31 March 2014

Items to Share: 30 March 2014

Education Focus
Other Business
  • The Chomsky School of Language Infographic | e-Learning Infographics 'Noam Chomsky is a lot of things: cognitive scientist, philosopher, political activist and one of the fathers of modern linguistics, just to name a few. He has written more than 100 books and given lectures all over the world on topics ranging from syntax to failed states. The Chomsky School of Language Infographic presents some of his most well-known theories on language acquisition as if he were presenting them himself.'
  • On Kahnemann [Edge.org] 'Daniel Kahneman turned 80 on March 5th and [we] noted the occasion with a reprisal of a number of his contributions to our pages. [...] At that time, [...] Richard Thaler, suggested that Edge follow up the birthday announcement by doing what it does best, asking Edgies who work in fields including, but not limited to, psychology, cognitive science, behavioral economics, law, medicine, a question. [...]—"How has Kahneman's work influenced your own? What step did it make possible?"....' 
  • The Future of Self-Improvement, Part I: Grit Is More Important Than Talent - 99U 'In the late ’60s, Stanford psychologist Walter Mischel performed a now-iconic experiment called the Marshmallow Test, which analyzed the ability of four year olds to exhibit “delayed gratification.” Here’s what happened: Each child was brought into the room and sat down at a table with a delicious treat on it (maybe a marshmallow, maybe a donut). The scientists told the children that they could have a treat now, or, if they waited 15 minutes, they could have two treats.'  [And some notes from a session I did on Saturday on Emotional Aspects of Learning and Teaching which alludes to this and associated issues.]

24 March 2014

Items to Share: 23 March 2014

Education Focus
  • On Obedience [Harry Webb] 'A new school is about to open in London. The Michaela Community School [...] is controversial [...] It will be following what could be described as a traditionalist set of principles. I sincerely hope that it will do so successfully and that this will provide the proof-of-concept for traditionalist education that the free schools programme promises to deliver.  [...] As part of their preparations, Michaela released their educational vision. I find it most fascinating. However, I think we have an indication of what is to come in the reaction on Twitter to one little sentence, “We will expect our pupils to be polite and obedient.”'
  • researchED UK: Teachers are doin' it for themselves [Tom Bennett] Bennett set up a conference on research in education last year, and it's expanding this year: 'I had no idea how successful the conference would be, but then I had no idea how much of an appetite there was for teachers to become involved in research, to be active participants in its inception, investigation, and execution. I thought it was just me – it wasn't. There was a whole army of edunerds and numbers-fetishists, empiricists, sceptics and weary practitioners, labouring out there under the yoke of 'research proves', when it bloody well didn't. [...] We sold our 500 tickets in a month, and curated a waiting list that eventually rose to three hundred. Some of the best names in UK education and beyond queued up to help. It was a real grassroots event, and six months later, I'm still reeling. [...] So we decided to see how far it would go. Which brings us to researchED Birmingham, on 5 April, the first in a series of national mini-conferences – a tour, if you will – that will take the concept everywhere that people want it.'
  • Should we do away with 'dyslexia'? [theconversation.com] 'No-one is denying the reality of children’s reading difficulties, or that these need to be identified and treated as early as possible. What is in question is whether we should give the label of “dyslexia” to children with reading difficulties. [] It is important to note that reading ability falls on a continuum in the population; it is normally distributed like height or weight. Thus, deciding whether a child does or does not have dyslexia will always involve applying an arbitrary cut-off.'
    • ZCommunications » On Academic Labor 'an edited transcript of remarks given by Noam Chomsky via Skype on 4 February 2014 to a gathering of members and allies of the Adjunct Faculty Association of the United Steelworkers in Pittsburgh, PA.
    • Time Estimates for E-Learning Development '[...] let’s say a client asks me to convert an existing full day training program to self-paced e-learning. This will be mostly linear with some interactivity and a branching scenario practice activity. A “full day” or training in this case means 6 hours of actual content. The content itself is in pretty good shape; there’s slides, a participant guide, and a facilitator guide, and it’s all fairly complete. There’s no video, only limited animation [...] and professional voice talent will be used. [] I’m going to assume this can be compressed to about 3 hours of e-learning. [...] [based on the research]  the ratio for development is 127:1 (that is, 1 hour of e-learning takes 127 hours to develop). For 3 hours, that’s 127 * 3 or 381 hours total work.' A sobering guide to time and costs.
    Other Business
    • FiveThirtyEight | What the Fox Knows [fivethirtyeight.com] Introducing Nate Silver's (The Signal and the Noise) new site on using and evaluating the data behind news. Thus, one story: FiveThirtyEight | Finally, a Formula For Decoding Health News 'To keep on top of the right health information [...], you don’t necessarily need to know about medicine. What you do need to know is how to use data to make health decisions. As a statistician, I use a simple computation based on Bayes’ rule to combine my gut feeling about a piece of health news with information about the study it comes from. The result gives me a better idea of how much to believe a given headline. [] This is not a definitive way to tell whether a headline is right [...] but I find it a pretty useful exercise.' The method works for educational headlines too. And it is essential to evaluate any headline in the Daily Express!
    • When March blows [thedabbler.co.uk] 'two poems about hanging out the washing…'  
    • The Evolution of Aww – Percolator The Chronicle of Higher Education 'We live in the golden age of cute. As one scholar recently put it, cuteness has become a “dominant aesthetic category in digital culture.” Hard to argue with that. Even if you steer clear of toddler pics on Facebook, even if you’ve never clicked on Reddit’s popular “aww” category, your elderly former neighbor will still email you a random photo of, say, three adorable piglets peeking out of a coffee mug.'  

    20 March 2014

    On educational research and teachers

    In November, I blogged immoderately but, I believe, quite accurately about the crappiness of most educational "research". Since then, I've come across, and reviewed, Tom Bennett's satisfying hatchet job—Teacher Proof. A friend and I discussed it inter al. over lunch last week—he doesn't hold it in as high regard as I do—and the conversation set me thinking about the relationship between researchers and practitioners. It's far from simple, as I see it. I'll cite what research evidence I can (given my earlier reservations), but much of what follows is merely relatively well-informed opinion...

    First at the severely practical level—Bennett himself has pointed out the excessive workload of (school) teachers. The same goes for staff in post-compulsory and in higher education—although it is difficult to make direct comparisons in the latter case, because part of their job is research, and that is a very different kind of activity. Regardless, none of them have the time to read the literature outside their subject area. The mantra of "dual professionalism" (good short discussion here) has receded over the past few years, perhaps because of a recognition of how fatuous it is; it's hard to keep up professionally in one area—it's impossible in two. The only people who can lay some claim to it are those who teach teaching.*

    That points to big issues about dissemination, of course. But that perspective is, I think, too limiting. It is not just a matter of disseminating research and supporting innovation based on it. To speak of “applying research to practice” is extremely simplistic.

    The teachers' and the researchers' worlds

    To go back to the earlier post:  I commented there that much of what passes for research is too broad and shallow, but that is understandable (even if I do counsel against it when I am supervising). It all comes back to the way in which teachers experience and make sense of their practice, which is fundamentally different from how it is regarded by researchers. For the teacher, life in the classroom is like a dance. It is fluid and ever-changing. It makes no sense to take a still photograph of it. The essence of the challenge of teaching is in the movement and indeed the interplay between the components of the class.

    Researchers see it all differently. Their task is to isolate researchable topics; clearcut, preferably measurable features of the whole which can be analysed to test a hypothesis. They want to minimise any interaction between variables which does not contribute to test the hypothesis. So they have to simplify and leave aside much of the context.

    I am reminded of the distinction Gregory Bateson** drew (following a systems theorist called Mittelstaedt) between skills which can be practised and polished by considered adjustments of parts on the basis of feedback and then assembled into a whole (the example is firing a rifle), and those which cannot be broken down like that, but the whole sequence has to be rehearsed and repeated as a whole (his example is clay-pigeon shooting with a shotgun, but diving from a board is perhaps more recognisable). He argues that the latter kind of practice is "calibration" of the whole. For our purposes, the teacher is using a shotgun and the researcher a rifle on a static target.

    Rob Coe's excellent discussion of the difficulties of improving education implicitly acknowledges this difference in perspective between practitioner and researcher; and the view from the lab., as it were, and that from the teacher's desk: 
    "Related to this is the need to acknowledge that the results of reviewing research studies of the impact of interventions may not correspond with the likely impacts of making those changes at scale in real contexts. We know, for example, that positive results are more likely to be published and hence to be included in reviews [...]. We also know that small studies and studies where the evaluator is also the developer or deliverer of the intervention tend to report larger effects than large-scale evaluations where there is separation of roles [...]; the latter are probably more likely to represent the impact if the intervention is implemented in real schools.  
    "Another related issue is that effects often depend on a combination of contextual and ‘support factors’ [...] that are not always understood. Sometimes things that are proven to work turn out not to. Evaluations tell us what did work there; they do not always guarantee that if we try to do the same it will work here too. (p.xi. Refs. removed)
    It is that kind of consideration which leads many practitioners not to trust "the research", even if they know what it says—and they may well be right.

    Bullet points and stories.

    The same point is made in a different way when we look again at how ideas are disseminated. The researchers' weapons of choice are the article (in largely unread peer-reviewed journals—which all goes to show that "publication" is not about dissemination, but more like an academic counterpart to extravagant display in Darwinian sexual selection... sorry!) and the presentation. That's marginally more realistic, as the results and the ideas do get passed on through CPD activities and courses, but the medium (PowerPoint) turns them into objects to be studied... Coe quotes Wiliam (2009):
    "Knowing that is different from knowing how. But in the model of learning that dominates teacher professional development (as well as most formal education), we assume that if we teach the knowing that, then the knowing how will follow. We assemble teachers in rooms and bring in experts to explain what needs to change—and then we're disappointed when such events have little or no effect on teachers' practice. This professional development model assumes that what teachers lack is knowledge. For the most part, this is simply not the case. The last 30 years have shown conclusively that you can change teachers' thinking about something without changing what those teachers do in classrooms.
    Teachers, on the other hand, tell stories. That is what all the stuff about "reflection" comes down to, and the process of storification is complex and arcane as well as banal, so I plan to revisit it in another post later (although I don't have a good track record on keeping to such plans, I confess). I suspect that it is different in schools—I've worked in post-compulsory education for the past 40 years—because the rhythm of work is different; but in colleges and universities (as long as the air is not so rarefied that teaching is never mentioned), the routine question to a colleague in a break after a class is, "How'd it go?"  The equally ritual response is, "OK" or "Fine". But if prompted further, you get a story—a narrative of how the session unfolded, and what worked and what didn't, and the hiccups with the technology and the incidents with ridiculously late students...

    Stories take context into account. When told badly, they are continually interrupted as the narrator realises the (possible) significance of some background information—"It was Tuesday. Or was it? No. Shane didn't come in on Tuesday because he had to babysit while his sister went for an interview. Or so he said. So it must have been Wednesday..." They may conceivably illustrate points from research (and they are the best ways in to the research evidence), but they are principally about making sense of experience by using how it unfolds over time.  

    All that of course lays them open to all kinds of bias and distortion... (Oh dear, I feel some bullet points coming on. Sorry!)
    • Spinning
    • Inevitability
    • Selectivity
    • Exceptionalism
    • etc.
    It would be a distraction to pursue these fairly arbitrary points in detail here. But the point is that the evidence serves the argument, whatever that is. Remember that given the social context in which it is uttered (the staff-room or senior common-room [where they still exist]) the story may serve many purposes much more important than those of "truth"...

    In particular, stories lend coherence to practice. They are accounts of how tensions and problems were resolved, challenges faced and opportunities seized—in a particular place and time, with particular people. They make minimal claims to generalisability, but nevertheless justify (usually) actual practice.
    • And amazingly, this issue takes me back to the very first post on this blog, (I promised then that I would get round to considering stories—I have actually fulfilled that promise, about nine years later...)
    • Communities of practice are built out of stories. I remember even now how staffroom stories influenced my perceptions of students in my first years of teaching. They were full of stereotypes, and they created self-fulfilling prophecies; beware the FETs (Full-time electronics technician students) because they'll never engage with anything beyond their core curriculum... But quite right, too; in the early seventies repairing TVs (where I worked) was a niche occupation taken up by young men from the Indian sub-continent—mostly very focused and hard-working but impatient with anything which was not immediately relevant. Plumbers, on the other hand, had a reputation for being the "salt of the earth" (and almost all white...). Communities of practice are not necessarily benign.
    • It's not a simple one-way process, but stories tend to emerge from experience, and then get re-imposed on it in the interests of developing solidarity (and/or competition) within the working group. Research has no such traction.
    • All it does is set the research-based practitioner apart—at worst the "Oh! Get him! He's using the research!" dismissal.
    • ...which leads generally to Strivens (2007)  argument that the only kind of research that counts is action research (she is a little more nuanced than that). (The link is to a .pdf of a whole edition of the journal; the article in question starts on page 81. And to complete the circle, Janet Strivens herself was awarded a National Teaching Fellowship in 2012*. And the friend who put me on to her work was my host for lunch last week—where we came in.
     Lots of lovely loose ends here to pursue further...

    * It's not coincidence that in the HE sector, the National Teaching Fellowship scheme of the Higher Education Academy is dominated by people who list their discipline as "education". A quick play with the directory of fellows on the Academy site shows that out of 500 awards so far (up to the 2013 cohort), almost a third (141) went to that discipline, including, I confess, my own. Indeed in the latest cohort (2013) almost exactly a half (27/55) were in "education", and if you count those who identified their area of practice as "learning support and technology" (5) or "staff and organisational development" (4), that proportion is almost two-thirds. (Source p.14)
    • Just as examples over the whole scheme; there have been 37 in English (I think the second most represented discipline), just 11 in Nursing (which—given its emphasis on reflective practice, a dubious snake-oil to which it is as much addicted as teaching is—I would have expected to come higher), 9 in Physical Sciences, 6 in Business and Management, and none in Classics.
    • Indeed the 2012 review of the scheme noted as an issue to be addressed: 
    2.2.3 The insufficient focus on ‘real teachers’ ..."It is perceived that there has been a shift in the overall profile of an NTF away from teaching staff, which was the initial focus of the scheme, to those who are managers, professors, pedagogic researchers and educational developers." (NTFS Review 2012: download from here.)
    • and also that too much of the evidence in the portfolios was coming from publications about teaching rather than direct evidence of excellent practice.
    This is not to disparage the NTFS, with which I am very proud to be associated—leaving aside the funding which made possible the development of my sites and this blog—but to point out that most academics are too busy to pay attention to their "secondary" discipline. The NTFS is the tip of an iceberg...

    ** For a (more) accessible account and a full reference see Bateson, G and Bateson, M C (1988) Angels Fear London; Century Hutchinson pp. 42-46.

    17 March 2014

    Items to Share: 16 March 2014

    Education Focus
    • Learning from Our Teaching Mistakes | Faculty Focus [MaryEllen Weimer] 'I hold in particularly high esteem those faculty members not only willing to talk about teaching failures but also to publish articles about them. At the end of this article I’ve listed a collection of my personal favorites. You can’t read them without admiring the courage of the authors. But you also can’t read them and be unimpressed by how much they learned through the analysis.'
    • Getting Beyond Brain Games - Advice - The Chronicle of Higher Education [James Lang] 'Educators [...] need to tread carefully into the fields of brain-based research. Fortunately, some of the leading thinkers in the field have taken up the challenge of pushing their findings outside of the laboratory. They are testing their theories in real classrooms and in other learning environments, and spelling out the implications for teaching.'
    • A Don’s Life: Teaching and tears [Mary Beard] 'And finally I remember saying that no computer course could make you cry and that good teaching was always liable to lead to tears. Now this is a favourite, slightly exaggerated, image of mine. It's meant to capture the idea that really learning to think can be hard, uncomfortable and actually upsetting... sometimes it has to make your head hurt, and make you feel you can't do it. That's what learning really difficult stuff means.' 
    Other Business
    • Why Survey Questions Matter: Blasphemy Edition [Sociological Images] “How could we get evidence for this?” I often ask students. And the answer, almost always is, “Do a survey.” The word survey has magical power; anything designated by that name wears a cloak of infallibility. [] “Survey just means asking a bunch of people a bunch of questions,” I’ll say. “Whether [it] has any value depends on how good the bunch of people is and how good the questions are.” My hope is that a few examples of bad sampling and bad questions will demystify...' 
    • Thoughts on Art and Teaching: Realism and Reality [Jim Hamlyn] 'Despite the fact that more distant objects are projected at a smaller scale onto the retina than closer objects, it is crucial that we perceive the size of distant sources of food, predators etc. as accurately as possible. If our ancestors had perceived proximate objects as larger than distant objects, their chances of survival would have been severely limited. One of the major evolutionary obstacles for the development of visual processing therefore, must have been to overcome the fact that distant objects are projected onto the eye in this way. What we see when we look at distant fruit is distant fruit, not tiny little tidbits. Nonetheless, when we draw distant fruit we have to render them at a smaller scale than closer fruit.' 
    • The Tri-X Factor [More Intelligent Life] A tribute to the classic b&w film stock no no longer produced—but some devotees have fridges full of thousands of rolls ..'if we include just a few other Tri-X users—Henri Cartier-Bresson, Garry Winogrand, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Josef Koudelka and most of the finest of the photographers who worked for the Magnum agency—it becomes clear that this film may be the most aesthetically important technology in photographic history. The story of Tri-X is unique. It goes to the heart of how we see and what we see and what we may be losing as billions of casual, digital snaps are taken daily and as photographic integrity is subverted by the dead, flawless, retouched faces of actors and models that gaze blankly out at us. 

    12 March 2014

    On showing my age... or On phoney [pun] intimacy ...and an invariant rule.

    Ring... (Recorded message. "We are connecting you. Your call may be recorded." —that calls for a deconstruction all of its own...)
    Estate Agent: Hello, this is W.... P.... Estate Agents. My name is Dave. How may I help you?

    Me: You are selling [...] I'd like to arrange a viewing.

    EA: I think that property is already under offer, but can I take your details, to get back to you? [...] Your name?

    Me: Atherton A-T-H-E-R-T-O-N

    EA: First name?

    Me: James

    EA: OK, Can I have your postcode please, James?

    Me: No!  (Hangs up)

    Wife: What was all that about?
    Oliver Kamm has a column in the Times (OK, of London) on Saturdays, titled "The Pedant". Frankly it has become somewhat formulaic recently, although it is still entertaining on occasion. It follows a standard pattern;
    • a quotation from the paper which may contain a grammatical solecism
    • a discussion of what the issue is in grammatical/stylistic terms
    • usually an assertion that English is based on conventions rather than absolute grammatical rules
    • evidence that Shakespeare/Milton etc. broke the "rule" in question long ago
    • so...
     (Come to think of it, there are echoes of the Kolb cycle here.)

    So, in the spirit of Kamm, what is worthy of attention in the exchange above? (Since the column is in print, the question has to be rhetorical, and he answers it...) And my wife asked it, too.

    He used my first name. Without asking. After less than 30 seconds "acquaintance".

    Hey! Lighten up! That's OK. After all, he introduced himself with his first name... Yes, he did. Implicitly he volunteered his first name, although he was, I'm sure, following a script. (I've changed the name.)

    But he elicited mine as part of an information-recording process with no implied permission to use it. Had he asked, "May I call you James?" as occasional unwanted callers from my bank ask, I would have had the opportunity to say No, and to get even more pompous and self-important than I am already and insist on being called "Dr" Atherton (as I have done, and as I am now addressed, no doubt thanks to tags "pompous" and "old git" on their system). I'd still rather the bank didn't call me at all, but it is one small step...

    Actually, it's not just me. Roger Brown (Brown and Gilman, 1960) articulated the rules underpinning what he called a "universal norm", in terms of the appropriate use of First Name (FN) or Title and Last Name (TLN) forms of address, which also apply to the use of "intimate" and "formal" pronouns (not applicable in English nowadays, but "tu" and "vous" in French, „du" and „Sie" in German).

    (Brown, 1965: 93)

    The original account is not easily accessible, so I'm quoting an edited version after the jump:

    10 March 2014

    Items to Share: 9 March 2014

    Education Focus
    • Who should teach the teachers? theconversation.com (Dennis Hayes) 'What we need today is a cultural debate about the meaning of education. What we do not need is a narrow professional debate about what education is and what schools are for. The crisis of meaning exists at a cultural level and cannot be resolved by teachers and academics alone. The opportunities for a real cultural debate are few.
    • Truly ‘higher’ study demands critical thinking, not faking it | Opinion | Times Higher Education 'the political orthodoxies of the age [...] have come to the fore in grandiose statements about graduate attributes or as the integrative principles of elective programmes. [...] Some disciplines also require the adoption of particular mantras, such as “reflective practice” in teacher education. [] At one level, the expression of such values is a well-meaning attempt to define a common culture in an age of mass higher education. [...] To take issue with values such as global citizenship might seem like attacking Bambi. But their aggressive promotion within the curriculum is seriously at odds with a liberal conception of a “higher” education. This needs to empower rather than restrict students in developing their own ideas, giving them the confidence to critique sacred tropes rather than display a slavish commitment to them.' 
    Other Business
    • BBC News - The Indian sanitary pad revolutionary 'A school dropout from a poor family in southern India has revolutionised menstrual health for rural women in developing countries by inventing a simple machine they can use to make cheap sanitary pads.' (Thanks to the Browser for the link.) 
    • Linguistics qua Affliction – Lingua Franca - Blogs - The Chronicle of Higher Education [Geoffrey Pullum] 'Like most linguists, I know odd things about various languages, and whenever I see linguistic material I am not just tempted but driven to analyze and compare. The observations about Italian above forced themselves upon me, based on no more than my recollection of Poe’s story and the smattering of knowledge my life in linguistics has vouchsafed to me concerning Latin, French, and Spanish (though I can’t converse in any of those languages either).'
    • Ronald Blythe is happy to leave choices over new plumbing to the expert 'I am starting on a new book, and a pile of books must be read before I write "Page One". They totter about in the study, crying "Me next!" Like children. It is called studying. Studying is bliss. I have known writers who spent their lives doing it, and who have never written Chapter One. There used to be grants for doing this, which ran out long before its birth pangs. Reading before you write a word for other people to read can be spread out, can last a lifetime. And you will have the notes to prove how busy you have been.'

    03 March 2014

    Items to Share: 2 March 2014

    Education Focus
    • Lesson Observations Harry Webb: 'I do think lesson observations need to continue as part of the evidence-gathering mix. If nothing else, they connect school leaders with something approaching the reality of their schools. However, lesson observation grades are highly suspect and feedback needs to be something that is of actual use to the teacher being observed.'
    • Do it yourself  Also Harry Webb: 'The purpose of this post is [...] to present some resources that may be of help to you. They are just a selection and they reflect my own view of the state of education. However, I believe that they are all honest and demonstrate some fundamental truths about education; truths that are routinely dismissed or denied; truths that can make us better teachers. Whether used for personal reflection only, or for deploying in reasoned debate, they all have something to offer.'
    • Examining Your Multiple-Choice Questions | Faculty Focus 'the multiple-choice question “holds world records in the categories of most popular, most unpopular, most used, most misused, most loved and most hated.” According to one source I read, multiple-choice questions were first used around the time of World War I to measure the abilities of new Army recruits. As class sizes have grown and the demands on teacher time expanded, they have become the favorite testing tool in higher education.' 
    • Real-Time Automated Essay Writing? – Lingua Franca - The Chronicle of Higher Education 'When I first tried EssayTyper, for just a moment it chilled my blood. Of course, it’s just a little joke; but I hope students everywhere will be sophisticated enough to see that, because a person who was unusually naive, lazy, and ignorant just might mistake it for a computer program that will enable you to type out custom-designed essays on selected academic topics, even topics you know nothing about, even if you can’t type.'
    Other Business
    • The Two Cultures, Then and Now | Books and Culture 'the sciences and the humanities share a common enemy: an educational system that, despite its ceaseless rote invocations of the value of "critical thinking"—overwhelmingly evades the "severities" that might equip people to deal seriously with the world and its manifold challenges. A rigorous education in any field challenges its students: it doesn't let them get away with easy answers; it doesn't reward "glib examinees"; it forces second and third thoughts; it demands revision and correction, and presses people even to start over from scratch when that's necessary. People trained in this fashion will be ready for surprises, will expect the unexpected, will adapt to circumstances.' 

    01 March 2014

    On the next generation...

    (This is not a rant, despite the starting point. It may even be a reflective piece—except that I no longer know what that means...)

    I've just about descended from the ceiling. I would say I had scraped myself off it, except I can't work out how that might happen. I very nearly sent off an expletive-ridden missive but heroically restrained myself...

    New readers start here: In 1996, some great colleagues and I set up a new teacher education programme for Post-Compulsory Education—further- higher- and adult- education. It grew from several roots. It started with about 60 students in three centres—two university campuses and one assoociate FE college. At its peak a few years ago it had about 700 students in 10 centres. The national market for such courses has contracted, but the programme has held its own.

    The programme (following on from its heritage as part of the great Huddersfield system) has had several distinctive features, among which have been:
    • an assessment scheme based on learning contracts rather than assignments.
    • no grades; pass/refer/fail, but lots of feedback
    • whole programme-wide gatherings—initially residential symposia, latterly Study Days—to address discipline-specific issues which require the critical mass of the whole course
    And under the indefatigable leadership over 12 years of Peter Hadfield, it thrived. It has been inspected by the QAA, by Ofsted, and SVUK (if you don't recognise them, don't worry), and internally through regular programme review. Including—I can't resist mentioning this despite it being rant-ish—a total review invoked (without proper authority) by a former Head of Department on the grounds that it was required before a typographical error in the documentation (undetected for several years and with no practical consequences) could be corrected.

    The problem, of course, is that the programme does not readily comply with the standard university regulations. It is, after all, a part-time programme for mature students, while the default university regulations are written for full-time undergraduate students who have just left school.

    But! Under Peter's tutelage, we built up a community of practice across the network which really believed in what we were doing and why we were doing it. It is a community of practice* because of the amount of time and debate and effort we have put into developing the model, explicitly based on values set out in the course handbook**.

    Now read on...

    What follows is based on this argument.

    Recently the programme has come under increased pressure to conform to standard grading procedures.The present programme leader has of course consulted her colleagues around the network. I haven't seen all the responses, and those I have seen are on the whole supportive of the present policy.

    But one stands out. It starts with:
    "it would make life easier if ..."
    It was never the point to make life easy! Enough! (This is not a rant.) But that's a plea to relax to what I term the "level of administrative convenience", on the cited page.

    Even so. The programme has been through three sets of external regulatory bodies and more sets of actual regulations, based in two universities, with a slow churn of associated colleges... It's like our old axe; it's had three new blades and four new handles—is it still the same axe? I've just realised I am the sole active survivor of the original team of 18 years ago. (I decided a couple of years ago not to attend any more network meetings—I could only cramp the style of the next generation.)

    But how do we pass on those values to the next generation (of tutors, let alone students)? Indeed, should we even try? Do they have different but equivalent moral/professional principles in the current era? Whatever the answer, it's not:
    "it would make life easier if ..."

    * Although as I understand it, that's not necessarily a Good Thing. It is a "community of practice" as long as members influence the practice of other members and however casually induct newcomers into it, regardless of the quality of that practice. There can be—and are—communities of toxic/brutal/lazy/corner-cutting/corrupt... practice.

    ** Those values are spelt out here:

    2.7 Course Values
    The course is based on the following values and convictions which apply to and have implications for both students and staff:
    1. That you, the students on this course, are competent adults, already acquainted with the field of work and study, and having more or less clear ideas about what you need to learn to improve your knowledge and practice.
    2. That those ideas will vary according to the nature of your experience, but need to be respected, even when it is necessary to show their limitations and to go beyond them.
    3. That you will learn most effectively when you are both involved in and have appropriate control over your learning experiences.
    4. That the accumulated experience of members of the student group is one of the most valuable resources available to the course, and every effort should be made to utilise it.
    5. That in view of the continuing change which characterises this area of practice, the ability and motivation to learn from continuing experience through disciplined reflection is a defining characteristic of a professional, and should be fostered by the course.
    6. That the experience of being a learner in a formal educational setting is an important resource in itself, enabling you to appreciate anew the experience of your own students and their corresponding opportunities and difficulties.
    7. That a course which purports to teach good educational practice must itself embody and model such practice, and lay it open to scrutiny.
    8. That this includes attention to inclusivity and the active mitigation of disadvantage experienced by minority groups.
    9. ...And a commitment to the highest standards of scholarship in respect of the disciplines contributing to the course.