27 October 2008

On the constructive use of hot air

Not since Marilyn Monroe... It's got very little to do with anything, but it's fun, so what the heck? I like the polar bear in particular. Pity we don't have those air ducts much here.

Thanks to the Radio 4 PM blog for passing it on!

On the ups and downs of student progress

I'd like to agree with Mary Beard in this post, but she is writing from the privilege of Cambridge, where undergraduates are taught in part through tutorials, and dons know their students. That is not the case in most mass higher education, and I suspect many employers would say that references from universities are singularly uninformative. That's not the fault of the academics, merely a reflection of the numbers and that they will probably only remember the outstanding and the troublesome students in any given; the average are as ever anonymous.

Even so, I can applaud this sentiment;
Another [reason for replacing degree classification with a record of achievement] is the idea that the final degree class doesn’t reflect the strengths and weaknesses shown by a student throughout the course. Thank heavens it doesn’t, I think. I am privileged to teach some of the very brightest students in the UK. I want them to develop their potential in all kinds of ways – so that, in whatever walk of life, they can go on to be stunning citizens (cliché but true). That often means taking apart their preconceptions. It means watching them take intellectual risks, make intellectual mistakes, even do badly before they do really well. The last think I want is every course they have done listed and graded. [...] Some of my best student in Cambridge have got deltas on the way to alphas, and have learnt in the process about how not to be yes-women, when and how to take risks. Isn’t that what UK employers need?

26 October 2008

On CPD and SoTL, from Lewis Elton

The 200th post on this blog! However—

Lewis Elton has written a thoughtful piece tying in the scholarship of learning and teaching with Wilhelm von Humboldt's conception of a university from the early 19th century (predating Newman, who has been more influential in the UK, by half a century or more). It's good to see it on open access on the web. It's also good to see further counterblasts to the materialistic utilitarianism which besets so much current debate about universities.

25 October 2008

On the other side of plagiarism

Or "confessions of a term paper ghost-writer". Interesting in its own right as a sub-cultural phenomenon, but with a sound point at the end;

I don't have the academic credentials of composition experts, but I doubt many experts spent most of a decade writing between one and five term papers a day on virtually every subject. I know something they don't know; I know why students don't understand thesis statements, argumentative writing, or proper citations.

It's because students have never read term papers.

It's an exercise re-discovered time and again, like the wheel; get students to mark/grade and comment on specimen papers written for your module, so they know what they are supposed to look like.

24 October 2008

On a new site on the scholarship of teaching and learning (BeSoTLed)

A warm welcome to a site from the University of Glasgow, led by Jane MacKenzie, which aims to
promote the development of teaching and enhancement of the learning environment by providing practical, collegial, academic and pastoral support for staff to engage with the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
It's full of useful material, all with a clear awareness of its target audience; academics who want to improve their teaching practice in a disciplined way. I'm sure it will prosper--do pass on the word!

23 October 2008

On "dumbing down"

The link is to an article in today's Times Higher Education which does at least look beyond some of the facile assertions being made about "dumbing down" and pieces together views from a range of eminent academics, together with survey results from the less-eminent rest of us. Do read it.

21 October 2008

On the real lowdown on brain hemispheres

(And follow the link to the TED video)

In short, Jill Bolte is a neuroanatomist who suffered a stroke, and emerged in the unique position of being able to testify both from within and without, as it were, about the contributions of each hemisphere of the brain to our coherent experience of the world and ourselves. Remarkable.

20 October 2008

On the potency of taking offence

This is only indirectly a teaching point, but it does reflect on the culture of our classrooms. This article and this one (both from rather right-wing perspectives, agreed, but that does not mean there is no virtue in them) make the point that sensitivity to possible offence is now a potent element in political debate at all levels--particularly where a shame-culture prevails (as it does much more than most of us would like to think). See also this report.

"Political correctness" (in itself a contestable label) in its most benign form, sets out not to offend anyone. OK, but that gives hostages to fortune in ceding great power to anyone who decides to be hypersensitive about, for example, being bald (sorry! "Follically challenged" I don't think that phrase was ever more than a joke anyway, and I can call it because I am myself bald...). Or being of a particular ethnic origin, or having a specific learning disability, or espousing a particular faith...

The fact that one falls into one or more of those categories (and several more) does not automatically make one a morally superior person, exempt from venal desires to take personal (or group) advantage from any strategic error by a competitor. (I'm looking at this systemically.)

If major players in a system elevate "not giving offence" to their primary moral principle, then they cede authority to whoever can be most easily offended. And given that "not offending" is th ultimate pusillanimity (wow! Did I spell that right?) they probably deserve the consequences.

On learning to deconstruct

I'm posting this simply as a resource. It may be irrelevant to your discipline.

But if it is relevant;
  • How do you make sense of/interpret/deconstruct it?
  • How do you teach others how to do that?
I'll leave it there...

16 October 2008

On the commodification of higher education

Here is another voice, this time Paul Standish of the Institute of Education, raised against the consumer orientation of HE. In particular, he argues against excessive demands for accountability and transparency, pointing out that they are reductionist and unable to do justice to the complexity of education at this level.

In the same edition of Times Higher Education Terence Kealey of the University of Buckingham is highly critical of the assumptions on which the Quality Assurance Agency purports to review institutions; it institutionalises mistrust of professionals. Actually, I think he protests a little too much; he must have known how they operate, and since Buckingham is the UK's only private university, he was not obliged to invite them in at all. So why did he? Even so, there is a fit between the two articles; and of course the interesting thing is that as a private university, one might expect Buckingham to be more consumer focused than public institutions. Since it scores top for student satisfaction, it may have an appropriate consumer orientation, rather than a "toxic" one, to use the new cliche.

12 October 2008

On plugging Coffield again

In this week's Times Educational Supplement Stephen Jones is plugging the Coffield paper Just suppose teaching and learning became the first priority... As well he might. Read it!

07 October 2008

On tough career paths

I thought it was tough in the UK!

02 October 2008

On practicalities of marking

Peter Barry's article from today's Times Higher Education has some sound things to say about how to communicate feedback to students. He even mentions what he calls "two-shot" methods, which we know as "dry runs", where students get comments on an early version of an essay, and revise it before submission for marking. And he has a version of what Phil Race calls "feed-forward"—concentrating comments on recommendations for subsequent work rather than critical remarks about a piece now past.

I do however rather wonder how much of this is re-inventing the wheel. On the other hand, you do appreciate more the wheel you have invented for yourself rather than the one someone else supplied off the shelf before you knew you wanted one... It might not be such a bad strategy after all.