Category Archives: LLAS

Were the noughties the golden age of teaching in UK higher education?

I started my academic job search around the Autumn of 2001, just as the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) was taking place. Those on the market a year or two before me may have a different take, but to me I couldn't have entered the academic job market at a worse time. [I appreciate that anyone entering since has probably had it much worse.] I applied for and interviewed for various geography lectureships and research assistantships without success, but in Autumn 2002 I landed an interview at the University of Southampton in the Modern Languages department; I was offered the job and started in January 2003.

The job I actually got, was at the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS), 1 which was itself part of a national network with 23 other subject centres collectively called the Learning and Teaching Support Network, which later become part of the Higher Education Academy (HEA). My job title was the Academic Coordinator for Area Studies and I was brought in to manage the Area Studies Project, which was collaboration of six subject centres. Despite the learning and teaching focus of the subject centres, I knew very little about teaching in higher education when I started off, and I knew I knew little about teaching in higher education. I thought I knew a bit about higher education policy, but it turns out I didn't know as much as I thought. Over time the job evolved and I led various projects on interdisciplinary teaching and learning, organised workshops for new academic staff in languages and related disciplines. I read lots of papers, I carried out a few research projects, published a few academic papers and reports, and met hundreds of people from all round the UK and beyond. No need to go on here-- I have a CV for all that stuff.

Fast forward to 2015 and, among other things I am teaching new lecturers at the University of Brighton aware they they have come into a greatly impoverished sector. In part I mean 'impoverished' in money terms, but also resource and support impoverished. In the 2000s there were 24 subject centres which provided workshops, research funds, subject specific expertise on a national level, a sense of community and, perhaps most importantly informative and up-to-date websites and publications. The HEA commissioned its own research, projects and reports into a range of matters. Separate from the subject centres was the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL), the National Disability Team, Jisc (still around) and the later on the Centres for Excellence in Teaching and Learning (CETLs – there was some disagreement about whether it should be pronounced 'settles' or 'kettles' (See David Kernohan's post on 'Ghosts of Teaching Excellence past' for his excellent analysis)).

Most of these are dead now. The subject centres are gone; the HEA is a rump of its former self trying to work out how to be self-funded, and known to many academics as a sort of DVLA for HE teaching). Many of these projects are mere memories to those involved in them, their websites and resources deleted, hacked, destroyed or if we are lucky, archived.

Some CETL's have a legacy, ironically because they funded buildings and refurbishments; our Creativity Centre at Brighton is still in use for its intended purpose. Now teaching excellence is all about a thing called the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF).

I didn't realise it at the time, but I was actually part of the golden age of teaching and learning in higher education. Its easy to get nostalgic, and not all was plain sailing, but here I really have to acknowledge my privilege.

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Notes:

  1. Still going as a separate centre at the University of Southampton

My Open Educational Resources

I have put many of my teaching resources in the humbox where anyone is welcome to download and reuse them. They are primarily used as handouts in face-to-face contexts, so most would probably need adapting to turn them into materials suitable for purely online context. Most are available under creative commons licenses, but please check first.

My profile on the humbox

Click on "View all resources" to see a full list of my resources.

The PhD research training collection includes resources on the PhD viva, academic writing, employability, academic writing, doing book reviews and ethnography.

The Head of University language departments collection includes scenario planning exercises, for curriculum change, people management and presenting research.

Further resources I have produced for sharing are on other project websites such as SPEAQ (Relating to quality assurance and enhancement) and Getting the Most Out of Feedback which has resources for students and staff on feedback and student evaluation.

There is also my Statistics for Humanities online book.

I have made a list on Diigo of other people's open educational resources on study skills

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Interview with Professor Philip Davies: On American Studies

As the 50th Anniversary of John F Kennedy’s assassination approaches I thought it would be a good time to republish my 2009 interview with Professor Philip Davies, Emeritus Professor of American Studies at De Montfort University and Director of the Eccles Centre for American Studies. The interview itself took place shortly after the election of Barak Obama as the first non-white president of the United States.

The original article (with pictures) appears in Liaison Magazine 3, July 2009, pp. 12-15

Philip Davies arrived at Keele University in the late 1960s to study mathematics  and geography. Thanks to the Keele tradition of joint honours degrees and flexible courses, and a year at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, Davies graduated with  a degree in sociology and American  studies. After a Masters degree in American politics at Essex he studied and taught at the University of Maryland, College Park, Lanchester  Polytechnic (now the University of Coventry) and the University of Manchester before becoming Head of the International Office at Leicester  Polytechnic in 1991, just as it was becoming De Montfort University. As well as writing and editing numerous books and articles on US politics, he has served as Chair of the British Association for American Studies (BAAS), the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Benchmarking Group for Area Studies and the UK Council for Area Studies Associations (UKCASA), and is currently Chair of the American Politics Group of the UK. Now Emeritus Professor of American Studies at De Montfort University, he is Director of the Eccles Centre for American Studies, hosted by the British Library.

How did you first become interested in the United States?

I was born in 1948 at the time of the Cold War so you really couldn’t ignore the US. I came from a fairly working- class background but my family was very politically aware. My generation lived through Kennedy getting shot; I do remember exactly where I was and it was the first time I had seen my father cry. Although I discovered American studies at university I was ready for it. As a school kid in  Shropshire I was always at the town library. You could borrow books from the American Embassy by post and I was doing that. I was reading books about obscure jazz musicians, and  politics books only available in the US. I won a school essay competition with an essay on the aftermath of Kennedy’s assassination. I had no idea you could study American studies at university. At school I studied history,  geography and mathematics. I knew I didn’t want to do a single honours degree. I think that there were only six universities in the whole country where it was possible to do degrees of the kind I wanted. I was brilliantly lucky to go to Keele. And then there was American studies. David Adams gave this lecture on the St Valentine’s Day Massacre and it was just superb. I thought “If you can do this at university, why am I still doing maths?” In those days they gave you four years to do your degree and you had to study a subject you had never done before. All the departments knew that they had the opportunity to take you away from your original subjects. I was always brilliant at maths at school, but I got to university and found that there were 40 other people who were just as brilliant, if not better. I knew American studies would be hard. I had not studied A-level English literature. I wasn’t very good at languages but I was interested in foreign countries, interested in America and interested in history, and there it was. With some trepidation about the literature I decided to give it a go. I think that’s where the extra year was so important. It gave me the time to work out how literature works. I’m not sure whether it is the politics or history which interests me most - if you live long enough the politics becomes history!

Student exchanges were competitive and I won one to Swarthmore College in Philadelphia. In those days they didn’t transfer credit which meant that you could experiment. I did courses which were more challenging and offbeat than I would have done if the marks had been transferred. In the end my degree took five years, but I had two years’ more reading than most students. On my first visit to America I arrived in Chicago the Saturday before the 1968 Democratic convention. I thought politics was very exciting and ended up getting into a barney with police outside the convention!

What changes have you seen in American studies over the years?

When I was a student and when I first started teaching, American studies was a fairly well-formed tripod of history, literature and politics. You had Dick Pear who was professor of American politics, Dennis Welland in literature, and Peter Marshall in history. There has been a slippage away from politics and social sciences in American studies. As I got involved in UKCASA I learnt that this was not true in all area studies. I may be wrong but in my mind European studies has this very solid social science basis which even includes economics (you don’t get this much in American studies). Cultural studies, media studies, film studies are a big part of American studies now. The political science element seems to have diminished in undergraduate teaching, though not necessarily in the research culture.

Part of that is student demand. Even when I was at Manchester the vast majority of students had English literature and history A-level and very few had politics. When they arrived they were mostly interested in literature, but by the final year when they had choice they were divided roughly a third each way. Over time programmes have responded by  becoming more arts and humanities focused, including subjects like cultural studies and media studies, which didn’t exist or barely existed when I was young. International relations (IR) has grown and a huge part of IR programmes is American  foreign policy. There are many other opportunities to study America.

In the 1960s English departments, history departments and to a lesser extent politics departments didn’t do a lot about America. Many literature departments were very snooty about American literature, several Nobel prizes notwithstanding - they still didn’t believe Americans could write! Now all these subjects have increased their coverage of America and in newer areas such as IR, film studies and media studies American content plays a big part. American studies is competing against these subjects and the number of students applying to study for a discrete degree in American studies has been in decline for a long time, though it has gone up this year. I believe that the number of undergraduates studying America as part of their degree is bigger than it has ever been because of all these other options. It’s great that literature, politics, history and so on now contain American options.

However, like all area studies people, I believe there is virtue in studying an area in a multidisciplinary way which is not achieved through a single discipline approach. You know more about the literature if you know the history and politics of the place, you know a lot more about the politics if you know the history and about the cultural artefacts including literature and so on. Area studies gets squeezed, underused or undervalued because of the nonetheless valuable inclusion of the area in more single disciplinary areas.

Have you noticed any changes in the type of people who choose to do American studies?

When I first started at Manchester we did surveys of student background and 100% would have either English or history A-level and about 80% had both. Just 5-10% had politics. I don’t sense that has changed. If anything the proportion of social sciences was getting lower in the last couple of years I was teaching. The American politics A-level is  really popular. We run events for the students here at the Eccles Centre and we have hundreds coming. We have given them the American studies CD but very few are considering American studies; they are thinking politics or IR or PPE (philosophy, politics,  economics).

 You are currently Chair of the American Politics Group of the UK, you have been Chair of BAAS and  UKCASA and you chaired the first QAA Benchmarking Group for Area Studies. What motivated you to be involved in the leadership of these groups?

I think it was Ben Franklin who said something like “don’t join anything unless you can run it” - I’m sure he would have said it a lot more eloquently. I was chairman of my kids’ parent teacher association as well. I  like running things and it has generally been a pleasure. I enjoy the way it introduces you to people with a wide variety of experiences. Now I am on the committee of the European American Studies Association which involves 25 different nations - a great experience.

In the early 90s after I had got to De Montfort, I decided to become more actively involved in the professional side. I was lucky to be chair of BAAS while the Subject Centre was being set up. Many people forget there are Anglophone area studies. The first QAA subject list did not have area studies on it and they included American studies in English literature. BAAS created a noise about that. I discovered American studies at university, I have lived American studies throughout my career and it has given me a raison d’être. I’ve lived in America, I’ve got American friends, and my kids’ godparents are Americans. I’m locked into the country and I’m from a working-class background where nobody left Stoke, so I feel I owe a lot of the pleasure I’ve got out of life to American studies and now at the Eccles Centre I have the best  American studies job in the country.

What attracted you to that role? What does being Director of the Eccles Centre involve?

It’s brilliant. The job came up just as my time as chair of BAAS was finishing. We organise a lot of events. We do a research conference with the Institute of the Study of the Americas and sponsor lectures and conferences, and we do politics conferences for A-level students, undergraduates, and their teachers. For the general public we work with the Fulbright Commission and Benjamin Franklin House. We’ve had Timothy Garton Ash and David Cannadine is coming soon. The British Library has its own events so we work with them on topics which have an American spin. We do publications and several books have come out of our conferences so there’s editorial work, chasing authors, etc.

We have Eccles Fellows money so people from North America and outside London can come to the  British Library and use the North American collections. The Eccles Centre is also tasked with adding to the Americas collections. We fund the acquisition of items which are so expensive that the Library would have to go fund-raising for them and which are important enough that the general public can understand why they are special. We recently purchased the first map of the Americas by an English cartographer. He did a set of four continental maps. The Library already had the other three and the  American one came up at an auction. We got it very cheaply - within a few months a similar map at a different auction sold for more than three times the price. We have purchased a couple of very early American books, notable not only for their quality and early production, but because they are about the contemporary 17th and 18th century debates on theology and government. In both cases no copies existed outside North America.

Is there anything you miss about working in a university?

One misses particular colleagues of course, though I still do have connections with De Montfort. In a university your actual teaching hours are a small part of what you do, but talking to colleagues is a substantial part of the job. I ask myself whether I miss the teaching. I don’t miss the marking and I don’t miss setting the exams. I don’t miss the meetings, except for the conviviality of the meetings. I give a few guest lectures at De Montfort and I’m still doing a modest amount of research. I don’t get the consistent relationship with a group you get throughout a year or a complete degree, so that body of people I proprietarily think of as “mine”, I don’t get anymore. So when I look at the television and see Richard Lister, the BBC Washington correspondent, I can say “he’s one of mine!”, or I listen to the radio and hear that it was produced by Sally Flatman, I say “she’s one of mine”. Even Boris Johnson’s media adviser was one of mine – all this stuff about how these left wing professors politicise their students, it never worked for me!  Campus experiences are nice, but the British Library is a bit like a campus. In many jobs you would say you miss the library, but I’ve got The Library!

As an expert in US politics and US elections in particular, people inevitably ask you about the election of Barack Obama as America’s first black president. Do you see Obama’s election as something particularly historic?

Even if it tarnishes it will be significant because of the number of people emotionally affected by it at the time. When you see a big swing in one election, the people who voted for the first time in that election tend to maintain that bias. Obama brought new people to the polls.

The turnout went up a bit, about 1%, but there was a significant dropout among conservative and evangelical voters - they weren’t going to vote for Obama and they weren’t happy with McCain. 19% of black voters had never voted before and there was also an increase in the Hispanic vote. These voters are more into governmental action and more liberal on social issues. If they continue to vote it would suggest a swing in those kinds of directions. I expect that if in four years’ time the Obama administration is perceived as even moderately successful, the impact will be seen for a number of elections. If it is seen as very successful it could continue like Franklin D Roosevelt. I was there for the last few days of the election campaign and people were very moved. Even if the administration cannot cope with the great problems they face, there is now no barrier to a non-white person becoming president of the United States - that’s hugely significant. The barrier has just gone.  If Hillary Clinton had got in a woman would have done it - that barrier has probably gone

 

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Final Début Volume under my editorship.

The last volume of Début: the undergraduate journal of languages, linguistics and area studies I will edit is going online in the next week or so.  I thought I'd share a bit of my editorial.

Editorial: All change at Début

John Canning

Final-year projects and dissertations (FYPD) undertaken by students at the end of their Bachelor degree courses are a topic of current interest in many countries. It is timely to reassert the importance of FYPD and to rethink their role in the curriculum as the context of higher education changes. (Healy et al 2013).

Every year thousands of undergraduates undertake a final year project, an independent study or some other form of original research. Most of this research is never seen by anyone outside the student's own department. I don't know if a copy of my own undergraduate dissertation still exists somewhere in depths of Aberystwyth University. I think I had my own copy, if it survives it is probably in my parents' attic. As far as I know it was not read by anyone other than those who marked it. I can't recall receiving any feedback on it, except the mark which was printed alongside the results of my other modules.

I don't regard the non-publication of my own undergraduate work as a great loss to the world. In contrast I regard setting up Début : the undergraduate journal of languages, linguistics and area studies which enables others to publish their undergraduate work as one of my major achievements. Undergraduate (and recently graduated) authors have received feedback on their work from academics outside their own institutions. They have revised their work and made great work even better.

This is my final edition as Debut Editor. I would like to thank all the authors, reviewers, colleagues at LLAS in Southampton, and colleagues all over the world who have urged their students to submit their work to Début : the undergraduate journal of languages, linguistics and area studies 4 (2013)

Without all these people Début would not be possible.

From September 2013 Billy Clark, Senior Lecturer in English Language at Middlesex University will be taking over as editor.

I look forward to seeing Début  prosper under Billy's leadership and wish him all the best.

Reference

Healey M., L.Lannin, A, Stibbe and J. Derounian (2013) Developing and enhancing undergraduate final year projects and dissertations. York: Higher Education Academy. Available from: http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/projects/detail/ntfs/ntfsproject_Gloucestershire10

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

Good feedback: joining up the circles

The website for our Getting More Out of Feedback is coming along nicely. As part of the Sharing Practice in Assurance and Enhancing Quality (SPEAQ) project, this GMOOF project aims to join up the quality circles of the  student, the teacher, and the quality manager. Rather than having separate websites for students, teachers and quality managers on giving and receiving feedback, we recognise that good feedback from teacher to students, students to teachers, teachers to teachers, students to students, teacher to professional   body etc. etc. has the same characteristics.

Phil Race characterises good feedback as:

  • Relevant
  • Timely
  • Meaningful
  • Suggestions for improvement

Good feedback has these characteristics, irrespective of who is the provider of feedback and who is the recipient.

The website also contains a brief review of the literature on feedback in higher education.

As well as the xtranormal videos I mentioned in a previous post we have interviews with various members of staff, in preparation. My interview with my LLAS colleague Laurence Georgin is available on youtube and through the site.

 

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

SEDA Fellowship report 2012-2013

Introduction

For the second year running I have opted to put my SEDA Fellowship report on my website (last year's here). Although I am currently working at the LLAS Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies at the University of Southampton, I will be joining the Centre for Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton in September. I was offered the Brighton job back in May so I am very much in a transition frame of mind at present.

Career development

After ten years at the LLAS Centre (counting the centre in its LTSN/ HEA subject centre forms) I felt it was now time to move on and undertook a UK-wide job search. The end result was an offer from the Centre of Learning and Teaching at the University of Brighton. Last week I visited Brighton for the university’s internal teaching and learning conference and heard about a lot of the interesting things about some of the interesting things which are going on there. It was also nice to spend time getting to know some of my new colleagues as well.

Statistics for Humanities

twitter
Tweet referring to the Statistics for Humanities book.

This past year has been mostly project based. My Statistics for Humanities student ‘text-book’ is available in draft form and I am awaiting comments from the British Academy nominated reviewers.  The British Academy agreed that I could put a draft online for a crowd sourced review. This has led to receiving many helpful comments, and one academic in particular has provided some very extensive feedback. I have long been dissatisfied with introductory statistics textbooks. I hope that mine will reach out to students (and academics) who struggled in the past. The examples in the book come from the humanities and I have attempted to write a book which uses a verbal reasoning-based approach which should resonate better with humanities students than some other texts.

EU Quality Assurance project

University of Aveiro, Portugal. Venue for our third project meeting in December 2012.

We are coming to the end of the second year of this 2-year EU-funded project,  Sharing Practice in Assuring and Enhancing Quality (SPEAQ) which follows on from LANQUA (the Language Network for Quality Assurance). I didn’t work on LANQUA and hadn’t worked on an EU-project before. I was quite apprehensive about being involved in the project as I had seen colleagues undergoing the stresses of running a project which involves administrative complications (e.g. currency conversions and daily rates) as well as working alongside colleagues in other countries who work in very difference pedagogic, policy and quality environments.   Fortunately our assistant director (and my line manager) Alison Dickens is an experienced director of EU–projects and our senior administrator Sue Nash has worked on them before, so, fortunately for me, I have been able to concentrate mostly on content issues.

Delegates at SPEAQ workshop, Tallinn
Delegates at SPEAQ workshop, at European Quality Assurance Forum, Tallinn

In the first year of the project we developed a workshop in which staff, students and quality managers can participate together. I played a big role in this aspect of the project producing a dialogue sheet and writing facilitator instructions. Along with our Danish colleague Ole Helmersen from Copenhagen Business School I attended the EQAF Forum in Tallinn, Estonia where we tried out the workshop on a large group of quality professionals from a range of European countries.

As well as running the workshop the EQAF conference was a great staff development opportunity for me. As a QE person rather than QA person it was interesting the meet people who operate in very different QA systems. The UK seems to be fairly in the middle between those countries in which QA is very highly centralised and regulated through to countries where QA is virtually non-existent—at least in the way that I understand it. If there is one thing that all countries seem to have in common it is that QA appears very different from teaching. As one person I met pointed out, a poor teacher is not a quality issue as far as most university structures are concerned. Even at the Senior Manager level there is often a separation of roles between the person in which of QA and the person who in charge of teaching and the curriculum.

For the second part of the project each partner does their own small-scale project which meets a particular institutional need. At Southampton we decided to do a project on feedback, called "Getting the Most Out of Feedback" (GMOOF). The core principle of GMOOF is that everybody, whether a member of teaching staff, a student or a quality manager, is both a provided and recipient of feedback. The principles of good feedback: Relevant, Timely, Meaningful and with Suggestions for improvement (See Race online), apply to all feedback, not just feedback from teacher to student but also student to teacher, student to student, teacher to teacher etc., teacher to quality manager, teacher to professional body etc. etc. GMOOF is a website which focuses on giving good feedback and making the most of feedback from others rather than focusing on different job roles. (The website is under development at present). A workshop based on the project is being developed and will be piloted in Southampton in September – I’ll be in Brighton by then so will not be leading it(!) Additional material for the website includes a card sort (built using the free software nanDECK), a series of feedback videos with reflective questions (built in xtranormal and put up on youtube), videos of interviews about feedback with the project team and other colleagues at Southampton, and online quizzes for staff and students. There is also a section specific on how we at Southampton work to enhance the quality of teaching across the university.

Teaching

My teaching this year has focused in two major areas. I have been contributing to the interdisciplinary Curriculum Innovation module “Sustainability in the Local and Global Environment"). 2012-13 was the first time this module has run and I benefited greatly from working with National Teaching Fellow Simon Kemp. It has been some years since I taught undergraduates and the modules made extensive use of technology (including Twitter, Panopto, Blackboard) and had a variety of assessments including a presentation, conference paper and group film project.

My other teaching responsibility has involved teaching research skills to (mostly Humanities) doctoral students. I have run numerous sessions on everything from putting the thesis together, preparing for the viva, ethnographic methods, critical thinking and applying for funding. Most of my materials are available in the HumBox under a Creative Commons license. Students produce critical reflections on the sessions, which also provide me with feedback.

Other work.

I continue to undertake evaluation for Routes into Languages programme which is funded to increase the uptake of languages in schools. I was recently a keynote speaker at the conference Innovative Language Teaching and Learning at University: Enhancing the Learning Experience through Student Engagement at the University, which was held at the University of Manchester.

I also presented at the LLAS e-learning symposium about my online open access language teaching research website YazikOpen. I have also been preparing materials for the LLAS annual Heads of Department workshop, which is entitled “Thriving for the Public Good”

Future

At Brighton I am expecting to be involved in a variety of academic development activities including working with teaching staff to apply for the HEA Fellowships, blended learning and undertaking research. I will also being going to Plymouth in November to undertake PASS (Peer Assisted Study Session) Supervisor Training.

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon

CFP: LLAS 9th e-learning symposium, 23-24 January 2014

The Future is Now! So come and tell us about it…

Do you make innovative use of technology in language teaching and learning? Have you been experimenting with MOOCs and wish to share your experiences? Do you use social networking sites, virtual worlds or mobile technology with your language students? Are you engaging students in the creation or use of open educational resources? If so, then the LLAS community would like to hear from you!

LLAS, Centre for Languages, Linguistics, and Area Studies welcomes proposals for presentations, workshops and posters at the 9th annual e-learning symposium, on 23/24 January, 2014. Abstracts for proposed presentations or workshops should be no more than 400 words.

Topics may include but are not limited to, the use in language teaching or research of:

  • social networking sites
  • mobile technology
  • MOOCs and open learning
  • blogs or wikis
  • open educational resources
  • virtual worlds, such as Second Life
  • virtual learning environments
  • online tools or courses
  • innovative online learning designs or environments
  • autonomous learning
  • blended learning
  • social media, e.g. micro-blogging (e.g. Twitter)
  • student-generated digital content

 

Submissions deadline: Friday, 4th October, 2013

Submissions to: llas@soton.ac.uk , using the downloadable submission form

More information on the event on the LLAS website 

  • Twitter
  • del.icio.us
  • Digg
  • Facebook
  • Technorati
  • Reddit
  • Yahoo Buzz
  • StumbleUpon