Thursday, 23 March 2017

Same problem - different solution

There is an apocryphal story about NASAs millions of dollars spent on a pen that would write in a zero gravity environment - and the contrasting story that the Russians took pencils during the 1960's Space Race.  OK, so the USA had millions of dollars to spend and Mother Russia didn't, but that does not hide the fact that there are often effective and better value solutions available for many problems.

"Developed" and "Developing" world solutions
So, rather than engineer a complex solution, possibly costing many millions of pounds, dollars or roubles and label it "innovation", why not ask some of the most innovative people in the world - those who have to "make do" with very scarce resources, low wages, poor buildings and all manner of drawbacks that the developed nations (and their students) take for granted?

"Back to basics" is a common expression but how many of us actually reflect enough to consider what the "basics" are?  In an air conditioned, VLE supported, Lecture Captured, newly upholstered, "state of the art" lecture theatre teachers can often struggle to foster student engagement.  Students are persuaded that they are consumers, that the government is "on their side", that the privilege of education is actually a right and that their "satisfaction" is all that rally matters.  The notion that they must actually participate, i.e. give as well as take, is alien to their thinking.

Contrast with the schools and colleges in less well developed nations where education is fought for, families make sacrifices and engagement comes from the students, themselves, rather than their seeking it entirely from their teachers.

I'm off to Africa.  It's warmer there anyway.

Friday, 17 March 2017

This job could be for you...

Do you really want to change your job for XYZ University?  Do you have any hope of doing so or would it be too disruptive and costly just to have the pleasure of sticking your fingers up at your current employer?  You came into University teaching to make a difference but you find that so many things are set against you - including being a second class citizen in a teaching institution that does not reward teaching.

So, what's the solution?  Simple...say the following phrase out loud and as frequently as possible:

Please excuse the crayon but they don't allow me sharp objects any more.
Working for yourself is not a career choice or a "new economy" solution, it is a state of mind, an attitude - but one with its own Person Specification:

You will not get that promotion, nor that deserved reward - but you will be happier, and that's priceless.

Friday, 10 March 2017

Tadpoles, Boiled Frogs and Bullfrogs

Spring is with us in the UK and with it ponds and lakes teem with mating frogs (climbing on the lady frog to get a better view, as we eplained to our 6 year old grandson).  Soon spawn will.....well, spawn, tadpoles will emerge, sunshine will bring activity and the birds will swoop down to eat the unwary.
The few will survive to sink to the murky bottom of the water over the Winter only to emerge next Spring to re-start the cycle - Ahhhh the glories of nature.

One analogy used in Corporate Failure theory is that of the frog life cycle.  Firstly, the tadpole - the start-up business that never survived.  The Bullfrog - the business that lurched its way to failure, and the "boiled frog" that would jump out of the pan if the water was boliing but often failed to feel the water around it warming up until it was too late...

I re-purpose this analogy in terms of student progression and illustrate it below:
No frogs or students were harmed in the use of this analogy
TADPOLE students never really settle in Higher Education, they may be immature, ill prepared, wrongly advised or simply too hopeful that prior studies have given them the foundation needed for independent study.  Of course, properly guided, protected and supported the TADPOLE could continue on an upward trajectory.

BULLFROG students have a patchy performance at University, the causes can be the same as the TADPOLE but they operate at a level sufficient to survive each lurch of performance.  Good pastoral systems can revive flagging spirits, aid time management and encourage less partying.  Whilst the illustration shows the BULLFROG student at a high level of ultimate success it is equally likely that performance will plateau.

BOLIED FROG students also have a tipping point, they can crash and burn (if you can burn in boliing water that is) or can acclimitise themselves to the warmth and challenge of the hotter water and plough on to the highest performance.

The challenge for Universities, therefore, is to identify the different types of frog, guide, nurture and support them so that all fulfil their potential.  We cannot leave it to Darwin and nature to select the fittest.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

TEF's critical friend

As Universities in the UK submit their Year 2 TEF self-reports and metrics, measuring what only metrics can, are collated it is instructive to consider the 10 elements of self-report and ask some critical questions.
The Self-reports follow a format of reflection on:

Teaching Quality, through: Student Engagement (TQ1); Valuing Teaching (TQ2); Rigour and Stretch (TQ3) and Feedback (TQ4).
Learning Environment, through: Resources (LE1); Scholarship, Research and professional Practice (LE2) and Personalised Learning (LE3).  And, finally,
Student Outcomes and Learning Gain through: Employment and Further Study (SO1); Employability and transferrable skills (SO2) and POsitive Outcomes for All (SO3).

So what should the critical friend ask?

That should do as a starter for 10 Bamber.

Thursday, 23 February 2017

Yes, No, Brilliant, Brilliant, Brilliant....

Worried about your TEF submission?
Another Strategy meeting looming?
That promotion beckoning?
Preparing for external accreditors?
Want to make your keynote stand out?


The  Generator Of Jargon for University Management Purposes  (GO_JUMP) is here!

Just select one word from each column to generate a thought provoking phrase that will have your audience mystified and your Management team stupefied but will not burden your presentation with unnecessary meaning.


This simple matrix provides 512 separate and different phrases, making the risk of accidental plagiarism from a Donald Trump speech very unlikely.

Complete satisfaction or your monkey back.

Friday, 17 February 2017

The plagiarism iceberg

Plagiarism is becoming very commonplace in today's Higher Education. The plagiarism that is detected and punished represents tip of an enormous iceberg.  It is relatively easy to detect passages copied from published sources through text matching software and sooner or later  the use of essay mills is discovered.

But there is much below the waterline of the iceberg that still needs attention:

Collusion: between students and between tutors and students.  How far can we rely on the innate honesty of "consumer" students hourly paid teaching staff and the collusion that emanates from a "teaching to the test" mentality as this gets good feedback marks?

Lazy assessment: how many times are the same, tired, old, essays trotted out as coursework assignments?  Surely examiners can be more imaginative and authentic in designing assessments?  Problem based learning, case studies, presentations and artefacts are all capable of being moulded into the HE syllabus.

Better Organisation: very little discovered plagiarism is actually due to a desire to cheat or gain unfair advantage.  Examiners, however, can never devine the student's intent, they only see the product.  Being better organised, having a training in paraphrasing and in appropriate referencing ae often the prescription if this crime is to be erradicated.

So, let's focus on prevention rather than punishment and sink the icebarg once and for all.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Learning Gain

When I was very little I knew absolutely nothing.
When I was six I had learned not put my finger in a plug socket.
By ten I had learned that most children were quite smelly.
By eleven I had learned that nobody likes a swot.
At sixteen I had learned other things I cannot put here.
At twenty one I learned that being six was a blissful state that I wanted to return to.

What did HE learn?

We live our lives learning - even though we go through an education system that pides itself on helping us to learn - the fact is that we learn anyway.  Trying to measure learning is fraught with methodological and measurement difficulties, lack of appropriate control benchmarks and influenced by environmental variables.  So why do we bother?

Ah, well.  Those in receipt of public money and who are accountable to "society" for their efforts, such as Doctors, Nurses, Policemen, Firemen, Teachers and Lecturers need a way to be shown to be doing their jobs.  Measuring them in ways that can be measured is the brilliant response that our political leaders grope for.

So, that's alright then.