30 August 2009

On resources on lecturing

I'm still sort of doing other things at the moment, but expect to be blogging more regularly in the next week or so. In the meantime here is a great compilation page on lecturing which should provide more than enough links to keep you going!

27 August 2009

On an overview of on-line education (in the USA)

Brainstorm - Is It Time to Get on Board With Online Education? - The Chronicle of Higher Education

The U.S. Department of Education has conducted a meta-analysis of the effectiveness of on-line education. (For those not familiar with the jargon "K-12" refers to compulsory education [Kindergarten to 12th Grade]).

The picture is far from as clear as advocates of on-line systems claim, but it is an important start.

14 August 2009

On celebrating contradictions; in memoriam Jerry Cohen.

Read his obituary. But then listen and enjoy and reflect on this podcast; this is an enactment of intellectual integrity. And wit.

See also here.

On professional boundaries in a digital world

Two things.

I did dip my toe into social networking waters, but backed off because regardless of professional boundaries, the nature of the job is to expose oneself to at least hundreds of other people. Facebook does not understand information management in that sense--but there is no particular reason why it should. Note to those who want to use a Facebook/MySpace, etc. presence as a substitute VLE (generally a Good Idea)--do check identities and information control.

But technologically this post was a test. I read other blogs through Google Reader, which reliably feeds new material from selected sources onto a single page, from which I can if I wish go to the source with just one click. As of today, I can also publish with one click a copy of what I read to my own blog. It's quick and convenient but ... OK. I don't have to use it and I shan't.

13 August 2009

On signage (off-topic)

Perhaps this article does make some points about visual literacy which impact on learning, but that is not the reason for recommending it--it is simply very interesting. Oh--it's about the origins of "isotype" signs (you know, that more or less standard range of graphic signs for WCs and "No Smoking" etc. which are so ubiquitous, and their implementation by the National Parks Service in the US.

08 August 2009

On social work training

'Degrees in social work are viewed as being "difficult to fail" - a reputation that is unacceptable, a select committee of MPs has said.'

As I wrote several years ago;

When I taught on social work courses, on which the majority of other tutors were former social workers, they were often exemplary tutors. They brought all their professional skills to bear in counselling and supporting students, and were enormously sensitive to their difficulties and any form of discrimination to which they might potentially be subject. Also true to their professional background, they acted as advocates for their "clients". So it was that our assessment boards were interminable affairs, as tutors produced reams of evidence of extenuating circumstances to argue that students who had failed, or failed to submit work, should proceed to the next year of the course, or be granted extensions to produce the required work for completion.

[Note; I left social work education fifteen years ago. I have confirmed in the last six months that in at least three not untypical programmes, nothing has changed in this respect.]

Recently [2001, but this is the same borough in which the Baby Peter case happened], the Director of Social Services for the London Borough of Haringey admitted to the inquiry into the death of Victoria ClimbiƩ (a child killed by her aunt and partner who were supposed to be looking after her) that some of her staff had not read the Departmental policies and procedures on child abuse because, although qualified, they could not read very well. [Primary Source reference here see pp 77-78]*

This pre-dates the introduction of the degree-level qualification for social work, but even then it was at what we would now regard as NQF (National Qualifications Framework) Level 5 (i.e. two years of university-level education)
As someone said (sorry, despite my usual academic pedantry, I can't reference this);

    "I'm all for students being supported and being given the benefit of the doubt, as long as my doctor/dentist/airline pilot/plumber didn't learn that way!"

I was criticised severely for telling the students at the start of the course that I was not so much interested in their welfare as in the welfare of their future clients.

The problem with "supporting" students is that in many — probably most — cases it does not work. It merely defers their ultimate failure: or of course it results in collusion between the staff and their incapable students to "dumb down" the course so that they do pass, with a devalued qualification which potentially costs employers a great deal of money to compensate for, and in some cases costs livelihoods and lives.

I wrote that explicitly to provoke debate, and get beyond the bland edu-pap regurgitated by "trainee" teachers. So I added a caveat distancing myself from the sentiment.

I withdraw the caveat.

* Lets get it from the horse's mouth: this is the relevant transcript from the Climbie enquiry:

MR GARNHAM: How are you going to achieve this? I ask because Mary Richardson told us that some staff had a real difficulty with the written word, that guidance -- and we have seen this time and time again -- guidance is not always followed or even read, so how are you going to make these improvements? Do you agree with Ms Richardson by the way?

16 MS BRISTOW: I believe any large organisation you will always have some staff with literacy problems and I think one of the difficulties in our society is it is very hard for people to admit to that. There is a social stigma attached to admitting difficulty with literacy or numeracy.

22 MR GARNHAM: Difficulty with literacy and numeracy is a problem in trained social workers, is it?

24 MS BRISTOW: I believe that does in some cases occur.

On "write-only" documents again

I did write about this earlier, on 16 October 06 to be precise, but it's worth a re-visit.

I met a couple of former colleagues in a bookshop this afternoon, and after a few moments of obligatory skirmishing about the intellectual street-cred of the items in one's basket. [Note; the sole copy of Slavoj Zizek's (sorry, can't be bothered with the accents) latest hardback has continued to sit there, face out, for at least six weeks...] Sorry, after those few ritual moments, we caught up on the state of play at the factory (aka university) and what happened to some course proposals we had been involved in validating.

One of them had participated in the validation of an earlier version of a course which I largely wrote and which of course never recruited or ran. I knew it was fairly unlikely it would ever see the light of day, so I sprinkled the documentation with "easter eggs" as programmers call them--hidden gems which are only revealed to the dedicated few who really dig into the program. Of course no-one ever noticed

I think she was a little taken aback that I could be so cavalier with the university's sacrosanct quality assurance procedures.

Yet another example (to set alongside the collected works of Slavoj Zizek) of documents whose sole virtue is their existence. Perhaps we could try simply pasting "lorem ispum..." into required forms and seeing if anyone ever notices...

06 August 2009

On Coffield's latest

Frank Coffield has done it again. All you ever wanted to know about learning and teaching but were too cool to ask is a counterpart to Just Suppose Teaching and Learning became the First Priority. As before it is available as a free download from Learning and Skills Network Publications. While the former pamphlet was addressed to college managers, this one is aimed at actual students, and based on conversations with a range of them on courses in further education.

It's arrived too late to go into the essential reading section of our course handbook, but we shall plug it hard.

04 August 2009

On the liminal step...

An excellent reflection on the experience of stepping up from being a junior doctor to a "middle-grade" registrar, fully aware of the increasing responsibility and the change in sense of identity.

On PowerPoint yet again

(Only available to UK readers) PowerPoint features strongly (well, prominently, at least) in this edition of "Word of Mouth" on BBC Radio Four which should be available for a week, shortly. It covers an army officer talking about how dangerous it is as a tool of miscommunication (shades of Edward Tufte), and Richard Mayer discussing cognitive load and how it affects learning (too complicated for a simple link--but I may manage a page on it some time) as well PowerPoint Karaoke at a pub in Leeds. The latter has some mention of how it might be used to help people to develop their presentation skills; it consists of simply asking participants, out of the blue, to give a talk around a PP presentation about something they know nothing about and have never seen before.

On spending time

This has got very little to do with teaching or learning. It's just fascinating, that's all. It's an interactive graph of how different categories of Americans spent their days in 2008.

02 August 2009

On wire-walking and beyond...

On 7 August 1974, Philippe Petit walked a tightrope between the twin towers of the (then) World Trade Center. He did so with no authority or sponsorship (and the financial backing remains unclear).
(Is the above plagiarised? Discuss in the light of the link from the heading.)
I have just watched this extraordinary film.

Its impact is largely based on the equally extraordinary variation between the practitioner's (Petit's) account, and that of spectators.

The spectator question is "Is he going to fall off?" (Spoiler; he didn't, otherwise he could not have contributed to this film.) For the participants or practitioners the question just does not arise. He spent 45 minutes on the wire and crossed and re-crossed eight times.

The point of this observation? It's a very vivid illustration of how the acquisition of a skill is capable of completely transforming a person. It would be nonsensical to listen to the Proms to see if you can catch out a player producing a note out of tune. Their performance concerns are utterly different, as a result of course of thousands of hours of practice. Richard Sennett, in his rambling and ultimately disappointing "The Craftsman" (2008), pronounces on what is becoming the received wisdom, that it takes 10,000 hours to produce a craftsman.

Random reflections;
  • At what cost? Ten thousand hours which could have been spent doing something other than practising an instrument, or training on a track or walking on a wire. What kind of person would the craftsman have become without that obsessionalism?

  • And related to that, it is not surprising that the craftsman does not just do something differently from everyone else; he or she now is different, and thinks of her- or himself differently.

  • If it takes that long, and always has done, why are we so obsessed with doing it faster? It's just pushing on an automatically closing door. It takes an enormous amount of wasted energy.

  • And as Sennett moots; can we afford it any longer? A few years ago there was a TV series called "Faking it", in which participants were given about three weeks to be transformed into passable imitators of a DJ, a hairdresser, a chef or such-like. Is that the paradigm for vocational education to come?

01 August 2009

On how to write a research paper

From Andrew Gelman (picked up on the Marginal Revolution blog). Very sound and clear advice.

The order is rather different from that which I suggest for writing a dissertation here. That is because Gelman's approach suits writing up a paper after the research has been completed, and is about communicating it effectively. Students doing dissertations are often writing concurrently with undertaking the work, and the structure of the article should provide some scaffolding of that process. Having said that, I acknowledge that "writing up" often does not work that way.