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took as much time in developing skills in these things, rather than imparting ever more "knowledge" that will be out of date by the time students graduate?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