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.