Thursday, 29 September 2016

Essay mills - a gap in the market.

Essay-mills are the latest in a series of phenomena designed by cheats to help students to fool themselves that they deserve the marks and award they are given. Whilst plagiarism has been with us for as long as academics have published their work the use of text-matching software and the ability to both buy and sell essays has been facilitated more recently by the Internet.

Of course teaching staff can reduce the incidence of cheating by designing new and unique assignments, using authentic assessments, writing their own case studies and, quite simply, by using different assignments every time.

Cheat Cloud by https://tagul.com/


But wait, there's a gap in the market here. Clearly, essay mills could extend their scope by recycling assignments to hard pressed academics! Why just sell the answers when you can re-cycle and sell the questions too?

Thursday, 22 September 2016

At last - a metric for Teaching Excellence in Business (TEB)

Detractors of the UK's latest attempt to control and manage education through the blunt instrument of  the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) must think again.  Of course excellent teaching can be measured!!

The Research Excellence Framework (REF) has proved to be a brilliant pre-cusror to TEF.  Excellent research has, undoubtedly been undertaken under its auspices, although some doubt if the REF panels would know it if they saw it.  Not me!!  Of course the best research is undertaken by the best (and highest paid) researchers who need to isloate themselves from the  day to day confusion and distraction of teaching and counselling students and managing cash cows for their respective Universities.

So, here are my ideas for "scoring" academics for Teaching Excellence in Business (TEB) - it follows an "unbalanced scorecard" framework and focuses on (almost) measurable data:


Someone just pointed out that I used TEB in a previous blog about a Chinese "Super bus" scam and that in French it stands for trop d'éléphants blanches.

So I'm seeking a new acronym.......


Friday, 9 September 2016

Ode to professors

Professors are magical creatures
Who possess superior features
And given the time
They make limericks rhyme
Which is more than can be said for ordinary lecturers

The glittering prize

As an academic I always felt reassured, rewarded and strangely happy at the bi- annual graduation ceremony. It's not just about dressing up in quasi ecclesiastical garb and prancing about on stage (although that does appeal). It's also about meeting the parents, seeing students in reasonably decent clothes and taking bets on which of them will topple off their impossibly high heels and land in the  Vice Chancellor's lap as they totter across the stage.
Picture by David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net


For a number of years I have had the pleasure of handing certificates to graduates as they leave the stage. I have even taken the place of the Dean and announced the names - my pronunciation and pace were remarked upon by the Pro Vice Chancellor.

And yet...

3 or 4 years work - even hard work, a potential £50,000 in debt and conflicting evidence of the "graduate premium" that will make it financially worthwhile..........eventually.
And, to top that - a maximum of 5 years credibility through being able to offer that same certificate to employers who may well filter applicants by University name, then degree class, then other criteria.

So, no wonder students and employers are considering other routes to graduation.  Apprenticeships, School Leaver programmes and Corporate Universities are alternatives to the traditional University experience.

The degree certificate is no longer, by itself, the currency that graduates need. Indeed it is an entry ticket. The glittering prize is just how well and fully students learn and mature and develop skills whilst pursuing a subject that really interests them.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

The art of reflection

Looking at my grizzly and often blurred image in the mirror every morning makes me consider the value of true reflection.  For a start, I see myself the wrong way round.  I also see myself in 2D.  I also see myself as an older person with blemishes that I did not use to have.

Far better to use a 3D webcam pointing at me and displaying the photo-shopped and airbrushed images it captures as holograms (does that even exist yet?)

What we think is a reflection may only be 2 dimensional, will certainly show "warts and all" and may not be our own viewpoint but that which others see or expect to see.

Picture "Swan Mirror Image" by Dr Joseph Valks at freedigitalphotos.net

Teachers in HE are aware that the goal of students becoming reflective and independent learners, developing their own journeys through the academic maze, needs to be nurtured and supported.  Many of us have attempted to encourage students to learn about their own strengths and development needs (note: I did not say weaknesses as I've been on the Diversity course).

But in an on-line portfolio where the expectation is that material WILL escape at some time, how honest are students?  How honest, indeed, when their tutor is the most likely sole reader of their blog, reflection or portfolio - and that it might be used as the basis of assessment and even marks.....

So, how do we give students the confidence to be honest with us?  to tell the truth to themselves and to benefit from reflection as part of their learning journey?  Certainly the "massification" of HE does little to help.  Student Staff ratios exceeding 20:1, in theory, (40:1 in practice once absent professors are factored in), helps even less.  Calling students "customers" is damaging too as it implies passive delivery of "learning" in exchange for payment.

Back to the old days?  That is hardly realistic, but we do need to build trust relationships between tutors and students, we do need to focus on the student's learning and we do need to forge ways in which genuine reflective practice can flourish.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

If it looks too good to be true....it probably is too good to be true

Of course we all want the best return on our investments but by their nature, returns come in the future and may not bear any resemblence to past returns and if we do not do our homework properly and use common sense then the returns may never come.

Good research and asking lots of questions is the way to reduce risk of disappointment or loss - a lesson learned the hard way as reported by Bloomberg in respect of the Chinese super-bus project TEB.

Was it a PONZI scheme?  was it a simple case of "buyer beware" for frustrated Chinese investors?

Universities can learn lessons from this - and many are.  League tables and metric based indicators such as graduate employment rates and NSS scores show past performance of other people in different economic conditions.

What today's astute student needs to do is to ask lots of questions about how these metrics are achieved, whether thise factors have changed - in fact, whether the investment is likely to pay off.

Now, I'm not suggesting that any Universities are running Ponzi schemes but they do need to embrace not only social media (in an honest and not corporate way), They need to have Tasters and Open events so that prospective students can really feel the fabric.  The experience pre-University needs to be authentic so that more round pegs are placed in round holes and pure metrics (and here we can include A level grades) are treated with the weight they deserve.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The magic firkin

Once upon a time the was a magic firkin (hogshead or cask).  It's magic properties included the apparent impossibility of filling it.

One day Baron Thomas arrived in the village. He and his friends had been drinking at the fountain of hope and expectation and needed to relieve themselves. The Baron began to  use the firkin. His friends followed suit and soon the firkin was full. Baron Thomas went back to his castle, happy and confident that the firkin had done its job well.

COURTESY OF GRAPHICS MOUSE AT FREEDIGIOTALIMAGES.NET


But the Baron was a cautious and jealous leader and wanted the firkin to be exclusively for his own use - so he appointed an overseer to supervise it. The overseer never thought to empty it and it stood, steadfastly, in the village centre, full but not overflowing. Every few days the Baron used his exclusive firkin and handed back to the overseer's safe keeping, to ensure that the firkin could not be used by anyone else. 

The Baron protected the firkin from abuse by others by announcing that the firkin was enchanted - a magic cask that could never be filled up.  The cask became know, locally, as Thomas' Enchanted Firkin (TEF for short).  However, over a number of years the contents of the firkin became stale and began to be a health issue for many who worked near it.  Neither the Baron nor the overseer really bothered about it - because the firkin was doing the job it was always intended to do and the enchanted status meant that nobody asked serious questions.

One day the overseer needed to relieve himself too and turned to the full firkin.  He was mindful of the Baron's orders and the nature of the enchantment and so ensured that nobody saw him.  He used the firkin and found, to his immense surprise, that it coped with his needs without overflowing, complaining or leaking.

"Truly, this is a magic firkin" said the overseer  and told the population that they lived in a truly blessed realm.

Once again Baron Thomas came to the village and relieved himself in the firkin.  He then emptied the contents over the overseer as a punishment for disobeying his orders. It was then that the firkin realised that the reason why it never filled up was that someone - probably the Baron himself - had arranged to extract its contents under cover of nightfall so that it appeared never to fill up.  The act of tipping the firkin upside down had stirred the firkin's memory.

The moral of this story is that there is no such thing as a magic firkin that will never overflow and that the country's leaders will often take the pee.

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