Category Archives: teaching

Degree programmes for the future: Inter-galatic Communication, Space Tourism or Hoverboard Design?

What do you get if you put together a group of academics from various disciplines who’ve never met before than ask them to design a degree course for the future? Not a degree in space tourism, intergalactic communication or hoverboard design, but a course which addresses a very immediate concern – that of the global ageing population. That was the challenge for our multidisciplinary group at the recent University Alliance ‘sandpit’ event at Nottingham Trent University.

Hoverskull - Jonas Bødtker

Not for the course we designed!

I will not get into a discussion about whether our present degree courses, bound largely in ‘disciplines’ which emerged in the latter quartile of the nineteenth century are fit for the present, let alone the future. Our brief was to cast off our collective baggage and come up with a degree programme which would somehow address a present challenge –namely that people are living longer and an increasing proportion of the world’s population consists of older people.

The only real rule in our brief was that the programme had to be at undergraduate level degree. We didn’t have to worry about whether the programme fitted in with any existing (real or imagined) institutional regulations.

The degree my group designed was called ‘BA (Hons) Lifelong Learning and Consultancy’ – I’m sure that given more than a two days, we would have been able to come with a catchier title for the programme. The proposed programme is aimed at older learners, possibly those who have recently retired from the police or armed forces, have been made redundant from ‘traditional’ industries or are just wanting a new challenge. Is was envisaged that learners would use their existing skills and experience to assist younger students on ‘traditional’ degrees and to work with community groups. The assessments would be largely project-based and by the end of the programme graduates would be able to facilitate learning and change in range of organisations as well as being able ‘deliver consultancy at a professional level’ (a direct quote from our programme proposal form!).

Module grid for BA (Hons) Lifelong Learning and Consultancy

At the end of the two days the facilitators expressed excitement that each group had managed to produce a plausible degree programme. The question then arose about why these things take so long in real practice. On this occasion we had the advantage that we had all allocated two days to this exercise, and by our very attendance at the event we were sufficiently open-minded to believe that something could be achieved. Unbound by the fetters of our institutions’ rules and regulations, no ideas were rejected on the grounds that our plans would be unacceptable to some committee or would violate institutional rules about contact time or assessment regulations and there was no reason to concern ourselves with the requirements of a professional body.

After attending the event and speaking to others afterwards here are a few thoughts / observations:

1. Is quality assurance (in all its local and national forms) inhibiting innovation in the design of courses, modules etc.? Too many conversations in universities revolve around what is allowed, rather than what is good.
2. Can more be achieved, faster, if we simply had the time and inclination to all get together for a day or two and focus on a particular task?
3. As a group we were unburdened by hierarchies, disciplinary traditions and a desire to preserve ‘our bit’ of the curriculum. I had not met any of my fellow group members before and did not know their ‘rank’ or standing in their disciplines.
4. This might be controversial, but would higher education be better served if everybody in academia was as open minded as the people who attended the sandpit?
5. A conversation which arose at a subsequent meeting considered issues of agility. Are our courses too slow to change to meet new challenges and the development of new technologies? Are our graduates equipped for the future or merely for the recent past? We sometimes moan about companies only seeking ‘oven ready graduates’, but does our lack of agility mean that we are serving graduates who have been the oven and are now going stale?

Tram in Nottingham
Trams are coming back. Skills and knowledge of the past needed again.

The idea of passing on skills from one generation to another is one which I think is very important and formed a key idea in our planned degree scheme. I’m not thinking solely about passing on the skills of a dying local craft, but broader skills which seem to be disappearing like the ability to put up shelves or a saw a piece of wood in a straight line. I’ve learned some of these skills from books and from YouTube, but a lot of people my age have never felt the need to acquire these skills. It would be a shame if they were to become restricted to a small group of professionals.

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Teaching Excellence Framework: Brief lessons from the 1990s

The Additional Guidance for Year 2 of the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF) was published earlier this week. In many respects the TEF is very different to the Teaching Quality Assessment of the 1990s, but it has been interesting spending time this morning reading two articles from that period. I was starting my undergraduate degree when the first article was published and working on my PhD at the time of the second.

To quote Cicero:

Nescire autem quid ante quam natus sis acciderit, id est semper esse puerum. Quid enim est aetas hominis, nisi ea memoria rerum veterum cum superiorum aetate contexitur?
Not to know what happened before you were born is to be a child forever. For what is the time of a man, except it be interwoven with that memory of ancient things of a superior age?
Variant translation: To be ignorant of the past is to be forever a child.
Chapter XXXIV, section 120 Cicero Orator Ad M. Brutum 46BC

And a few quotes from the articles in question:

Nevil Johnson (1994). Dons in Decline: Who Will Look After the Cultural Capital? 2Oth Century British History 5 (3): 370-385

Measurement has by now become an obsession of the present government, a litany recited with unreflecting dogmatism day in, day out. (p.378)

It no longer really matters how well an academic teaches and whether he or she sometimes inspires their pupils; it is far more important that they have produced plans of their courses, bibliographies, outlines of this, that and the other, in short all the paraphernalia of futile bureaucratization required for assessors who come from on high like emissaries from Kafka's castle. (p.379)

Cris Shore and Susan Wright (1999). Audit Culture and Anthropology: Neo-Liberalism in British Higher Education. The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Vol. 5, No. 4 pp.
557-575

Thus, even though the audit explosion has encouraged cynicism and staged performance, it is very hard for individuals or institutions to escape its influence. (p.570)

Anthropology's predicament recalls that of Joseph K, the protagonist in Kafka's The Trial. Part of the reason he was so powerless was because he was unable to identify and therefore challenge the reason for his arrest. And because he never understood the system of power to which he was subjected, all his resolve dissipated and he eventually went meekly and willingly to his own execution. The lesson for anthropology in the new neo-liberal 'trial' is that we have become the agents through which power operates and unless we wish to follow in the steps of Joseph K, we would do well to engage in more political reflexivity (p.572)

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Michel Foucault and the pedagogy of learning to swim

Reading Foucault today the following passage struck me, although it was little to do with the reason I've been reading Foucault.

The organisation of serial space was one of the great technical mutations of elementary education. It made it possible to supersede the traditional system (a pupil working for a few minutes with the master, while the rest of the heterogeneous group group remained idle unattended). By assigning individual places it made possible the supervision of each individual and the simultaneous work of all.

(M. Foucault 1977, Discipline and Punish, London: Penguin p.147).

Every Saturday morning I take my son to his beginner swimming lessons. The approach taken by the swimming teachers at our local swimming pool is very different from the approach taken by my own swimming teacher at the same level. At my son's lessons the teacher is in the water and she spends a few minutes with each while the other groups members talk, splash each other or practice putting their faces in the water (the traditional method in Foucaultian terms). When I learnt to swim, the teacher did not come in the water at all. He stood at the side of pool giving instructions to the whole group then altogether, then we all did as as said (or at least tried). I never actually saw my swimming teacher swim-- he used the discipline approach.

I have no view on which approach might be better in terms of teaching someone to swim. Perhaps there is a debate in the swimming teaching community about which approach to group teaching is best. This post is pure observation and not an opinion!

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Hybrid Pedagogy: a different sort of journal

hybrisped

Developer, Financier, Designer: Building Hybrid Projects outside the University documents and reflects on my experiences of building the open access website YazikOpen. The article focuses more on the processes and issues about conducting a project outside the ‘official’ university than the technicalities of building the website, on modern languages or on the open access debate.

I wish to encourage others (in and out of academia) to take a look at the Hybrid Pedagogy online journal. I wanted to write this piece for some time, but was unsure where I could find an outlet to publish it. In my experience traditional journals don’t tend to be good outlet for reflective pieces, so I took to google and found out about Hybrid Pedagogy. Knowing nothing about the journal beyond what I saw on the website I took the plunge and submitted a short piece for consideration.

Hybrid Pedagogy is not only different in the sorts of article it publishes. Its peer review process is different from other journals I’ve published in. Rather than getting comments from anonymous reviewers, two editors from the journal, Sean Morris and Chris Friend, worked with me to bring the piece up to a publishable standard. They made suggestions, asked questions, asked me to expand certain sections and said what they thought was interesting about the piece and what they thought its shortcomings to be.

Hybrid Pedagogy is not only an open access online journal, but a different method of publication altogether. I would urge those with an interest in pedagogy or pedagogic research to take a serious look at the articles and consider contributing. There is even a section called 'Page Two' for non-peer reviewed contributions.

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Over 100 things to think about when lecturing (from 1937)

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Today I have been thinking about lecturing. A couple of years back I was struck by Chekhov's short story “A Boring Story”, (1889) a first person account of an elderly and unwell medical professor, which includes his reflections on lecturing, which he regarded as something of a trial.

This morning I came across A Critique of Poor College Lecturing (1937) in which a psychology professor asked 300 students how he could improve his lecturing. The students came up with over 100 questions the lecturer needed to ask himself. Although somewhat daunting and clearly from a previous age of higher education there is much of value here. (The figures at the beginning of each point indicate the number of students who suggested this question or something like it).

James D. Weinland A Critique of Poor College Lecturing (1937)Journal of Educational Sociology , Vol. 10, No. 5 (Jan., 1937) , pp. 307-315 Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2262152 Not open access 🙁

Regarding Subject matter

10.  Do  you  wander?

5.  Do you  stick  to  the  subject?

5.  Do  you  talk  over  the  heads  of  the  students?

3.  Is  your  treatment  too  complicated?

3.  Are  you  always  talking  of  general  theories,  never  specific?

2.  Do  you  lecture  too  technically?

I.  Is  your  subject  matter  poor?

I.  Do  you  believe  in  making  your  explanations  brief  ?

I.  Do  you  lecture  continually  on  the  same  thing?

I.  Do you  give  constructive  information  or  do  you  tend  to  confine your  criticism  to  destructive  ideas?

I.  Do you  sometimes  fail  to  speak  about  the  assigned  lessons,  allowing  the  class  to  wonder  what  it's  all  about?

I.  Do  you  arouse  curiosity  about  the  next  lecture?

i.  Do  you  talk  more  about  the  subject  matter  than  about  yourself?

i.  Are  you  original?

i.  Do  you  understand  the  subject  matter  yourself  ?

CLARITY  AND CONSTRUCTION

I4.  Does  your  lecture  have  unity  and  plan?

I4.  Is  your  emphasis  on  the  correct  or  wrong  part  of  the  lecture?

8.  Are  you  clear  on  the  points  discussed?

4.  Do  you  connect  your  topics?

2.  Do  you  make  clear  the  chronological  order?

2.  Do your  statements  have  clear  antecedents?

i.  Do  you  clear  up  each  topic  before  attacking  the  next?

I.  Are  your  phrases  jumbled,  incoherent?

i.  Are  notes  to  be  taken  down  announced?

I.  Do you  repeat  conclusions,  if any?

I.  Do  you  repeat  too  often?

I.  Are  you  too  slow  in  making  headway  in  presentation?

i.  Is  the  discussion  of  important  topics  too  rapid?

I.  Can  your  class  keep  the  pace  you  set  in  covering  the  work?

ATTITUDE  OF  LECTURER

12.  Are  you  enthusiastic?

I2.  Do  you  show  an  inferiority  complex?

8.  Do  you  have  a  feeling  of  superiority,  swelled  head?

8.  Do you  show  force  and  vigor?

7.  Do you  talk  hesitatingly,  too  many  pauses?

7.  Are  you  overearnest  and  overemphatic,  too  serious?

5. Do you  speak  with  notes,  as  though  reading?

4.  Do you  speak  in  a  formal  manner?

3. Do  you  speak  directly  to  the  class?

3.  Are  you  friendly?

2.  Are  you  interested  in  the  subject?

2.  Do you  speak  to  the  group  as  a  whole  or  a  selected  few  just  in  front of  you?

2.  Do you  adapt  yourself  to  your  audience?

I.  Are  you  so  interested  in  the  subject  that  you  expect  everybody  else to  be?

I.  Do you  act  as  though  you  wish  the  lecture  were  over?

I.  Do you  make  yourself  one  of  the  class  or  a  mere  talking  machine?

I.  Do you  feel  at  ease  and  make  the  class  feel  at  ease?

I.  Do you  act  as  though  you  were  very  clever  and  your  class  very dumb?

I.  Do you  smile?

I.  Is  your  appearance  correct?

I.  Is  your  bearing  sloppy?

I.  Do you  have  some  dignity?

I.  Do you  look  asleep?

I.  Are  you  absent-minded?

I.  Do you  take  yourself  too  seriously?

I.  Are  you  in  too  much  of  a  hurry?

I.  Is  your  manner  indifferent?

VOICE  AND EXPRESSION

58.  Is  your  voice  monotonous?

28. Do you  talk  too  fast?

23.  Do you  enunciate  clearly?

i6. Is  your  voice  loud  enough?

I2.  Is  your  voice  too  low?

8.  Is  your  voice  too  loud?

7.  Is  your  voice  raspy,  harsh?

4.  Is  your  manner  stuttering  or  uncertain?

4.  Is  the  tone  of  your  voice  unpleasant?

3.  Do you  have  vivacity  of  tone?

2.  Is  your  voice  shrill?

2.  Do you  lack  articulation?

2.  Do you  control  your  voice?

2.  Are  there  too  many  extremes  in  the  pitch  of  your  voice?

2.  Do you  fail  to  open  your  mouth  in  attempting  to  speak?

I.  Is  your  voice  weak?

I.  Do you  show  emphasis  with  your  voice?

I.  Do you  speak  too  slowly?

I.  Do you  speak  through  the  side  of  your  mouth  or  swallow  your words?

I.  Are  your  words  too  drawn  out?

I.  Do your  words  run  into  each  other?

I.  Do you  have  an  ascending  or  descending  inflection  of  voice?

I.  Do you  always  emphasize  the  same  part  of  every  sentence?

I.  Do you  speak  with  feeling?

I.  Do you  speak  continuously  without  a  break?

I.  Do you  "hem"  and  "haw"?

VOCABULARY AND VARIETY

7.  Is  your  pronunciation  correct?

7.  Do you  use  big  words?

7. Do you  slur  difficult  words?

5.  Do you  have  a  large  vocabulary,  variety,  and  can  you  find  the  right word?

2.  Do you  say  "ah"  and  "ugh"?

I.  Do you  use  flowery,  literary  language?

I.  Do you  repeat  pet  phrases?

I.  Are  your  sentences  too  long?

I.  Do you  use  many  big  words?

I.  Are  you  wordy?

I.  Does  your  vocabulary  distract  the  listener  from  the  subject?

I.  Do you  have  relevancy  in  word  power  to  situation  or  mood?

I.  Are  your  lectures  always  started  in  the  same  humdrum  manner,

such  as:  "The  lecture  today  will  be  on

I.  Are  your  lectures  memorized  or  the  result  of  a  thorough  knowledge of  the  subject?

ILLUSTRATIONS

23.  Do  you  use  good  illustrations-in  place?

4.  Do  you  use  new  examples  or  stick  close  to  the  book?

3.  Do  you  make  statements  of  fact  without  illustration?

2.  Are  your  lectures  stereotyped  and  monotonous  or  do  they  offer  an interesting  story  ?

I.  Are  your  examples  clearly  given;  i.e.,  their  connection  to  the  principle  explained?

I.  Can  you  write  legibly  on  the  blackboard?

I.  Do  you  rehash  the  book?

I.  Do  you  use  blackboard  illustrations?

I.  Are  your  blackboard  illustrations  clear?

I.  Do  you  keep  illustrations  up-to-date?

I.  Do  you  bring  in  curious  information  and  the  odd?

I.  Do  your  statements  leave  doubt  or  questions  in  the  minds  of  your  audience?

I.  Do  you  ever  relate  any  personal,  outside  experiences  of  your  own?

NERVOUS HABITS

II.  Is  your  body  position  correct,  head  erect,  do  you  speak  out,  use gestures?

6.  Are  you  nervous  or  shy?

6.  Do you  fiddle  with  objects,  twirl  your  watch  chain  around  your finger?

3.  Do  you  move  around  during  the  lecture  and  thus  keep  the  student's

eye  occupied?  (Best  to  move  around)

2.  Are  your  actions  such  that  interest  follows  them  instead  of  the lecture  ?

I.  Do  you  look  out  of  the  window  for  inspiration  while  lecturing?

I.  Do  you  stand  in  one  corner  of  the  room?

I. Do  you  have  disconcerting  habits  of  walking  about?

I.  Do  you  walk  up  and  down  and  so  disturb  the  attention  of  the  class?

I.  Does  your  constant  playing  with  chalk  distract  attention?

I.  Have  you  irritating  habits,  do  you  look  at  your  watch  too  often?

I.  Do  you  have  a  mental  handicap?

HUMOR

25.  Do  you  use  a  little  humor?

3.  Are  your  jokes  poor?

3.  Are  your  attempts  at  humor  painful?

I.  Do  you  try  to  be  too  funny?

DISCIPLINE

4.  Can  you  keep  order?

2.  Are  you  irritable  at  small  noises?

I.  Do  you  become  impatient  and  sarcastic?

I.  Have  you  noticed  the  temperature  of  the  room?

I.  Are  you  extremely  stern  in  disciplining  your  classes,  thus  making the  students  feel  like  kindergartners?

I.  Do you  scold  too  frequently?

I.  Do  you  sound  irritable?

I.  Are  you  fairly  strict  with  the  class?

I.  Do  you  continually  call  down  students  for  their  lack  of  cooperation?

I.  Do you  lean  toward  favorites?

I.  Are  you  too  lenient?

I.  Do you  give  too  much  "blarney"?

ATTITUDE  ON  QUESTIONS

5.  Do you  ever  call  for  discussion?

5.  Do you  give  an  opening  for  questions?

2.  Do  you  question  and  get  reactions  from  the  class?

2.  Do you  hesitate  in  answering  questions?

2.  Do you  answer  questions  immediately  or  wait  until  the  next  class?

I.  Do you  allow  any  one  person  to  ask  too  many  questions?

I.  Are  you  frank?

I.  Do you  try  to  answer  a  question  when  really  you  do  not  know  the answer  yourself ?

I.  Do  you  have  an  antagonistic  attitude  toward  questions?

I.  Do you  refuse  to  explain  points  unless  the  whole  class  so  asks?

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Ten useful things to remember when applying for HEA Fellowship­ (D1 and D2, Professional Recognition Route)

The following list is ten things I believe it is particularly useful to remember when applying for Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy, through the Professional Recognition Route. My thoughts are focused particularly on the  Associate (D1) and Fellowship (D2) levels though they apply to Senior (D3) and Principal (D4) as well.  Here at Brighton it is our aspiration that all teaching staff have, or are working towards, a recognised teaching qualification by 2015, and the HEA's Professional Recognition is likely to be the main route for more experienced academic staff.

  1. Remember the Fellowship is a teaching and learning in higher education award, not a qualification in being an academic. The Fellowships of the Higher Education Academy are concerned with teaching and learning in higher education. Other aspects of the academic role such as research, involvement in academic societies, administrations etc., may be relevant to the Fellowship application, but only in as much as they relate to learning and teaching in higher education.
  2. Remember the Fellowship is a teaching and learning in higher education award, and not a recognition for a long career. It is tempting to include everything you have done over the course of your career, but it is not a recognition for everything you have done over the course of your career. Teaching outside higher education and other work/ or outside work experience may be relevant, but only insofar that it relates to learning and teaching in higher education. This may involve leaving out the achievements of which you are most proud.
  3. Remember the Fellowship is a teaching and learning in higher education award, and not a reward for good character. Getting on well with colleagues, being liked and appreciated by others and being a helpful person are all good qualities. However, fellowships are not awarded for being a nice person or having people say nice things about you, but showing evidence of your learning and teaching practice.
  4. Remember to focus on teaching and learning in higher education. Other qualifications are awarded for teaching in (or learning to teach in) sectors other than higher education. These experiences may be relevant to your practice of teaching and learning in higher education, but they are not substitutes for learning and teaching in higher education.
  5. Remember that teaching and learning in higher education takes many forms. Academic development, developing teaching materials, pedagogic research in higher education and designing and delivering workshops are all suitable examples of teaching and learning and in higher education and supporting these activities. Assessment can be formative, as well as summative. Students can be colleagues or professionals as well as undergraduate and postgraduate students.
  6. Remember to explicitly reference the professional values, core knowledge and areas of activity in the UK Professional Standards Framework. These three areas of the UKPSF are central to the process and should be explicitly referenced in your application. Do not rely on the assessors to spot the relevance of each activity or case study to the UKPSF.
  7. Remember to be reflective. The fellowship application is not just about what you have done, but what you have learnt from that experience, and its impact on your future practice. 
  8. Remember to demonstrate that you are familiar with literature or theory on teaching and learning in higher education. Like any other scholarly field, there is a vast literature around teaching and learning in higher education. You don’t need to be an expert but evidence of engagement with the literature is important. This literature can ‘generic’ and/or specific to your discipline.
  9. Remember the Fellowship is an individual award. Teamwork is good, but the HEA fellowships are awards for individuals. If describing a team activity make your role clear. Be careful how you use the pronoun ‘we’ and how you write about “The department”, “The centre”, “The project team”, “My colleague” etc.
  10. Remember the references are an important part of the application. The referees you might choose when applying for a job are not necessarily the most appropriate for commenting on your teaching and learning practice. Think about which colleagues are best placed to provide your reference.

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What students value in teachers (from Stephen Brookfield)

Todays’ post is inspired by reading Chapter 4 of Stephen Brooksfield’s book The Skillful Teacher.

The Skillful Teacher. On technique, trust and responsivness in the classroom (San Francisco: Jossey Bass)
Stephen Brookfield (2006) The Skillful Teacher. On technique, trust and responsivness in the classroom (San Francisco: Jossey Bass)

What follows is a crude summary of the chapter entitled “What students value in teachers”. It is also inspired in the background, by a rather nonsensical article (in my view) in a recent ‘Comment is Free’ post in the Guardian entitled “Why do private schools attract the most memorable teachers?” This view is mostly backed-up the fact that Alan Bennett’s ‘History Boys’ has been voted Britain’s favourite play. The piece then goes on about as other teachers from fiction, yes fiction.

I am firm in my conviction that there are great teachers in all sorts of schools at all levels. Just because I attended a comprehensive school and have failed to write an award winning play centring on a character loosely based on one of my school teachers does not mean that I had no great (however defined) teachers. (Reminding myself write a piece about grammar schools in the near future).
To return back to where I started, to be valued by students Brookfield identifies two main attributes of skilful teachers, credibility and authenticity. These can be broken down into further categories:

  1. Credibility
    Having expertise about the subject
    Being experienced in what you are teaching about.
    Rationale: Being explicit about assumptions. Not sounding like you’re making it up.
    Conviction: Coming across as people teaching something important.
  2. Authenticity
    Congruence: This is congruence between our words and actions. Brookfield gives the example of claiming to value critical thinking, yet shutting down any sense of debate.
    Full disclosure: Making your criteria, expectations and agendas clear and explicit.
    Responsiveness: I suppose we could call this one responding to student feedback (not the same thing as capitulation).
    Personhood: Boing a real person with a life outside the classroom and not be an “institutional functionary”.
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