Thursday, 1 December 2016

The Lecture is DEAD! Long live the Learning session!

So, the lecture is dead is it BBC?
Or, more to the point, it should have been euthenased a long time ago as MOOCs, digital provision, e-learning and on-line everything else took over the world.  Trouble is - nobody told the Universities or the students...

Exciting lecturer in full flow - courtesy of  Echo 360 Lecture Capture
The thing is that the lecture - and we're saddled with that name - is an integral part of the expectations of students, borne of parental experience, School guidance (by teachers who have been at University) and media portrayals where exciting revalations or drama happen in the last two minutes of a session (see Good Will Hunting (1997) for example).  Lectures also owe a lot to the estates designs of Universities where the bean-counting "stack 'em high" principle often overpowers the peadagogic quality judgement of small class teaching or workshops (and don't start me on the insistent voice of KIS - see my earlier blog where "contact time" bears no relationship to the quality of provision.)

Lectures also owe a lot to our history - after all, who becomes a lecturer today?  Typically those who have shown good academic skills in undergraduate or postgraduate study, have been funded to or enthusiastic enough to do a PhD from which they can publish.  When these folks consider what it is to prepare for a lecture they fall back on their own experience - having been taught by a series of "lecturers" with similar academic journeys to their own.

So, let lectures be more innovative, less anal, more entertaining, less rigid.  Let lecture sessions be PART of the overall learning in a subject - not ALL of it.  Let's embrace technology but not be guided by it.  Let's be enthusiastic about our subject and have that apparent in the way we teach and the energy we expend in explaining it to oiur students.

As one experienced colleague said to me recently:

"I can't stand listening to myself for more than about 10 minutes, so why should I expect anybody else to?"

We can start by reviewing Phil Race's FREE downloads which do need to be updated for technology but not the pedagogy behind the ideas.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

The best of intentions

In any well ordered (I did not say effective) Higher Education provider the Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs) of degree programmes not only mirror the benchmark statements for the specific discipline but are also echoed in the individual modules that form part of the programme.
But are these ILOs just for show and for satisfying the "light touch" regulators and global accreditors?  Are the intentions actually delivered?
Picture by iosphere at

What we do not want to do in Higher Education is to:

 "put the notes of the lecturer into the notebooks of the students without passing through the minds of either"

But the methods by which we test whether students have actually achieved the ILOs rely on key skills to be developed and honed whilst at University.  These skills are quite basic and include:

  1. Organising yourself  - the key cause of plagiarism is poor time management and poor organisation of source materials.
  2. Communication (written and oral) which is the way in which we let others know the depth of our knowledge and clarity of our arguments.
  3. Finding Information - OK so, not so basic in the era of the intranet, but todays millenials have been practisining this for years and still coming up short.
  4. Analysis - of the information found.  This is the skill of organising your research, thinking about what it actually means, keeping or discarding it and communicating your insights.
Oh, it looks as if I have written the assessment criteria for nearly every degree programme.

So, isn't it about time lecturers took as much time in developing skills in these things, rather than imparting ever more "knowledge" that will be out of date by the time students graduate?

Thursday, 17 November 2016

More Porter Vice Chancellor? (1)

In this first of a series of posts about competition in Higher Education I rehearse Michael Porter's 5 Forces model in an attempt to try to understand competition - or the illusion of competition in Higher Education.  My focus is on the UK, long held to provide the benchmark of Higher Education (largely by itself) but without clear analysis Universities risk stumbling into strategic futures that they are unprepared for.

after M.E.Porter (1979)
In Porter's industry model the four external forces are threats or measures of power - Threat of new entrants, Threat of Substitutes, Bargaining power of buyers and suppliers.  Each force can impact the nature of competition within an industry and add to internal factors that indicate how players jockey for position within the sector (rivalry).

So, for UK Higher Education:

  • What barriers exist to keep out unwanted competition in the form of new entrants?
  • How much power do buyers (and who, exactly are they?) actually have?
  • How much power do suppliers (and again, who are they?) have?
  • What substitutes exist - other than that suggested by Derek Bok (Harvard): "If you think education is expensive - try ignorance".
  • How do Universities play out the rivalry between themselves - with some fees effectively fixed at below cost and some above it?
In my next post about this I will explore the Threat of entry - how worried should Porter imbibing VCs be?

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Less is more

When the Key Information Set (KIS) was introduced a few years ago UK Universities were "measured" using a number of metrics that purported to show the "quality" of their undergraduate provision.  The KIS was meant to be a guide to University applicants and had to be displayed on University websites as well as on the Unistats website.

Picture by africa at
Measures such as graduate employment, typical accommodation costs and student satisfaction (NSS Q22) jostled for position alongside the metrics associated with programmes of study: fee levels, contact hours and % of assessment that were exams.  I mused on the subject in 2015 in my blog post KIS my...
Many educators doubted the wisdom of distilling the student experience to a number of metrics, yet the "bean counting" philosophy running through legislation purporting to provide "transparency" and "accountability" won.  Universities had little direct control over the key metrics such as NSS scores and employment rates, although they could argue that the indirect influence was strong.
However, Contact hours were something that could be heavily influenced and controlled - but where to be?
  • Should a programme show lower than average contact hours to reflect reality and to underpin the "independence of learning in HE"?
  • Should a programme have comparable hours to competitor providers, nullifying the use of the metric as a discriminator? OR
  • Should the programme show higher than average contact hours to show value for money to students and "old fashioned" values that appeal to parents?
Of course, the irony was that no choice actually showed the quality of learning.

And, then there's the HEA Engagement Survey that shows that independent study is more important than contact hours - Less is more.  back to the drawing board for the metrics approach?

Thursday, 3 November 2016

RESEARCH means RESEARCH........but what does that MEAN?

"Research is what I'm doing when I don't know what I'm doing." (Wernher Von Braun) - that may have been good enough for Hitler, but Universities and Journal Editors do seem to be rather more conservative.
original picture from 2016, graffiti by Bob's nephew

Monday, 24 October 2016

The REF Song

With apologies and acknowledgements to Morecambe and Wise
To the tune of "Bring me Sunshine..."

Bring me papers in your file,
Bring me impact all the while,
In this world, where we live, there should be more four star prose,
So much dross you can send, to each brand new online journal,
Make me happy, through the years,
Never share your, rejection fears,
Let your Facebook friends cite you, so that you can cite them back,
Bring me output, bring me funding...or Get the sack!

Image courtesy of Sira Anamwong at

Sunday, 23 October 2016


CITESTORE© is a MUST HAVE for all budding academics.  This simple app (not available in iStore or Andoid formats) is based on academic discipline specific REF approved and star graded journal articles.
Picture by patrisu at
  1. CITEES upload their publication details
  2. THE CITESTORE© APP allocates a score to each item based on:
    - Journal ranking / Conference standing
    - Popularity of discipline
    - Authors' home institution
    - A magic number that only the app knows©
  3. CITEES agree NOT to make their work available on other so called research sites for 6 months after publication
  4. CITERS use keywords to search for concepts / ideas to CITE in their own papers
  5. And now here's the UNIQUE part....

    © based on their CITATION activity.
    THEN redeem CITEPOINTS© by being favoured by those they CITE

    © can be earned and redeemed as follows:

Nobel prizewinner Bob Dylan considers the App "a crock of cite" (possibly misheard).