Thursday, 30 June 2016

Perceived value in Teaching Qualifications

Six years ago my parents-in-law celebrated their Diamond Wedding Anniversery (60 years).  Our family arranged that The Queen (God Bless Her) sent a special card to them celebrating this marvellous milestone (cost £0).  The card, after a decent interval, was then placed in the care of an excellent frame-maker who returned it to them, mounted and displayed and it enjoys pride of place in their dining room.

Last year my parents-in-law celebrated their Blue Sapphire Wedding Anniversery (65 years).  Once again our family arranged that the Queen (God Bless Her) sent a special card to them celebrating this even rarer and even more marvellous milestone.  This time the Palace (I doubt it was Her Majesty herself) included in the package a flyer for  an official, Royal Standard imprinted, display frame (£59.40 inc. P&P).  In the five years since the Diamond Anniversery the Palace had discovered a revenue enhancing and value enhancing way in which to make the special occasion even more special.  The frame nestles next to the previous frame and has pride of place in their dining room.


In early 2015 I received news that I had successfully applied to become a "Diamond" Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy (cost £400).  Next stop would be the "Blue Sapphire" Principal Fellow status (cost £500) - I cannot wait...

The notification of my success arrived from York with a clickable link to allow me to download and print my own certificate!!  Now, the HEA is not as well funded as The Palace and not as well as it once was and needs the revenues that the FHEA, SFHEA and PFHEA appplications bring and so this parsimony is well understood.

However, if the HEA and the Universities promoting Teaching Qualifications, in order to look good for the TEF metrics, value the actual accolade and qualification in this way then what value are we supposed to give them?

Thursday, 23 June 2016

Vote HExit?

The day has come for UK Higher Education Business Schools to consider remaining in a "controlling, sinister, largely unrepresentative bureaucracy" (A.N.Academic, 2016) albeit with the benefits of collegiality, fellow feeling, cheap beer at the Students' Union and "friendly relations" with "foreign" Schools on the same campus or to break free and vote HExit.

But what would HExit look like for Business Schools?

1. Business Schools could have a points based system for student admissions: 100 points for "can you pay the fee?", a further 50 for speaking enough English to get a certificate of proficiency from the London / Cambridge / Brighton School of Speak Good English.

2. Business Schools could stop paying the bureaucrats £millions each year of OUR earnings in order to prop up deficit Schools such as Greek Studies.  The "rebate" in terms of pensions, facilities, branding, cross fertilization of ideas could be sourced more economically from consultants and out-sourcing specialists - that's what Business Schools teach after all.

3. Business Schools could be in charge of their own destiny, not held back by the compromise and risk aversion of a distant Presidency.  Business Schools could be "Great" (not "Great again" as they have never earned that epithet).  For example, Business Schools could set their own standards for degrees and higher awards and their own progression rules and dispense with the burden of regulation, quality assurance, capped fees...What a USP that would be as attention focuses on the educational needs of BRI and not so much C countries' children of wealthy families.

4. Remaining in a cosy corporate system where University Presidents schmooze with industry leaders simply entrenches the idea that Business Schools exist for the social good, preparing young people for global careers in corporations and governments and that employment and employability are the key. This direction is dangerous and leads to the abyss.  Business Schools should focus all resources on research published in high ranking but little read journals. After all didn't Business School research forecast the 2007 credit crunch as far back as 2012?


Moral Hazard in Higher Education

Warming to my theme of Finance / Banking related concepts being useful in the consideration of Higher Education I turn, this week, to MORAL HAZARD - or the concept that risks can shift over time and that the provision of a "safety net", like an insurance policy, can actually increase the likelihood of risky behaviour.


Take, for example, the Moral Hazard set up in the run-up to the 2007/8 credit crunch.  The term "Too Big to Fail" hid an enormous Moral Hazard.  Reckless banks had gambled their depositors' money in ever risky and poorly understood ventures, safe in the knowledge that if their gambles did not pay off the government would bail them out, and so they did.

So if student satisfaction and retention rates are used to measure University success in TEF there would be motivation by HE institutions to do everything possible to make life pleasing for students and make it difficult for them to fail.  Giving a safety net to students can easily drive down standards in a race to the bottom.

Now how can we possibly avoid that?

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

What will Higher Education look like in 20 years time?

Well, let's look at HE 20 years ago and see how far we have come and then extrapolate those trends with a few tweaks, say for the exponential advances in technology, for the next 20 years.  Yes, that should work....

20 years ago I would arrive at work as a junior lecturer in my Volvo. My office was rather Spartan but had its own PC which would take a time to fire up but on which I could draft emails, letters and reports and search a growing amount of data some fearless folk had mounted on something they called the World Wide Web. Research would typically be word processed by secretarial staff.  Some colleagues even dictated letters to them! My bookshelves housed a number of key textbooks and books published by conferences and research books and my filing cabinets overflowed with printed acetates, ready to be removed and used as the bi-weekly lecture was to be delivered. At lunchtime I would repair to the staff room to share gossip and observations with colleagues. Teaching would be easy. I spoke, students listened and took notes, I set an exam and the students either passed or failed.

Today, I arrive at work as a senior lecturer at the top of my pay scale on my bike. My office has hardly changed in all these years but the Laptop in my rucksack plugs into the desktop docking station and access to databases, online books and publications, powerful software and the now ubiquitous email and VLE are at my fingertips. There are books on my shelves but these largely act as "serious" wallpaper for podcast and webinar appearances. All research papers is self-typed with fairly mixed ressults.  I no longer have filing cabinets or much paper in my office and teaching materials are online, ready for me to drag them from the network in any of the lecture spaces I use.  Lunch is at the desk and gossip is confined to corridor conversations and toilet breaks. Teaching is challenging as students need to be engaged by the delivery and the material. Being lecture captured they can catch up later and concentrate on their Facebook conversations and so the classroom experience becomes a synthesis of entertainment and information.  Assessment is more varied.  Coursework and a shorter exams mean that frequent feedback and swift marking is vital.

In 20 years my successor will not leave home.  He or she will sit, in their leisure wear purchased in the 1 Euro shop in their own apartment and use their personal tablet with virtual 5D voice recognition and movement control to be in constant seamless conversations with students worldwide via synchronous chat room, vidmail, and working under a zero hours contract that determines pay on the basis of online time and recorded interaction. The materials taught have been prepared by "experts" and vidcast to students on demand as they follow courses at their own pace and according to their own timetables.
Research is confined to big data analysis of student databases as most academic research is now undertaken by a small number of spin out consultancies based in so called "top" universities.  Assessment of students is continuous as algorithms analyse the quality of their interactions after, first, verifying identity by bio data and online quizzes and peer assessed short text inputs complete the picture of achievement.

Happily I will not be taking much notice in 20 years time but my grandchildren will. What sort of future do we really want them to experience?

Monday, 13 June 2016

Keith's first law of change

Put very simply Keith's first law of change is:

Many times in my career I have encountered fixed opinions, unyielding ideas and entrenched positions - all held quite genuinely in the belief that the holder of the idea is absolutely correct.  The phrase "But we've always done it like that" is often heard but rarely followed up by " let's think about change".

Barriers can come in different forms: regulations, finance (lack of) and most often - people. People are afraid of change as it introduces risk and so they steadfastly defend the status quo.

Take, as an example, the "capture" of University lectures. Students believe that these are always good but  academics have other viewpoints. Available research shows a lack of clarity on learning benefit or even on the impact on lecture attendance but, used selectively, Lecture Capture (LC) can improve student engagement, support students with particular needs, and can even improve student satisfaction temporarily, until it is accepted as an expected norm.

Changing the paradigm is essential. LC as a part of a blended learning experience is a positive step forward. Simply capturing the current face to face lectures is not enough. We must also change the expectations of students and academics about how course materials are delivered.

So, let's not simply expand LC, let's change way we teach and go around the objections many staff raise as barriers.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Credit scoring for HE dummies

Credit scoring is a fine art - evidence based and statistically sound it is used by banks and other finance providers to limit the risk of bad debts to accord with the risk appetite of the lender.  It is possible to pre-authorise and instantly sanction loans for individuals based on public information, information volunteered on application forms and so called "behavioural" data that banks and finance providers share with each other (number of credit cards held, repayment record etc.)  For some basic guidance on credit scoring look HERE.

Credit scoring does not work well where there is a lack of information about individuals - such as countries without robust registers of births, marriages, deaths, passport issuance, electoral eligibility etc.  Nor does it work well where the banking system is mainly cash based.

But where it can mine good quality information it can support risk judgements and credit availability with a high degree of precision.  Credit scoring is also predictive - it is future performance of loans that banks are interested in after all.

So, let's think of applying this principle to another area where there is robust and plentiful information about individuals, where reputations and even financial solvency can depend on making the correct decisions - Higher Education.

The following is a suggestion for a basic credit scoring template for undergraduate students:

HE institutions are increasingly measured via metrics that purport to reflect "satisfaction" or "quality" and the media gleefully put institutions into league tables.  Well, here's a way to ensure that the key metrics embraced by TEF such as Student satisfaction via NSS and DHELE data on "graduate destinations" are incorporated into a system that predicts graduate outcomes at the point of admission and afterwards.

HE institutions can set their own acceptable "score" - the maximum on the above illustration is 500 points - so Oxford and Cambridge could accept  400 points on entry, whilst Top 10 Universities could accept 350 - 399 etc.  Scores would change as the "behavioural" data on attendance and extra curricular activity were available and could be made available to employers (for a fee, of course) the media etc.

I asked in a previous blog whether HE institutions could borrow the principles espoused by the private sector - it appears that they can...