Victim of the system

I am very frustrated by not having access to our VLE/LMS today. The system, which is externally hosted by ULCC is “down”. It is Thursday 2 weeks after assignments were due. I and the team have 60+ papers to mark and/or moderate and upload grades. I am committed to my students to getting this done by tomorrow. There is precious little slack in any diary. I can’t just shift everything. I cannot do tomorrow’s stuff today because I have appointments tomorrow. This must be one of the biggest marking weeks in UK higher education. I am a champion of online assignment handling and marking. But 10 days ago I had to give all my students an extra day to hand work in because TurnItIn was down on the actual due-day. These incidents have to be factored into any risk assessment of online assignment handling and feedback systems that might be adopted.

The role of the PVC International (PVCI)

Alastair Fitt, Vice Chancellor, on the role of the PVC International (PVCI), Thursday 23 April 2015

These comments and reflections are mine and do not necessarily represent the views of the Vice Chancellor, Oxford Brookes University or any other member of the audience.

The Vice Chancellor’s talk, which opened the Internationalisation Steering Group’s Away Day, was a personal reflection on his time as PVCI at Southampton. A business and marketing-driven corporate mission and an individual researcher-driven research mission were the mainstays of the reflection.

Although framed within “Partnerships”, the PVCI role is highly market-driven and recruitment focused. Many of the observations made were how to be effective at recruiting and marketing while also promoting partnership. Continue reading

Brookes Learning & Teaching Conference (#bltc15)

Before the conference Richard Francis, David Aldridge and I led two “Walk and Talk” sessions on “a framework for inclusive learning?” (pdf). I have been exercising this framework in several contexts, most fully, perhaps, at the SEDA conference (Roberts & Francis 2014). However, I have to say that although the discussions were superb, the framework was not really tried. My aim was to critique and problematise “inclusivity”. Both sessions had a linguistic focus (unintended but perhaps unsurprising given Richard and I were shaping the conversations), asking, implicitly whether the language of inclusivity in higher education masks a deeper exclusivity, inherited from both ancient traditions of higher education and the current dominant late corporate capitalist, neoliberal, workforce attachment (higher skills and employment) paradigm.

The walk and talks more generally aim to break out of the architecturally and technologically mediated spaces of education and quite simply walk and talk, with a thematic “map” but no notes or slides.

Isis Brooks gave the conference Keynote based on her autobiography: a life in education. Isis spoke without notes or slides and incorporated many discussions into her “talk”, in a way also a perambulation, although confined in a lecture theatre.

She started with developing an academic identity as a mature learner: from school dropout to an access course at the Open University. She spoke about learning to calibrate one’s self against peers and introduced the small group discussion by asking us to reflect on our school experience.

From the OU, Isis went to Lancaster University. There were year 1 distribution requirements. She did her degree in independent studies (IS) in Religion and Philosophy. Most students in IS were mature students. If you were interested, she said, you would go to extreme lengths: stay up all night. Eventually she did her PhD in IS. Excellent for critical thinking. Her PhD started off looking at Science Teaching in Islamic schools, but transmuted into Goetheian Observation of Nature.

Her supervisor, Prof John Wakefield, gave people “more responsibility than they would have thought possible”. Again she asked us to reflect on what experience we might have had  like this.

The perambulation continued across a career in educational development and educational philosophy applied in land-based colleges, concluding with a vision of “purposeful freedom” as the lractice of lifelong learning.

I asked how we might discover that purposeful freedom within performative restraints?

For the remainder of the conference I practiced that freedom.

References

Roberts, G., & Francis, R. (2014). Transformational Learning Design for Open and Blended Learning. In Opportunities and challenges for academic development in a post-digital age. NCTL Learning and Conference Centre, Nottingham: Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA). Retrieved from http://www.slideshare.net/georgeroberts/transformational-learning-design-for-open-and-blended-learning

Richard Waller: Cultural Capital – getting in, getting on, getting out

Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee (AESC) – Away Day, Oxford Brookes University, Tuesday, 17 March 2015, 1400 – 1500. Views and interpretations are my own. Post updated through the day.

Richard Waller Associate Professor of the Sociology of Education, University of the West of England (UWE). draws on research from the Paired Peers project. Mobilising capitals through internships.

  • Bathmaker, A.-M., Ingram, N., & Waller, R. (2013). Higher education, social class and the mobilisation of capitals: recognising and playing the game. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34(5/6), 723–743.

Seeks to know:

  • What factors determine the type of career our graduates enter?
  • What they can do?
  • What we can do?

Continue reading

Gwen van der Velden: Student Engagement in Learning and Teaching Quality Management

Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee (AESC) – Away Day, Oxford Brookes University, Tuesday, 17 March 2015, 1130 – 1300. Views and interpretations are my own. Post updated through the day.

Gwen van der Velden is Director of Learning and Teaching at Bath University. Heads, QA/QE, eLearning, Educational Development and English Language Teaching.

Gwen and her team conducted research on how embedded “Student Engagement” is in UK Higher Education. Method: desk research, survey, interviews on what is embedded and what isn’t. 75 of 220 institutions responded (including 28 Students Unions).

Issues highlighted:

Continue reading

Resilience: a theme for learning in higher education?

Preamble: Reading “Resilience”

This post is written for the Principal Lecturers Thematic Event at Oxford Brookes University on Thursday 12 March. The post will be updated through the day [semi-live blogging]. I should say that this piece is my perspective and does not necessarily represent the views of others or the institution.

I did a quick literature search before the event on Academic Search Complete for: Resilience, Learning, Higher, Education. I read two that seemed most immediately relevant. References Below.

It appears that resilience is often conceived as a capacity of individuals, individually, to respond “positively” to challenges by deploying their individual amalgam of identity factors and “transforming” or “rising above” them. However, resilience also appears to be culturally nuanced. “Western” resilience is caught up in “western” narratives of continual change. Resilience may be exhibited differently in different spheres. Many people appear to be resilient in one domain, and not others. Social resilience, for example, may not be correlated with academic resilience (Walker et al 2006, 254). Western notions of resilience:

[transfer] any potential academic or pastoral difficultly directly to the student
since, within this model, being at risk can be defined by the extent to which the
academic and affective qualities of a learner fit with prescribed learning styles and
experiences. Any maladaptive behaviour can then be attributed directly to individual
learners on the basis of their pathology being problematic.

Continue reading

Widening Participation Working Group Away Day (Oxford Brookes University)

Semi-live notes from very interesting and data filled Oxford Brookes University Widening Participation Working Group Away Day at Marston Road. (Of 30 people in the room only one obviously black man and two Asian women. Matches our BME student profile? c. 10%)

The day was framed by demographics about where Brookes sits, and politics in light of the forthcoming election, which enabled a critical frame for the day: whose WP are we talking about? Is the “lifecourse” educational – or institutional – for everyone?

Should OCSLD have had a pitch here? Because support for staff development IS support for WP. Though we are not seen as a service for students, institutionally, the significant change that has to be made is “Academic”: academic literacy, academic content, academic writing, academic culture.  Critical analysis is HUGE. Planning and structuring assignments is HUGE. When you have many inquiries from the same course at the same time, you ask: Can we move up the river and see “who is ‘pushing the bodies into the stream'”? Is this is where OCSLD has a role working with course teams?

This post will be updated through the day (Tuesday 10 March 0930-1430)

Continue reading

Teaching conference #fslt15

Reflecting mid-week in the fifth and last week of First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (FSLT). In four one-hour webinars, two on Monday and two on Tuesday, I have seen and participated in 12 Virtual Conference presentations by participants in week 5 of this open online course. And, for the first time I can remember, I let out rock-and-roll whoops. Not something often said about teaching conferences. In part this was because I can take credit for some of this course design and it didn’t totally break down; in part it was because the platform has just about stood up; in part because the level of digital capability of the participants has for many broken through the novelty barrier. But mostly because these were among the 12 best presentations I have seen and participated in. Well argued, evidenced, structured, illustrated and in scope for time (not over the “wordcount”).

Continue reading

First Steps Again

FSLT15 is off to an easy start so far. It will be interesting to see how many attend the webinar on Monday. There are about 60 participants signed up and about 26 are taking the course for University Credit (10 credits CATS level 7, M-level). The course is validated and acceptable on 3 programmes: The OCSLD Associates Programme leading to Associate Fellowship of the Higher Education Academy; The Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE) and the MA Education: Higher Education.

Participants are mostly from the UK, with people from South Africa, Spain, Ecuador, Portugal, Zambia, St Vincent, Ireland also joining. And there are a number who have not yet indicated, suggesting about 20% may be from outside the UK.

The course is feeling like a “traditional” part of what we do, now that it is in its fourth year. It is easy to forget what a step it has been to develop this programme. The big thing is that many of the people taking the course for credit are Brookes Staff who feel that the online option may be more effective for them, even though they are based in Oxford.

So as we work through the Week 0 oddities I trust we will be fully engaged by Monday

 

Analytics are not relationships

Just read Niall Sclater’s literature review for JISC: Code of practice for learning analytics: A literature review of the ethical and legal issues. The report asks a lot of important questions. And it mentions, albeit in passing in the “Rationale” section, what for me is the key issue: “Greater trust and a better relationship with the people you collect information about.”

But that word “relationship” masks the hard human issue about education and learning that no amount of data will resolve. Ultimately “authentic” relationship is between embodied (or formerly embodied, in the case of dead writers) individual humans. I don’t want to get all Bakhtinian about it, but while analytics may help ask questions, they will not provide the solutions.

A problem we uncover when surveying students (either “failing” students, or students on “failing” courses) is that they do not feel that their teachers know them or care about them. I do not think these students will be impressed if the response is to fix the broken relationship with an algorithm.

At best analytics can help start a conversation. People have to be willing to take the conversation on. That is: people, not institutions. Analytics may help pinpoint areas where hard work needs to be done, but are not likely to make that work any easier.

Management wants “the” answer to achieving particular mandated targets in order to protect or augment resources (or consolidate and preserve “power”). People (learners and teachers) are not trusted to do this “consistently” (as if they ever could!). So it is hoped that algorithms will: a) discover the right answer and then b) enforce a solution in line with targets and outcomes (which shift with the political wind).

We must not let loss of trust be simply collateral damage.

Other important contributions to the discussion