"Ellen and Justin, we are drowning" Sheila's letter

I first met Sheila Quinn in 2000 when I was undertaking fieldwork for my PhD in Quebec's Eastern Townships. As long as I've known Sheila she has been a strong advocate for young people in her region, both as a professional and as a volunteer. Her son Angus, now 13, is autistic and right now things are very tough for Sheila. The special school Angus attends says it is no longer able to cope with his behaviour.

Her letter, addressed to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Ellen DeGeneres (who is the voice behind Angus' favourite character in 'Finding Nemo') has been widely shared on Facebook and has been picked up by Montreal's CTV.

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Designing a questionnaire for school staff (UK Governors/ School leaders)

This post may interest:

  • School governors/ leaders planning a staff questionnaire
  • Any seeking a (very) brief introduction to the options of designing any pencil and paper questionnaire.
  • Anyone looking for a LaTeX template for questionnaire design (this questionnaire is based on my slight adaptation of the paperandpencil.sty by Miriam Dieter & Anja Zwingenberger)

First thing: the actual questionnaire I designed

In my capacity as a school governor I designed a staff questionnaire last summer. I've made this available for anyone to use or adapt as they see fit. (Some of these questions are based on ones OFSTED ask teachers).

A basic consideration of options

There are many ways to do a staff questionnaire. Naturally online is fairly straightforward using third party software such as surveymonkey (free basic service, then £), or if you are more technically minded using various polling software and plugins in your own website (e.g. for wordpress). However in terms of online security paper and pencil questionnaires remain useful, and in a small(ish) school where everyone is in one place the benefits of setting up, administering and analysing an online questionnaire are probably not as great as for a larger organisation.

You may or may not be particularly worried about the presentation of your questionnaire. However, using your regular word-processing package (e.g. MSWord (£), LibreOffice writer (free and open source) etc.) will usually turn out to be more hassle than it's worth. Every time you try to move a box to a different place it ends up moving a whole load of other text (you've probably have experienced this behaviour when trying to put a photograph into a Word document).

If you wish to stick with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) a publishing tool such as MSPublisher (£) or Scribus (free and open source) are likely to yield better results than word processing software. These will enable you to have more control over the page layout.

A bit more technical: using LaTeX

The questionnaire I designed is built in LaTeX and I've made the source code available in github. The key advantage of LaTeX (more about LaTeX here) is that you can have complete control over the layout with a combination of standard commands and some stylesheets. The .tex code can then be exported to .pdf leading to a document which can be printed off.

Link summary

.pdf version of the questionnaire we used at our school.  There are online services which can covert .pdf to Word (.doc/ .docx) though your mileage may vary.

Github access to the source code.

Further help

I'm happy to provide a small amount of free help (subject to my availability) to UK schools wishing to use the questionnaire (e.g. add school name/ logo, remove questions or make relatively minor amendments).

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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.

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Notes:

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

Am I a qualified teacher in UK higher education? Bog snorkelling through the swamp of HESA recognised teaching qualifications

Universities throughout the UK are trying to increase the numbers of academics who hold a teaching qualification. There are many good reasons, but the expectation that the Teaching Excellence Framework will use this as a metric has focused minds on the subject.

As universities our provision is usually based around PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher courses and Higher Education Academy Fellowships. This is where clarity ends as far as recognised teaching qualifications are concerned and there is whole bunch of other stuff that 'counts', even if it is not directly related to teaching in higher education. This is not an opinion piece of the strengths and weaknesses of various teaching qualifications, but an opportunity to put on your wet suit, snorkel and face-mask to travel through the swamp of Higher Education Statistics Agency (HESA) recognised teaching qualifications.

What follows is purely my own work. It is not authorised by the University of Brighton, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, the Higher Education Academy or anyone else.

Am I a qualified teacher in UK higher education?

As someone who teaches on a PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and supports staff preparing their HEA Fellowship applications, I am increasingly asked 'Am I (already) a qualified teacher in UK higher education?' Does my X certificate count as a teaching qualification? Does my accreditation as a Y count? I was a secondary school teacher; does that count? I'm an accredited member of the pedagogic branch of the Guild of Advanced Basketweavers- does that count?

The Higher Education Statistics Agency collects data on the numbers of academic staff at each university who are qualified HE teachers.

Some universities publish their data online. I've rummaged extensively around the HESA website and as far as I can see there is no place where all data is published. Moreover I can't even find a copy of the actual definitions of HESA teaching qualifications on the HESA website. The only places I can find them are on individual university websites (example from Newcastle here).

So the categories which 'count' as a qualified teacher are as follows.

01: Successfully completed an institutional provision in teaching in the higher education sector accredited against the UK Professional Standards Framework.

This includes PGCerts and similar university provision for new lecturers which in most cases leads to accreditation at D1 or D2. At Brighton completion of a PGCert will also give you D2 (Fellow of the HEA-- category 03)

02: Recognised by the HEA as an Associate Fellow (AFHEA, D1)

03: Recognised by the HEA as a Fellow (FHEA, D2)

04: Recognised by the HEA as a Senior Fellow (SFHEA, D3)

05: Recognised by the HEA as a Principal Fellow (PFHEA, D4)

These are the Higher Education Academy (HEA) Fellowships. A higher fellowship supersedes a lower one. I received my Fellowship in 2008 and my Senior Fellowship in 2014, so my category is just 04 (rather than 03 and 04)

06: Holder of a National Teaching Fellowship Scheme Individual Award.

This is competitive Scheme scheme which has run since about 2000. According to the HEA website there are 643 fellows as of 2015. I don't know whether this includes those who have retired or died, but there will be only a handful of these in each university anyway (there are currently 132 members of UniversitiesUK).

Categories 01-06 are clear. You have them or you don't. Moreover, they are all designed for the purpose of teaching in UK higher education. Now for the bog-snorkelling where we head into the realms of other sectors, equivalences and interpretation.

07: Holder of a PGCE in higher education, secondary education, further education, lifelong learning or any other equivalent UK qualification.

Now we are into the territory of teaching qualifications designed or other sectors/ age groups. Note that primary PGCE does not appear in this list. Is it 'any other equivalent UK qualification' though? If it was it would be in the list though, surely?

08: Accredited as a teacher of their subject by a professional UK body.

The definition of professional body is important here: "A professional body is a group of people in a learned occupation who are entrusted with maintaining control or oversight of the legitimate practice of the occupation."  For example, the Higher Education Academy describes itself as a 'professional institution', rather than a professional body. It might have some degree of oversight into teaching in higher education, but it does not have control.

The University of Newcastle's guidelines offer 'Subject-discipline accreditation of any kind (e.g. Member of the Academy of Medical Educators (MacadMED)'. While the example may be correct, the 'subject discipline accreditation' description  may not be as HESA intended.

In terms of subject discipline a holder of CELTA, DELTA or MA TESOL (or teaching English to speakers of other languages would be a qualified teacher), but as far as I can see there is not a professional body that regulates and controls the teaching of English as an additional/ second language, but there are professional organisations in the field of English teaching. I'm not a lawyer(!), but there seems to be a clear legal distinction between a professional body and a professional organisation. However, it may be that those who wrote the original guidelines were not using a legal framework. I suspect the spirit rather than the letter of the law was intended here, but I may be wrong abut this.

We were unsure whether our primary school teachers could fit into category 07, but they would definitely fit into this category 08 if they were teaching primary education as they would be members of the General Teaching Council (in England), the professional body for teachers… but wait... the GTC was abolished in 2012! The Teaching Agency took over some functions of the GTC, but is the Teaching Agency a professional body? The Teaching Agency has “...responsibility for the supply, quality and regulation of the education workforce”.  The phrase 'professional body' does not appear, but looks like a duck, waddles like a duck etc. Perhaps the definition of a professional body is not important after all. Does your head hurt? To confuse matters further the Teaching Agency is England-only, so the answers may be different for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

So if we accept primary school teaching qualification in this category, this would only apply if the qualified primary school teacher was teaching primary education and not if the qualified primary school teacher was teaching French. But if a qualified secondary school teacher were to teach primary education, they would qualify as an HE teacher under category 07.

09 Other UK accreditation or qualification in teaching in the higher education sector.

I'm not sure what goes into this category. There might be some older (pre-late 90s) qualifications or accreditation out there. I suppose the English Teachers might come into this category if they are ruled out of Category 08, but only if their qualification was primarily concerned with teaching in higher education as opposed to other sectors/ age groups.

10 Overseas accreditation or qualification for any level of teaching.

This could mean anything as long as it wasn't done in the UK. My wife is qualified as a pre-school and primary school teacher in the Province of Quebec. She's not entirely sure the extent to which the accreditation is recognised in other Canadian provinces but were she to get a job in a UK university her Brevet d'Enseignement places her firmly into the qualified HE category, whatever subject she was teaching. Some while a UK-qualified primary school teacher might not be recognised under 07 or 08, with a non-UK qualification there is no ambiguity whatsoever.

Additional questions.

So what should I do if I can't work out if I'm a qualified teacher in HE?

Do your fellowship of the Higher Education Academy

I am a qualified teacher under HESA, but I don't think my qualification has prepared me well for teaching in a university. What would you advise?

Do your fellowship of the Higher Education Academy

I'm not a qualified teacher in higher education. What should I do?

Do your fellowship of the Higher Education Academy

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New: Half a million unsatisfied graduates? Increasing scrutiny of National Student Survey’s ‘overall’ question.

Canning, J. (2015 ) Half a million unsatisfied graduates? Increasing scrutiny of National Student Survey’s ‘overall’ question. Educational Developments has now been published. It is only available in the printed version at present.

First paragraph...

Question 22 (Q22), ‘Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course’ stands alone in the National Student Survey (NSS). University league tables include it more than any other question. It covers a multitude of sins. It is the litmus test of a course. However good or bad the assessment, the facilities, the course organisation, this overall question can condemn or redeem a course. Like checkmate in chess, a boxer’s knockout punch, a judge’s verdict it does not matter who tried hardest, made the best moves or made the best arguments. In many respects it is the only judgment that counts.

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Book review: 53 interesting ways to assess your students, 3rd Edition.

B53 interesting ways to assess your studentsook review 1 Victoria Burns (2015 ed.) 53 interesting ways to assess your students. 3rd Edition. 2 Newmarket: The Professional and Higher Partnership £19.81 (RRP) ISBN 978-1-907076-52-7

I wouldn't usually start a book review with a personal point of context, but when the first edition of this book by Gibbs, Habeshaw and Habeshaw was published in 1986 I was still in primary school. While many early 21st century books look decidedly dated the '53 ways' series is sufficiently enduring that 30 year-old copies of the various '53 ways' books remain on the shelves of our Centre for Learning and Teaching library and are still consulted by early career lecturers taking the PGCert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education course.

Each '53 ways' book consists of 53 'ideas' of 2-3 pages each. For example in 53 interesting ways to assess your students way 1 is actually an introduction to choosing assessment methods, way 2 is 'the standard essay', way 20 is 'writing for the Internet' and way 36 is the 'seen exam'. These ways are grouped together in chapters ; for example Chapter 1 (ways 2-4) is called 'Essays' and Chapter 9 (ways 33-38) is 'Examinations'. Each assessment way is then described and explained and the strengths and limitations of each form of assessment is briefly considered. Strictly speaking there are more than 53 assessment ways as many ways have variations on the theme.

As with other '53 ways' this volume can be read from beginning to end, flicked through or dipped in and out of at the reader's pleasure. New and experienced lecturers alike will find treasures here; I thought the 'learning archive' (way 29) whereby students are set the same question in years 1, 2 and 3 and are given the opportunity to reflect on their intellectual development particularly interesting. Framed in the context of the 2010 Equality Act, Way 51 on inclusive assessment and equal opportunities is useful for UK readers, but will no doubt be helpful to others too. It was also positive to see a chapter of ways devoted to feedback as well.

Inevitably, every reader will identify omissions. Many of our PGCert participants write about Objective Structured Clinical Examinations (OSCEs), and although a fairly specialist assessment discipline-wise they are probably worthy of a place in the book, and could fit nicely into the chapters on authentic assessment or problem-based assessment. Similarly field trips/ visits might have been included, but perhaps they didn't sit well in a publication aimed at a general academic audience, or may have made the '53' difficult to achieve. '53 ways' books are not and do not purport to be in-depth theorisations of their subjects and when introducing assessment and feedback I like to 'drill deep' with the principles and purposes of assessment with other texts; I see '53 ways' as a good quality accompaniment to a module on assessment and feedback rather than a core text.

For the benefit of readers familiar with previous editions the publisher's foreword (p. ix) helpfully outlines the connections between Burns' editorial work and the previous work of Gibbs and his colleagues. A balance has been nicely struck between producing a work which is fit for purpose in the second decade of the 21st century while maintaining the approach and appeal of the earlier editions which lies in the accessibility, diversity and brevity of the 53 ways. A balance has also been struck between maintaining content from previous editions while introducing new material, the most notable development between the second and third editions being the small matter of the World Wide Web! Not only have new assessment ideas such as 'Writing for the Internet' and 'Designing Multimedia materials' been added a substantial amount the material is actually new material developed by Burns and her team.

In conclusion I highly recommend that lecturers at any stage of their career take time to look at '53 interesting ways to assess your students'. Although I suspect many of its readers will be academics at the beginning of their careers I particularly hope it will challenge experienced lecturers who have long relied on traditional staples such as unseen exams and set essays to see the rich possibilities of assessment.

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Notes:

  1. This review was carried out at the request of the publisher who sent me a review copy of the book.
  2. First edition 1986, Second Edition 1988. This third edition is long overdue!

Coventry maintains Number 1 position on the NSS Canning list

I've just calculated the 2015 for the Canning list. The full data will be uploaded soon.

The top 10 institutions for average score are a mix of large and smaller providers, perhaps demonstrating that insitutations of all sizes can score well (or badly). Among the larger providers (minimum 20 programmes)  Coventry maintains its number 1 position.

 

 

 

 

Top 10 universities for National Student Survey (2015) Minimum 10 courses

Institution Number of courses Mean WSSS
City College Plymouth 11 1550.1
Coventry University 51 1502.4
The University of Surrey 36 1489.7
North Lindsey College 11 1456.9
Doncaster College 14 1446
The University of Leeds 72 1432.9
The University of Keele 34 1427
Bangor University 44 1423.8
Solihull College 13 1423.4
University of Ulster 57 1421

 

 

 

 

 

Top 10 universities for National Student Survey (2015) Minimum 20 courses

University Number of courses Mean WSSS
Coventry University 51 1502.4
The University of Surrey 36 1489.7
The University of Leeds 72 1432.9
The University of Keele 34 1427
Bangor University 44 1423.8
University of Ulster 57 1421
Loughborough University 34 1419.1
Edge Hill University 29 1415
Nottingham Trent University 47 1410.8
Bath Spa University 22 1410.4
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