The HE Bullshit Dictionary

Here’s a list of things that, when I hear or read them, make me say rude words. Enjoy.

We only use 10% of our brain

Citing this as evidence would suggest you are using significantly less than 10% of your brain. There’s no evidence. Any company that claims their tech will help to unlock the rest of the brain has been rolling in cow excrement.

Blue sky – Marcus Elliott

When the apocalypse comes, the skies will be red, but it won’t matter because you’ll be dead. First.

They’re just ideas mate.

Change Agent – Marcus Elliott

Saying you’re an Agent of SHIELD doesn’t make you a superhero. Saying you’re a change agent just makes it sound like you work in the booth at an amusement arcade (incidentally, one of life’s real superheroes)

It doesn’t empower anyone.

Customer – Marcus Elliott

If you think that HE should have ‘customers’ then maybe you need to head to the private sector where money rules. Do not pass go. Do not take £200 (just as a kicker).

Education is not a transaction. It’s a privilege.

Delivering Learning – Phil Barker

I hope they have Amazon Prime, I like the convenience.

Digital – Lawrie Phipps

Making something digital does not make it big or clever.

Digital Natives and Immigrants

Oh, come on.

Disrupt

It’s either just an organic change or improvement, or you’re being a pain in the arse. You choose. Marcus Elliott

Buzzword city.

e- words – Viv Rolfe 

Think elearning, eassessment, eeducation et al. Mate, it’s just learning, assessment and education. Sticking a computer into the process doesn’t make it better or special.

Engagement

What is that? Define it for me. How shall I measure it? Oh, you don’t know, then don’t tell me X increases engagement. Let’s slap it all over our strategy and marketing materials though.

Employability

Yer ’cause whether you’re desirable for a job can be boiled down to simplistic measures.

Framework

Well done, you wrote some stuff down.

Future Ready – David Honeybone

When is the future? How should I ready myself? I’ve always been of the belief that everything will stay exactly the same forever so I hadn’t prepared. WON’T SOMEONE THINK OF THE CHILDREN?!??

Futurist – Lorna Campbell

Generation X, Y, Z (and every other letter of the alphabet yet to be ruined)

NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO. Homogenising groups of people to sell products is not helpful. NEWSFLASH not everyone is the same.

Innovation

Just what? See Engagement.

Learning Styles

REALLY? I can’t even be bothered to explain myself. Just no.

Management diagrams – Viv Rolfe

Might I add a section on management diagrams? Anything with hexagons?

Yes, Marcus, it is.

Millenials (and all other ‘ials’)

See Generation X, Y, Z. One of the most irritating and insulting phrases of recent years.

Although, I’ve been toying with the idea that anyone born during WW2 should be called “Blitzkriegians”, categorised by an aversion to Hitler, quick reactions to air raid sirens and knowing all the words to Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again”. Ridiculous right? A bit insulting yer? SO STOP IT.

Models – Marcus Elliott

Aka

REMOVED Paradigm – Lawrie Phipps

Paradigm has been saved!

Obviously, there are genuine times when the word paradigm is rightly used.

Paradigm Shift

Nor have I but apparently one will be happening real soon.

Serious Experiment – Anne-Marie Scott

Like experimenting, but with all the joy and light in the world sucked right out of it. Serious experiments can only be carried out wearing grey protective clothing.

Serious Play – Marcus Elliott

Does that mean some play is ‘not serious’? I’ve shed blood over lego. And, why the hell does learning and education need to be serious? Maybe that’s why people don’t engage.

Its just play, mate. Juxtaposition doesn’t make it clever.

Skill, Skillset et al. – Marcus Elliott & Viv Rolfe

When Liam Neeson said he had a ‘particular set of skills’ in the film Taken, he was so damn cool. When you say skillset, you sound like a prat. Skills are not like Pokemon, you don’t collect them then sell the complete Skillset on ebay

More ultimately meaningless words. That I feel should always be spelt “skillz” because “I haz mad skillz”.

Step-change – Joel Mills

But how do we say the change was significant? WON’T SOMEBODY THINK OF THE CHILDREN?

The student experience – Anne-Marie Scott

No arguments that students should have an enjoyable and worthwhile time at uni, but can you define for me in less than 1 page what “the student experience” is?

I think Anne-Marie needs to be a bit more of a thought leader.

Thought leader – Marcus Elliott

Trotted out when management want Innovation (the rehashing of an old concept with a fancy new name) and decide to outsource to an evangelical ‘expert’.

Thought leaders sound like they should be running cults. And they always die during the FBI sieges.

Asking for better thoughts doesn’t really work.

You are Right or left brained

Nope. You’re not using either side.

To conclude.

Do not be insulted if you have ever used the phrases listed. We’ve all done it. But I would suggest you take some time to reflect on your life.

Add your dictionary entries to the list in the comments!

 

We got 99 problems…

dinosaur

and the TEF is one. Disclaimer: this post has nothing to do with the TEF.

Sorry if you came here looking for a scholarly article on the TEF. I’m afraid you will not find that here (or anything scholarly for that matter). Instead I will reflect on my Higher Education journey. I’ve recently moved institution and it seems like a good time to take a moment and think.

(The featured image for this post has little to do with the content but I liked it. I’m sure there’s some joke about dinosaurs and technology use at HEIs but I can’t be bothered to think of one. But a T-Rex chasing you would definitely put your problems in to perspective. But remember what Meat Loaf tells us, objects in the rear view mirror may appear closer than they are. (Caution, this video contains some hard-core mullet game.)

As a student

I was terrible. I put no effort in to my a-levels and my results certainly reflected that. I originally applied to do ancient history but decided “I’d never get a job doing that” and took a year out to decide what to do with my life. It was the expectation that I went to University although careers advice at sixth form was poor at best. So I decided, in my infinite wisdom, that media was the right path for me. I like TV shows and film so why not do something I enjoyed. I naively thought it was really easy to become Steven Spielberg. I applied to a few places with my terrible results and eventually got in somewhere.

I did not become the model student. Despite being amongst the first cohort to have tuition fee loans. I am still paying that back now and will do so for what feels like the rest of my life. I imagine the Student Loan Company will be knocking on the coffin lid. Anyhoo, I turned up to most of my lectures but if I couldn’t be bothered I certainly wouldn’t force myself. I ‘phoned it in’ for most of the first year. I think it’s easy to underestimate how difficult it can be to make the transition from a-level to ‘academic writing’. I was really disappointed with my first essay mark. I’d always been good at essays. I really don’t remember there being much help with that but that might be my memory or more likely I just didn’t look for or take any of it up.

Second year I did put in more effort but again I wouldn’t say I pushed myself. I eventually came up with a bit of a formula for writing essays that seems to have helped me through to present day. I would admit that I approached every essay, project and took every test with the question “what’s the bare minimum I have to do to get a decent mark”. I did nothing in my spare time. I didn’t gain any of what we would now describe as employability skills. I didn’t practice, I didn’t make a showreel and I didn’t get involved in any voluntary projects. I did the bare minimum. I do kick myself for not trying harder on a couple of projects which would have pushed me up to a first but I got a high 2:1 without putting much effort in so I guess I got a good return on investment. By the end of my third year I was very ‘done’ with education. I did not want to do a Masters or step foot in education again. I was going to be a successful director don’t you know (despite not deserving or earning that success).

Working in Higher Education

So how ironic it feels now to be sat in a University and having worked in them ever since. Despite my sincere belief that the world owed me my dream job I was summarily disappointed. Surely the path to greatness is paved with negligible effort, a non-existent showreel and no experience? Apparently not. It would seem that a degree isn’t enough to be the next Steven Spielberg. Apparently you might also need talent. So devoid of talent, armed with only a piece of paper claiming some level of competency and with no clue what I was doing, I put forward my CV. You will not be surprised to hear that I had no success. So a change in approach was required.

I turned to graduate internships in the desperate hope that someone like the BBC would be stupid enough to employ me. When you’re going up against hundreds of other graduates, who are more talented and went to a better University than you it’s unlikely you’ll succeed. But I had the good fortune to get a job at Harper Adams University. A stop-gap I thought before Hollywood calls. Hollywood did not call.

It was this job that got me hooked. I enjoyed talking to academics about teaching. I enjoyed talking to them about technology and how they might use it. I even liked training. I was able to combine my love of making stuff with a wage. Like Honey Nut Corn flakes Higher Education was ever so moreish. I was hooked.

So here I sit writing this post in my fourth HEI and despite MANY challenges over the years I still love it.

So how did I get here?

At Harper Adams I was part of a team of graduates who were tasked with introducing new tools and assisting staff to make effective use of them. I also learned more than I’d ever need to know about sheep. I’ve worked at the University of Portsmouth as an Online Course Developer and Assistant IT Trainer. At the University of Lincoln as a Digital Education Developer. I am now an Academic Technologist at the University of Warwick.

I think I am here more through luck than judgement. I realised after my internship at Harper Adams ended that I would be more likely to get a similar role at another University. I was lucky that the University of Portsmouth Business School was looking for someone and on the day of the interview a load of people dropped out. So with little competition I got the role there. After a while a job in IT services came up and I thought, “Hey, I like training so I’ll give it a go” and I did. It gave me so many skills that I am so grateful for now. Confidence to stand up in front of people, techniques to persuade the most negative trainees and the opportunities to work on other projects. After a couple of years I felt it was time to move on. I also knew I’d never be able to afford a home in Portsmouth (ironic given where I now live) and needed to find somewhere more affordable.

After a search of areas we settled on Lincoln. As luck would have it the University had already tried to recruit three Digital Education Developers. The lucky part was they had only recruited two. So they advertised the third vacancy again and they were silly enough to give me the job. I had a wonderful time at Lincoln, and while every place I have worked has shaped me in some way, Lincoln has by far had the biggest effect on me. I joined a new unit tasked with improving all aspects of teaching and learning, including the digital aspects. The digital element was a part of teaching and learning not adjunct or as a ‘thing’. I worked with the most dedicated, hard-working and intelligent people. They were also great fun and pleasures to work with. Each one of them has shaped me in some way, challenged me and supported me. I would not be who I am today without them. They made me question my assumptions, made me read and broadened my knowledge. Sadly after a review of the department and other changes, that I will not detail here, I felt Lincoln was not the place for me anymore.

I selected a number of Universities that I wanted to work at and Warwick was one of them. Again as luck would have it an internal promotion resulted in the perfect vacancy for me. So here I am, in my 7th week at the University of Warwick. I am very comfortable here. I work with great people. The biscuit banter is top notch…

Is the grass always greener?

Nope, but as someone said to me, the grass is always greener if you have no grass in the first place. Moving jobs is scary. You have no idea who you are going to be working with, interviews are no indication as everyone’s on their best behaviour, but in my experience people in this ‘business’ are usually lovely people. You have no idea what you’ll be walking in to but everywhere has its challenges. I don’t think you’re ever going to walk in to a University that has it all figured out. If anything  I would find that quite boring.

99 problems…

So, after that long read, I finally get to my point. Every University I have worked at, this is my fourth, has the same problems. Every person I speak to at conferences etc. has the same problems. Fundamentally our problems are all the same. When I came to Warwick everyone would tell me something then say “oh I don’t mean to put you off” and I would laugh and tell them it didn’t. It didn’t. In HE “you don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps” should be on the job descriptions. You have to embrace the lunacy or you’ll lose your mind. If I had a Pound for every time I’ve asked why something is done that way I’d be a millionaire. Rarely does the explanation make sense but hey, you have to live with it.

Few of us have enough funding to do anything interesting. Few of us have the senior support required to really make fundamental change. Few of us have enthused and engaged staff. Few of us have technologies that work perfectly for everyone. Few of us have it all figured out. Few of us have got it all sorted.

Culture is a hard thing to change. It is an incremental thing. Small victories. It’s gentle, it’s thoughtful and it’s supportive. Some are braver than others but I’d rather make change the right way and it take longer than do something knee-jerk and ill-conceived to get the job done quicker. Here is the challenge we all face. How do we bring about change quickly, to satisfy management, but do it the right way? We’re all working this one out at our different institutions. Our approaches will differ but we can all learn from one another.

I’ll let you in on a little secret, every university is weird. Every university has its problems. Every university is still working on it. Some are traditional, some are running before they can walk but their problems are the same. Some have managed to cover the poop in a little glitter but deep down they’re still wallowing in the poop with the rest of us.

A Learning Technologists Dilemma

To lead or not to lead? That is the question. How radical can you be? That’s also a question. How much change is too much? That’s another question. To find our professional equilibrium we need to find the answers to these questions.

 

So why am I writing this post?

My colleague, and at work sanity saver, Marcus Elliott is leaving us at the end of this week. As he prepares to move on he has been considering his approach at his new institution in his post Singing along, but I don’t know the words.

If I went full ‘Marcus Mode’ from the beginning, instead of inspiring a throng of revolutionary educational change agents, I would probably scare people into their offices and they’d lock their doors. Marcus Elliott (2016)

He’s certainly not wrong, people on the whole have a tendency to avoid change. So this post contains my thoughts and advice on the subject of change and leadership.

To lead or not to lead?

Here I will defer to someone far more knowledgeable than myself. What Lawrie Phipps doesn’t know about change and leadership is not worth knowing. He has watched, advised on and been involved in hundreds of change projects in HE. His opinion is one I treat with deep reverence.

He recently directed me to a post he had written earlier this year, Leading Change in Libraries: A keynote for UXLibs 2 in which he talks about effective change and leadership.

One of the lessons that I have learnt from working in HE is that a lot of people abstain from leadership. Lawrie Phipps (2016)

He talks about the barriers we often cite as the reason for our not leading and completing our projects. I would call this phenomena the “them” effect. It’s very easy to use the “them” or the “that wouldn’t work here” excuse. I’ve said it. We’ve all said it. Sometimes there might be a tiny grain of truth in it.

We, understandably, often see barriers as ‘Them’. Lawrie Phipps (2016)

The one thing I have learned is if you can’t get it done, try doing it differently. If you’ve tried one angle, then try another until you find the right one. Find something that resonates with as many people as possible. Get them on board. Create what Lawrie calls a collective movement. After-all, if enough people agree with you (even better if they are ‘important’ people) then how can anyone argue with you?

This allows for leadership to be a collective movement, spreading and enabling a commitment to change projects. Lawrie Phipps (2016)

How radical can I be?

Marcus describes it as “full ‘Marcus mode'”. I rather enjoy full Marcus mode. His passion, his vision for education and his dedication to making education better are the things I respect most about him. He has shaped my views of education and is the major reason I no longer see myself as a passive member of the institution. I can and should want to make this a better place. Thankfully Marcus knows he is not alone. There are many like us out there who want to do good.

It is a reassuring feeling that “I’m not the only one”. Marcus Elliott (2016)

Amy Collier puts it perfectly in her post Chapter 3 WMTRBW #HortonFreire #OpenEd16. See also: The immorality of service organizations. The post resonated with me, it was like reading your own thoughts.

This is what keeps me up at night. I worry that too many people I admire because they broke the mold and too many centers for teaching who transformed themselves to be more critical, those people are either being squeezed out, or their groups are folding or centering because our campuses are hostile to critical approaches. Amy Collier (2016)

This is my worry, Marcus’s worry and the worry of so many others. If I push too hard, will I be pushed out? Its not an irrational fear. I have seen it happen. In trying to do good, to do the right thing, we somehow manage to annoy people and are told to simmer down or asked politely to leave. It’s totally illogical but people fear change, even if it’s for the right reasons, and they most definitely dislike anyone “sticking their noses” in.

How much change is too much?

That will depend on what you are trying to do, the people you need to involve and the institution that you work at. Surface change, as in change that on the surface looks like change but in reality will change nothing long term, always goes down well. Usually because it’s quick, easy, cheap and satisfies someones vanity. Real fundamental change is hard, takes time and commitment. Unfortunately, the stuff that will really make a difference is usually the stuff that gets enthusiastic nods in meetings but never actually happens. Lawrie cites an inspired analogy from Amber Thomas to explain it. I won’t ruin it for you, read his post.

So what is the answer? I’ll go on to describe a few things I do to keep myself sane.

Learn as much as you can

This is another piece of sage Lawrie Phipps advice. Find out as much as you can about the institution. Information is power. If you understand your institution, if you know all the players and you know all the history, you can make much more informed decisions. Your approach will be adapted to be most successful and you’ll know what you can and can’t get away with.

Working in isolation, from your colleagues, from your managers, and especially from the institutional aspirations and strategy will not create widespread change, in any context. It’s just another dead bird. Lawrie Phipps (2016)

Trying to instigate change without knowing anything is a lot like running in the dark. You can’t see where your going, you can’t see the detail of the topography and you will most likely end up running in to a lamppost. My advice is don’t just go running in with your great ideas and expect people to rally round. Take your time. time is something you have, buy-in is what you need.

Find a balance that will keep you sane

You cannot simply put aside your ideas or your ambition. You will end up frustrated and dissatisfied. What you must do is find something that will allow you to scratch that itch. It might not be the all singing all dancing project you imagined but it’s something and something is better than nothing. Little projects, that contribute to a larger goal, will help keep you sane.

Find a way to channel your energy

In a way this relates to my point above. If you can’t go big, channel your energy in to smaller, but nonetheless worthwhile, change projects. My advice for Marcus would be to continue to write. Become an advocate. His ideas are ones that should be shared, they are worth hearing and should never be locked away to die. Of course action is more satisfying but sometimes we have to work within our confines. Writing your ideas down is cathartic. It will help.

Play the long game

You might not be able to get what you want done in a week. That is a fact of life. Sometimes you have to accept that change will take time. Not only is this due to the slowness of change in HE but also because incremental change is often more effective.

you need to remember that Incremental, Cumulative change is also Transformative. Lawrie Phipps (2016)

Little things add up. Little things make a difference. Sometimes we have to put our egos aside to get things done.

Never give up

Most importantly I would ask you never to give up on what you want to achieve. You might have to put it aside for a while. You might have to scale it down. You might have to change it slightly to work. You might even have to chip away at it a little at a time. But the minute you give up “they” have won and you will feel rotten for it. Be dogged, be ambitious but most importantly be clever. You can do it, don’t give up.

You will note the feature image for this post. Will you chose the red door or a grey door? I’m more inclined to go for the red…

Why won’t the VLE die?

Ever since the inception of the VLE it feels like we have been asking ourselves this question. We await the next generation, the technology that will save us all from the tyranny of the VLE. VLE (or LMS for my American friends) systems are a divisive technology in education. Some people hate them, others love them, most tolerate them. The benefits of their use are still questioned and explored. So if we’re not convinced that they are beneficial, why won’t they die?

If you haven’t read this post, titled Christ, I hate Blackboard written by user Davenoon please do.  Not only is it hilarious, it demonstrates the level of loathing the VLE can produce.

“These are the words, if I could shit them into being, that I would use to catalogue the depth of my loathing for Blackboard.” Davenoon 2014

The comments that follow the article demonstrate the dichotomy of feeling that surrounds the VLE. This post will not debate the virtues of Blackboard, Canvas or Moodle. What I am interested in is why we are still using them. How, given the speed of technical innovation in all other areas, the VLE remains very much unchanged from where it began.

We are asking the wrong question

We constantly ask what the next generation of each technology we use should do. Therein lies my issue, what it should do. What features it should have, what functionality we expect. But this narrows our thinking. Boils learning to a series of tasks and processes. Learning is much more complex than that.

So the question ought not to be why won’t the VLE die, what the next generation should do; rather what do we want to explore. What pedagogies? What teaching methods and strategies? How will technology support or enhance those things?

We allow ourselves to be technology lead

This point really relates to the one above. We spend so much time worrying about the technology, why it doesn’t work, why we hate it, what we want to see, what’s next, that we miss the most fundamental thing.

Technology use is about people. Technology would be nothing if we didn’t use it. It is that interaction between teacher, technology and student that we should be concentrating on. How can technology help to facilitate this interaction, how can it support or enhance it? We should ensure that the technology enhances, not detracts, from the humanity of the learning process.

Technology is created the wrong way

We are feature focused. Probably because that is the way our minds work. We think about activities, “I want students to do x”, because really most technologies just replicate what we do. They rarely fundamentally change our activities, they might make something easier, sometimes technology even enhances an activity but it’s rare that it replaces it entirely.

It’s hard to escape this way of thinking and I’m not smart enough to suggest how we can do it. It is easier to think about features, “I want to be able to do x”, as that is how we are conditioned. Imagine if we could. If our ideas were unbound from reality, to what currently exists and what is currently possible.

When VLEs were first created I’m sure they were answering a teaching need, chiefly the ease of access to materials for students, sadly since then ‘the problem’ appears to have been forgotten and what has been created seems to be a feature heavy unusable beast. Lots of features are being added without rationalisation or thought about how people actually use them or how they interact with ‘real world’ teaching.

We like things that reproduce what we already do.

VLEs were supposed to be a revolution. According to many the VLE would replace the lecture and, in the opinion of many doom mongers, the lecturer too. Students would all learn online without once meeting face to face and the University would crumble in to oblivion. That hasn’t happened (yet) and I can’t see any evidence of an appetite for that amongst the majority of the student body.

Neil Selwyn, in his 2013 book Digital Technology and the Contemporary University: Degrees of Digitization, describes technology as replicating what we do in the real world. The thought had never occurred to me but as I reflected I realised how true that is. We do in class tests, now we do them online. We used to hand in paper assignments, now we do that online. We ask students to discuss topics in class, now we use online discussion boards. We carry out our lectures and seminars online using video conferencing but we’re still largely following the same format as a face to face session, it’s just online. Yes in all of these examples the technology may have brought some efficiency or flexibility but it has made little fundamental change to our processes.

Change is easiest accepted when it’s incremental and I have always found explaining the use of technology easiest when I relate it to something people are already doing. I’m not entirely sure we are ready for a revolution.

Adoption is a matter of culture change

Even if we had something different. We would need to change the existing culture and processes. If you’ve ever introduced something new in to HE, you’ll feel the pain of this process. It is not quick, it’s not painless and it certainly isn’t easy.

Because we will never win

Even IF we could think of something different, some incredible revolutionary environment, I can absolutely guarantee someone would say it doesn’t work for them. It doesn’t suit their needs or their teaching style. So what we end up with is a bloated, mangled, customised behemoth to make sure that everyone is catered for. Then we receive complaints that it’s bloated, mangled and customised and no-one wants to use it.

In my experience, when it comes to technology, we are never going to win.

ICT dictate what we do

Related to the points below, ICT in my experience largely dictate what we can and can’t have. Rightly so, they need to make sure it works with their infrastructure, is sustainable and reliable. But why should we be shackled by their infrastructure? Should we be held back because they do not have the staff with the necessary skills?

Controversial I am sure but it has to be asked. Why do ICT think that they are experts on the learning process? On teaching? On students? They are the experts on technology, on infrastructure, networks etc. but they have limited experience in any other area. If this is what we need to move forward why should they be allowed to hold us back?

Other technologies hold us to ransom

Related to the point above the existing infrastructure will often not allow us to explore what we need to. We are limited by student management systems, timetable systems etc. that we want to plug-in to our environments but won’t work with one another. This is the ICT departments headache and one of the reasons they can be dictatorial about what we adopt.

Our processes hold us to ransom

Neil Selwyn describes the VLE as a tool of management and surveillance. Another way for management to keep an eye on teaching staff. Again, I had never thought of it that way. It helps to explain the scepticism and mistrust that surrounds it. As the VLE has become part of management it has resulted in a high number of processes being integrated with the VLE. In many instances the VLE has become an absolute necessity for these processes to be completed. Once a technology is part of a process it’s very difficult to remove it and even more difficult to persuade people that they can change it. We are creatures of habit.

We don’t like change

And mostly because…

change

 

When does inclusive practice become preferential treatment?

A recent Guardian Higher Education article titled It’s hard being a carer and a PhD student. My university couldn’t care less has inspired me to ask the question; when does inclusive practice become preferential treatment?

I love the Guardian Higher Ed articles, they are always thought-provoking. So what compelled me to write about this one in particular? I think it was how torn I felt when reading it. Based on the title I fully expected to sympathise with this student. I thought I would be compelled to vilify the University. That some terrible injustice had occurred. What I actually felt when reading it was not the overwhelming sympathy I expected.

The article

The article is written by a PHD student and parent to a disabled teenage son for whom they are a carer. They describe the incidents at school, the meetings and hospital appointments they have to manage as part of their sons care. However, they do feel that they are successful in their research but they have not been able to secure funding.

I am starting to win awards for my research and I feel like a success story. Almost. There’s just one problem: I can’t get funding.

In particular the student feels that they are being overlooked when applying for funding and that priority is being given to younger students with top grades and traditional academic backgrounds. They also feel under supported by their University and that the alternative funding routes are used as an excuse for universities not to support students in her situation.

This is discrimination and it is self-perpetuating. We only fund those who have already achieved, and we fund them to continue to achieve.

The student feels discriminated against. It’s a bold word to use and it is the accusation of discrimination that I wish to explore in this post.

The importance of inclusive practice

Let me start by clarifying that this post is not questioning the importance of inclusive practice. I wholeheartedly agree with the principle that all students should have an equal opportunity to excel in their studies.

Inclusive learning and teaching recognises all students’ entitlement to a learning experience that respects diversity, enables participation, removes barriers and anticipates and considers a variety of learning needs and preferences – HEA Academy

What I am questioning is the murky area that exists around inclusive practice. At what point does inclusive practice become preferential treatment. When does ensuring one student isn’t disadvantaged disadvantage the other students? Where is the line?

Support

Clearly the students University is not supporting carers and students in their situation. The student had to explain to every department student advice, student union, graduate school, vice deans and chaplain what a carer was and what that role entails. Rather than helping the student with the issue they were most concerned about, their study and their roles impact on their future, they helped the student with information on benefits. No department was able to help this student with advice on improving their funding applications or academic profile. Instead the student was pointed to the Alternative Funding Guide.

I had to tell them what a carer is. You get the picture. I was invisible

I can completely understand why this student is frustrated. The people who should be able to help are not. I can also see why the student feels being pointed at the Alternative Funding Guide is an easy way for the university to appear to be helping without actually having to help. It reminds me somewhat of the DSA. It’s existence meant we didn’t have to do anything, we had someone else we could fob students off to. The same appears to be the case here. Where can we fob this student off to rather than actually working to introduce the structures and processes that would actually help them.

Academic Achievement and Age

The main points raised were that the funding goes to ‘younger’ students with top grades and ‘traditional’ paths in to academia.

But the funding tends to go to students half my age with straight-A academic results – not to people like me, who have taken an unusual path to academia.

I have to ask what is wrong with that? The student asked why they were turned down for funding and was told it came down to academic results.

“it all comes down to stellar academic results”

This is where I lost sympathy. Funding is provided to support research of significance to its field, given to those who have a proven ability to complete that research to a high standard. Apparently that’s not written on the application forms? Surely someone who has chosen to work in the academic field knows how important academic achievements are?

They don’t say this on the application forms; it’s all about the originality of your project, your research statement, your supervisor’s supporting statement, the panel that considers you, the level of competition.

So even if it came down solely to the criteria listed above originality, research statement, supporting statements etc there is still a huge chance that the students work is not original enough perhaps their statements aren’t as strong as the other students. Perhaps the panel does not feel their area of research is as relevant to their field as another students.

The competition

So why shouldn’t the funding go to the students with the best record of achievement? They too work hard, they too have their own challenges and they deserve to be considered in the same way as all other students. A principle of inclusive practice is that all students should have the opportunity to excel. Yes, this students personal life may make that more difficult but she has the same opportunity to apply for funding as all the other students and should be measured on the same criteria as all other students.

So because this student has a difficult time should the other students miss out on the opportunity, miss out on the fruits of their hard work, because the students personal life and background is unusual. Should we just be giving them funding because they have had a hard time rather than because they actually deserve it?

Positive Discrimination

Would creating funding pools solely for students with diversity and inclusion characteristics be positive discrimination? Would we not be creating a system that favours those students over others. We’re not supposed to discriminate against anyone.

In conclusion

I really found this article divisive. On one hand I felt the student should be getting funding and their circumstances should be considered. But on the other hand, the student is seeking funding alongside students, who for all they know, may have challenges themselves. Sometimes in life you simply have to acknowledge that other people are better than you. Perhaps their circumstances mean they can’t apply themselves in the same way as some of their competition. But that doesn’t mean they should be favoured over the others. We are in academia. Academic skills count.

Funding applications are like job applications. Are you the best person on the day? If you’re not you just have to live with it. That is life.

So what do you think? Where does inclusive practice become preferential treatment?

Social Media: You don’t have to be serious

I started this post before reading I’m a serious academic, not a professional Instagrammer in the Guardian. I have since adapted this post to reflect some of the points raised by the now infamous ‘Serious Academic’.

My original post began with the following:

Are you an avid user or ardent refuser? Do you see the value in building networks and sharing? Do you worry about balancing your personal and professional life? I was, but I realised you can take advantage of social media without having to give all of yourself away.

From conversations I have had with academics, some are reticent to use social media because they fear misuse, don’t see how they can use it, or they don’t wish to share their personal lives online. However, whilst I disagree with everything  said about social media in the article, Serious Academic (SA) raises an issue I had not considered. Perhaps the resistance arises from the behaviour of other users and the negative press social media regularly gets. SA describes academics who use social media as “using social media to impress people that you know – as well as those that you have never met – has now become a professional concern for many academics”.

(I have filled this post with memes because I can imagine it’s the kind of new age, bohemian, hipster-ish nonsense that really annoys Serious Academic.)

“We are in the midst of a selfie epidemic.”

tmi

Here is the one point where I slightly agree with SA. Unfortunately, there are people on the internet who like to ruin it for the rest of us. Through TMI (too much information), over-sharing and endless selfies. Oh right, that’s what you’re having for dinner. Oh you’ve had a bad day and are fishing for attention. You want to lord your latest achievement (however minor) over everyone. You’ve put some lipstick on and thought everyone would like to see.  Please allow me to assure you that these people are the minority of social media users, not the majority.

Do not let these people mislead you. This is not the behaviour you have to aspire to replicate. Social media is not about telling people what you had for dinner or every minute detail of your lives. There are sooo many benefits to learning and teaching.

(I realise the irony of this statement given this tweet)

Mute is your friend

mute

In my opinion SAs problem is following the wrong people. If you don’t like what people are sharing mute them or unfollow them. You are in control of what you see. Don’t whine when someone posts something you aren’t interested in. Just switch ’em off. Choose your followers carefully and you won’t have that problem.

Serious academics don’t use social media

serious

The implication of SA’s article is that those academics who use social media are not ‘serious academics’.  Now I think it’s worth noting that this ‘academic’ seems to be a researcher and there is no reference to teaching at all in the article. So it raises the debate what exactly is a serious academic? That’s a debate for many blog posts, I don’t think we have room to analyse teaching vs research and the  hierarchy of education. According to SA

the dedication I show in the lab, and the subsequent data I collect, should speak for itself. I do not – and should not – have to parade myself online to please my employer or to stake my claim as a good researcher. Can’t we save the showing off for where it’s really needed, in the dreaded grant applications?

Yes you can. Carry on mate. But using social media to promote your work, share your work and connect with peers is nothing to be ashamed of. It does not make you less serious as an academic. What it makes you is someone who is open to trying new things and exploring new ways to disseminate your work. I liked SA’s caveat early in the article “I am speaking from the perspective of a young PhD student, not some cranky old professor harking back to the Good Old Days”. Regardless of your age SA your close mindedness and the bile and vitriol with which you describe your peers is the real concern.

I am not a serious anything. The day I become a serious anything will be the day hell freezes over.

“I see more and more of them live tweeting and hashtagging their way through events”

hashtag

And? If you weren’t aware a lot of event organisers and speakers actively encourage this behaviour from participants. I always provide my Twitter handle or a hashtag when I speak at events. I really enjoy reading the debate and comments after the event and I don’t have a problem with people using their devices while I speak. Shock horror I have even live blogged from events. I know, I can’t be a serious academic.

But it appears that the majority perform this ritual as proof of their dedication to the profession, as if posting a picture marks them out as more enthusiastic than their peers.

This comment smacks of bitterness if nothing else. I would suggest that their presence at a conference, clear engagement with their peers and community is a sign of their enthusiasm for their profession not that they posted a photo whilst there.

I have had countless opportunities and conversations happen as a direct result of tweeting from events and I’m going to carry on doing it. Sorry SA but the fact that it annoys you only serves to make me want to do it more.

Personal vs. Professional

professional

There is a balance to this and only you can decide how much you are willing to share. It is entirely your decision. There is no magic formula. My colleague shares pictures of his family whilst another colleague says they will never post that detail online. That is their decision and depends on what you feel comfortable with. My only suggestion to you is to share as much or as little as you like but always make sure people can see your personality in your posts. Try not to be too formal. The accounts I most enjoy are those who you feel are using their own voice.

Risk

risk

Is Social media use with students risky? Perhaps. I will talk about some strategies to mitigate that in a moment. Is the risk a good reason to not try? Of course not. There is a lot of scaremongering about social media bullying or trolling as it’s commonly called. It happens for sure but much like bad behaviour in the classroom we simply have to deal with it.

Ground Rules

The social media environment is no different to the physical. In a classroom we manage behaviour by setting ground rules. These rules give students clear instruction as to the behaviours that will be expected of them. Setting them before the task begins will mean there is no ambiguity and making clear the repercussions of breaking these rules will also help. If a student behaves inappropriately just tell them they need to modify their behaviour.

Do I have to?

DoNotWant

It has got to the point where those of us who wish to keep our social media accounts private, or for personal use only, face being frowned upon for somehow being less enthusiastic about what we do.

No you don’t. But this is the world we live in. If you don’t want to do it then that is your choice but do not try to make other people feel inferior for doing so.

Perhaps I’m naive, but I need to believe that employability is not directly correlated to how many likes you get on your Instagram posts. I appear to be in the minority, however.

You’re right it’s not. What is based on is your engagement with your peers, your activity in the community and your ability to disseminate your work. Let’s face it, research is as much about prestige for the University as it is for you. Perhaps SA has failed to get a job because someone else is an active social media user, perhaps that is the source of the bitterness? If not they will simply have to get used to the fact that our engagement outside of the ‘lab’ is as important now as the work we do in it. Activities such as social media use can help to set you apart. If you don’t want to that’s your choice, but seriously, don’t insult those who do.

Brilliant Examples

I spoke to a lecturer in Film who told me about his use of Snapchat to share his work with his students. He goes to a lot of film sets and felt they would be interested to see what a real film set looks like and what is involved in working on such a production.

To address the matter of relevance I have included links to some examples of social media use in teaching. My personal favourite is Andrew Westerside’s use of Twitter as a space for performance.

Andrew Westerside: Using digital technologies as a tool for performance #LifeasaFilmSet

Graham Cooper: #inspirado Using Twitter to Encourage Interaction During Lectures

Martyn Thayne: #lsmquestions Using Twitter to Encourage Discussion in Lectures

Lecture Capture: A divisive tool

Lecture capture has become a topic of great debate in Higher Education. Despite the controversy use is increasing. Students have been asking for it and it has appeared in the campaign promises of Student Union sabbatical officers. In this post I describe some of my thoughts on the subject.

Of course students want it

iwantmeme
Because Arnie…

I find the concept of student demand as the driver for lecture capture interesting. If I were to ask you whether you wanted something better than what you had before would you say no? I very much doubt it. I would be more interested in knowing what it is they think lecture capture provides. I am not convinced they really want to sit through 1+ long videos. If they just want a succinct resource on topics surely there are many ways to accomplish that?

It helps everyone

One of the arguments most regularly used to justify the introduction of lecture capture is the fact that it will help international students and those with learning difficulties. That’s true. Being able to rewind, pause and skip to particular areas of content will no doubt make a difference to students learning. Most importantly, like all aspects of inclusive practice, having this facility will help everyone not just those with identified needs.

Engagement with the VLE

The VLE should contain content that students want and need. It should be a space students want to go to, not one they have to go to. Having lecture capture materials automatically added to the VLE drives traffic to the VLE. If there is something students want they will visit the VLE and apparently they want lecture capture.

Intellectual Property and Copyright

A huge concern for academic staff is the ownership of the recordings. Most University’s have a clause that anything produced as part of their normal working is owned by the University. So staff feel they have no power over their content. They fear misuse amongst other things. I can understand this fear, protecting their intellectual property and ideas is a necessary part of a publishing academics life. A clear, well written policy must be available to explain their rights and how the recordings will be used.

Recordings will replace staff

Captured recordings can be used again year on year. As the academic has no power over the use of the resource they naturally fear they will be replaced by a blended model using the recordings they made the previous year. That is highly unlikely.

I often hear this comment and have found it arises whenever a new method of delivering content is introduced. My argument would be if your teaching can be replaced by a recording you should be worried. A recording should never be better than a live experience. If you fear being replaced make your teaching an event not to be missed.

The name is terrible

I really dislike the phrase lecture capture. Firstly, it limits the type of content you might create. It’s not only lectures that are useful to record. Secondly, the word capture has negative connotations.

Capture: Take into one’s possession or control by force.

It feels as though something is being taken from you by force. Your years of hard work, research and teaching preparation taken from you and put online. It’s hardly surprising considering academics dislike of lecture capture arises from feeling forced in to it by management.

Lecture capture is not really a thing

notathing

We like to give things names so that we can go to conferences, write papers and say “yup we have lecture capture”. How about we stop calling it lecture capture and just tell our staff we have a new service for making learning resources. Record your teaching and then edit it in to a learning resource or several smaller resources which can be reused and released to students at a time of their choosing. That’s much more palatable surely?

It takes advantage of academics

I recently described lecture capture as feeling like:

a tool that takes advantage of the academic, rather than a tool an academic can take advantage of.

Lecture capture is purely for the benefit of the students and as such should be reason enough for staff to use it. If students have access to the recordings and results are improved surely that’s a positive for the academic too. But, lets face it, sometimes the effort staff have to put in to use a tool does not equal the benefit in their minds. The recordings take advantage of academics years of hard work, research and preparation and packages it up for easy consumption. It feels like it cheapens education.

So, what do I think?

I think lecture capture (although I would like to change the name or stop using it completely) is a valuable resource. I think it is worthwhile and beneficial to students. I would like to see evidence on the effect it has on student attainment and retention. Perhaps it’s already out there and I have just been too lazy to find it.

I completely understand the resistance to lecture capture. There are a lot of things about it that make me uncomfortable but used in the right way it can bring massive benefits. I do not think recording should be automatic or compulsory. It should be opt in. There should be a pause button, so staff can pause the recording if there is a part of their lecture they don’t want to be recorded. They should be able to make the recordings available only when they feel it appropriate. It should not become an expectation or promise to students. It shouldn’t become a mandate, “you will record all your lectures and have them available on the VLE in 48 hours”. I think behaviours are far better, and tend to stick, when grown organically.

I believe academics are against lecture capture because we have not approached the projects well. Firstly, we call it lecture capture, automatically raising hackles and secondly, we have not preempted their reactions. It is often seen as a tool of management which doesn’t help. Another way the establishment is trying to get rid of them. Communication is key. We need to get in there before the rumour mill starts and tell them why we’re introducing it and why it will benefit their students and, most importantly, how it will benefit them.

ICT vs. Educational Technologists

Relationships between departments, in any sector, can be difficult and HE is no exception. But this came as a bit of a surprise to me whilst enjoying a tipple in the evening at the UCISA Support Services Group conference. Apparently some ICT staff are not keen on the educational technologists at their institution.

I’ve used the name educational technologists though I know full well there are hundreds of different job titles. You may call yours digital education developers, learning technologists, elearning technologists, technology enhanced learning advisers, online content developers and so on.

I’ve never felt any animosity (or any extraordinary animosity) from my colleagues in ICT. There is the usual “that’s not our job” tension but that’s nothing unusual. Perhaps I am oblivious to it or we never work with people who feel this way. I imagine it is an equal mix of the former and latter. So it came as a shock to hear how negatively the Ed Techs are thought of by ICT staff in some institutions. So I thought I’d write down a few thoughts about why this might happen and how we can avoid it.

Dear Ed Techs: ICT are busy

ICT departments are incredibly busy places to work. They have a very broad customer base who pull them in a number of directions. Students, academics, professional services etc. are all vying for their attention. Not only that but they actually have to maintain all of the systems as well as put new ones in. None of these things are easy. We should remember and be mindful of that.

Dear ICT: We are busy too

There is a perception, rightly or wrongly, that Educational technologists float around messing about with new fun technologies. That we spend our days thinking up ways to make ICT’s life more difficult. I assure you we don’t mean to. Whilst we occasionally get to do fun stuff we are most often bogged down in supporting staff in how to use the VLE. Most often training staff on the basic functions.

Dear Ed Techs: ICT are under pressure

I have already mentioned the pressures that a diverse customer base causes ICT. Often it is whoever shouts loudest that gets heard. How many times have staff emailed your ICT Director to complain they weren’t being dealt with quickly enough?

Dear ICT: We are under pressure too

Technology in education has become more and more important. The TEF puts innovation at the heart of teaching. For some reason institutions think by sticking some technology in to teaching it will somehow become innovative. We all know there is no quick answer. Therefore, ed techs are seen as the people to transform teaching. That we can make everyone innovative with a click of our fingers. Unfortunately, we have to start making a significant change. To do that we need to have the infrastructure in place and ICT, that’s where you come in.

Dear Ed Techs: Stop asking for seemingly random stuff

To ICT it probably seems like our requests come out of nowhere. Sometimes they do. We know our rationale. We remember the conversations we have had with staff and students on the subject. We have looked at the alternatives. But ICT have a process they go through and trying to avoid it, because it’s usually long-winded and laborious, is not going to get it done any quicker.

Dear ICT: Let’s not argue

Sometimes it would be nice for us not to have to argue. Filling out your long-winded paperwork and endless meetings. Unless you plan on sitting down and testing all the options I’m sure you’re going to go with whatever we suggest anyway. Also we know our users so we may not go for the shiniest thing with all the features we might just go for what we know they’ll use. That may seem odd to you but we have thought it through I promise.

Dear Ed Techs: ICT have a limited budget

Although ICT budgets appear huge to an outsider they are not and they are usually allocated for specific projects. Enterprise infrastructure is expensive. So when you roll up with “its only 2k” that may seem insignificant but it’s not. It’s a lot of money when every penny has been carefully allocated at the start of the year. Find out when the budget run is and try to get your requests in as early as possible.

Dear ICT: We don’t have a budget

Our team doesn’t have a budget for technology and licensing. That doesn’t seem to be something the University thinks would be helpful. So we rely heavily on ICT. When we say we have no money, we really mean it. Let’s work together to secure an ‘innovation’ fund. So when we ask you for stuff there is some money set aside already.

Dear Ed Techs: ICT don’t want to install stuff just because it’s cool

We all want to play with the latest thing. If anything that’s kind of our job but ICT have enough to do. They can’t just install stuff because we think it’s cool.

Dear ICT: We need a way to play with the cool stuff

Technology changes quickly. Educational technology changes quickly and we need to be able to move with that change. If it takes a year to get something installed it’s often out of date by then. What would be great is if we could have some way of installing things, testing them and, retiring them if they are not well used or rolling them into production if they are.

Dear Ed Techs: ICT have a process

ICT sometimes appears to be being difficult for the sake of it. I know that is not the case. Many ICT departments use a framework called ITIL which help to process the vast number of tasks they have to complete. It also helps to prioritise what they are doing, when they do it and who does it. ICT go through a demand management process. They get so many requests they have to prioritise and schedule them.

Dear ICT: We can’t do it without you

We are not able, nor should we, nor would you like it, if we started building up servers and installing anything we like willy-nilly. Nor do you appreciate it when people buy stuff without your knowledge. So we need you to do stuff for us. Trust me there are times where we’d much rather just do it ourselves but we can’t. We have to go through you.

You know we need you.

Dear Ed Techs: What you think is important may not be top priority

Sometimes there are pressures on their time and activities that have to take priority. We may not agree with them but we have to be mindful that our priorities may not always be aligned. Take a deep breath and don’t chuck your toys out of the pram. Try and work within the existing systems rather than outside them. You’ll probably get somewhere much faster.

Dear ICT: Please acknowledge that teaching is important

I have acknowledged the diverse needs that constantly pull on ICTs time. But I will finish with my biggest frustration. That you don’t acknowledge that teaching is important and ultimately why we are here.

If teaching is terrible students won’t turn up. If students don’t turn up we won’t have jobs. Yes I know that the finance system, HR system and WiFi are all important. They underpin everything. But if a lecture theatre computer is broken that’s not a big issue in the grand scheme. But it’s a massive issue for that member of staff and those students. Acknowledge that when they call you. Fix it quickly. Don’t leave it for days.

Dear ICT: Let’s work together

You play a crucial role in the University. What you do, day-to-day, affects everyone. There are few departments who have such an impact on people’s lives. We rely on you. So let’s just start working together. Let’s talk about how we can work together. What we need from you and what you need from us. What we can do together to make a difference. Let’s stop focusing on problems and start finding solutions.

 

UCISA SSG16 Day 1: People, Service, Duty

This is my first UCISA Support Services Group conference. It has always been, in my mind, “not for me”. It has always struck me as being for ICT professionals. That the presenters and attendees will not speak my language. I imagined it being full of tedious sessions with people droning on about their latest implementation of something or other. So far SSG16 has been quite wonderfully the opposite.

Tech-savvy

This phrase is a bug bare of mine. “Our staff/students are all tech-savvy and want to use xyz”. NO they are not. If you go and sit with enough of them you’ll soon see. It’s dangerous to assume that your users know how to do what you think they should. It’s not just dangerous, it’s arrogant. Stop it. If you’ve not seen the work Jisc has been doing around digital capabilities then go and take a look at their blog Jisc digital capability codesign challenge blog and James Clay’s elearning stuff blog.

Delivering excellence in public services; customers, challenges and collaboration

Aline Hayes, Director of Business Change and Information Solutions, Sheffield City Council

Aline delivered an interesting presentation on the approach to service delivery at Sheffield City Council. She emphasised the importance of engagement and collaboration with the end-user. There was some practical detail about their approach to ‘suppliers’ working as services or partners. She emphasised the important role the council plays in the loves of vulnerable people and how even the seemingly insignificant loss of services can have big consequences.

There was a lot of talk of customers. HE staff shudder at the word (though it’s not surprising for the council to use the term). Let’s not use the word but lets assume the principles that the word invokes. Trust, empathy, service and care. Our students and staff are using our services. Those services should be quality.

Despite being interrupted by a fire alarm evacuation Aline continued her delivery with aplomb.

Problem management on a shoestring!

Garry Hunter, Problem Manager, Northumbrian Water Group

I really enjoyed this presentation. Not only did Garry deliver it with zeal and engagement but he was making sense. Get to the root of the problem, fix it so it doesn’t happen again. Yes please. He’ll know he’s done a good job when they make him redundant.

What annoys staff most is when something is broken, ICT know it is, but they do nothing. They don’t care how long it takes to fix, or how hard it is, they just want it fixed!

Business showcase

The conference is split up by business showcases. The less said about today’s presentation the better. Mainly because I couldn’t hear it and doubt I would have listened even if I could.

Creating user centric services whilst maintaining corporate compliance – is it possible in higher education?

Andrew Howe, Head of End User Services, University of St Andrews

I LOVED this presentation. Andrew was speaking my language. No more technology for technology’s sake. Andrew presented a list of ‘things’ our students use and want. I think this is dangerous. There are a lot of students who don’t use those things and have no interest in them. Try asking them? But remember if you ask them if they want it they’ll say yes. Instead ask what they want to do. Then find the technology to make that happen!

Andrew reminded us that staff are not always capable of doing what ICT expect from them. Thank you. Digital capabilities…they aren’t all Bill Gates…support them…bla bla bla. (Read my other posts)

20×20 More than just a degree

Sally Bogg, Head of End User Services, Leeds Beckett University

This was an incredibly personal, heartfelt and sincere presentation. Sally shared her life experiences and the transformative experience HE has been for her. It was wonderfully refreshing. It reminded me of why I started working in HE. Why I love it. Why I get up every day.

We can touch lives. We can change lives for the better.

20×20 ICT vs academics

Timothy Ingham, Operations Manager, and Kerry Pinny, Digital Education Developer, University of Lincoln

Tim and I presented on the results and subsequent actions of a survey we sent to ICT and academic staff. If you work in HE you will appreciate there is a volatile relationship between the two. To summarise ICT don’t understand academics and academics don’t understand ICT. As a result everyone’s a bit dissatisfied and unsupported. We’re developing a ‘day in the life of’ session so they can share their experiences and develop understanding.

Dinner and Treasure Hunting

Dinner/food is the make or break of a conference. The dinner was informal BBQ style food. Long queue but the English revelled in it. Dinner was followed by a treasure hunt. The image for this post is our team cramming themselves in to a phone box. We were dedicated. The hunt was a walking tour of Leeds with some theft activities thrown in. Great fun and a brilliant ice-breaker.

Links

UCISA SSG16 Day 2: Boxes, Bees, Dance

UCISA SSG16 Day 3: Thinking, Hacking, Brilliance

Matthew Saunders: UCISA Support Services Conference 2016 – Learning and Listening

 

Students: I’m worried about you

I’m worried about students and I’m worried about education. There has been a move over the past few years that has seen students lose site of the reason they attend University. Perhaps I’m just an idealist.

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world. Nelson Mandela

Learning to Pass the Assessment

This is the shift that frightens me most. I have heard a number of students, undergraduates and postgraduates, question why they are asked to complete assignments and work that do not contribute to their final marks. For example, a student was quite affronted that they had been asked to create a blog when they only needed to pass the dissertation to complete the course. There seemed to be no understanding of the skills that a blog develops. Particularly those of reflection.

Another student stated that they could only be tested on the content delivered in their lectures. Therefore, there is no point doing the extra reading and activities suggested by their tutors.

We can find the roots of this attitude in secondary and further education. I remember being told we’ll learn about this today because that will be something that may come up in your GCSE exam. We have been conditioned to learn to pass tests that assess very narrow, specific knowledge.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark. Michelangelo

Independent Learning

The amount of work students are supposed to do independently seems to affront them. “Why am I paying 9k a year to not be taught by someone”. The idea that they should not be spoon-fed is seemingly new to them. Yes, all independent learning should be guided. Students shouldn’t just be left but they must develop the skills to learn independently. Maybe we need to make that clearer to them on application to manage expectations.

We are supposedly developing people to be productive members of society and in their employment. A big part of that is independence and initiative.

Tuition Fees

The introduction of Tuition Fees saw a change in the approach of students to their studies. I have heard many times “is that what my 9k a year is paying for”. I started university in 2007 and was one of the first cohorts of students to pay tuition fees. Granted mine were a more reasonable 3k a year with the additional grant repayments.

Tuition fees have introduced the idea of education being value for money. That University is better because with that course I get an extra hour of contact time, a free coffee and a hug once a week. Yes I’m being facetious. What happened to learning for learning’s sake?

I have always enjoyed the gym analogy. You don’t become Arnold Schwarzenegger simply by having a gym membership card in your wallet. You join the gym, work hard, put the effort in and you might become Arnold Schwarzenegger. It won’t be quick and it certainly won’t be easy.

You get what you put in to education. If you work hard, you’ll see results.

NSS and League Table culture

The NSS and the multitude of league tables have compounded the tuition fee effect. Students are now balancing their course choices with the overall position of the university. When you look at the numbers there is often a hairs breadth between universities on the table.

It has led to a number of knee jerk initiatives, often ill-conceived, with the aim of driving universities up the table. Yes there is the desire there to increase quality, never a bad thing, but it has a worrying dark side. The Guardian has suggested that  University staff will be held to ransom by student consumers.

We’ll do what they want, however unreasonable, so we don’t upset NSS.

Monetisation and the “Knowledge Economy”

The current government is hell-bent on monetising education. Creating what they describe as ‘choice’ for students. Given there are 127 institutions listed on the Complete University Guide do we really need more choice?

We’ve seen some of the controversy surrounding private providers with University awards statuses. If you didn’t see it watch the dispatches investigation on YouTube.

Choice does not denote quality. Will it force universities to up their game. Definitely. It may even result in more specialised courses and widened participation. Though a serious question mark still hangs over how they plan to ‘police’ and measure the quality of Higher Education institutions.

I spent an hour at one of our open days talking to a student about which university they should go to. I’m not a career councillor so I talked from my experience of choosing a university and the sort of things she should consider in her decision-making.

I don’t think more choice will lead to quality and I don’t think it will make students decisions any easier.