning design than by religious festivals.

Happy Christmas.

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?

Wednesday, 17 October 2018

Learning for life

We interact daily with professionals who could make a significant positive or negative differences to our lives through commission or omission, negligence or momentary lapses. Of course, we have our own responsibility for our health, finances and safety but we do rely on:

Airline pilots
School Teachers, and
Financial Advisors

(amongst others) to help us make the right decisions for ourselves.
What each of these professions has is a minimum entry requirement - often a degree or professional qualification. Professional examining bodies, keen to retain the exclusivity of the calling and the risk of removal of professional status (££) also demand Continuing Professional Development.  A license to practice and insurance cover removal for those not keeping "up to date" ensures that repeat fees flow into the coffers through registers of CPD activity.

Contrast this with the profession of University teaching.  Just as much reliance is placed on the professionalism shown, advice given and guidance offered but it might alarm some to learn that this is a profession with no formal entry qualification and no requirement for CPD.

So, who would I trust to fly me on my next air trip?  The qualified and up to date pilot or the keen amateur who has had a couple of goes in a simulator?

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Externally verified - so that's OK then...

I have participated in many examination boards over the years as Chair, academic, internal advisor, personal tutor and as external examiner.  My role, at the time, colours my view of how effective such a gathering is.
UK Higher Education prides itself on its robust, internally and externally verified assessment process but just how safe is that claim?

Sitting on the Board is, perhaps, the most frustrating, least transparent part of the process as names, marks, mitigating circumstances, system errors, incomplete datasets and missing academics lead to a host of "Chairs' actions" which will be generally reported upon up to a year later.

And, just how are external examiners recruited?  Are there minimum standards?  Is it the first person willing to accept such a paltry sum for so much work? And just how much of the students' work do the externals see?

Having said that, many externals can, honestly, say that the institution they are reviewing matches the standards at their own!!

If the sector is not willing to police itself effectively then it deserves what it gets.

Monday, 1 October 2018

Of course I can ride a horse, I went to the lecture!

What does University actually equip the graduate to do?

Photo by Kirsten LaChance on Unsplash
The discussion in Higher Education about "outcomes" and "employability" (note that this is different from "graduate employment") takes on greater focus when such things are measured in a way that can inform quality ratings.
One problem arises, however, when skills development is not embedded in the curriculum but is seen as optional or voluntary (and less valued as a consequence).  And, what are the skills that should be developed, about which evidence should be garnered to support CV claims about, and armed with which, graduates assault the world of work?
Ha! so many institutions claim, that's why we have "professional placements" or Work Based Learning - to ensure that key skills are embedded.
But what if, I hear you say, what if the students opt out of those options or spend their "year out" studying in a partner institution or hiding in their room or they did not do a "year out"?
Then we can rely on a handy translation device like this:

CV speak
Managed a focused team in a pressured, customer facing environment.

Flipped burgers for McDonald's
Organised a group visit to a foreign location, arranged cultural tours and negotiated return travel for an injured colleague.

Nearly got into the Sagrada Família in Barcelona and persuaded Ryanair to let Tom board, even though he was badly hungover.
Established an on-line support group for homesick students.

Put my Mum on Whatsapp.
Achieved 100% attendance record at lectures and seminars for 3 years.

Hacked the mobile app the Uni uses for monitoring.
References on Request
I haven’t found anyone willing to give me a positive reference yet.

Ethnicity: Prefer not to divulge


Thursday, 27 September 2018

Sorry- the education you ordered is out of stock

By 2050 the world's population will have (slightly) more 18-year-olds than it does today (UN data).  The problem for many Univeristies is that the proportion of those young people in wealthy and developed countries is decreasing whilst, in poorer and less developed regions is increasing.
Why is this a problem for Universities?  Well, money, obviously, or, to be more precise, the lack of it.

So can Universities make their offerings more accessible, affordable and of equal or better quality than the unscalable business model they currently run?

Scalability is a key business problem.  What does it take to up-scale - and how swiftly and efficiently can that be achieved?  In many developed nations that have good quality Universities, mainly for domestic students, the issue will be - how can we down-scale??

Unless, of course, those brilliant minds, planning the strategies of their universities over the next 30 years can think of a way, develop it as a core part of their business model and transform themselves, whilst retaining their brand identity? (see, that Marketing stuff was not wasted on me).

...and whilst I am a great fan and supporter of on-line education I'm not so naive to consider it a panacea.  But the fact remains that tomorrow's students want accessible, flexible, good quality delivery of worthwhile qualifications but very few Universities are prepared to meet those demands.

Oh, but 2050 is years away....


Thursday, 20 September 2018

Of stars, cows and dogs?

As Universities become more "corporate" there will be a clear recognition of "profitability", "strategic drivers" and other such jargon.  Gone, the Newmanesque ideal of University in favour of the Higher Education business model.
Let's look at the typical Business School in the typical University through the lens of a key business model - the Boston Matrix.  This model suggests that investment should be in stars and cash cows - to sustain earnings in the future and divestment of dogs and some question marks (cash drains and unlikely to provide a profit.)

Reproduced from unknown authors under Creative Commons License and "Boy" by your author.
Stars are in areas of high market growth, where providers have a good market presence and share.  Degrees with "Finance" in the title or the even more mysterious terms "Management" or "Marketing"  are typical of Stars. Stars can become Cows over time as market growth slows or competition increases.  Dogs, on the other hand, are the poor relations.  They are small players in back-water and neglected disciplines, enjoying words such as "Operations Research" or "Banking" in their titles.
Some Question marks become stars if they are given the right investment and nurture.

Follow this logic to a natural conclusion and we'll see that all providers end up with the same bland offerings in major areas with specialisms relegated to "pathways" or "options" or, even worse, de-listed.

If only Business Schools went on to read Chapter 2 of the strategy textbook and recognised that in a fixed price environment it is differentiation that will win in the longer-term.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

Rainbows in Higher Education?

My absolute favourite part of being at Primary School was Friday afternoons.  Not because of the proximity to the weekend but the timetabled "Art" session that allowed Miss Broad to put her feet up for a while and us, 5 and 6-year-olds, to model with Plasticine.
At the start of term, our personal stash of Plasticine would be renewed and the rainbow colours were chosen.  By the end of a few weeks, after different works of art had been created, displayed, disassembled and returned to the personal stash, we were left with a large amount of brown Plasticine.  As little boys do, this was swiftly modelled into different styles of stool, much to Miss Broad's horror.

Now, at the tail end of my Educational journey, I reminisce about the rainbow that so certainly turned brown and wonder if there is a useful metaphor there?

Probably not, as I consider the marvelous diversity, innovation, and differentiation available in our Universities as all race for:
  • More bums on seats, amid dwindling numbers of domestic undergraduate students;
  • Greater diversity, amid costly and competitive access to international students;
  • Compliance with accreditation / regulatory / benchmark standards, amid an environment suffering regulation fatigue;
  • That one "blockbuster" prizewinning marketing campaign, amid so many others;
  • NSS scores just a wafer-thin margin above the already high average;
  • More and better resources, amid financial constraints on resource building on anything as unexciting as social space, teaching space or IT capacity (unless it is for STEM subjects).
The problem is that the only evidence I can find supports the opposite view, that degrees are all looking the same.

No more Rainbow colours - just brown (and an unappealing shade of brown at best).

Wednesday, 5 September 2018

... and what is it that you do?

Pity the poor academic, in full gown on a sweltering day, standing in line and waiting for the Royal motorcade to arrive.  Then, the moment to be remembered for life, The Queen (God bless her) holds out her hand and asks the perspiring lecturer ".......and what is it that you do?"

Shades of  Her Majesty's  2008 LSE question about the financial crisis?
Any advice on a sensible answer gratefully received.  After 32 years in the Higher Education arena (not counting my own first degree) I still seek a clear definition.

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

The Doctor will see you now...

A recent survey in Times Higher Education (THE) threw some doubt on the self-serving wisdom of top Universities that reasons that research focused academics make excellent teachers.  Well, sometimes they do, but it's nothing about their researching at the cutting edge of their subject (few could leverage that level of sophistication into the average undergraduate module), it's about their passion for the subject coupled with a (rare) ability to communicate to mere mortals.

Such super-human academics who boast REF returnability years before the deadline, teaching satisfaction scores consistently above average and good citizenship in abundance are few and far between.  Most academics, sadly, are stressed and lonely individuals, frustrated by the pace of change and the demands of "consumers" and creeping "managerialism" from their institution and only want to find a darkened room in which to engage with their favourite subject.

And this is the same individual to whom undergraduate students are allocated as "personal tutees".  The Doctor will see you now when he/she feels like it and probably at a time when you are in class and so cannot make it.  If by some bizarre twist of fate, however, you actually get an appointment at a time you can make it, as a student, the academic is likely to be a signpost for additional help if you are:
  • Pregnant, so you missed some exams...
  • Wondering if you chose the right course...
  • Suffering with (choose illness) and so cannot attend lectures...
  • Accused of Plagation? Plagueism? Plagology? and need advice...
So, for all of those TEF gold institutions that pride themselves on personalised academic support, we need to ask just how compatible that is with REF gold (or equivalent)? Especially if they are stellar researchers and brilliant teachers and caring humans - all rolled into in one.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Gamify your degree course

Now, we all like a good game - Bridge with friends, Chess with a colleague (that should appeal to my academic reader) or Zombie Apocolypse V on XBox in front of the widescreen telly with virtual "friends" around the world.

Why do we like playing so much with, for most of us little reward other than satisfaction, oh, and a large chest full of virtual dubloons?

It responds to ourselves as humans to be competitive, to crave achievement and notice and, if Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn and Tripadvisor are anything to go by, the need to be "Liked".

So why not tap into that human spirit and make your whole degree programme a game?

Entry Level
Points scored on other, lower level games can be used to purchase advanced status at different game venues.  Points can be transferred from games in different languages and from different software providers.
Those game venues resembling medieval buildings are seen to be the most prestigious whilst those covered in plate glass often have more transparent routes to future levels.

Beginners curse
This game level sorts the wheat from the chaff.  It rarely “counts” in the final levels of the game but players need to achieve a certain level of skill.  This level is not easy, however, and has many distractions for the unwary player such as:
·         The pub of doom
·         The complexity of the IT tools
·         The wit and wisdom of the Professors of confusion
·         The mire of self-doubt and
·         The forest of eternal uncertainty

Intermediate doldrums
This is a necessary but very boring level of the game.  It is more difficult than the beginners level and has greater challenges.  In this level the reality of financial budgeting takes a grip and those unprepared for the decisions about overdrafts, loans and credit cards may lose out.
Achievements at this level, however, will build up stores of ammunition for the final level – where two games continue in parallel:
·         The Final Destiny game and
·         The Life after the game game

Final destiny
This is the game’s highest level and one, where it is rumoured, that most players will get a “good” outcome.  Just how a 70% score is the highest the game awards, however, escapes most numerate folks.
At the awards ceremony, after the game is finished there are additional opportunities to earn virtual points by parting with real (not virtual) money.  Points like “Alumni” status or even “Selfie with the Grand Game Master”.
Then, players move on to a new game that has fewer rules, more opportunities, less rigour but more (real) reward.
All in the hope that the degree game has prepared you fully for it.

Oh? You're already doing that?

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The answer isn’t 42 - it’s VR

In the best traditions of business and HE I have been excited by a new technology and now desperately seek a use for it.
Virtual Reality.  It's what I've been looking for to immerse my students in the "real world" (ironic eh?), to give them the confidence to make mistakes and to learn by doing.

I have a huge catalogue of business problems and issues, numerous case studies that do not have defined outcomes, discussion points that interaction with artifacts and people provide the best way to practice and learn.

What I don't have is the €100,000 to develop a single scenario fully, the years it will take me to persuade institutional powers and students that this is really learning and the encouragement of colleagues to try it out.

Back to the virtual drawing board, I fear...

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Personalised Learning - Model T or Smart Car?

"You can have any sort of learning provided its based on lectures on a campus and involves lots of exams" Henry T Fraud.

But what if, and humour me here, what if today's learners want flexibility, individual learning journeys, practical hands-on learning, learning at their own speed and assessment when they are ready?  What if they want a Smart Car that they helped to design, rather than the mass-produced, jelly mould experience of the "Model T" University?

Well, it wouldn't work would it?  It wouldn't be practical, the resources needed are not available, the professors (bless them) would have to change...It would be the end of civilisation as we know it.

Except that many corporate universities, catering, it must be said, for their paymasters, have done just that.

Now, what's that about Higher Education being a market?

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Student Value for Money and Ice Cream

How on earth can Business Schools offer Value for Money (VfM) to students when the "Money" part of VfM is dictated by government and the "Value" part is restricted by their host Universities syphoning off Business School surpluses to fund very important and vital subject areas that, frankly, nobody wants to study?

VfM is a market-based concept in the eyes not only of consumers but of economists.  In the way that economists love, it is given a different terminology - Benefit.  To be precise, Marginal Benefit - the satisfaction derived by ONE PERSON from consuming ONE MORE UNIT of the product/service.  Like Ice Cream, however, satisfaction typically reduces after the second, third....seventh unit.  Typically, however, the average student only "consumes" ONE undergraduate degree...

Much to the frustration of economists, "satisfaction" is in the eye of the individual consumer.  Who can tell what satisfaction individuals get from attending University?  Do economic data tell us about how happy people are?  Apparently not as accurately as downloading behaviour on such sites as Spotify.

So, can data actually tell us how satisfied students are?
  • The NSS attempts this but there are so many methodological issues with its execution and the clear benefits of HE for the individual are certainly not known in the final year of study.
  • Graduate Employment could be an indicator but many will be "satisfied" NOT working for a bean counting factory and so will not qualify as having a "graduate role".
And, I hear you say, what about "social benefit"?  the benefit derived by society in supporting, mainly through taxation, a high quality education sector.  Social benefit is a feature of market failure as consumers are less willing to pay for benefits that they do not feel directly.  We know this because so many students do not wish to pay with their time to study or read unless it's going to be on the exam.

Ah, wait, here's a radical thought - why not stop thinking of Universities as corporate businesses with consumers seeking VfM and suppliers seeking profit by squeezing costs at the expense of quality?

Thursday, 21 June 2018

The bridge - a satisfaction survey

Engineering standards judge the quality of design and function, the strength and safety aspects of the bridge - BEFORE the bridge is built.  Once constructed, the bridge is tested to ensure it meets or exceeds key standards. The bridge can then be built, commissioned and used by all those wishing to cross to the other side. Periodically, the bridge is inspected. Maintenance and remedial and updating actions are taken.  This ensures fitness for purpose and safety.

In history, bridges were provided from the public purse but, increasingly they are built by private organisations, granted time constrained monopolies to collect fees.  Fees can be fixed by governments so that they are not seen to be extortionate.

Rarely, if ever, is the fitness of the bridge judged by the experience of those crossing it or the benefits they accrue once they reach the other side.

Why is it so different in Higher Education?

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

Copenhagen Business School was my 15th different Business School visit in the last 12 months - quite a feat as most of my job is undertaken by video conferencing!  CBS is an excellent School and particularly gets my seal of approval (yes, I know, they didn't ask for it nor do they want it, really).

So what does a School need to do to earn this unsolicited accolade?  Let me tell you...

My focus here is not the Business School as an entity but as a physical presence - perhaps a building or a series of spaces. So, in my view, a Business School that is fit for purpose in today's environment should have the following features:
  • Space
That's it??

Well, of course, there's different types of space.  And here's a few I've seen on my travels:
  • Teaching space - flexible
  • Social space - everywhere
  • Quiet space - in unexpected places
  • Collaborative space - with resources to facilitate e-collaboration and F2F
  • Flexible space - teaching
  • Private space - but few closed doors
  • Technical space - for video, on-line, webinar - and all fully supported
  • Outer space - space outside that is served by wi-fi
  • Thinking space - possibly the same as quiet space but that's just me...
  • Meeting space - almost any of the above
  • Bookable space - when certainty is needed
  • Comfortable space - including standing space
  • Sleeping space...
Of course, for its stakeholders, there will be different priorities.  Those of space efficiency, space to hide, space to meet and space to work are some of the different top priorities of key players.

And my favourite of all? - well, the last one I have visited as it adds to my picture of  the ideal Business School.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

There's Virtual Gold in them thar' hills!

The creators and propagators of such cyber-currencies as: BITCOIN, LITECOIN, ETHEREUM, ZCASH, DASH... owe a lot to Higher Education. Not because the question "What is money" is a very common one that basic economics addresses but because Academics and Universities have been using a virtual currency for many years.

The currency? Academic Goodwill.

Let us rehearse the properties of money by comparing cash with academic goodwill, defined here as that warm glow of satisfaction following a successful PhD examination at (obviously) a different University to your own.  The warm glow is often extended during the period between the viva examination and receipt of the Princely sum of (as much as ) £200 for almost a week of your time:

Academic Goodwill
a medium of exchange

Cash is generally accepted by most in society – except bus drivers (exact change please) and internet retailers (that’s a USB port, not a coin slot grandma…)
It is divisible, easily recognisable and now fully washable.

PhD examination can be a series of bi-lateral exchanges between colleagues in cognate areas of study.  You pass my student and I’ll pass yours.
a liquid store of value

Apart from notes going out of circulation in order to issue currency with pictures of the Duchess formerly known as Megan Markle on the obverse, cash retains its nominal value and is easily turned into, well, cash.

If that liquid is Scotch or Gin then the External PhD Examiner is an excellent storage vessel.  Some academics have a very limited capacity before they begin to spout nonsense, others show no difference in this capacity even after a few swift ones.

a unit of account

We do tend to value what we can measure and even more so if that measurement unit has a £, $ or € sign.

The number of PhD supervisions and even examinations on an academic CV can often be used as evidence of scholarship and reputation for such vaguely defined areas like promotion criteria.

a standard of deferred payments

Net Present Values reflect the value to the lender of payment deferment.  Lenders give up current liquidity for a price (interest).

Storing up goodwill here on earth may make a nice insertion into your obituary in the Times Higher.  There’s no longer deferment than that…

Thursday, 31 May 2018

The price for sheep

A few years ago a ferry company, operating in the Western Isles of Scotland, thought to encourage local farmers to take their sheep to market via ferry by heavily discounting the price of a crossing if sheep were transported.

Farmers enjoyed this boon but when it came to taking a holiday with their families they would have to pay full price for the crossing.

Scottish farmers are amongst the canniest in the world and so, when it came time to load up the family car for a holiday on the mainland, they also loaded one sheep.  The price for the crossing was at the discounted price - they were transporting a sheep, after all.  Each sheep was left with a friend on the mainland and transported back home when the holiday was over.

The ferry company abandoned its offer...

A few years ago a well known University, operating in the USA, thought to encourage prospective students to take up degrees by offering FREE courses on the World Wide Web.

Massive numbers of On-Line students enjoyed this boon, but when it came to taking up a full degree, they would have to pay full price.  Few were either prepared or even able to do this.

On-Line students are amongst the canniest in the world and so, when it came time to use their MOOC studies to populate their CVs with the results of their studies at Stanford, Harvard and the like, they argued that employers should take note of their learning, their skills and their on-line alma mater.  It mattered not that they had studied for free and had not obtained a specific certificate.

Please make up your own ending to this story...

Thursday, 24 May 2018

Hard won freedoms in Kyiv

Never underestimate the freedom most of us have to moan about "the system".  This entire blog is an example of my own mild frustration but also of a genuine hope that those with some vision will take lessons and build on them.

This was my hope when I revisited Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv.  I was scheduled to give a seminar on Global Quality Standards in Business Education and Innovation in Assessment Design.  But earlier in the week I visited parts of Kyiv City Centre and saw the impromptu memorials to the ordinary Ukrainians shot by snipers as they protested against corruption in High Office during the Ukrainian Revolution of 2014.
One of the first rules of presentation is to know your audience.  This consideration affected me greatly as I was advising educational "revolution" to an audience who knew the real cost of rocking the national boat.

I do hope that that the innovation and revolution I propose is not too racy for the educational establishment, that it is seen to be a plea for a focus on learning, rather than on teaching, and that it centres on student engagement rather than simple student attendance at lectures.

From a managerial viewpoint, too, a focus on student learning can (not always) but can result in less resource being devoted to "contact time".  The difference being that "contact time" is richer and more challenging and enjoyable for everyone.

Now just who would have benefit in maintaining the status quo and looking backwards instead of forwards as the Ukrainian authorities did in 2014?

Thursday, 17 May 2018

It ain't Rocket Science!

Ah, well, this week's title may be misleading as this concept can actually be used in Rocket Science.  More specifically in the teaching of Rocket Science.

The concept is "Constructive Alignment" or, in the words of a TV Ad "It does what it says on the tin".

The recipe is quite simple:

  • Take an Intended Learning Outcome (ILO)
  • Announce the ILO to students before any learning activity starts
  • Design an interesting assessment that tests whether students have achieved the ILO
  • Create opportunities for students to explore the issues surrounding the assessment
  • Administer the assessment
  • Benchmark against agreed and communicated criteria (i.e. mark)
  • Provide feedback on the students' performance against the agreed criteria
  • Reward yourself with a glass of scotch in the warm glow of satisfaction that your students have developed useful lifelong skills.
So, how do folks get it wrong so often?
  • The ILO is written and communicated via the module specification linked to the VLE that students rarely enter.
  • The exam is written (more likely cut and pasted from previous exams in the subject)
  • The essay questions, so skillfully crafted, test rote learning, memory, and handwriting
  • The lectures take place where the knowledge of the Professor almost gets transmitted to the students
  • The students revise (which assumes that they have "vised" in the first place) and "sit" the exam
  • Marks are awarded on the basis of "I know a first when I see one"
  • Feedback is only available after students complain
  • The scotch bottle is already empty.