24 March 2010

On not making it simpler

Sometimes things just come together...
  • I was checking out Phil Race's site today and in one of his presentations he refers to Einstein's dictum; ‘Everything should be made as simple as possible,but not simpler’ (I'm assuming a legitimate provenance.)
  • Yet again today someone complained about the "jargon" of the module outcomes--"can't you make them easier to understand?" As if we deliberately set about making them more difficult to understand. (OK, it's not unknown in academe, I admit.)
  • And at the last programme-wide Study Day, one of the invited participants in the concluding summary claimed he couldn't "see what all the fuss is about. We teach, the students learn, they go away happy. That's all there is to it."
Just for the record, I (and I'm pretty sure I speak for colleagues) have no interest in making anything needlessly complicated. But sometimes things are difficult. For Real.

I'm reading Michael Foley's (2010) The Age of Absurdity; why modern life makes it hard to be happy London; Simon and Schuster, at the moment. I haven't yet decided whether it is "merely" an entertaining if erudite cheap rant--well, yes it is, but that's what it sets out to be, so no shame there. But chapter 8 "The Rejection of Difficulty and Understanding" hits this nail on the head.

And chapter 7 rubbished "reflection" fairly effectively, too.

19 March 2010

On print-friendly versions of web-pages

I don't usually plug anything, but...

I have been working my way through my to-do list as one does in idle moments and came up against an item I have sent to the back of the list several times. Readers want a printer-friendly version of the site's pages, and I was not looking forward to sorting that out. I no longer have external funding for a developer to do it, and I could envisage that my shaky grasp of javascript and/or css would lead to many hours of frustration, not to mention the pain of inserting the scripts into every one of 500-odd pages if they couldn't go into a server-side include...

Of course I googled for solutions, and there were many of the kind I had envisaged, and then there was this one! A snippet of code, much like the "embed" instructions for YouTube or SlideShare, to copy and paste into the standard page footer (there are only three of them across the sites) and it was done! Ten minutes max. I went for a walk in the park in the time I had saved, grinning stupidly (until it started to rain, but even that saved me from having to wash accumulated crud off the car...) Sometimes things do work out!

There's another variant, too, of more interest to readers than webmasters; you can simply drag a button from the site to the browser toolbar (it's a bit more complicated for IE apparently), and there is an instant widget to create a printer-friendly page from whatever you are looking at.

Except that I don't understand what the business model can be. The service is free. You don't even have to register. There are no ads (so far, and it appears to have been going for several months), and I wouldn't have found it but for my fairly specific search. Can it survive?

On Reflection; an idea whose time is past?

I have at last managed to finish writing up this opinion piece--which is the principal reason why I have hardly blogged for the past fortnight or so. I look forward to responses and hope I get some because otherwise it will have been something of a waste of time, but moderation is on, so constructive disagreement only, please!

On diversity training

According to the linked article, it doesn't work. News?

But the article does make the point that training is itself not a particularly effective intervention, for reasons I explored in an old paper here. And when the course itself bears any resemblance to this one, it's not surprising!

07 March 2010

On molehills becoming mountains. (This is a molehill)

..or indeed, given the state of the roads around here, a pot-hole. Systemically they are the same thing...

However! I was struck by this elegant account of how a student almost gave up because of a really trivial issue.

We (sorry, I) tend to concentrate on what we are supposed to be teaching, which is fair enough, but... What happens when exercises and of course assessments presuppose competence in quite different areas? Colleges often acknowledge that in gross terms, such as ICT skills (actually, "such as" is a misnomer... that's the only area, apart from "disabilities") but what about laminating? Selecting media? Poster design? Factors in competition construction? Guidance on how long it takes to process results of exercises?

These are the craft skills of teaching. I've addressed some of them at http://www.learningandteaching.info/teaching/ but queries about other topics are always welcome, even if the answer is, "I don't know" because an enormous amount depends on the discipline and subject and context.

Still, there is one rule. In your first year, always ask someone. (In your second to fifth year, excepting gross structural change, you risk looking like a prat, but so what?) (After your fifth year, you can claim to be an established eccentric... Or at least you could when I was starting out; I suspect things have changed now.)

04 March 2010

On building a better teacher

A long article from the New York Times about moves to reform (school) teacher training in the States on the basis of evidence-based practice. The word "reflect" does not appear!