Category Archives: Policy

Sharks and TELephants

 

Caribbean Reef Sharks

The challenge for technology enhanced learning (TEL) is that it not be used to impoverish people. Let me begin to explain.

I can help you teach. I may be deluded, of course, but it is none the less something I believe and something that I can act on with an established and evolving repertoire. I have led a teacher education programme for lecturers in higher education for the past seven years. I can design programmes to help you teach, I can put on courses, stand in front of a class, work one-to-one and strive to help teachers elicit their own inner teacher. So why am I giving up an established role teaching teachers in order to enter the waters of “technology enhanced learning” (TEL)?

I thought I wanted a challenge! For myself, for the team and the department I felt it was important that I move on from the job I have done since about 2008. And of course, I have been splashing in those waters for I long time. In 1983 I arrived at Oxford with an electric typewriter. In 1986 I left with an MPhil and a Apricot “portable” computer. Arguably one of the most important things I learned over those three years was how to use a word processor and a printer. But technology enhanced learning? What does that mean? Arguably everything and nothing. And this is my first challenge. Wikipedia conflates “Elearning” and “Educational Technology” with “Technology Enhanced Learning“. It is worth while reading the first 200 or so words of this article.

TEL is a term that stimulates the production of complexity. It also, as a consequence, stimulates in many people the opposite desire: forBlind_men_and_elephant2 simplicity. Like the blind men and the elephant,  there are many parts.
and many people, who want to declare TEL to be one or another of the many things it could be: from pencils to iPads, to QR codes and smart cards. New! New! Shiny! Shiny! Or so far out in front that the string and baling wire are hanging off. Or simply the human condition. But, what ever it is, it has to be better (enhanced) than something else. But, better than what?

Can we posit technology-free learning? What would that look like? Among the parts of the TELephant is that which threatens established practices and identities: that which makes some people feel they can no longer teach well, that which makes some people feel diminished not enhanced, that which makes some people feel they would rather be rid of all this “technology” (whatever it is). To enter into this debate in this way brands me as a Luddite. But this is a badge that I have to be proud, now, to wear. Remember, Luddites were not against technology. They were against technology being used to impoverish people. Which brings me back to sharks and the main challenge: money and power.

 

 

 

Education for all: a public good?

This is still the question to be addressed as the consequences of less and less certain funding are felt in actual institutions with payrolls and contracts and food service and students. While the recharged Labour Party debate suggests there is political risk, there will be at least four more years of opposition and for institutions maybe five or six years of more or less living within this regime.

We can’t pretend that there has never been a problem of allocation. The system has been expanding since its inception, maybe most rapidly in the past fifty years.

Elitist and egalitarian forces have vied for entry and driven expansion and regrouping. The change in universities has reflected the great social changes of human history. In our tradition, Renaissance, Enlightenment and Socialist Revolution have all been mirrored in the institutions that have more, on balance, sustained dominant orders than challenged them.

Many feel the “end of history” an intrusion, a usurpation by a particular style of business that appears to find little wrong with making money out of the misery of others.

Are there any institutions that would stand up for Corbyn? Should they? Or not? I do not know. What would be the circumstances and conditions of a greatly revised “contract” with the nation? Should someone be planning for that change? Or helping to shape it?

The opposition need to sound credible as an opposition not cut and paste replacements. Their job is to oppose. Corbyn might be very good at leading an opposition. There are three years to get good at opposition. Then ask who might lead into government. That is the next game.

Is there a VC anywhere who would say: “… nay! We indeed need and deserve to drink deeply of public resources because we do far more good than ill”? Where in universities are those who might help provide alternative policies for universities. Acknowledge the conflict in interest up front, but hey, conflict of interest doesn’t bother the powers that be. Let them go on about it while focusing on being good providers of learning.

Usurpation: the condition of the university?

Usurpation might better be seen as the condition of the university than as a problem for any particular aspect of that complex phenomenon: higher education today.

Taking Subramaniam, Perrucci, & Whitlock’s (2014) theoretical framework of social and intellectual closure we might see usurpation as – in parts and in places – an ameliorating response to both micro and macro-political movements that lead to closure. I suggest that we might take this further into a space which can only be opened and kept open (rejecting closure) by the usurper who by choice lays him/her self open to being ursurped and indeed facilitates the process of ongoing transformation, which is the driving energy of the academy.

In making this argument I draw on Popper’s (1996) positivism, Kuhn’s (1962) understanding of development in disciplines and Bhabha’s (2004) third space theory.

The pattern of usurpation described by Subramaniam, Perrucci, & Whitlock’s (2014) applies to any attempt to enter a power structure –  a university is a power structure – by agents desiring that power, whether to address wrongs done to them by that power structure and its relatives, or simply to seize more of whatever is going. When the usurpation is successful the usurper assumes the mantle of the power structure and then defends it against subsequent usurpation.

So we see entryism into disciplines of minoritarian or post-colonial themes: Women’s Studies, for example. We see traditional promotion routes to professorship usurped by teaching pathways (an interesting one Subramian et al spotted, which casts me as usurper!). We see the student experience usurping scholarship.

But as Kuhn should remind us: this is the way it works! The English curriculum which is so exercised by usurpation by Media Studies, itself was an entryist program usurping the Classics. And as Popper should remind us, this is to be celebrated. The problem is not usurpation but closure, which might be seen as resistance to being usurped.

References

  • Bhabha, H. (2004). The Location of Culture. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Popper, K. (1996). The Myth of the Framework: In defence of Science and Rationality. London: Routledge.
  • Subramaniam, M., Perrucci, R., & Whitlock, D. (2014). Intellectual Closure: A Theoretical Framework Linking Knowledge, Power, and the Corporate University. Critical Sociology (Sage Publications, Ltd.), 40(3), 411–430.

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

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?

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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:

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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.

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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)

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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”).

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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