Saturday, 23 December 2017

Happy Christmas

To all readers of this blog:

May the Peace of the Christmas Season remain with you all year

Best wishes for a reflective 2018

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Marvellous - a blueprint for student engagement?

Keele University, in the UK Midlands, plays host to a unique character - Neil Baldwin.  Neil wrote a book about his colourful life that was made into a BBC film - Marvellous.  Neil also lists his occupation as "Clown" but has also been Stoke City kit man, Keele University greeter and his own football club player-captain.

Neil knows a thing or two about student engagement.  Lessons that many academics could follow:
Student engagement needs:
  • access to tutors at sensible times
  • knowledge of both academic and pastoral support available
  • time to spend with those who need it most
  • a relationship built on mutual trust
  • people who care
  • lecturers wearing baggy trousers (or is that just Neil the Clown?)
Fake that, and you've got it made!
P.S. Neil @Keele does not fake it.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

HE ideas: There's no "I" in Team

I'm re-visiting this hoary old topic as it simply will not go away (much to the horror of many academics who see all of the pain and none of the profit.)

I previously wrote about using team or group work for student assessment as it promises to develop transferable skills as well as work of academic merit.
Today, however, I turn my attention to Team teaching.

Team teaching can be uniquely rewarding, efficient and effective.  Only a few institutions can muster the resources to allow more than one instructor in the class at any one time so I'd better define what I mean:
Team teaching is the phenomenon whereby students are taught by multiple lecturers over the period of a course - this can be a whole term or an intensive block.  Lecturers can focus on their favoured topics, teach only for a few weeks and then concentrate on their other duties. For students, this can give variety, fresh and enthusiastic lecturers every session...but it can also give confusion.

The same skills of teamwork we demand of students need to be used by lecturers.  Teaching staff must be fully briefed, kept in touch with other elements of the course, remain engaged even when it's not "their" session.

That really demands a team leader, keeping members informed, in-line and integrated.

Like herding cats, really...

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

HE ideas: Youth (and education) wasted on the young?

George Bernard Shaw (1856-1950) was the original source of the quotation "Youth is wasted on the young".  The implication, however, that older, more experienced individuals would not squander the enthusiasm, energy, and openness of youth is sadly lacking in parts of the HE sector.
Let me explain:

In a naive and rather wonderful way, many academics hope that their students will grow to love the narrow branch of their discipline as much as they do.  Sadly, in the vast majority of cases, they will not.

Such enthusiasm and motivation coming from an intrinsic interest in the discipline is a noble aim but rarely sufficient to rely on for actual engagement of a whole cohort.  Instead, academics must deploy techniques to engender real engagement (i.e. engagement separate from the fear and desperation of failure in the assessment).
GBS circa 1915, via Wikimedia Commons

Back to Shaw:
    "Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything"

    So, what to change? what techniques to deploy?

    If you were to ask a micro-economics teacher what they would hope that the average first-year undergraduate learned in Microeconomics 101 they might rehearse the typical published Learning Outcomes for their module.  One example would be:

    By the end of this module students should:
     be able to use economic theory to explain consumer behaviour;

    So how will we set about achieving that outcome?

    • Start at Chapter 1 of the textbook
    • Draw lots of demand and supply diagrams and, just before students have grasped the enormity of that concept, start fiddling with them, drawing different lines, moving curves, changing get the drift?

    We teach that such economic models are built upon observation, testing, modelling and re-testing ideas.  So, why not get the students to do just that?  Let them explore a "simple" consumer scenario and ; 
    It means a focus on learning rather than teaching.

    Just a thought.

    Wednesday, 29 November 2017

    HE explained: CAMPARI anyone?

    Sometimes the old ways of doing things have a lot to recommend them.  As a junior banker, I was taught credit appraisal via a mnemonic and I have continued to use this in my own teaching.  Although this method of credit appraisal is time-consuming and subjective, it does spell out the key factors that more automated systems (such as credit scoring) can miss.  The mnemonic of choice is CAMPARI.  This is fully outlined in my reasonably priced book Retail Banking (4edn.):

    The letters in CAMPARI stand for:

    Repayment, and
    Insurance (this means guarantee/security/collateral - belt and braces for the wary banker).

    So, how do student loans stand up?

    How do students fare?
    Some students are excellent, trustworthy, pillars of their student community who work and play hard and achieve their potential.  Some are not.  How to tell the difference?  "A" Level grades? Motivational statement? Interviews?  No wonder most Universities choose the easy route.
    Here Ability means the skill and resources to carry out the project for which the funds are lent…and some students just do not have it.  But before Universities find this out students are already in more debt than their granny would approve of – and with no graduate job in sight, little means to repay.
    Hmmm.  Just what do students contribute, financially to their fees and University accommodation rent?  On offer is a 100% loan with up to 30 years to repay (remember Northern Rock anyone?).  OK so a student’s future is at stake, they give their time and energy, skill and parents support.
    At last – we have a very worthy purpose.  The education of the population.  Not just the young but also those 50 somethings that never went to University and want to see if their brain still works (it does, be assured).  So, some purposes are more worthy and better risks in an investment sense than others.
    Take the undergraduate degree fee.  This may have started at £9,000 in your first year but then went up to £9,250 in your second, thanks to the TEF Gold that your University gained.  Who knows what your “year out” fee will be or your final year.  So, at the outset, we really do not know the amount of the basic loan, let alone the maintenance loan/grant you can receive.
    Ahh….At last, there is a formula.  If your name has a “Z” in it and your mother was Ukrainian then your repayments are scheduled to start 12 months after graduation as long as your salary (note, not disposable income – so tough luck if your job is in London) exceeds a certain amount that will be the average of what each political party promised at their last party conference.
    Haha!  What possible collateral, guarantee or security could there be?  Unlike some places, there isn’t even a military service obligation to combat the moral hazard risk.  Also – go and hide in New Zealand and the bet may be called off after a while.
    So, that's alright then.....

    Wednesday, 22 November 2017

    HE explained: Academic Pensions - we are all losers

    So, the USS is thinking about stopping its Defined Benefit Scheme?  The direct losers - young academics and those 20 years from retirement who have had security (but not certainty) taken away.  Other losers include the rest of us, relying on the selflessness of most academics, giving up their opportunity to earn large amounts of money in their careers in order to share their knowledge, research and insight with the world.

    The outcome could well be a devaluation of University education for a whole generation.  We simply do not value what we have.

    But wait, there's a solution:
    Why not employ old academics beyond their normal retirement age?  Oh, you're already doing that.

    OK, why not record all lectures so that the retired lecturer output can be used for future generations of students after retirement? Oh, you're already doing that.

    Well, then, why not capture the academics' expertise via a well resourced and serious attempt to go on-line and offer the flexibility and efficiency that students and Universities say that they want?

    Can't afford it, did I hear you say?  Haven't got the skills?

    We are all losers.

    Tuesday, 14 November 2017

    Sabbatical blog:I beg to differ

    If only, as a tutor, you could speak to each student at a crucial time (for them) in their study time, to remind them to prepare for a lecture, to reinforce key messages and NOT have your email go straight to the spam folder.  What would you give for that?
    Academics, Learning designers and social media experts have come together at EdTech Foundry in Oslo, Norway, to offer tutors a new way of engaging students.

    OUT goes the antiquated, static and inflexible Learning Management System (LMS) and IN comes DIFFER.

    Why keep an old LMS that students only use to download lecture slides and fail to engage with when you can facilitate delivery of materials, engage, remind, prompt and feedback using a newer technology?

    OK - so RISK is there in new technologies but there is also RISK in standing on the rails when the tram is hurtling towards you.

    Tuesday, 7 November 2017

    HE explained: The value of TEF

    Well, it would have been a goal if the goalposts had not moved at the last minute!

    The 3 or 4 people who view my blog may recall my warning this July (2017) to keep an eye on the value of your GOLD.


    It will only be a short-term problem but those Institutions, encouraged by whim and fashion to think only short-term, it will be all-consuming.  I refer, of course, to the freezing of undergraduate fees at a maximum £9,250 p.a. in the UK for all Institutions - including those prestigious institutions being awarded TEF GOLD in 2017.

    Was I being prescient? I could claim that.

    It would be too easy, however, to hurl stones at an already discredited and facile scheme.

    Rather, let's imagine that Universities in the UK think longer-term.  Let's imagine that they consider Reputational GOLD to be more valuable than short-term fee hikes.  A focus on excellent student learning will achieve that golden glow even where student satisfaction, arbitrary measures and self-reported greatness are still valued by the government.

    Thursday, 2 November 2017

    HE explained: The multiple chance test

    The multiple choice test or "objective test" is much loved and much used by busy academics not simply because the questions and answers can be purchased, reused and marked automatically, but also because it appeals to an innate desire to measure achievement numerically.

    Picture by Becris at
    Detractors  (like my title this week) might think that it is akin to a lottery - 4 possible answers, one of which MUST be correct, and so a 1 in 4 chance of getting it right - 25% in the bag - high 5!

    Only, look closely at the design of the multiple choice question, and you will see:

    a) This IS the correct answer.
    b) This is the opposite of the correct answer.
    c) This looks almost correct, but for a different spelling or word or even double negative construction, designed to confuse.
    d) The answer is always "The Archbishop of Canterbury", which is wrong and often a bizarre response to the actual question, apart from Ecclesiastical multiple choice exams where it might be correct or even a distractor.

    So, the odds for the slightly prepared student get better.  Spot the obviously wrong answer and the odds shorten to 1 in 3.  Follow the logic and you could pass with 50% by sheer deduction, rather than subject knowledge.

    And, don't get me started on feedback - I have known colleagues considering feedback to be the mark itself! Of course, neither questions nor answers can be shared, otherwise, they cannot be re-used.

    If you really want to provide appropriate tests online or via computer then the multiple choice test is not the best answer.  There are a variety of other types of questions that can be deployed:

    • Multiple response - where all, or none of the answers may be correct.
    • Problem-based questions using diagrams, charts or pictures.
    • Short answer questions - where the exact words are not needed but enough to show knowledge of the subject.
    • Fill in the gaps....
    Question difficulty can also be graded to allow more marks for "harder" questions.

    My key advice, however, is to use a test instrument that actually measures the learning goal, not the one that minimises academic effort.

    Monday, 30 October 2017

    #will this be on the exam?

    Six little words that are designed to exasperate the average academic:

    "Will this be on the exam?"

    These six words betray so many competing and conflicting ideas in Higher Education.

    • Is Higher Education just about passing exams and assessments?
    • Does the love of a subject and immersion in its literature mean nothing to students?
    • Do lecturers provide lectures, tutorials, and on-line support simply to justify their jobs?
    • Is the phrase "reading for a degree" only meaningful on the BBC's University Challenge?
    • Do students think that the exchange of money is their only contribution to their education?
    And, readers of my blog have long known that exams, as an assessment tool, need to be questioned in today's educational environment.

    "Will exams be on the exam?"

    • Can exams test the ability to apply knowledge to real scenarios?
    • Do exams do any more than test speed writing and memory?
    • Is it acceptable for students to be able to accurately guess the exam questions by reference to past papers by the same academic?
    • Will I ever need to write an exam essay again in my life?
    • Can academics accurately mark large numbers of hurriedly scrawled exam scripts in a tight timescale?
    • Can Universities ever find the resource to provide meaningful individual feedback on exam performances?
    So, let's examine the whole idea of exams and consider other forms of assessment that are timely, efficient and meaningful to the learning goals of the subject.

    Wednesday, 25 October 2017

    Sabbatical blog: Building the future of HE in Liechtenstein

    A fortuitous meeting with a faculty member of the School of Architecture at Universität Liechtenstein showed me just what is possible in curriculum design when a strong pedagogy is combined with a practical subject in a small institution.
    Like so many practical disciplines, architecture has the possibility of "learning by doing".  Not only is it a professional necessity to create designs, models, and artifacts but it is also an excellent learning method when combined with the rigour of academic writing.

    Curriculum design is a phrase so often used in HE but, I wouldn't mind betting that the emphasis is more often on the "Curriculum" than the "Design".

    Design in HE can learn much from Architectural principles:
    • UTILITY: The purpose of the building/curriculum being constructed is of vital importance to the designer - how, where and with whom is it going to be used?  also - Budget can be seen either as a constraint or an opportunity for innovation.
    • DURABILITY: The building/curriculum must last the test of time, need little maintenance over its expected span.
    • BEAUTY: The building/curriculum must be distinctive, remarkable and pleasing to those using it.
    Not too much to ask is it?

    Wednesday, 18 October 2017

    HE Ideas: The guest speaker

    How can you fill up lecture slots without the hassle of preparing materials and handouts, but with appeal to students and good feedback (as well as alerting the Dean to links with industry)?

    Yes - you have it - invite a guest speaker from industry!!

    Picture by Sira Anamwong at
    There are a number of important features of the successful guest slot and there are a number of pitfalls to avoid:    Whatever you do.....don't let your guest speaker:

    • Pick the topic
    • Arrive with unseen and unedited slides or handouts
    • Prepare too many slides
    • Have absolutely no idea what the students have studied or the aims of the module
    • Speak without, first, seeing them in action or getting reports
    • Use the phrase "when I was at University..."
    • Expect a high fee
    • Offer a recruitment pitch (unless its a Careers spot)
    • Drink too much at lunch
    Actually it might just be easier to do the lecture yourself...

    Monday, 16 October 2017

    Sabbatical blog: Oslo's future is blended

    If you are going to do something worthwhile then do it well - or take the example of BI, Norway's biggest Business School, and do it excellently.
    Within the last 5 years, BI has invested in, supported, nurtured and delivered innovation, blended learning and a superb learning environment for students.
    Just to view the impressive building that houses the School is a testament to the commitment BI has to its mission.  Meeting BI academics and staff simply underlines the commitment to continuous improvement, harnessing of technology (where it makes a difference) and actually putting the student at the centre.

    Key learning points from Oslo?

    • Supporting reluctant staff is as important as fostering innovation
    • Bottom-up and top-down help the whole organisation to journey in the same direction
    • Bold decisions and full commitment beats creeping change and risk aversion
    Oh, and simple ideas, followed through, are often the most effective.

    Oslo 12-14 October 2017.

    Wednesday, 11 October 2017

    HE Ideas: Good practice in on-line teaching

    The future IS digital for HE.  Like it or not Universities must embrace on-line provision not to simply jump on the bandwagon but also to reflect the fact that they understand that the needs of learners has shifted from the traditional and much loved face-to-face model.

    Oh, yes,  there will still be a campus, a "teacher", a timetable, study spaces.....but there will also be personalisation, flexibility, multi-media, "push and pull" (rather than just "push" delivery) and a focus away from knowledge creation and delivery to empowerment in knowledge application.

    And this will mean some fundamental restructuring, changes in the business model, investment in infrastructure and a culture change for academics.  In brief, the traditional model that focuses heavily on curriculum and content (and the academics that create these) and less on design and platform will need to rethink their priorities.

    I am indebted to Karine Le Joly (HEC Paris) for this construct - although the diagram and any misinterpretation is mine
    Successful purveyors of blended and on-line education in HE are partners with IT companies and employ and incentivise Instructional Designers (there's a shortage of these anyway), so that the position of "Sage on the Stage" who is also a Research Professor is that of an equal partner.

    In how many HE Institutions are the Instructional Designers given the same pay and promotional prospects as the Knowledge Creators?

    Just asking...

    Wednesday, 4 October 2017

    HE Ideas: Learning to drive your studies

    Put a first-time driver behind the wheel of a car and anything could happen:

    Pictue by Bill Longshaw at
    So we have simulators, driving instructors, practice, mistakes, knowledge checking and repetition before the driver gets anywhere near the Driving Test.

    So why do we expect students entering Higher Education to practice their first ESSAY / PRESENTATION / EXAM / GROUP ACTIVITY / TEST* (delete as applicable) without giving them the opportunity to simulate, receive instruction, practice, make mistakes, show knowledge and repeat all of this following relevant and timely feedback BEFORE they are examined using these tools?

    Ah, I hear you say, but students won't do anything that does not have marks attached (in HE we call that formative work).

    But why not find ways to encourage engagement with formative tasks, rather than give up because it's too difficult?

    Just a thought.

    Wednesday, 27 September 2017

    HE Explained: Academics are potentially almost always never right or wrong

    How often do we hear others speak without thinking, or speak too soon - or even "mis-speak", a US phrase used largely by politicians when their "ignorance" of key facts is exposed?

    In these days of instant news and instant comment - often by tame academics, media trained by their Universities - so much comment is "correct", even "politically correct" to render it almost meaningless.  Sure, it fills air time and seems to provide the "evidence" that journalists seek to underpin their sensationalism.
    Picture by RoyaltyFree Corbis
     But do call a spade a spade and not a "sharp edged digging impliment".  Have the courage of your convictions - if your research tells you that the globe is NOT heating up, then say so.  Don't feel obliged to be swept along by the tide of "majority opinion".

    In the world of Business and Management research whilst is a struggle to say anything different, original or with clear implications for actual business, it is a marvel to watch academics try...

    Wednesday, 20 September 2017

    Blogging 101: I wish I hadn't said that!

    But you did, Oscar, did.

    Writers (1895) by Python, M (YOUTUBE LINK)

    Bloggers should take note that once released, blogs can never be completely eradicated - so if you are going to say something controversial or "witty" in a way that you understand but others may feel offensive - think before clicking "publish".

    For me, George Bernard Shaw (as played by Michael Palin)'s excellent rejoinder is a stock response to all detractors.  Edwardian wit at its best...

    Wednesday, 13 September 2017

    HE Leadership explained: The VC

    Apparently you get a VC for gallantry in the face of the enemy.  So, why do so many Higher Education detractors vilify the VC?

    Picture by: EyeSerene Original: Richard Harvey
    The VC means gallantry:

    • Keeping a straight face when someone asks if the TEF really indicates Teachng Quality.
    • Finding something positive to say both in public and to Professors when your institution only got BRONZE.
    • Setting a rapid change agenda in an environment where change is measured in decades.
    • Showing that you are worth it when the size of your "Total Remuneration Package" is revealed in the press.
    • Delaying that Freedom of Information request about international trips. the face of the enemy:
    • Students ?
    • Staff ?
    • Council ?
    • Accreditation bodies ?
    • HEFCE ?
    • Jo Johnson ?
    • Other Universities ?
    Personally I think that VCs get everything they deserve.

    Wednesday, 6 September 2017

    Cutting your toenails with a scythe

    This week's post is really cutting edge stuff - groan!

    How many times do we sit in a presentation, talk or lecture and zone out or reach for the mobile phone to look at our Twitter feed because the speaker has totally missed the target and has not understood the needs of the audience?

    Lecturing (and I have waxed lyrical in the past about labelling all Learning events as "Lectures") are designed to do one thing - to deliver something (opinion, facts, argument, information) to an audience.  Lectures are one type of Learning event but are enshrined in expectations, in geographies of HE institutions, in staff titles and so on...

    Would you cut your toenails with a scythe?  Would you brush your hair with a broom?

    So why would you deliver a lecture when you actually want to achieve a learning goal for which that blunt instrument was never designed?

    Tuesday, 29 August 2017

    HE Explained: Independent Learning

    One of the goals of Higher Education, so it seems, is to develop skills of "Independent Learning" in students.  Critical thinking, it is said, emerges from an ability to organise ideas, discover, sort, analyse and evaluate evidence and to communicate conclusions in a persuasive and relevant way.

    Many Universities do this by filling student contact time with subject specific material, we'll call it STUFF, and then sending students away to the library, pub, McDonalds, Accommodation block, re-painted "social area" or even "Learning Pod" to undertake Independent Learning.

    The academic staff then, in time honoured fashion, guage the level to which students can learn independently by setting an exam or assignment which must be submitted or completed at a decent period after the end of the lecture schedule (STUFF SHOVELLING PERIOD).

    Immediately I wonder:

    • Are exams the best way to test STUFF RETENTION or Independent Learning?
    • Is independent work, on an assignment, submitted electronically to match text with all known works in civilisation in order to catch CHEATS, really the same as Independent Learning?
    • Is 80% of nominal hours of student effort on a module enough to foster Independent Learning?
    • Can Independent Learning ever be compatible with Group or Collaborative Learning?
    • Is the Independent Learner really what industry wants to employ?
    Just asking....

    Wednesday, 23 August 2017

    HE Finance Explained: Just where did my money go?

    In all institutions, whether they are charities, Government Departments or Universities there are simple accounting concepts that pervade.  In this post I hope to provide some easily understood explanations for oh so complex accounting issues that help explain finances in Higher Education:

    Remember: Balance sheets always balance; Universities are not corporates and so should not be compared with them in financial terms; Profit is a dirty word and efficiency is "an interesting concept Professor Carruthers, but not one that is too relevant to today's Higher Education economics."

    Wednesday, 16 August 2017

    HE explained: The Student Moan Scheme

    We love to whinge and, although His Holiness the Pope has warned against it, we do like to blame someone else for our own shortcomings.


    Even as consumers we want to pay less but then blame the shop when the cheap lawnmower / TV / shoes / get the drift?...fails to last long past the end of its warranty period.

    So it is no surprise that student consumers (we'll just call them students) ignore His Holiness and develop advanced skills in moaning, complaining, appealing and overall critical thinking.

    And its very supportive of the government to enact the Higher Education Act to give statutory rights to students to complain and for Universities to grovel at their feet.

    It gives such a warm glow when all is so right with the world.

    Wednesday, 9 August 2017

    HE Finance explained: Graduate Futures - Theory and Practice


    Futures are financial contracts obligating the buyer to purchase an asset , or the seller to sell an asset, such as a debt obligation, at a predetermined future date and price. Futures contracts detail the quality and quantity of the underlying asset; they are standardized to facilitate trading on a futures exchange. Futures contracts are settled in cash.
    Graduate Futures are financial nightmares, enticing the bank / hedge fund / asset manager to buy the debt obligation (asset), at an arbitrary future date, determined by the then current giovernment and with a price heavily influenced by legislation, tax regulation, economic growth and whim.  OR obligating the seller / graduate to reflect on the inequity of being born at the wrong time, questioning the actual value of the debt compiled, bemoaning the burden of perpetual insolvency, relieved only by the warm glow that burning your degree certificate brings when the electricity is cut off.  Graduate Futures contracts are never settled.

    Wednesday, 2 August 2017

    Happy New Year

    No, its not January 1st.  In academia the new year starts in the autumn - of course!  it makes so much sense to start the year at the end of it.

    But, I hear you say, academics are our cleverest citizens and so there must be more to it than a simple chronology or calendar - and of course there is.

    The academic year starts in September or October to allow the peasants to gather in the harvest before attending school in the less busy winter months.  For many years, however, peasants (that's most of us) didn't go to University, so that cannot be the reason why academics choose it.

    Ah, I've got with the "moving feast" of Easter there's a complex mechanism for establishing the start of the academic year:

    So, that's all clear then.

    Wednesday, 26 July 2017

    PEST analysis of Learning in HE #4 Technological

    Digital disruption is the latest phase in the technological revolution.  It will be as far reaching as the Industrial Revolution was in the 18th Century.

    As with the Industrial Revolution, it will have implications for jobs, economies, welfare, wealth, politics and even education.

    Not only do Universities have to prepare students for working lives that will be disrupted, for jobs that do not even exist today but they also have to do so by harnessing technology (in the current guise of BigData) to provide hard pressed tutors with up to date analytics on student performance in order that interventions can be initiated.
    Many institutions will embrace this trend by using mobile apps to collect analytics data to feed into BigData systems. Data collected will be things like: attendance; VLE hits; assessed marks; library searches; library books withdrawn; number of comfort breaks per lecture session; size of Twitter following etc...

    As I learned in my first computing class in the mid 1970's


    Thursday, 20 July 2017

    What are the odds?

    I'm publishing this on my birthday - 20th  July.

    But as we look back through history some momentous things have happened on 20th July:


    1969 - Man's first landing on the moon - Apollo 11

    1944 - an attempted assassination of Adolf Hitler

    1712 - The Riot Act takes effect in Great Britain

    OK, so I looked the last one up.

    But what are the odds?

    365:1 actually.

    Wednesday, 12 July 2017

    After the GOLD Rush

    Maintaining the lustre, value and beauty of GOLD is now a priority for those prestigious Universities that have secured GOLD in the recent TEF ratings - and so I am indebted to WIKIHOW for the Do's and Dont's of caring for your GOLD:

    1. Do not bathe or go swimming in your GOLD.
      I'd go further and echo Adolf Hitler's advice: “No politician (VC?) should ever let himself be photographed in a bathing suit.”
      So, do not expose your GOLD to moisture, dampness or water (possibly through the cold shower of a poor NSS, PTES, League Table...)

    2. Store your GOLD separately.
      ...and securely, as there are folks out there who are jealous of your GOLD and want it for themselves.  Who knows, they might even value it enough to tempt "TEF Tarts" away from GOLD institutions.
    3. Clean and Buff your GOLD regularly.
      Environmental damage, exposure to the sun and to everyday life can make GOLD lose its lustre.  In some cases it may be GOLD on the inside but it looks like "unidentified yellow metal" to anyone viewing it.  So, regular care of your GOLD by a crack team of Buffers is essential.
    4. Check the value of your GOLD regularly.
      I add this financial measure as ONE reason for holding GOLD must be its ability to grow in value over time.  Whilst GOLD does not pay dividends it can, in the longer term, increase in value, allowing holders of GOLD to become wealthier.  Do not panic, however, when short-term issues reduce the perceived value of GOLD temporarily.
    If you keep your GOLD clean, safe and shiny all you have to fear is someone discovering an alternative source of GOLD and flooding the market with it.

    Wednesday, 5 July 2017

    PEST analysis of Learning in HE #3 Social

    A degree in Nursing does not make you care more.
    A degree in Media studies does not make you more creative.
    A degree in Business does not make you more entrepreneurial.
    Picture from stockimages
    Some of society's needs are met by the excellent training and qualification of professionals - lawyers, vets, doctors, accountants, scientists and engineers...but some are not.

    Society seems to want Higher Education to deliver things it was never created to do. Is this simply society looking for a "one size fits all" solution or a complete misunderstanding of Higher Education?

    I'm glad that I don't have to worry about that.

    Wednesday, 28 June 2017

    Taking the pee in lectures?

    The typical University student is:
    • Expected to sit for a WHOLE HOUR (50 mins) and pay attention to a lecture;
    • Not only to pay attention but to engage too! At the very least this means taking notes, even answering questions and, where a braver than normal lecturer is at the front, to discuss stuff in an interested way.
    • Hold their water and their hunger pangs until lunchtime or the end of the day, espacially if their timetable is crowded.
    So, I issue my advice to lecturers:
    • Allow frequent breaks to account for varying degrees of bladder control (including your own);
    • Offer opportunities to get up, walk around, stretch legs etc., perhaps as part of an innovative post-lunch / post breakfast / post Brexit energising exercise;
    • Show leadership by eating a Cornish Pasty* (* amend for regional variations, Haggis, Leek Soup, Chip Butty, Würstburger etc.) during the lecture;
    • Play podcasts and videos in addition to your own brief lectures to vary the delivery;
    • Do absolutely nothing to humiliate or highlight any individual or group that does not engage in discussion, fails to answer simple questions (the answers to which are on the slide displayed!) or arrives late / leaves early.
    So, 5 WHOLE minutes in each hour is enough for a lecturer of your calibre isn't it?

    Wednesday, 21 June 2017

    PEST analysis of Learning in HE #2 Economic

    The 2017 General Election campaign has brought Higher Education in the UK into stark focus, especially regarding the economic influences on the sector.

    for the many, paid for by the few?

    Now that the unpleasantness is over Vice Chancellors can get back to the daily grind of real economics.  Vastly underrated and, some say, under-rewarded for their sterling efforts, VCs juggle a huge array of complex and often cyclical Economic issues:
    • Just how far will the £ fall through Brexit uncertainty, making UK University fees relatively cheaper to International students?
    • Just how many of those international bargain hunters be allowed a visa to study?
    • Just how long will it take for Labour's wish to abolish student loans to become Tory policy?
    ...sorry, this is supposed to be about economics...

    • Just how high will staff wages rise?  That's an easy one - somewhere south of inflation, as they have for the past 5 years, at least.
    • Just how competitive will the market get? Another easy one - Universities aren't in the business of competition but collaboration, similar in many ways to the Premier League and F.A. - we'll compete "on the field" but our business model relies on apparently collusive behaviour.
    So, that's alright then.

    Wednesday, 14 June 2017

    PEST analysis of Learning in HE #1 Political

    First in a short series of posts that look at the environment within which Seats of Learning operate. This post focuses on, possibly, the most contentious factor - Political.
    I really cannot believe that our political leaders think that they have all the answers - to believe so borders on meglomania!

    Political guidance is sensible.  Political meddling is potentially very harmful.

    Just what do the politicians want Universities to do?
    1. Keep half of the 18-21 year olds out of the unemployment register?
    2. Create wealth through both research and production of graduates?
    3. Earn foreign exchange through successful exporting?
    4. Develop the nation's intellectual capital?
    Well then, let us get on with it - rather than trying to make us into a branch of Tesco, peddling vanilla degrees to student "consumers".

    Wednesday, 7 June 2017

    I'm engaged - but when's the wedding?

    Call me old fashioned but, in my day, ENGAGEMENT meant commitment, part of a promise, an agreement entered into willingly and after much thought and research.  It meant saving up money to make sure that the venture was on a sound financial footing and even taking on affordable debt to make independence a reality.
    ENGAGEMENT looked forward to a shared future, a joint journey of discovery and a sparkling occasion at which the "engaged" set forth in the world by themselves.  ENGAGED people enjoyed respect from their peers and from society and did their utmost, whatever perils they may encounter on the way, to reach their life goals together.
    Picture by Boykung at
    Now consider today.  How many young people:

    • are actually willing to become ENGAGED?
    • have the luxury of avoiding debt?
    • actually research their partner, their likes and dislikes, their goals and their history?
    • are willing to share their journey, rather than reserve the best seat for themselves?
    • are willing to jump ship at the first sign of problems?
    • work in the comfort of knowing that it can all be appealed and legally ended by an increasingly secular society.
    It's not, of course, the young people's fault entirely and...

    It's not the same with degrees.

    Thursday, 1 June 2017

    100 up and going strong!

    The number 100 has a huge significance in our lives:

    • On our 100th birthday H.M.Queen send us a congratulatory telegram - actually our family organises it as Buckingham Palace has absolutely no idea who we are!
    • Our life's achievements are benchmarked as %s - just what % of people actually know what a % is?
    • Athletic Sports are often measured in 100s of metres - so I am told.
    • The legal limit of alcohol in breath when driving in the UK is 35 in 100 millilitres - and how did you know that Keith?


    • and.........this blog celebrates its 100th post.

      Trebles all round! (or should that be 100s?)

    Wednesday, 24 May 2017

    Talking in somone else's sleep

    When I started lecturing 30 years ago my "training" suggested that the lecture was "the art of the effective explanation".

    I liked that - even if, as an inexperienced academic, I realy needed someone to effectively explain many of the concepts I was lecturing to me!!

    The media I used was the pre-handwritten "acetate", positioned on a lightbox or Overhead Projector (OHP).  Many colleagues still used chalk and blackboards but that appeared to me to be a health hazard.  As I became more accomplished this was augmented by the "acetate roll" which allowed live drawing of charts and diagrams.  In this scenario students developed speed-writing skills as they handwrote lecture notes.  Words on expensive slides were kept to a minimum and the lecturer's own voice was not only heard, but listened to.
    Then, about 20 years ago, presentation in lectures became rather more professional.  Into our lives came Microsoft Powerpoint (there had been earlier software solutions such as Lotus Freelance). "Slides" were printed onto "acetates" and copies of the slides made available to students (3 to a page with space for notes). Students had the framework of notes (they thought) and so annotated the slides, hoping that they would be able to decipher them later.

    Slowly, lecturers realised:
    • That good feedback scores were given to those who delivered plenty of "stuff" in a lecture;
    • That student passivity was not simply a symptom of disengagement but a control mechanism;
    • That getting the handout was considered by students as being equivalent to going to the lecture....
    Today, the rise of the VLE and the move towards paperless lectures means that lectures often open with a chorus of laptops and tablets being switched on, screen covers being raised so that all the lecturer sees is an array of IT company logos and the lecture is accompanied by the clatter of keyboards.

    I do feel that technology has played its part in a skewed HE environment and has taken the focus of the lecture away from the student to a focus on the delivery.  The "partnership" of speaker and listener has broken down.  Why listen when I can read it, record it or even look at the lecture captured event later on?

    So, how do we re-capture the lecturing high ground?  How do we wean students from a diet of passive consumerism?  Perhaps we should go back to thinking just how we can provide  EFFECTIVE EXPLANATIONS without the need to be supported by technology.  Perhaps we should focus far more on LEARNING than on delivery.

    Just a thought.

    Tuesday, 16 May 2017

    The student hymn

    To the tune "Eventide" by William Henry Monk (1823-1889).  

    Engage with me;
    Fast comes the exam stage.
    My worry deepens;
    Prof., with me, engage.
    When all my time is gone;
    and PANIC will not flee.
    You, who know the answers;
    Prof., engage with me.

    It is also pertinent to note that this hymn is a favourite at Christian funerals and also sung at FA Cup finals since 1927 - the hymn of the Sweet F.A.  It is reputed that the band of RMS Titanic struck up with this tune as the great liner slipped beneath the arctic waters in 1912.

    So, why wait until desparation sets in or it is too late.....engage with a Prof when the lecture course starts!

    Thursday, 11 May 2017

    Negotiation skills for students

    Imagine going to your selected car dealership and finding that ALL of the vehicles are priced at ONE price (let's say £27,750 - payable in 3 annual installments of £9,250).  The price is very high but there are generous credit terms available, even to those with poor credit histories.  Repayment only starts when  (and if) your salary exceeds a certain figure and after 30 years the debt is wiped out!

    You are aware that there are some discounts available at shabbier showrooms at the wrong end of town but you do not want to shop there.

    So, if you have already committed to pay your £27,750 in three annual installments, to the high quality showroom that your parents have always used, fear not, there is a way to get even more value - complaining, threats and negotiation.
    Image by Dr Joseph Valks at
    It's hard to negotiate up-front on the quality of the car available for the price, or even on the additional extras such as delivery options, the length of the warranty, quality of materials used and on added luxuries. But once you are driving the car around and clocking up the miles the bargaining power shifts...

    1. You could drive the car for one year, or two, and then apply to give the car back to the dealer and pay your 3rd installment to another dealer, perhaps starting with a brand new car again!  Dealers don't like this as they cannot, easily, get value for partially fulfilled contracts and "returned" cars.  They may offer a discount for the third year if you press hard enough.

      It helps, of course, if you have worked hard to keep the car well maintained, clean and polished so that it maintains its value as a "used" vehicle.
    2. Cars are, typically, divided into constituent parts, many of which can have faults that do not affect the other parts but do detract from the value of the whole vehicle.  For example, a faulty engine will cause the car to be less desirable but will not detract from the rust-free paintwork.  So, you might be able to complain about individual parts of the car and get the dealer to fix them - perhaps within the warranty.

    Perhaps it is best not to admit that your own misuse of the car and putting urine in the tank instead of petrol actually caused the malfunction in the first place.  Dealers will readily offer rectification if your threat to complain to the Car Ombudsman is almost credible.
    So, as a consumer of a car your ability to negotiate shifts over time.

    It's not the same with degrees.

    Thursday, 4 May 2017

    Superiority complex

    Many people have every right to feel themselves superior to others, although this can result in problems in life that can over-inflate an individual's sense of their own worth and can lead to unexpected behaviours.

    Image courtesy of radnatt at
    Students achieving more than 10 GCSEs, more than 3 "A stars" at A Level, entry to a prestigious University and graduating from that University with a "First" or its near neighbour, the "Twun" and successfully avoiding the "Desmond" have every expectation that they will feel themselves superior.  Their sense of superiority will be strengthened by being courted by some of the largest corporate employers in the world, being put on the "fast track" to Management and by absorbing ever higher starting salaries, designed to crowd out the market for "top" talent.

    The opportunities to learn a little humility on their stellar journey are often ignored, shunned or avoided.

    So, I have designed a compulsory undergraduate module in Food Bank Management.

    Intended Learning outcomes are pretty much the same as for Bank Management:

    Knowledge and Understanding 
    - explain the key drivers for change in Food banking environments;
    - discuss the concepts and theories that underpin modern Food banking and financial charitable institutions;
    -analyse specific management issues in Food banking institutions.
    Subject-specific skills
    - interpret accounting information from the perspectives of the Food banker, the management of a Food bank and the regulation of a Food bank;
    - apply relevant appraisal techniques to donating propositions.
    Key/transferable skills
    - work collaboratively
    - research individual organisations and markets;
    - develop professional report writing skills.

    Any takers?

    Thursday, 27 April 2017

    Herding cats

    There have been some truly valiant efforts , by visionaries and well meaning folk, to corral and herd that most independent of animals- the cat.
    Many efforts have, however, been in vain as the cat is probably the most independent and unmanageable animal - it is said that cats adopt their "owners", rather than the other way around.

    Image courtesy of Ben Schonewille at
    And yet we must learn from the rare successes and understand the methods and techniques used to achieve the seemingly impossible.  Good cat managers learn to herd or manage even the most recalcitrant of felines.  There are a few key methods:

    Feed with cream and fresh salmon:  This method involves pampering the favourites, tempting them to stay in the home or close by, through rewards, reserving special places close to the warm fire and through a laissez-faire atitude towards expectations of actual work.  If the pampered feline does not feel that the warmth and praise that they think they deserve they could simply take up residence in another "owners" home.

    Occasional rewards: This involves rewarding the traditional hard work of felines - ridding the premises of pests such as rats and mice.  These cats are expected to earn their meals and are rewarded with occasional tidbits or treats if they limit their hunting to nasty rats and do not disturb valued garden birds.  Worker cats feel fortunate to be rewarded at all and stay close to the home.  All other homes have their own worker cats and so shun those seeking to decamp.

    Shotgun approach: This is reserved for the non-working, feral and nuisance cats.  These cats have earned the ire of "owners" by being as indolent as the papmered "cream and salmon" recipients but without the redeeming qualities of either pedigree or rat "kills".  The method involves pointing a shotgun at the feline and pulling the trigger.

    Of course, those in positions of power and influence also weild the weapon of regulation - measuring the success of the herd through arbitrary measures, such as: Number of rats killed, success of offspring, presumed "happiness" of other creatures that the herd comes into contact with - typically undertaken by survey techniques.  Some call this Feline Efficiency Technique (F.E.T).  Others call it meddling.

    Thursday, 20 April 2017

    A hermit's life for me!

    St. Cuthbert (AD 635 - 687) spent most of his adult life as a hermit, despite being Prior of Lindisfarne Abbey on Holy Island.  He found peace on a small island off Holy Island in Northumbria (cut off by the tide twice daily) and then on Inner Farne - which today he would have shared with National Trust Rangers, Seals and Puffins - oh, and tourists...

    St. Cuthbert's Cave, Northumbria.  Picture by Mrs Twitface
    Here's a picture of St. Cuthbert's Cave - not one of his hideaways in life but one where his body was hidden to avoid Viking raiders years after his death.  It's a nicer picture than his island.

    Anyway, Academics are hermits.

    Academics find peace and time for reflection and contemplation in so many ways:
    • Study Leave
    • International Conferences
    • "Working from home"
    • "Sick" leave brought about by stress (typically self-induced)
    • Out of Office messages
    • "Office Hours"
    • Being "very busy and important" - so no time for idle chit chat...
    • Being surly (relates only to some academics)
    • Saying "It's not in my job description"
    • Doing "Research"
    Ahhh, the peace and quiet of the truly academic life........

    Thursday, 13 April 2017

    The Deserving and the Undeserving Poor

    The human race has an all-consuming need to categorise fellow humans, measuring their "worth" against an agreed set of values and principles.
    Unfortunately this human need has been at the root of racism, religious intolerance, snobbery and discrimination of all kinds - ALL of which provides false "value" to those on the "right side" and unnecessary pain to everyone else.
    The Model Workhouse at Southwell.  Picture by Greendead
    Take, for example, the model workhouse of the 19th Century created by the Southwell Union of parishes and used as a pattern for workhouses throughout the UK.  The principle that the worthy clerics and burghers of Southwell were charged with was simple: Each parish had the duty to provide for its own poor.  Southwell did so by providing a place where punishment for being poor was balanced with sympathy and care for the old and infirm by categorising inmates as follows:

    Males / Females / Children: All separated on entry and only mothers could see children on Sundays if both had been "good".
    Old and Infirm / Idle and indolent (i.e of healthy body but just having decided to sponge off the Parish rather than earn money).  The old had days of rest but the idle were given boring repetitive tasks as a deterrent to sloth.

    Of course, we can see parallels in our psyche and systems today but it is the judgement of the "elders and betters" that I want to focus on - The Mr Bumbles, Clerics and appointed clerks in each Parish.

    But there's no time to elaborate here, I've got to go and mark some exams and then prepare for the exam board with my academic colleagues so that we can categorise another generation of students...

    Thursday, 6 April 2017

    A ONE year degree - for you mate, call it 9 months

    Ahhh the freedom from constraints of the "traditional" THREE year undergraduate degree.  Thank goodness "Saint" Jo Johnson is spearheading the encouragement of competition and private provision in the UK Higher Education sector.

    A shake up from the market, where HE is joined by those who know the price of everything and the value of nothing, plus regulation to highlight the deficiences of those that can only get a bronze.

    So, what would a shorter degree look like?

    Jo Johnson is very likely to end his life as a peer - and the sooner that elevation comes, the better.