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:

Accountants
Doctors
Therapists
Airline pilots
Solicitors
School Teachers, and
Financial Advisors

(amongst others) to help us make the right decisions for ourselves.
NOW...JUST WHAT DOES THIS BUTTON DO?
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?
PICTURE BY STUART MILES AT FREEDIGITALIMAGES

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
Reality
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

Jedi

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?

PICTURE COURTESY OF MR NORMAN © 2018
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....

Really?



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.
JESHOOTS AT UNSPLASH
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?
INSIDE THE MAGNIFICENT (PRIVATE) FRANKFURT SCHOOL OF FINANCE AND MANAGEMENT

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.

SO, HOW DID YOU FEEL ABOUT CROSSING THE SYDNEY HARBOUR BRIDGE?
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...

THE LITTLE MERMAID WITHOUT THE DISTRACTIONS OF RIVER TRAFFIC AND  HORDES OF TOURISTS
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.

PICTURE BY XIANG GAO VIA UNSPLASH
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:


Quality
Money
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.
MEMORIALS TO OVER 100 PROTESTERS SHOT FOR PROTESTING IN 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.

PICTURE BY PABLO GUERRERO AT UNSPLASH
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.

What?

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

UNKNOWN AUTHOR BUT REAL SIGN - JUST WHAT WERE THE PRINTERS THINKING?
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.
 A WEE DRAM, BEST ENJOYED NORTH OF THE BORDER BY ME.
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


PICTURE BY JASON WOOLF AT UNSPLASH

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.

YOUR BLOGGER IN ACTION PICTURE BY PHIL
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?


PICTURE BY KEITH IN HIS BACK GARDEN.COM
Let us look at the risk-free, spoon-fed journey that a typical UK student might encounter:

Level
Typical age at first attempt
Number of retakes allowed
Tutor feedback before submission of work
GCSE
16
unlimited
YES
A level
18
unlimited
YES
Undergraduate Degree
21
Two*
NO
*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.