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.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Quod latine sonat bonum (It sounds good in Latin)

Academia is great at coming up with grand-sounding names for quite ordinary things.  It is even better and more mysterious if the word or phrase can be expressed in that wonderful (but dead) language LATIN.

I've recently helped to create a Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP) for Student Engagement.


VCoP - a group of teaching-focused academics from UK and Australia happy to share experiences and collaborate over a video-conferencing system.

Latin Translation for Virtual Community of Practice: Practice of Rectum Community (thanks Google).

P.S: This celebrates the 150th post in this blog.  Unless I hear from my reader to the contrary I'll continue to post..

Friday, 4 May 2018

Share that Jimmy!

Spending a couple of days in Glasgow without seeing or experiencing a Glasgow Kiss (how lovely) is quite a feat - even better if you can spend it in the company of hundreds of like-minded academics willing to learn, share, encourage and elevate the discussion of teaching in Business Schools to the highest level.
The annual Chartered Association of Business Schools Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Conference (CABS#LTSE) was held in Glasgow this year.  It attracted record attendance.

The conference had its origins in the era of Subject Centres - Business, Management, Accounting, and Finance (BMAF) and, in my opinion, has retained that friendly, sharing atmosphere that BMAF created.

For those who shared - well done.  You have entered into the spirit and ethos of the exercise.

For others, whose ambitions run to higher things such as promotion, publishing in pedagogic journals and even getting teaching recognised as a core activity in their own institution's strategy...  Bad luck, you are bound to be frustrated.

Just have a wee dram.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Exam Season and Fox Hunting


Oscar Wilde described fox hunting as: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable!” 

And, there is still a fox hunting season - November to March according to Countryfile Magazine  in the article "15 things you (probably) didn't (want to)* know about fox hunting".

In Higher Education there is an Exam season (almost upon us).  Oscar Wilde might have said:

"The unprepared in pursuit of the unacceptable!"

I wonder just how many of the following 10 things you did not know about exams?**
  1. The use of exams to assess students dates back 2000-3000BC and originated in Assyria and ancient Egypt.
  2. The first use of exams specifically used to assess English students was in the late 1600s. It developed into its more recognisable modern form during the late 18th century.
  3. The exam season traditionally runs from May to June.
  4. According to Diane Abbott, in 2004, MPs voted by a majority of 356,531,986 to 1 to ban the use of exams in Higher Education. The law came into effect in 2005. Exams were banned in Scotland in 2002. 
  5. Countries that permit the use of exams in Higher Education include the US, Russia, Germany and everywhere else.
  6. Traditionally, you could identify students taking an exam by the number of buttons on their cape – 5 buttons for a PhD, 4 buttons for a Master and 3 buttons for an undergraduate.
  7. Coursework assessment has replaced exams in some areas. It involves the provision of developmental feedback to students in a timely manner.
  8. The Keith Inquiry, set up in 1999 to assess the impact of exams and the consequences of a ban, identified that between 60,000 and 80,000 full-time jobs depend on exams in the UK.
  9. Research by Ronald McDonald at Oxford University's Fast Food Research Unit suggests that the average duration of an exam – from when a klaxon is sounded to when students trudge forlornly back to their part-time jobs – is 67 minutes.
  10. Exams have been shown to be very good tests of memory, rote learning and speed writing - all aptitudes highly prized by employers (not).
* my italics       
 ** only some of these things are actually true.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Another flipping change to my practice...when will it end?

Well, it won't end soon...

We don't all have to stand on our heads or engineer Flipped Classrooms but we do need to consider the different and changing needs of today's students.

Actually, I hear you say, today's students are no different to generations who have gone before, we just stress more about them because they have gained a degree of power and influence through such mechanisms as:

  • The National Student Survey and its inclusion as a reliable metric in League tables, Subject level "Excellence" awards etc.
  • The empowerment of students through Quality Assurance systems (and the knee-jerk reactions of the random VC who "gets down with the kidz" and wants action on every minor moan).
  • The promise/threat of technology.  Expectations are high for Millenials.  This is the 21st Century after all...
  • The utter contempt in which many Universities hold their staff who are, naturally, exchangeable for recent PhD graduates with no experience or interest in teaching - a position that is not lost on the student body.
NONE of which changes the basic fact that engaged students learn better.  So, standing on your head or jumping through hoops, learning communication methods that students actually use and maintaining a focus on THEM, not YOU should underpin your Continuing Professional Development...

CPD? I hear you say, what on earth is that?

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Count Dracula, kissing Frogs and force-fed Parrots

According to The brothers' Grimm (1812), there have long existed folklore tales involving kissing a number of frogs, one of which turns into a handsome prince.  The moral of the phrase was also summed up almost a century later:  “We learn from failure, not from success!”  ― Bram StokerDracula (1897).

So, why do we try our best, as academics, to protect learners from failure?

Let us look at the risk-free, spoon-fed journey that a typical UK student might encounter:

Typical age at first attempt
Number of retakes allowed
Tutor feedback before submission of work
A level
Undergraduate Degree
*Unless you have genuine mitigation

Typically, there is no time to retake GCSEs endlessly and fewer years to retake A Levels before University admissions tutors begin to ask why a 40-year-old unemployed person is presenting for the first time for admission.  The vast majority of students intending to progress to University do. of course, pass their exams at the first attempt but the knowledge of being able to improve grades and the availability of tutor feedback creates a safety net in the minds of the young.

If Higher Education, for whatever reason, (revenue, retention metrics &c) begins to provide the safety net that secondary schools and colleges do, will we see an end to Learning as we know it?

What we will have is a generation of memorisers and force-fed Parrots.

So, what is needed?

Well, as ever, a balance between the risk of failure and the benefit of learning.  Allow students to fail in formative tasks, to barely pass in summative ones and the gap between their actual and protected performance will become apparent to them.  Ensure that learning outcomes are key drivers for course design and that course delivery and assessment are integrated into the learning process.

Dumbing down and lowering boundaries does nobody any good.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Educational Case Studies: Writing#2


Having decided on your learning outcomes, type of case, level of information given and overall structure - and whether the case is to be used for classroom discussion, an assignment, or an examination.  At different levels of study (undergraduate, Masters, Executive Education) you will have to make a judgement about how accessible the case is to students.

But once you have got all of that sorted out all you need to do is to decide what to write about.

So...write about what you know.

In a Business School faculty members are divided into FOUR types, according to AACSB and as noted in an earlier BLOG entry:

Practitioners will have a number of war stories, anecdotes, networks of folks still in industry who have stories and issues that can be anonymised (if necessary) to illustrate a case.  Academics will have research projects and collaborations that illustrate real business issues (one would hope).

So, all they need is a spark of imagination, the motivation to engage students and the comfort (for those that need it) that not every waking hour needs to be spent pursuing research to do your job fully.

Get writing!

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Games students play: Simulation in HE

Hands up if you have enjoyed a Role Play (in Higher Education that is), a Baloon Debate (Why I should get a First), Discussion (e.g.This House considers that the introduction of student interaction in lectures is deeply offensive to traditional values in Higher Education), a case study or even a Game or Simulation...

Now keep your hands up if you have used any of these devices in YOUR teaching...

Games and Simulation are risky as so much could go wrong (but usually does not). Well designed simulations  - not always based on technology - can help to achieve learning benefit and student engagement.

There are some basic features that make an effective simulation :
  • The sense of competition - we love to win;
  • Risk and the unknown - not everything can be controlled by an easy algorithm;
  • Opportunity to put lessons to use (feedback plus repetition)
  • Complexity - just like real life, and
  • Reward - Normally the warm glow of a job well done...
Oh, and another vital couple of ingredients:
  • Imagination from the tutor and the students, and
  • Risk (again) - but this time on the part of the tutor, its so much easier to conform and to make it easy for yourself.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Educational Case Studies: Writing#1

When you use cases in teaching it is important that they give a platform for achieving the learning outcomes of the module or course.  Sometimes, however, you just cannot find a case that is up to date, reflective of your own teaching or even specialised enough for your purposes.  If that's where you find yourself, you may turn to writing cases of your own - but where to start?

Let's consider the type of case you will write... or, more accurately, what outcomes do you want to achieve in using the case?

Lundberg, C et al. (2001) suggest that there are 7 types of case to choose from - and, of course, variants and combinations of case types to suit a tutor's needs.
Outcomes for the various types of case are: 

1. "Iceberg" cases... research and application of conceptual models.
2. "Incident" cases...application of models or student experience.
3. "Illustrative" cases...discussion of textbook model application.
4. "Head" cases...discussion of motivations of principal actor.
5. "Dialogue" cases... discussion of motivations and interactions of principal actors.
6. "Application" cases... application of a management technique.
7. "Data" cases...organising, analysing and drawing conclusions from data.
8. "Issue" cases...discussion of dynamics and context of a situation.
9. "Prediction" cases...multi-part case requiring students to predict possible outcomes.

Now, for each type of case the writer offers a different level of information and structure:
Now all the writer has to do is to come up with an up to date, accessible and researchable event, story, subject.....and start writing.

You didn't think it was easy did you?

Ideas from: Lundberg, C et al., 2001, Case writing reconsidered, Journal of Management Education, Vol 25., No. 4, August.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Building bridges

Building bridges is one thing, but getting folks to navigate them safely is quite another!

BRIDGE is the name of a Chartered ABS / AACSB programme running in June 2018 in London that tackles the issues of bridge navigation head on.

The Bridge programme has been designed with the specific purpose of giving a supportive and helpful hand to those wishing to cross the bridge from "industry" to higher education, specifically in business schools.

But why on earth would you want to do that?
  • To give something back?
  • To fill up that CSR objective on the annual review?
  • To have a focus in retirement (when retirement starts at age 40)?
  • To Learn?
  • Answers on an application form please...

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Educational Case Studies: Using

A little while ago I embarked on an Interrail journey from the UK, via Eurostar and Paris, to Zurich, Vaduz, Munich and Frankfurt before returning home via Brussels.  I could have done the journey more swiftly by air or even a combination of air and rail but then I would not have enjoyed the scenery, the quiet hours in a carriage, the stressless voyage and even the sense of adventure.
Yes, I had a destination to reach, but the journey was the real objective.

Using case studies in business classes is just like that - the destination or conclusion can be reached in a number of different ways - but which will be the most valuable for the key learning objectives?  Which will be most accessible for the class?  Which will be the most enjoyable and memorable?

Could I have lost my way and been stranded at an intermediate station? - of course - but my trust in the Interrail App, my basic language abilities and the helpfulness of railway staff and other passengers meant that I had knowledgeable guides to ensure that any slight misdirection or unexpected stoppage was not fatal to the achievement of my goal.

In a classroom, the tutor can be the guide, or the guest lecturer from industry (Blog passim), or the students' ability to research and seek out alternative routes.

When I planned a subsequent trip across Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Armidale) I used the principles of  my European trip and hired a car, rather than fly.

It should warm the cockles of the Chief Accountant's heart (if he had one) to know that my trips were also the cheapest option.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Educational Case studies

Educational field trips can be used to "take students from the classroom to the real world".  In today's mass Higher Education environment, however, such outings are difficult and expensive, not to mention the Elfinsafety considerations.  So, a mechanism to "take the real world into the classroom" is often used - The Case Study.

Although many authors in many institutions write case studies in Business it is that hallowed place - Harvard - that stands out as the champion of the method.  Case study rooms in University buildings are sometimes known as "Harvard style", so pervasive is the influence of that school.
But what is a case study? A story? A problem seeking a solution? An opportunity to dig deeper?
The answer is - all of these.
Most of all it is an opportunity for participants to engage with something they understand or can research and solve problems, discuss alternatives, work collaboratively or alone and even be the basis of an assessment.
Championing cases in the UK is The Case Centre at Cranfield University.  They not only give access to cases from all over the world but also teach the Case teaching and Case writing methods.
In subsequent blogs I will give some tips on writing cases and on using them in a classroom.  I may even, if you are patient, discuss how to write a video screenplay to bring cases to life in the classroom or on the internet.
Such fun!

Thursday, 22 February 2018

HE ideas: Who is working in the workshop?

My teaching timetable is made up of time slots for "Lectures", "Tutorials", "Seminars" and / or "Workshops".  Nobody ever defined these for me and so I have used my own experience and that of others to differentiate between these "learning sessions".  Every time I update the taught module for its next outing I am asked to specify the total hours given to each type of activity.

I do note that my institutional "workload model" does differentiate between these by allowing TWO hours preparation for each Lecture hour; ONE hour for each seminar or workshop but only a nominal time for preparation for tutorials as these are known to be "repeat business" for the tutor.

A tactical teaching-avoider might well label every student interaction as a "Lecture" in order to claim the greatest workload hours for the least actual input.  You may think that, but I could not possibly confirm it.

The problem is that a standard TWO-hour "Lecture" could well house elements of :

Seminar - where students discuss key points.
Tutorial - where students apply concepts to examples
Workshop - where students participate via role play, case study, presentation etc. to their own learning and that of their peers

and even...

Lecture - where students listen and take notes to acquire new insights.

So, next time I design a course or module and need to specify the different hours for these activities I'll be ticking the box "Other".

Thursday, 15 February 2018

HE Explained: Reputational risk

In a number of industries, Brand and Reputation are paramount.

These industries are mostly consumer-facing ones - retailers, for example.  Not that image is everything, however, low prices can beat brand image at certain times in the economic cycle.


This issues of Brand, Trust and Reputation are even more acute when the industry provides intangible services such as banking.

Banks suffer from being hated by many.  They are a "necessary evil" or, in marketing terms a "distress purchase" - nobody wants a loan, they want the yacht, sports car, holiday or house that a loan can make possible.  The cost of the loan is a focus in a competitive market but it is the benefits that it brings that the borrower really wants.

In Higher Education, we ask, what features of our Universities really make the "brand"?

  • Ivy covered walls?
  • Extensive sports facilities?
  • Prominent graduates (not necessarily the bulk of successful hard-working ones)?
  • Eye-catching logos?
  • Awards and League Table Positions?
OR is it
  • The teaching?
  • The student experience?
  • The relevance?
  • The "care"?
....and, exactly who is the audience?  what market is University BRAND directed at?

Thursday, 8 February 2018

HE explained: Are you not edutained?

Back in olden times, when I was interviewed by my University for my current post, I was asked by one of the panel members:

"How would you approach giving a lecture?"

I explained (without using words like "Learning Outcomes" or "Knowledge Base" or "Research Informed") that I would consider what my students already knew and then build on that, deconstruct what they believed, where necessary, and offer anecdotes from my time in industry to illustrate the point and to pique interest.  I proceeded to use one of my (I thought humorous*) anecdotes as an example.

"Ah", said the interlocutor, "You're an Entertainer!"

I did not know at the time whether this comment was a good sign or not but as I got the job I felt that it had not harmed my chances too much.

Those were the days, of course, before mass Higher Education changed the game from one of intellectual challenge with the comfortable sharing of industry insights with highly interested students to crowd control with Absenteeism, Lecture Capture, Trial by student feedback and Peer Observation.

How would I answer the same question today?

Well, I'd probably use those buzz words that I was ignorant of before.  I'd carefully plot how my own research and experience would underpin the content of the lecture.  I would outline how the "ILOs" would shape the content, structure, planned interactions and I would consider ways in which the students could remain engaged for the whole lecture session.

If students fail to detect spontaneity, it is no surprise.  Failure to adhere to the lecture schedule, to dictate which chapters of which book (singular) related directly to that week and a lack of support notes and links on the VLE can all reduce feedback scores, too.

So, if students do not feel entertained, it may be that lecturing has become a job, rather than a passion.

*The anecdote?
My subject was consumer lending and the need to be as fully informed about the client and the context as possible before making a lending decision.  The client in question wanted a loan to pay off past debts (not a good sign).  Repayment would come from a bequest from a wealthy relative.  I needed to check up some basic details - was there such a bequest and how much did it amount to?
"Oh yes" said the family solicitor I was authorised to contact, "The problem is that his aunt isn't dead yet!"