Thursday, 17 May 2018

It ain't Rocket Science!

Ah, well, this week's title may be misleading as this concept can actually be used in Rocket Science.  More specifically in the teaching of Rocket Science.

The concept is "Constructive Alignment" or, in the words of a TV Ad "It does what it says on the tin".

The recipe is quite simple:

  • Take an Intended Learning Outcome (ILO)
  • Announce the ILO to students before any learning activity starts
  • Design an interesting assessment that tests whether students have achieved the ILO
  • Create opportunities for students to explore the issues surrounding the assessment
  • Administer the assessment
  • Benchmark against agreed and communicated criteria (i.e. mark)
  • Provide feedback on the students' performance against the agreed criteria
  • Reward yourself with a glass of scotch in the warm glow of satisfaction that your students have developed useful lifelong skills.
So, how do folks get it wrong so often?
  • The ILO is written and communicated via the module specification linked to the VLE that students rarely enter.
  • The exam is written (more likely cut and pasted from previous exams in the subject)
  • The essay questions, so skillfully crafted, test rote learning, memory, and handwriting
  • The lectures take place where the knowledge of the Professor almost gets transmitted to the students
  • The students revise (which assumes that they have "vised" in the first place) and "sit" the exam
  • Marks are awarded on the basis of "I know a first when I see one"
  • Feedback is only available after students complain
  • The scotch bottle is already empty.

Thursday, 10 May 2018

Quod latine sonat bonum (It sounds good in Latin)

Academia is great at coming up with grand-sounding names for quite ordinary things.  It is even better and more mysterious if the word or phrase can be expressed in that wonderful (but dead) language LATIN.

I've recently helped to create a Virtual Community of Practice (VCoP) for Student Engagement.


VCoP - a group of teaching-focused academics from UK and Australia happy to share experiences and collaborate over a video-conferencing system.

Latin Translation for Virtual Community of Practice: Practice of Rectum Community (thanks Google).

P.S: This celebrates the 150th post in this blog.  Unless I hear from my reader to the contrary I'll continue to post..

Friday, 4 May 2018

Share that Jimmy!

Spending a couple of days in Glasgow without seeing or experiencing a Glasgow Kiss (how lovely) is quite a feat - even better if you can spend it in the company of hundreds of like-minded academics willing to learn, share, encourage and elevate the discussion of teaching in Business Schools to the highest level.
The annual Chartered Association of Business Schools Learning, Teaching and Student Experience Conference (CABS#LTSE) was held in Glasgow this year.  It attracted record attendance.

The conference had its origins in the era of Subject Centres - Business, Management, Accounting, and Finance (BMAF) and, in my opinion, has retained that friendly, sharing atmosphere that BMAF created.

For those who shared - well done.  You have entered into the spirit and ethos of the exercise.

For others, whose ambitions run to higher things such as promotion, publishing in pedagogic journals and even getting teaching recognised as a core activity in their own institution's strategy...  Bad luck, you are bound to be frustrated.

Just have a wee dram.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Exam Season and Fox Hunting


Oscar Wilde described fox hunting as: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable!” 

And, there is still a fox hunting season - November to March according to Countryfile Magazine  in the article "15 things you (probably) didn't (want to)* know about fox hunting".

In Higher Education there is an Exam season (almost upon us).  Oscar Wilde might have said:

"The unprepared in pursuit of the unacceptable!"

I wonder just how many of the following 10 things you did not know about exams?**
  1. The use of exams to assess students dates back 2000-3000BC and originated in Assyria and ancient Egypt.
  2. The first use of exams specifically used to assess English students was in the late 1600s. It developed into its more recognisable modern form during the late 18th century.
  3. The exam season traditionally runs from May to June.
  4. According to Diane Abbott, in 2004, MPs voted by a majority of 356,531,986 to 1 to ban the use of exams in Higher Education. The law came into effect in 2005. Exams were banned in Scotland in 2002. 
  5. Countries that permit the use of exams in Higher Education include the US, Russia, Germany and everywhere else.
  6. Traditionally, you could identify students taking an exam by the number of buttons on their cape – 5 buttons for a PhD, 4 buttons for a Master and 3 buttons for an undergraduate.
  7. Coursework assessment has replaced exams in some areas. It involves the provision of developmental feedback to students in a timely manner.
  8. The Keith Inquiry, set up in 1999 to assess the impact of exams and the consequences of a ban, identified that between 60,000 and 80,000 full-time jobs depend on exams in the UK.
  9. Research by Ronald McDonald at Oxford University's Fast Food Research Unit suggests that the average duration of an exam – from when a klaxon is sounded to when students trudge forlornly back to their part-time jobs – is 67 minutes.
  10. Exams have been shown to be very good tests of memory, rote learning and speed writing - all aptitudes highly prized by employers (not).
* my italics       
 ** only some of these things are actually true.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Another flipping change to my practice...when will it end?

Well, it won't end soon...

We don't all have to stand on our heads or engineer Flipped Classrooms but we do need to consider the different and changing needs of today's students.

Actually, I hear you say, today's students are no different to generations who have gone before, we just stress more about them because they have gained a degree of power and influence through such mechanisms as:

  • The National Student Survey and its inclusion as a reliable metric in League tables, Subject level "Excellence" awards etc.
  • The empowerment of students through Quality Assurance systems (and the knee-jerk reactions of the random VC who "gets down with the kidz" and wants action on every minor moan).
  • The promise/threat of technology.  Expectations are high for Millenials.  This is the 21st Century after all...
  • The utter contempt in which many Universities hold their staff who are, naturally, exchangeable for recent PhD graduates with no experience or interest in teaching - a position that is not lost on the student body.
NONE of which changes the basic fact that engaged students learn better.  So, standing on your head or jumping through hoops, learning communication methods that students actually use and maintaining a focus on THEM, not YOU should underpin your Continuing Professional Development...

CPD? I hear you say, what on earth is that?

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Count Dracula, kissing Frogs and force-fed Parrots

According to The brothers' Grimm (1812), there have long existed folklore tales involving kissing a number of frogs, one of which turns into a handsome prince.  The moral of the phrase was also summed up almost a century later:  “We learn from failure, not from success!”  ― Bram StokerDracula (1897).

So, why do we try our best, as academics, to protect learners from failure?

Let us look at the risk-free, spoon-fed journey that a typical UK student might encounter:

Typical age at first attempt
Number of retakes allowed
Tutor feedback before submission of work
A level
Undergraduate Degree
*Unless you have genuine mitigation

Typically, there is no time to retake GCSEs endlessly and fewer years to retake A Levels before University admissions tutors begin to ask why a 40-year-old unemployed person is presenting for the first time for admission.  The vast majority of students intending to progress to University do. of course, pass their exams at the first attempt but the knowledge of being able to improve grades and the availability of tutor feedback creates a safety net in the minds of the young.

If Higher Education, for whatever reason, (revenue, retention metrics &c) begins to provide the safety net that secondary schools and colleges do, will we see an end to Learning as we know it?

What we will have is a generation of memorisers and force-fed Parrots.

So, what is needed?

Well, as ever, a balance between the risk of failure and the benefit of learning.  Allow students to fail in formative tasks, to barely pass in summative ones and the gap between their actual and protected performance will become apparent to them.  Ensure that learning outcomes are key drivers for course design and that course delivery and assessment are integrated into the learning process.

Dumbing down and lowering boundaries does nobody any good.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Educational Case Studies: Writing#2


Having decided on your learning outcomes, type of case, level of information given and overall structure - and whether the case is to be used for classroom discussion, an assignment, or an examination.  At different levels of study (undergraduate, Masters, Executive Education) you will have to make a judgement about how accessible the case is to students.

But once you have got all of that sorted out all you need to do is to decide what to write about.

So...write about what you know.

In a Business School faculty members are divided into FOUR types, according to AACSB and as noted in an earlier BLOG entry:

Practitioners will have a number of war stories, anecdotes, networks of folks still in industry who have stories and issues that can be anonymised (if necessary) to illustrate a case.  Academics will have research projects and collaborations that illustrate real business issues (one would hope).

So, all they need is a spark of imagination, the motivation to engage students and the comfort (for those that need it) that not every waking hour needs to be spent pursuing research to do your job fully.

Get writing!

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Games students play: Simulation in HE

Hands up if you have enjoyed a Role Play (in Higher Education that is), a Baloon Debate (Why I should get a First), Discussion (e.g.This House considers that the introduction of student interaction in lectures is deeply offensive to traditional values in Higher Education), a case study or even a Game or Simulation...

Now keep your hands up if you have used any of these devices in YOUR teaching...

Games and Simulation are risky as so much could go wrong (but usually does not). Well designed simulations  - not always based on technology - can help to achieve learning benefit and student engagement.

There are some basic features that make an effective simulation :
  • The sense of competition - we love to win;
  • Risk and the unknown - not everything can be controlled by an easy algorithm;
  • Opportunity to put lessons to use (feedback plus repetition)
  • Complexity - just like real life, and
  • Reward - Normally the warm glow of a job well done...
Oh, and another vital couple of ingredients:
  • Imagination from the tutor and the students, and
  • Risk (again) - but this time on the part of the tutor, its so much easier to conform and to make it easy for yourself.

Thursday, 22 March 2018

Educational Case Studies: Writing#1

When you use cases in teaching it is important that they give a platform for achieving the learning outcomes of the module or course.  Sometimes, however, you just cannot find a case that is up to date, reflective of your own teaching or even specialised enough for your purposes.  If that's where you find yourself, you may turn to writing cases of your own - but where to start?

Let's consider the type of case you will write... or, more accurately, what outcomes do you want to achieve in using the case?

Lundberg, C et al. (2001) suggest that there are 7 types of case to choose from - and, of course, variants and combinations of case types to suit a tutor's needs.
Outcomes for the various types of case are: 

1. "Iceberg" cases... research and application of conceptual models.
2. "Incident" cases...application of models or student experience.
3. "Illustrative" cases...discussion of textbook model application.
4. "Head" cases...discussion of motivations of principal actor.
5. "Dialogue" cases... discussion of motivations and interactions of principal actors.
6. "Application" cases... application of a management technique.
7. "Data" cases...organising, analysing and drawing conclusions from data.
8. "Issue" cases...discussion of dynamics and context of a situation.
9. "Prediction" cases...multi-part case requiring students to predict possible outcomes.

Now, for each type of case the writer offers a different level of information and structure:
Now all the writer has to do is to come up with an up to date, accessible and researchable event, story, subject.....and start writing.

You didn't think it was easy did you?

Ideas from: Lundberg, C et al., 2001, Case writing reconsidered, Journal of Management Education, Vol 25., No. 4, August.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Building bridges

Building bridges is one thing, but getting folks to navigate them safely is quite another!

BRIDGE is the name of a Chartered ABS / AACSB programme running in June 2018 in London that tackles the issues of bridge navigation head on.

The Bridge programme has been designed with the specific purpose of giving a supportive and helpful hand to those wishing to cross the bridge from "industry" to higher education, specifically in business schools.

But why on earth would you want to do that?
  • To give something back?
  • To fill up that CSR objective on the annual review?
  • To have a focus in retirement (when retirement starts at age 40)?
  • To Learn?
  • Answers on an application form please...

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Educational Case Studies: Using

A little while ago I embarked on an Interrail journey from the UK, via Eurostar and Paris, to Zurich, Vaduz, Munich and Frankfurt before returning home via Brussels.  I could have done the journey more swiftly by air or even a combination of air and rail but then I would not have enjoyed the scenery, the quiet hours in a carriage, the stressless voyage and even the sense of adventure.
Yes, I had a destination to reach, but the journey was the real objective.

Using case studies in business classes is just like that - the destination or conclusion can be reached in a number of different ways - but which will be the most valuable for the key learning objectives?  Which will be most accessible for the class?  Which will be the most enjoyable and memorable?

Could I have lost my way and been stranded at an intermediate station? - of course - but my trust in the Interrail App, my basic language abilities and the helpfulness of railway staff and other passengers meant that I had knowledgeable guides to ensure that any slight misdirection or unexpected stoppage was not fatal to the achievement of my goal.

In a classroom, the tutor can be the guide, or the guest lecturer from industry (Blog passim), or the students' ability to research and seek out alternative routes.

When I planned a subsequent trip across Australia (Melbourne, Sydney and Armidale) I used the principles of  my European trip and hired a car, rather than fly.

It should warm the cockles of the Chief Accountant's heart (if he had one) to know that my trips were also the cheapest option.

Friday, 2 March 2018

Educational Case studies

Educational field trips can be used to "take students from the classroom to the real world".  In today's mass Higher Education environment, however, such outings are difficult and expensive, not to mention the Elfinsafety considerations.  So, a mechanism to "take the real world into the classroom" is often used - The Case Study.

Although many authors in many institutions write case studies in Business it is that hallowed place - Harvard - that stands out as the champion of the method.  Case study rooms in University buildings are sometimes known as "Harvard style", so pervasive is the influence of that school.
But what is a case study? A story? A problem seeking a solution? An opportunity to dig deeper?
The answer is - all of these.
Most of all it is an opportunity for participants to engage with something they understand or can research and solve problems, discuss alternatives, work collaboratively or alone and even be the basis of an assessment.
Championing cases in the UK is The Case Centre at Cranfield University.  They not only give access to cases from all over the world but also teach the Case teaching and Case writing methods.
In subsequent blogs I will give some tips on writing cases and on using them in a classroom.  I may even, if you are patient, discuss how to write a video screenplay to bring cases to life in the classroom or on the internet.
Such fun!

Thursday, 22 February 2018

HE ideas: Who is working in the workshop?

My teaching timetable is made up of time slots for "Lectures", "Tutorials", "Seminars" and / or "Workshops".  Nobody ever defined these for me and so I have used my own experience and that of others to differentiate between these "learning sessions".  Every time I update the taught module for its next outing I am asked to specify the total hours given to each type of activity.

I do note that my institutional "workload model" does differentiate between these by allowing TWO hours preparation for each Lecture hour; ONE hour for each seminar or workshop but only a nominal time for preparation for tutorials as these are known to be "repeat business" for the tutor.

A tactical teaching-avoider might well label every student interaction as a "Lecture" in order to claim the greatest workload hours for the least actual input.  You may think that, but I could not possibly confirm it.

The problem is that a standard TWO-hour "Lecture" could well house elements of :

Seminar - where students discuss key points.
Tutorial - where students apply concepts to examples
Workshop - where students participate via role play, case study, presentation etc. to their own learning and that of their peers

and even...

Lecture - where students listen and take notes to acquire new insights.

So, next time I design a course or module and need to specify the different hours for these activities I'll be ticking the box "Other".

Thursday, 15 February 2018

HE Explained: Reputational risk

In a number of industries, Brand and Reputation are paramount.

These industries are mostly consumer-facing ones - retailers, for example.  Not that image is everything, however, low prices can beat brand image at certain times in the economic cycle.


This issues of Brand, Trust and Reputation are even more acute when the industry provides intangible services such as banking.

Banks suffer from being hated by many.  They are a "necessary evil" or, in marketing terms a "distress purchase" - nobody wants a loan, they want the yacht, sports car, holiday or house that a loan can make possible.  The cost of the loan is a focus in a competitive market but it is the benefits that it brings that the borrower really wants.

In Higher Education, we ask, what features of our Universities really make the "brand"?

  • Ivy covered walls?
  • Extensive sports facilities?
  • Prominent graduates (not necessarily the bulk of successful hard-working ones)?
  • Eye-catching logos?
  • Awards and League Table Positions?
OR is it
  • The teaching?
  • The student experience?
  • The relevance?
  • The "care"?
....and, exactly who is the audience?  what market is University BRAND directed at?

Thursday, 8 February 2018

HE explained: Are you not edutained?

Back in olden times, when I was interviewed by my University for my current post, I was asked by one of the panel members:

"How would you approach giving a lecture?"

I explained (without using words like "Learning Outcomes" or "Knowledge Base" or "Research Informed") that I would consider what my students already knew and then build on that, deconstruct what they believed, where necessary, and offer anecdotes from my time in industry to illustrate the point and to pique interest.  I proceeded to use one of my (I thought humorous*) anecdotes as an example.

"Ah", said the interlocutor, "You're an Entertainer!"

I did not know at the time whether this comment was a good sign or not but as I got the job I felt that it had not harmed my chances too much.

Those were the days, of course, before mass Higher Education changed the game from one of intellectual challenge with the comfortable sharing of industry insights with highly interested students to crowd control with Absenteeism, Lecture Capture, Trial by student feedback and Peer Observation.

How would I answer the same question today?

Well, I'd probably use those buzz words that I was ignorant of before.  I'd carefully plot how my own research and experience would underpin the content of the lecture.  I would outline how the "ILOs" would shape the content, structure, planned interactions and I would consider ways in which the students could remain engaged for the whole lecture session.

If students fail to detect spontaneity, it is no surprise.  Failure to adhere to the lecture schedule, to dictate which chapters of which book (singular) related directly to that week and a lack of support notes and links on the VLE can all reduce feedback scores, too.

So, if students do not feel entertained, it may be that lecturing has become a job, rather than a passion.

*The anecdote?
My subject was consumer lending and the need to be as fully informed about the client and the context as possible before making a lending decision.  The client in question wanted a loan to pay off past debts (not a good sign).  Repayment would come from a bequest from a wealthy relative.  I needed to check up some basic details - was there such a bequest and how much did it amount to?
"Oh yes" said the family solicitor I was authorised to contact, "The problem is that his aunt isn't dead yet!"

Thursday, 1 February 2018

HE explained - The Lecture

At this time of year, academics are gearing up for the coming term or second-semester teaching.  Spare a thought for the students who will be subjected to a lecture, designed 20 years ago, updated each year or two as data loses currency, and showing little or no recognition of the learning environment of today.

But what is the purpose of a lecture?
Oh, yes, if we speak in the tongues of HE professionals, each lecture should have Learning Outcomes (LOs) linked to the overall LOs of the module or course.  LOs, typically, begin with a phrase like:

"By the end of the lecture students should be able to....."

Note that:  students should be able to....So, the purpose of a lecture is to achieve learning or change or development, in students.

Not to: bemuse, confuse or belittle students or to minimise time spent, or flatter the ego of the lecturer.

Instead of blowing the dust off that 20-year-old lecture, why not re-think it from the perspective of the student rather than the lecturer?

It might even catch on...

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

The web, the web, my kingdom for the web

In the world of business there have been many notable casualties on our High Streets - casualties of recession, downturn or a change in the environment that they did not see coming (or saw it and preferred to do nothing).

Such brands and household names include:

Woolworths (general merchandise)
Borders (books)
Choices UK (video hire)
Virgin Megastores UK (recorded music, video and games)
Littlewoods (Clothing / department store)
Office World (Office supplies)
Focus (DIY)
BHS (Clothing and homewares).... the list goes on.

One thing that each of these, now defunct companies, had in common was a poor or even absent on-line offer.  The rapid growth in the technology that opened up the High Street and empowered consumers was responsible for many retailers "catching up" or just "giving up".

Now, what other large consumer facing industry is there where major players with household names and long histories of educational excellence that has served the nation well for many years but where some major players are seriously behind the curve with technology?

Answers on a Student loan application form please......

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

HE ideas: Medieval Time Travel

Tomorrowland, Dr. Who and Back to the Future are all examples of Science Fiction that borrow ideas from H.G.Wells' The Time Machine - one of the first novels of its kind.

Each story, in its own way, faces the dilemma of potentially changing the future by acting on information gained through time travel in the present or the past.

Without a DeLorean, Tardis or handy Wormhole, however, few of us can know, with certainty, what the future will bring.  The further into the future we step, the more uncertain things become.

And yet educators prepare young people for future careers that neither they nor their students can possibly know will exist.  Employers have been heard to say that they have to get their new recruits to "unlearn" what they absorbed at University, technical subject knowledge becomes out of date, although basic concepts do remain longer until they are challenged.

So what learning pervades?

Our ancestors, the ancient Greeks, Romans and Medieval Universities across Europe had it - Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.  The combination of expressing thought, thinking and then using the product to persuade, teach, and motivate others.

In order to prepare our students for the future, our Time Machine should visit the past, understand how the Trivium (Grammar, Logic, Rhetoric) can be moulded to today's educational demands and then prepare programmes of study that contextualise these virtues in Art, Engineering, Management etc.

Oh, you're already doing that?  Bravo!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Sabbatical blog: Sharing good practice in Sydney

A Business School Dean (who will remain nameless) once described UK Business Schools as a "cottage industry" - each University building its own solution to common problems in its institutional shed.
In Australia, a problem shared is a problem halved (or even decimated).  Let me explain:

The annual ANZQAN meeting of accreditation directors and managers from the Universities in Australia and New Zealand, held in November at the University of Sydney, was a case in point.  Business Schools face the same hurdles and uncertainties as they prepare for accreditation or re-accreditation by AACSB or EFMD, in particular.  Each accreditation body has its own priorities and rules to follow and "rival" Business Schools can learn from the experiences of others - and they do.

What an excellent example of co-operation and sharing - benefitting not only each individual institution but also the accrediting bodies as administrative and senior appraiser time is spent on key issues rather than on peripheral details.

Cooperation with competitors -everyone wins.  Now, just where could that principle be used in the UK?

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

HE explained: Acronyms

Higher Education abounds with Organisations, Institutions, Faculties, Programmes of Study and even courses that are known to their audience via an acronym.
  • DfE - Department for Education
  • UCL - University College London
  • BBS - Birmingham Business School
  • AFM - Accounting and Financial Management
  • HRM - Human Resource Management

A good, memorable acronym, in any field of endeavour, needs to have the following qualities:

  1. Brevity
  2. At least ONE Vowel (some of the above do not qualify)
  3. Pronounceability as a word  (not simply saying the letters)
  4. Unable to shock your granny (Bradford University Maths Society was always a favourite)
Happily, my acronym for acronyms is BAPU.

Hang on....that's the acronym of the British Association of  Paediatric Urologists.

Or am I taking the Programme In Social Science?