Wednesday, 23 March 2016

View from Down Under

Academic tourism is a wonderful thing (for academics and airlines) but every once in a while academics have to work hard to "earn" their travel and accommodation perks.  Visiting Australia is a wonderful (academic) experience, especially if the visit's by-product is to see just what advances, innovations and expectations that an HE system, restricted by its demography, the distraction of breathtaking scenery and kangaroos roaming about campuses, the UK can learn from.
Taken by Mr Norman's Dad
...and there are quite a few lessons that can be packed in the hand-luggage and brought home:
  • International students do not represent "easy money" - accommodating educational visitors requires excellent support resources if the students are to maximise benefit from the experience.
  • Educational Scholars, those who research and study to improve the student experience are lauded and valued amongst their peers, although not, perhaps, amongst their employers.
Hang on...I could have told you that without going all the way to Australia to find out!


Friday, 18 March 2016

Nottingham Forest and the attention span of a jellyfish

Unfair on jellyfish I hear you cry!!

But much on-line learning material designed for the modern generation of student suggests that 7 minutes is the optimum time for on-line video.  Plenty of academics fear that the lecture (typically 1 or 2 hours) is dead (see Turner, 2015 for example).  Podcasts, videos of lectures etc. are becoming more accessible for teachers and students alike but are we doing our students justice?

Many young people will maintain rapt attention to a 90 minute football match (even Nottingham Forest), just as long to a F1 race, longer to the many variants of cricket...the list of examples is long.

So what has football got that lectures haven't?  For that matter what have movies or plays, concerts and recitals have that lectures do not.

You are too polite to say this but.....they aren't BORING.

Make your own word clouds at

You know what to do...

Thursday, 10 March 2016

Bankers: Professionals or Parasites?

Much has been written about the greed, negligence, recklessness, selfishness and foolishness of banks over the past 10 years.  It does not really help that the profession or trade of banking is inherently parasitical (after all banks do lend other people's money and keep the profits for themselves).
My favourite type of bank - photo captured in Taipei

Over that same period of time an "alternative HE provider" (what an ugly term) has arisen - the ifs University College.  Actually the professional body, formerly the Institute (then Chartered Institute) of Bankers has been around for almost 140 years but gained taught degree awarding powers (TDAP) in 2010.

None of the terms: "greedy", "negligent", "reckless", "selfish" or "foolish" can be laid at the door of the ifs University College, however.  It has carved a specialist niche in higher education in Financial Services, educating the next generation of banking professionals and leaders.

I raise this example as it provides an excellent example of segmented competition in niche areas that begins to threaten a poorly understood concept amongst the University elite - the market.

Part of the UK government threat to the cosy clubs of UK Universities (alongside the greater transparency that TEF will bring to Teaching quality) is the expansion of "new (private) universities" to challenge the incumbent providers.  The best Universities will survive this threat comfortably, trading on names and reputations, endowments and unquestioned excellence in research.

The middle ground of UK Universities will begin to tremble, however, as niche areas are targeted by the incomers, key staff focused on teaching and learning will be poached and rewarded (it makes a welcome change to being undervalued and overtaken by "REF Bunnies") and reputations will be harmed as consumer power is unleashed.

As for the rest, the "post 92" Universities that never managed to throw off the perceived yoke of teaching, a new opportunity is presented.  What does the market now value?  What benefits are there in partnerships with the new breed of specialists? What business model will now prevail (after all, the research funding dangled before the many was always illusory).

So, whatever we think of bankers, we can applaud and learn from the example of the ifs University College.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Skills development for the YouTube generation

The 2015 QAA Benchmark statement for Business and Management lists, in section 3.9, key practical, academic and transferable skills.  Such skills should be integrated into every UK Business and Management undergraduate degree programme that meets the standard.  HOW institutions set about meeting the standard is up to them.

Assessment often provides the opportunity to showcase key skills. Many degree programmes now sport group work, presentations, practical reports and posters as types of assessment.  But how will tomorrow's business graduates actually communicate?  How will they collaborate? How will they be expected to carry out their roles in a fast changing, time-poor business environment?

The answer, sadly is probably NOT: meeting with a team, producing a Powerpoint presentation, writing a detailed report or producing a poster.

Yes, these are all excellent ways of embedding academic skills such as research, analysis of data and communication of ideas.  However, they do not prepare students for a world where interviews and meetings are via Skype, videocast or telephone conference; where collaboration is virtual, global and across different timezones and where anyone who presents a Powerpoint to their boss is immediately taken outside and given a sound beating.

So, what should today's students (tomorrow's graduates) be doing - online collaboration, video production, and real-time and real - life case studies.  But, of course, that's quite beyond the skill-set of the lecturers and teachers delivering the curriculum - or is it?