26 September 2011

On coaching and mentoring

Everything from Atul Gawande is worth reading and learning from, but this is a classic.

23 September 2011

On generational transmission

My son (30), in the pub, after work. He called me. We've been discussing a book I passed on to him. He is not particularly serious:
"I hate this! I'm turning into you! In a few weeks' time, when it gets cold and dark outside, and they light the fire here... [Gestures to the genuine open fire-place beside our seats] I'll think there is nothing better than to come in here after work, and sit in this corner with a pint and a book. And I'll glare 'meaningly' (like Paddington Bear) at anyone who tries to interrupt."
"Sorry! It's genetic. Don't try to fight it..."
That's my boy!

14 September 2011

On a labour of love--what the web can aspire to

Occasionally I stumble across some site which represents to me the best the web can do. I've got a lot of respect for such sites whenever I find them, but when they are personal efforts, self-funded, and with no axe to grind, I am really impressed. Add in the research behind something such as this, and I am blown away.

At first sight, the history of workhouses and the Poor Laws is not a particularly fun project. Indeed, it isn't, but the history, policy and practice of dealing with the poorest in society has ramifications to the present day. Someone needed to take it on and indeed humanise the dry records, and in this case it was Peter Higginbotham. He's done a fantastic job--I've checked out some locations with which I am familiar, and there are maps and photographs (many taken by him personally) and census records...

What a change from the necessarily generally critical and sceptical tone of my post, to endorse a truly public-spirited and selfless contribution. Thank you.

08 September 2011

On marking as a mirror

I've taken on doing some marking (grading) for another university, for a (postgraduate) course with which I have no other involvement.

I'm fascinated by the difference. Not in the quality of the work I am marking, but in the experience of doing it.

I approach with trepidation the task of marking assessment of stuff I have taught. I have no such concern about this marking, or about reviewing the assessments of courses to which I serve as an external examiner.


I suspect the difference lies in the extent of the marker's engagement with the project (sorry! I just need a term to refer to the whole business of producing and evaluating some assessable work).

Bottom line: If I taught the module/course/unit/whatever*, when I read the assessment I am looking in a mirror. I am seeing my teaching reflected back at me (with glosses of course from the student's experience).

I am assessing myself.

And if several students have missed the point of, say, behaviourism, but have got the other stuff... That poses a question about how I taught it as much as about how they learned it.  I chose the example deliberately; it's not a difficult topic, and although I continually revise the presented material and the exercises etc. the evidence of the assessments has generally been that it has been well understood.

I should have been (I was--to a certain extent) alerted to a problem by one student (a military trainer, for whom behavioural objectives etc. are meat and drink) on this run of the course, who didn't get behavioural theory as an approach to teaching. He used it every day, but I had conspicuously failed to get over its underlying principles; we discussed them in class several times, but I suspect that in practice, instead of clarifying matters for him, our conversations served to confuse them for other class members.

Aside from (or, in this strangely infiltrating usage "absent") the ethical/professional issues raised by this particular example--should I be more lenient in my marking because I realise that this time I did not teach the topic as well as previously? ...

...aside from that, and assuming that the assessment is well designed, this is raw gold-standard evidence of the effectiveness (at least Kirkpatrick 2) of your teaching.

So I approach it with trepidation. My apologies to the 2010 Unit 2 cohort; I clearly pitched some stuff wrong, and did not manage to retrieve it in our subsequent discussions.

Now I'm approaching this other material, solely as an assessor (who is agreed not to be a subject expert).

When I come across an issue in this material it does not point (potentially) backwards in time to my teaching, but forwards to a new area the student might explore. It's not a mirror but a window.Of course, windows are always a little reflective...

* I think it is the standup (interesting label in itself) Michael McIntyre who jokes that practically any adjective can be used as a synonym/euphemism for "drunk". The same might be said of nouns in the context of eduspeak, although I confess I am struggling with epiglottis and ... (this started as a rather silly exercise of finding another noun which had no educational connotations. An hour later, I haven't found one! This may be the basis of a great teaching exercise. Or not. In any event if you follow it up, please tell me/us about it... Or perhaps it is simply evidence of my being moduled if not totally epiglottised?)