This is my first ever post which quotes from a Take That song, but for the university academic everything really is changing this year. here are a few big changes that everybody in academia needs to know about:
Big changes are happening in higher education this year and it's not just fees. Attending 'Thriving in an uncertain world' on 13 September is a must for heads of university language, linguistics and area studies departments or anyone who has any leadership role in these subjects.
The workshop will cover the following
Understanding and interpreting the National Student Survey, League Tables and Key Information Sets
Using the National Student Survey for quality enhancement
Understanding your national funding picture (different in England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales)
Understanding resource allocation in your institution
Managing the budget of your department/section budget
As part of my Fellowship of the Staff and Educational Development Association I have to write an annual review of what I have been doing and what I’ve learnt and what I plan to do for the future. We are then alloated 'triads' of other fellows and we will comment on each other's reports. I wanted to do something a bit different year as we don't have to submit as a written report. I couldn't think how I might do it differently, so I decided to make my report public, crowdsource my professional development I suppose.
This year has been the most challenging of my career so far. Last year the Higher Education Academy took the decision to withdraw funding from its 24 subject centres. The decision focused my mind somewhat. What had we achieved as a team in the lifetime of the subject centre? Where were we going to go from here? More crucially what had I achieved in the eight years I had been part of the team? Where was I going?
Subject centres, LLAS at least, was very much a we organisation. This was great on one level, but I had found it increasingly difficult to distinguish myself from subject centre. I have also learnt a lot about how people see subject centre staff, and I don’t always like it. In 2010 I wrote a short piece for the Teaching in Higher Education about the identity of subject centre staff in the educational development community. The anonymous referee was adamant that subject centre academic coordinators are essentially administrators though one or two do some good pedagogic work (we need adminstrators of course, but I sensed very negative undertones in the reviewer's use of the word). I wanted to raise awareness about the job I did and somebody seemed to be suggesting that I had misinterpreted my own job. The reviewer said that he/she was a member of a subject centre advisory board—my first response was that I hoped they weren’t on our advisory board. I have always wanted to be taken seriously as an academic. I'm not sure that I am.
As the 2010-11 academic year drew to a close my angst increased. Our director did some good work in persuading the powers at be in Southampton that it was worth keeping LLAS work going as an independent unit—another opportunity though painful reflection was involved too. Who were we? Could we continue as we were? (How) would we have to change? The team, which had grown through Routes into Languages and Links into Languages would have to be much smaller. We had to reapply for our jobs. I was fortunate in this process, but lost a day of week of hours. We still had some funding from the HEA, but we needed to start charging for the sorts of activity which used to be free or low cost. And we had to start getting the funding in to keep going.
What have I done this year? What have I learnt?
The LLAS work
One of the challenges with the subject centre goings on has not been the changes which have taken place, but the continuity. As usual I organised and participated in workshops for Heads of Department, a workshop for new academic staff and a workshop on sustainable development in the humanities. I have received funding from the British Academy to produce an online statistics books for humanities students under the Academy’s Languages and Quantitative Skills Programme. I have long been dissatisfied with statistics textbooks. In my opinion they explain too little and assume that the reader will take concepts such as the normal distribution as an article of faith. The book uses the sorts of examples that humanities students will use such as historical and population data. I hope that by providing a more verbal resonating approach the book will help students (and academics) who find quantitative data difficult to deal with.
I edited two further editions of Debut: the undergraduate journal of languages, linguistics and area studies. In the latest issue my editorial reflects on the concept of publishing undergraduate research, how good it needs to be and how undergraduates journals help students to complete the research cycle. I am also part of LLAS’s EU-funded Sharing Practice in Enhancing and Assuring Quality(SPEAQ) project which, in my view at least, seeks to allow students and academics to reclaim ‘quality’ for themselves. I often feel that the term ‘quality’ has become increasingly associated with ‘tick-box’ approach to teaching which has little, if anything to do with the learning experience. We have developed a workshop to enable students, lecturers and quality managers to come together to reflect on the concept of quality.It has been interesting to learn about the experiences of academics from other countries who are our partners in the project.
I also headed up the organisation of the main LLAS biennial conference, the first of the post-HEA era. This year it was called 'Language Futures' and was held in Edinburgh.
One of my first tasks of the 2011-12 academic year was to provide maternity cover for my colleague Lisa who was coordinating the HEA’s Islamic Studies Network. As a non-expert in the field I knew this would be challenging, but with the closure of the subject centres most team members left the project too. Lisa was kind enough to draw up a plan of what had been done and what needed to be done. My main task was to begin the post-Islamic Studies Network (funding is about to end) sustainability plan. I drew up the consultation questionnaire over the Christmas period and we received over 50 responses. Now that Lisa is back this work is her capable hands and it looks likely some sort of scholarly association for Islamic Studies will be formed in the near future. I was fortunate to be able to draw on the wisdom and enthusiasm of the Advisory Board members.
Other University of Southampton work
I have been part of the University of Southampton’s participation in Green Academy, a scheme run by the Higher Education Academy to support institutions in embedding sustainability in the curriculum and overall life of the institution. One of the key achievements of our participation is that we have secured funding for full time programme assistant who is working on embedding sustainability into the CORE (curriculum, operations, research, experience) of the University of Southampton.
I will also be involved in teaching on a new Southampton-wide module: Sustainability in the Local and Global Environment. As in previous years I have also contributed sessions on employability and writing book reviews to the Faculty of Humanities Doctoral Training Programme.
The entrepreneurial John
I have used my 'non-working' time to develop skills in new areas. I have developed a website in Drupal called yazikopen a portal for open access research into learning and teaching modern languages. This has been a steep learning curve on the technical side of things as I do not have a background in web development. I am pleased that the website is functional, but I would like to work out ways to grow the website and see if there is any way enabling the website to generate revenue to cover its costs. I have also been being doing some freelance work and hope to develop further in this area.
Hope (Future plans)
At LLAS I am again organising a workshop for Heads of Department which will focus on the growing sources of public information about teaching in higher education (e.g. National Student Survey, Key Information Set etc.). I will also be putting in bids for various projects. I would like to continue development of the yazikopen website and will look for further freelancing opportunities.
I also hope to have a say in the open access debate. If true open access is to become a reality universities have a greater role to play in academic publishing.
My colleague Angela Gallagher Brett will be chairing a sessions on the Routes into Languages programme. Kate Borthwick will be presenting about FAVOR (Finding a Voice through Open Resources- a poject aimed mainly at part-time teachers) and about Open lives which is digitising research resources documenting the migration experiences of Spanish emigrés for open access.
Date: 5 July, 2012 - 6 July, 2012 Location: John McIntyre Conference Centre, Edinburgh Event type: Conference
Language Futures is the sixth biennial conference organised by LLAS Centre for languages, linguistics and area studies (LLAS), The University Council of Modern Languages (UCML) and the Association of University Language Centres (AULC). It aims to bring together language teachers and researchers from across languages and related disciplines. It will be of interest to those in higher education and related sectors including secondary schools and further education.It is also aimed at representatives of business, language professions and any other employers who wish to develop closer links with education in the field of languages. It is intended as a forum for networking, sharing ideas and resources ,and exploring ways of meeting the challenges of sustaining good quality language education.
Many colleagues complain that students do not like putting effort into work that does not count towards their degree. Much of the work submitted to Debut is based upon assessed work (I know this because they don’t always remove the lecturer name and course number). In most cases the student will have received a good mark (they often tell me this when they submit) and in some cases their lecturer has suggested they submit their work to Debut.
Their work is then reviewed by an academic in another institution who makes comments and recommends whether or not the work should be published in Debut. Few of these students, if any, will have experienced this double-blind review process. It is daunting enough for those of us with experience but for undergraduate students this is unknown territory. Last year I conducted a small-scale consultation on whether Debut should maintain the review process. I was fairly surprised that those who responded said that the review process should be kept.
After five issues I have the following thoughts and observations on Debut and undergraduate research in general.
Undergraduate research publication completes the research cycle (Walkington and Jenkins) but only a very small number of students seek to get their work published.
The review process not only prevents weak work from publication, but also good work on which the student is not willing or able to put in the necessary work to bring the work up to a publishable standard. In these cases I encourage students to persevere.
What is the standard for publication in an undergraduate journal? This remains the critical question for me. Work on the linguistics of a ‘less-widely taught/ used language which received a first class mark on a general linguistics course often gets a harsh review from experts in the language itself. In retrospect I feel that many articles submitted in the first year of Debut did not make it to publication when they probably should have.
Some reviewers think that certain topics should not be attempted by undergraduates (the subject of my editorial in this issue).
Undergraduates do not necessarily know that multiple submission is not customary. On a couple of occasions it has been revealed by a student that their work has been accepted for publication in another journal and “is this a problem?” I don’t think that this means the student is a bad person—it merely shows that the student has not been told that this not considered the proper etiquette in most disciplines (I now mention this in the ‘Instructions for Authors’ page). It reminds me that undergraduates do not automatically know how academic publishing works, it does not automatically occur to them that this is something they should find out about and I suspect that few academics teach students about how academic work comes to be published.
We allow students to submit up to a year after graduation. Sometimes reviewers suggest additional reading, sometimes from items to which the student no longer has access – another issue about closed access.
As a journal of languages, linguistics and area studies Debut has a very broad remit. As editor I have to rely very heavily on advice from reviewers and it can be difficult to separate reasonable and unreasonable judgements.
I believe that discussions of academic publishing should be included in any undergraduate degree. Detractors might see it as ‘another thing to teach’, but surely an awareness of the process by which the articles and books they read came to be published must be seen as essential. Lecturers often complain about students citing unreliable sources in their essays and teaching them how to identify a good and bad source. However, a better, more detailed understanding of the process of academic publication may be a better way forward than teaching students to use context to discriminate between sources.
Fee: £80 ( publicly funded UK educational institutions)
£100 (private institutions/organisations and non-UK institutions)
Description: Aimed at early career teaching staff in languages, linguistics and area studies, this workshop aims to complement ‘generic’ Postgraduate Certificate courses offered by institutions. The workshop will also be useful for experienced staff who are new to the UK and finishing and recent PhD students seeking academic employment.
The event will take a holistic and long term examination of the academic career and will include discussions of:
managing an academic career
career promotion and progression (for both fixed-term and permanent staff)
The big news for me this month is that the British Academy has agreed to fund me to produce an introductory online statistics resource for students in the humanities under its Languages and Quantitative Skills initiative.
The first challenge is how introductory is introductory? We have all come across books entitled “X for beginners” or “An introduction to Y” which have us lost by the second page. They may be introductions to X or Y, but they assume that their readers know all about A, B and Z. We see statistics books with an introduction on page 1 and a plethora of Greek letters on page 2. We see ‘teach yourself’ language books which begin with grammar guides discussing nominatives, vocatives , instrumentals, perfect and imperfect tenses etc., etc. A couple of months ago this sketch from French and Saunders came back into my memory. A man sues guitarist Ralph McTell because he is unable to play anything from McTell’s ‘100 Easy tunes for Guitar’, due to a lack of chord diagrams. Writing a book or developing a resource for beginners to be used without a teacher is a dangerous business.
I do see good examples too. I own books in the ‘for Dummies’ and ‘for Idiots’ range and I have been impressed with these and have not felt out of my depth with them and have had some success. I did manage to buy a house a couple of years back and I have succeeded in building a website in Drupal.
As Carol Voderman said in her report last year, pupils are doing trigonometry and algebra when they are unable to calculate a percentage. Does this mean that my introductory text will need to start with a refresher in basic mathematics, like how to calculate a percentage? I imagine my readers will have studied maths to GCSE at least, but there is no guarantee they will remember much about it. I am pondering this as I make a start on the project.
An additional challenge is not the how, but the why. Statistics courses often fall into that category of a ‘necessary evil’—boring courses which need to be done so that exciting things can be done later. In these days of the extensive monitoring of student satisfaction, these courses are very dangerous – students must be able to see the point. And statistics is usually the last thing students expect on their humanities degree—and frequently they don’t come across them at all.
I hope that my project will answer the ‘why’ question just as well as the ‘how’ question. It is easier to teach someone how to do a statistical test than it is to explain how, when and why you might use it.
I plan to update on my progress from time to time. I hope this post will serve to remind me of the pitfalls of writing an introductory text.