25 March 2015

On cuts

 Ouch! (Tips via Jim Crawley; thanks!)

Government cuts could ‘decimate’ adult education by 2020, AoC warns (FE week)

Association of Colleges warns of the end of adult education and training provision by 2020
The Skills Funding Agency’s response to the Skills Funding Letter 2015 to 2016 which has now been published.

National Institute of Adult and Continuing Education:

    24 March 2015

    On assessment drift and engineering education

    There is an interesting new campaigning blog on the block, called Fixing Engineering Education. A post today points to an article on the Guardian blog, about the training of engineers at university, and to a blog exchange on LinkedIn arising from it, with particular reference to chemical engineering. (Disclosure, my father and my brother were both chemical engineers.)

    I was impressed by the quality of comment in the exchange, and by the near-unanimity amongst practitioners that the education on offer is just not fit for purpose. The Chief Executive of the Institute of Chemical Engineers rather defensively dismissed some of the Guardian article as “complete rubbish”, and tried to assert that the industry-education links are developing, but the consensus among the other contributors persuasively contradicts that.

    I'm not equipped to comment on the specific case of engineering, but I'm not surprised by the argument. It accords with what I have observed many times over 20 years of observing teaching and talking to “second career” vocational teachers working in further and higher education. The blog author attributes the drift away from practice and into academic preoccupations in universities in part to the lack of practical background of most engineering academics, and to their need to claim their status as proper academics. That may be so, but there is a substantial tradition of critical educational thought which suggests that the drift is inexorable. It goes back to Howard Becker's classic "A School is a Lousy Place to Learn Anything in" (1972) in conjunction with ideas about situated learning and communities of practice.
    From the educational end, the issues are most clearly reflected in the process of assessment: I discussed how it works in this post a couple of years ago. I guessed that there might be no more than 15% overlap between what the area of practice actually requires, and what the course ends up assessing and graduating. If this blog and the comments on LinkedIn are to be believed, the case of engineering education illustrates it beautifully, except that it suggests there is no overlap at all left.

    Once you commodify education and start demanding £36,000 from graduates (the M.Eng is a four-year course), that won't wash any more. Perhaps the call for a revival of graduate-level apprenticeships may finally be heeded?



    23 March 2015

    Items to Share: 22 March 2015

    Education Focus
    • What might be a good proxy for learning? | David Didau: The Learning Spy 'As I’ve mentioned before (at tedious length) learning is invisible. Or at least, other people’s is. It happens inside our minds and, as such, we tend to believe either that everyone else behaves pretty much as we do, or that certain visible signifiers that we associate with learning must, in fact be learning. The proxies Coe has identified do not preclude learning – at some level we are probably always learning something – just these conditions may be present without students learning anything a teacher intends them to learn.' (via The Echo Chamber, also the proximate source of several other links)
    • Causation and Correlation in Education - HuntingEnglish 'When presented with evidence we should question the correlation and causation. When setting up evaluations of our own we need to be mindful of this too. Setting up a new time-consuming intervention, that costs teacher time and students’ curriculum time, must be evaluated better if we really want to go some way to having robust evidence. We all have a long way to go. [ ] Now, I’m off to straighten my bedsheets and to hide the margarine.'
    • Marina Warner · Learning My Lesson · LRB 19 March 2015 'The correspondence [I received after my resignation from the University of Essex] reveals a deeper and more bitter scene in higher education than I had ever imagined. I had been naive, culpably unobservant as I went about my activities at Essex. Students, lecturers, professors from one institution after another were howling in sympathy and rage; not one of them dissented or tried to justify the situation. I had thought that Essex was a monstrous manifestation, but it turns out that its rulers’ ideas are ‘the new normal’, as the Chinese government calls its present economic plan. Cries also reached me from other countries, where the new methods have been taken even further: from New Zealand and Australia, above all; from Europe, especially the Netherlands, and from certain institutions in the US.
    • Donald Clark Plan B: Finland to scrap subject teaching 'Teaching by topic, or phenomenon teaching, is not an new idea but no state has adopted it nationwide. In Helsinki this has already happened for 16 year olds. A ‘topic’, such as the European Union would be used to bring in knowledge and skills around history, geography, maths through the interpretation of stats, writing skills, politics and languages. A real business problem, such as running a cafĂ©, would be an opportunity to bring in maths, nutrition, as well as languages for foreign customers and soft-skill, such as communications. [ ] Structurally, there will be a lot less chalk and talk, less sitting in rows, less ‘hands up questioning and much more project and group work. It involves a complete rething and redesign of the delivery methods.'
    • Fixing Engineering Education: Engineering Educators: You're Doing it Wrong! '[T]hose greatly influential in the content and delivery of engineering degrees do not understand what engineers do, or how they do it. Many of them have never practiced the discipline, and often think of real engineers as their social and intellectual inferiors. [ ] Many think that the "purer" subjects in which they have first degrees are more intellectually demanding than real engineering. Perhaps they think that teaching abstract theory irrespective of its relevance to engineering practice is "an education", but teaching practically relevant material is the vastly inferior "training", fit only for technicians.'
    • Bloom's Revised Taxonomy Action Verbs infographic - e-Learning Infographics 'Lorin Anderson, a former student of Bloom, and David Krathwohl revisited the cognitive domain in the mid-nineties and made some changes. This new taxonomy reflects a more active form of thinking and is perhaps more accurate. Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy improved the usability of it by using action words. The Bloom’s Revised Taxonomy Action Verbs infographic includes some action words that are useful in writing learning objectives.' Yes, but even the blurb shows how this ain't indisputable truth—it's just another heuristic.
    • Stripping the Ideology from Differentiation | Stepping Back a Little 'In my opinion, there are fundamental flaws with the idea that the more we seek to personalise schooling then the better we educate our children. Nevertheless, this idea seems to exert a stranglehold on the otherwise important concept of differentiation, and push it beyond being a learning enhancer into being a stressful pressure on teachers of dubious educational benefit.' Useful counter to the conventional wisdom.
    Other Business
    • "The first crack in the wall of significance testing" | Big Think 'Significance testing is one of the most important, yet most widely misunderstood definitions in science. [...] Yale clinical neurologist Steven Novella sums up the problem well: "the p-value was never meant to be the sole measure of whether or not a particular hypothesis is true. Rather it was meant only as a measure of whether or not the data should be taken seriously". Novella's account refers to an absolutely beautiful guitar-hero-meets-space-invaders-meets-tetris-meets-roulette statistical demonstration of the problem by Geoff Cumming, dubbed "The dance of the p-values". If it is not the most inspired stats less[on] you've ever had, then I'll eat my hat!
    • Nigeness: What would Captain Mainwaring say? 'This morning I stepped into my local branch of Barclays bank to get some cash, and I am still aghast at what I found there. This branch has three indoor 'hole in the wall' machines, each with a different function, as was hitherto apparent at a glance. Now, however, the notice above each machine carries not an indication of what it does but a name. The machines are now 'Sally', 'Jake' and 'Mike'.  

    17 March 2015

    On make-work

    A few weeks ago, I was having coffee with former colleagues when the latest edict from management came up. Like most higher education (HE) courses in the UK, theirs is modularised (or unitised). In this particular model, each module is worth 15 credits, which means that it is meant to require 150 “guided learning hours” to complete*.

    The course leader had just been told that she needed not only to account for what the students do in the taught contact hours of each module (about 24 hours) but also in the remaining 126 “guided learning” hours. The course itself is a two-year part-time one, undertaken by mature, (mostly) employed adult students who are already qualified in their original discipline, and who are now training to teach that subject in post-compulsory education.

    The form—which I have not actually seen—apparently requires a breakdown of, for example, reading set for study outside of class, with the time required to be spent on each set task.

    The management have clearly finally taken leave of their senses. Over the eight modules of the course, over two years, the students will receive about 192 hours of direct teaching, plus tutorials**. As a 120-credit course, the total guided learning hours are notionally 1200. So the students are expected to put in roughly 1000 hours of study on their own. That works out, again roughly, at 17 hours a week during the academic year—or 2 working days as well as their half-day attendance. Half a working week. On top of—in the majority of cases—a full-time job

    And they do that, and more. Just not quite as the management would like to think.

    They do it because their main work is teaching, and so they are gaining practice all the time, they are testing out ideas from the course, they are thinking about*** their practice and relating it to the course. And we know that is what they do because that is what they write about and provide evidence of in their assessments.

    But that is not enough for management. Unless what they are doing is, in the management view, under the control of the course, they are not learning.

    This is an extension of the ideology of “scientific management” propagated by a charlatan named Frederick Winslow Taylor in the early years of the last century. “Taylorism” as it has come to be known, is characterised by to-down micro-management and de-skilling of the labour force, and is a) discredited, and b) popular in education. (This article is partisan, and US-based but makes the case clearly in that context. This one locates its popularity in the crises of late capitalism.)

    I asked my colleagues how they handled the latest demands. I already knew the answer, of course, because it reflected what I had myself done for years. “We just make it up.” they replied.

    At that point management forfeits all credibility. It becomes a self-serving defensive activity which is all about managing accountability, and has long forgotten what the substantive task is. It spawns documentation which is an end in itself although interestingly there seems to be no attempt made to account for and evaluate the time (and hence money) spent in designing and preparing said documentation.

    As happens every so often, I was reminded of Graham Gibbs’ magisterial keynote at a conference in Liverpool in 2010, including:
    “He explored the quality guidance and criteria laid down by many bodies for evaluating the excellence (or otherwise) of courses--and showed that some of the avowedly best institutions might meet none of them. He showed that in some cases staff engaged in "industrial deviance", violating university policies where they actively inhibited the provision of formative feedback to students. The result was the students appreciated this bending of the rules as evidence of the staff interest, and succeeded. But this department seemed to be bucking a trend in the research--because when the investigators visited the staff were reluctant to confess to such "illegal" good practice!
    “He discussed the impact of organisational culture on the development of excellent practice; out of four kinds of such culture found in universities--collegial, corporate, bureaucratic and entrepreneurial, it was the first and the last which actually promoted excellence. The corporate and bureaucratic models were dead hands. So why has government and the quality movement (he did not mention the QAA, or Ofsted, by name) persevered in plugging precisely the least effective models?



    * Note that this calculation is different across the pond, where a) a module will probably be called a “course”, and b) its credit value will be determined by the taught contact hours per week—hence a 2- or 3-credit course.

    ** “about 192 hours” because some modules are organised differently.

    *** a.k.a. “reflecting”, of course.

    Items to Share: 15 March 2015

    Education Focus
    • Becoming a happier teacher 'I’ve just finished reading behaviour and public policy expert Paul Dolan’s marvellous Happiness by Design. Originally it shone out invitingly from the shelves of Waterstones, but I didn’t take the bait until Mark Healy recently recommended it in this blogpost. I have often thought that we teachers are very adept at making ourselves needlessly unhappy – at work and in life generally – and this book has helped me to conceptualise this and find some potential solutions. For me, at least.'
    • And if I told you I don't believe in lesson plans? 'Lesson plans – they’re a bit of a nonsense. Don’t you think? In fact, I’ll go further. Lesson plans hold kids back and encourage teachers to focus on all the wrong things. [...] So does that mean I just roll up and freewheel my way through lessons? Not really. But it does mean I work according to a set of principles that allow me to teach, largely, on autopilot. Teach on autopilot? That sounds strangely complacent! Not really. I keep to my key principles. My lessons are uncluttered. I have the flexibility to tweak lessons on the hoof.'
    • Teachers, not Nobel laureates, are the experts in how to teach science | Science | The Guardian '[Sir Paul] Nurse [President of the Royal Society] writes “Finding things out for yourself is at the very heart of science”. As a science teacher, it is statements like this that lead me worry that Nurse, and others like him in the “science community”, have at best a superficial, and at worst a grossly inaccurate, idea about science education. [...] Students very rarely “find things out” for themselves in their school science lessons. Practical work is not some magical process whereby scientific knowledge is painlessly implanted into the minds of young people as they stir spatulas of sugar into hot water, or hang weights from a spring. [...] It sometimes seems that everyone who’s ever set foot in a school reckons they are an expert in how I ought to do my job. But I’d expect better from scientists who are supposed to rely on evidence and data.'
    • Why ‘Everybody got it?’ is functionally rhetorical - Teach Like a Champion '[T]he way we often ask these questions—with a wait time of a fraction of a second; a willingness to accept silent assent without testing; a look of relief, even, when we get silent assent because we really just want the green light to move on—intimates very clearly that we’re not expecting a response. Students know not to speak up. If they do, our response can also send the message that they weren’t really supposed to answer.'
    • The revolution that’s changing the way your child is taught | Ian Leslie | Education | The Guardian 'The best teachers do not necessarily understand how teaching works, because their own technique is invisible to them; sports psychologists call this “expert-induced amnesia”. When the Los Angeles Times asked some of the teachers who topped their list what made them so effective, one replied that great teachers simply love their students and love their job: “You can’t bottle that, and you can’t teach it.” [...] Doug Lemov is on a mission to prove that talented teacher wrong.
    • Introducing… The Echo Chamber Uncut | Scenes From The Battleground  'I have set up a new website, Echo Chamber Uncut. This is a companion site to The Echo Chamber where my team of volunteers and I have been blogging links to the best blogposts we could find. [...] The Uncut site is different in that [...] it is intended to reblog everything from the UK education blogosphere regardless of whether I think it is good or not. This is likely to be substantially more than 100 posts every day, so this is not really a convenient site to follow to read every post.
    • Sam Gerstenzang - Knowledge units 'There are two models of online education: 1 Preparatory knowledge, in the form of course-based video-delivered teachings: Coursera, Udacity, Thinkful, etc. 2 On demand knowledge: Wikipedia, StackOverflow, Genius, etc. Of the two, the latter has been much more widely spread and far more influential.'
    • TYWKIWDBI ("Tai-Wiki-Widbee"): Hans Rosling clarifies world demographics 'The best hours of my academic life were spent behind or beside the podium in front of an classroom full of students, so I'm supersensitive to the nuances of lecturing. This guy has all the skills. He is recognized as a wizard at portraying otherwise-dry statistics in comprehensible visual forms (see his superb TED talk on the developing world). In addition his stage presence is captivating, and his use of English (as a second language) is excellent. [ ] [T]ake my word for it, if you are interested in the world beyond your doorstep, this video is worth 15 minutes of your time. Or at least the first five, and then see if you can stop.'
    Other Business
    • Chuck Jones' 9 Rules For Drawing Road Runner Cartoons, or How to Create a Minimalist Masterpiece | Open Culture Art cannot exist without limits: the limitations of particular media, the limitations of the artist’s vision, the limitations of space and time. We always work within limits, and often those creators who are most deliberate about setting limitations for themselves produce some of the most profound and unusual works. One could name minimalists like Samuel Beckett, or Lars Van Trier, or Erik Satie. Or Chuck Jones, American animator of such classic Warner Brother’s characters as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, and, of course, the Road Runner and Wile E. Coyote.
    • E. O. Wilson wants to know why you’re not protesting in the streets | Grist 'We are entering a new world, but we’re entering it as Paleolithic brains. Here’s my formula for Earth’s civilization: We are a Star Wars civilization. We have Stone Age emotions. We have medieval institutions — most notably, the churches. And we have god-like technology. And this god-like technology is dragging us forward in ways that are totally unpredictable.' 

    09 March 2015

    Items to Share: 8 March 2015

    Education Focus
    • Is there a ‘cargo cult’ approach to school improvement? | Evidence into practice 'Perhaps one of the most damaging consequences of a high-stakes/low-validity accountability system is that we continually fail to learn very much about what makes a school effective. Instead, it encourages a ‘cargo cult’ approach to school improvement: Gimmicks and pet projects from ‘outstanding’ schools or teachers – which may have nothing to do with improved outcomes for students – are copied across schools as ‘best practice’. Teachers and school leaders engage in time-consuming activities – which may have nothing to do with improved outcomes for students – in the hope that Ofsted lands them a good judgement.'
    • On the subject of Anonymity. | cherrylkd Thoughts about "Harry Webb", anonymous author of the Webs of Substance blog, having deleted his blog and its archives, and what that might mean. It's certainly a pity, because I have regularly linked to the blog from these Items to Share posts.
    • Spaced learning – too good to be true? | eddiekayshun '[E]ver since the dawn of human culture people must have attempted to find ways to retain information, and to be frustrated by the fallibility of our memories. Ebbinghaus’ major contribution was not to notice that we forget, or how quickly, nor to simply point out that by revising information we can retain it in our memory; his chief discovery was that there is an ideal timetable for the revision of information, and that if we space out these revision sessions, we have more chance of keeping things in our memory.'
    • Starting an MA in TESOL and Applied Linguistics | aplinglink  'My experience working with students on MA Applied Linguistics courses tells me that the biggest problems students face are: too much information; choosing appropriate topics; getting the hang of academic writing. Let’s briefly look at these 3 points.' Good advice which goes way beyond linguistics and TESOL.
    • Explicit vs Implicit in Education | Carl Gombrich '[I]t seems to me that our age of ‘accountability’, ‘metrics’ and the like can demand of us an approach which kills when it should nurture and inspire. Too much ‘signposting’ and explicit requirements do not educate our students in such a way as to allow them to grow, create and learn what is of value.
    • The Benefits of No-Tech Note Taking - Advice - The Chronicle of Higher Education 'The researchers found that students who used laptops were inclined to try to take notes verbatim—even when they were told not to. The longhand note takers took selective, organized notes because they couldn’t write fast enough to get everything down. As a result, they processed lectures more deeply, which allowed them to retain more information and even understand it better.
    • Computational Competence Doesn't Guarantee Conceptual Understanding in Math[s] - Daniel Willingham 'Commenters on the teaching of mathematics sometimes express impatience with the idea that attention ought to be paid to conceptual understanding in math education. I get it: it sounds fuzzy and potentially wrong-headed, as though we’re ready to overlook inaccurate calculation so long as the student seems to understand the concepts—and student understanding sounds likely to be ascertained via our mere guess. [ ] Impatience with the idea that conceptual aspects of math ought to be explicitly taught is often coupled with an assurance that, if you teach students to calculate accurately, the conceptual understanding will come. A new experiment provides evidence that this belief is not justified. People can be adept with calculation, yet have poor conceptual understanding.
    • Excellence is not the only point of education [theconversation.com] 'David Cameron has reminded us once again that our children and young people should aspire towards excellence. According to the prime minister, schools should be doing more to ensure that children have the opportunity to model themselves on top entrepreneurs and learn how to make a profit. This sort of discourse simply reinforces what we’ve known for some time: corporate mentality has hijacked education. The raison d'ĂȘtre of students, teachers, schools, universities, and academics is to sell education and knowledge, while managing their image in the competitive educational marketplace.'
    • Why you should never assume anything about people with autism [theconversation.com] 'Without doubt being autistic in a world populated in the main by people who are not can cause huge issues for the individual and their family. But this is not the same as suggesting that the problems are caused by being autistic. The very fact that there are plenty of autistic individuals who are hugely successful demonstrates that being autistic does not preclude anything at all.'
    Other Business
    • Rock Star Psychologist Steven Pinker Explains Why #TheDress Looked White, Not Blue [forbes.com] 'The puzzle has nothing to do with what philosophers call the inverted-spectrum paradox (Is my red the same as your red?), which pertains to cases in which people agree—at least overtly—about the color they are seeing. Nor does it have anything to do with rods and cones. The viewing conditions for the image are all well into the brightness range of the cones. The rods aren’t seeing the image at all. And the two different percepts don’t seem to depend on the color settings of their monitor. According to the internet reports, two people can look at the same screen and still see the colors differently. What it has to do with is lightness constancy and color constancy.
    • Health Check: why do some people feel the cold more than others? [theconversation.com] 'Most of us who are healthy but claim to feel excessively cold, however, have only ourselves to blame. [W]e have habituated ourselves to feeling comfortably warm. In the developed world we rarely expose ourselves to cold, letting expensive clothing protect us from outdoor cold and letting power companies warm our living and working spaces. Allowing power companies to do the work that our metabolism used to do when we experienced cold may actually contribute to obesity. We’d probably all be much better off if we spent more time being cold.