Category Archives: Teaching

Teachers professional development as an NSS action?

I read our recently issued NSS action table in the context of preparation guidance for staff annual Performance and Development Review (PDR):

One of the NSS actions (dressed up as principles) and echoing the UK PFS Values, is that,

All staff who support learning participate annually in collective professional development to ensure that their practice is evidence-based, informed by the scholarship of learning and teaching, and employs up-to-date learning tools and technologies.

I love collective professional development but feel a little queasy about “to ensure“. Always prefer a developmental/enhancement led approach… to enhance their practice through evidence informed by the scholarship of teaching ….

But it can amount to the same thing. Depends on what is measured

Pretty much everything else in the NSS action table is just stuff we shouldn’t have to mention. The fact that we have to speaks bucket-loads. But ultimately it obscures what the message should be, which is that we love our discipline and our students and teach them as well as we can.

Flipping icebergs: a neo-liberal curriculum?

It feels to me like an iceberg about to tip.
Ultimately this is an argument for qualitative research into the so-called subjective realms of values, beliefs and feelings. Because, in part, I suggest it is the enclosure of the subject for the reward of a few, which is at the root of the general mess we (me? Britain? Liberalism? Society? the globe?) appear to be in (NHS crisis, austerity, higher education funding and regulation, housing, migration, cyber-security, etc).

The theoretical approach or perspective of a neo-liberal curriculum appears to be:

  • Utilitarian (idealist, ratio-driven: promoting the greatest good for the greatest number
  • Pragmatic (what works);
  • Pareto-optimal (80% of the reward or output comes from 20% of the input or effort and the remaining 20% of the output comes from 80% of the input).

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A hidden curriculum

Published on: Jan 18, 2018

I examine two related concepts: hierarchised identity formation and the enclosure of desire as a hidden curriculum.

A hidden curriculum is, I suggest the collection of assumptions, often about power (Brookfield 2017, chapter 2) that is communicated alongside and through the practice of overt curricula. A hidden curriculum is conveyed through implicit biases by teachers and education institutions. It is delivered alongside more overt curricular elements such as subject-specific knowledge and skills, as well as “transferrable skills” and “graduate attributes”. There may be many, indeed there are many hidden curricula which work with and against social norms beyond the institution and largely outwith the control of the institution or its agents. I will suggest that hierarchised identity formation is one of the hidden curricula of higher eduction. I hypothesise that this might be felt more acutely in the UK because of England’s tradition of a landed, aristocratic and military gentry related by ancestry to the head of state. But, it is felt elsewhere than Britain: “Rich man goes to college, poor man goes to work” (Charlie Daniels Band, “Long haired country boy”). In Britain the green and white papers leading to the current Higher Education Act 2017 declared universities to be engines of social mobility. Social mobility for these purposes is conceived primarily as a private (not public) good and is ranked in a categorical hierarchy consisting of education attainment, occupation type and lifetime earnings expectation, ranked in quartiles and centiles. The concept of social mobility is applied competitively as a finitely resourced, zero-sum game with winners and losers and movers.

Among many overt and covert curricula, higher education institutions teach graduates to internalise and then, in subtle ways, to manifest superordinate authority based on a narrowed set of criteria. This narrowing is achieved, in part through enclosures. As Slater (2014) suggests, as the aristocracy enclosed the common land, now today’s elites enclose electronic, digital virtual and subjective territory:

The extension of enclosures beyond the purely physical realm and into the terrain of subjectivity is a pressing concern and necessitates the development of concepts capable of engaging this development on those same grounds (551).

I use desire as an example. Desire is a manifestation of physical, embodied subjectivity: immanent and rational. Desire is a direct and (nearly?) universally accessible human concept. It is an observable phenomenon of being embodied. The enclosure of desire is the appropriation, limitation or exclusion of feelings, passions and affections, from allowable discourses.

“The waxing and waning of these paths awaits a full socio-philosophical inventory” (Barnett 2016 p. 148). There is research to be done. My aim through this exercise is to illuminate one possible direction of inquiry. I examine hierarchised identity formation and “enclosure” with respect to desire as a hidden or covert curriculum behind the degree. This hidden curriculum has hierarchical positionality locked in a codependent embrace with enclosed desire.

By desire I do include sexual desire. But lust, the libidinal and kama go further than that. All passion and urges-for are moments of immanent desire. Nietzsche’s will to power is desire. We talk about lust for life. The virtual learning platform Desire2Learn ( is not accidentally named. Desire to learn is the central theme of Plato’s Symposium, even so entangled with other desires as that meal was. By the enclosure of desire I mean that this immanence is walled off, bounded and appropriated, monetised, analysed, squeezed dry, transgressed and transcended. Even here. I stand, of course, on a participant-observer continuum stretching concepts on a frame.

Where risk lies for HEIs: the conflation of regulation, reputation and enhancement

I had a conversation with our head of QA about the consultations current in HE regulation. Her pragmatic approach is refreshing.
I thought I might share the gist of my side of the conversation. I am working through documents at a more leisurely pace than the folk at Wonkhe. And I did read David kernohan’s  A game of risk. So, I have probably tainted my mind.
David took a very useful wider political perspective and wasn’t looking at the practicalities of working in a main-sequence institution, upon which the larger burden of risk appears to be being laid. Russell Group: fine. New providers: fine. It’s all you ex-polytechnics that are the problem. It is not only Andrew Adonis taking this position. It could be read as the same old “Media Studies are Mickey Mouse Degrees” argument: sound and fury signifying old attitudes dying hard.
But my tentative conclusion is the conflation of regulation, reputation and enhancement is where the risk lies. Institutions need to be careful not to conflate NSS, TEF and league-table positionality with either: their own enhancement or the regulatory regime. I think those are three different “games”.

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Tinkering with algorithms

I read Franklin Foer’s Facebook’s War on Free Will the Guardian’s “Long read” for Tuesday 19 September 2017.

He recapped a familiar argument: you are Facebook’s product. But when he hit “data science” I turned up my sensors. He says, “There’s a whole discipline, data science, to guide the writing and revision of algorithms”. Then he picks up on Cameron Marlow, “the former head of Facebook’s data science team”:

Facebook has a team, poached from academia, to conduct experiments on users. It’s a statistician’s sexiest dream – some of the largest data sets in human history, the ability to run trials on mathematically meaningful cohorts. … Marlow said, “we have a microscope that not only lets us examine social behaviour at a very fine level that we’ve never been able to see before, but allows us to run experiments that millions of users are exposed to.”

The point the experimentalists miss is that the experiment is directed towards outcomes already. The ethics are, at least, sensitive. Continue reading

Back to the really hard stuff

I am doing, in a way, what I have always wanted to do: teaching in a university, running an academic conference, editing a journal, supervising dissertations, some consultancy. And now I seem to have found the time and space to develop the two items that have been hardest for me to achieve and for which I have taken or given myself knocks: psychic and physical: the MA Education (Higher Education) and the Higher Education Journal of Learning and Teaching. (HEJLT)

Every student published? Original MA work? At the cutting edge of policy and provision.


Lots to do: thoughts on the task ahead

The task, for me, the lots to-do is to transform theory to practice. That is, education development aims not just to bring about correct understanding but to create social and political conditions (that is, community) more conducive to human flourishing than the present ones.

I became a Football Coach last winter and now help run a childrens’ football club (Donnington FC). My head coach has a to do list to keep Alexander the Great busy. I feel kind of the same at work. So many good ideas! Not all mine, I hasten to add!

Big on the to-do list is bringing a number of blogs back to life, not least my own! In teaching you do have to walk the chalk not just talk the talk. It can get dressed up as authenticity and typologised away into abstraction but that only lasts so long: froth. I was going to say like froth on a cappuccino but the cappuccinos from the machines today seem to have industrial strength froth that way outlasts the coffee. You get my point?

I say “social media” but I am far from the biggest of the big-time edtech bloggers. Not even close! Am I having my “those who can’t…” moment? I say “social” media but I do not do social media? So many film references, so little time: “here’s Jack,” “he’s back,””unforgiven.”

Look at my own typology. Experience? Well ok, or at least a few years under the belt. Dialogue? I have become better over the years at giving voice to others. Reflection? Yes but in my world, too private. This goes to a correction needed. Participation? There is a gap for me, which I will get to. Community? don’t get me started. It is all what matters and strikes me is incompatible with most hierarchies – but significantly: not all hierarchies. Outcomes? They matter. Whether or not specified or unintended what happens as a result of setting yourself up to do something is consequential. And, finally Activity. You actually have to do stuff. Like write. In blogs. And make pictures about it, which could mean lines in the sand, or yellow dandelions on green grass setting up positions for a transition moment: a change of possession. And in that moment, team, there is lot’s to do.

The participation gap? I said I’d come back to that. There is a gap, I suggest, for everyone in education. There is something called the “real world”. Where “real people” feed children, or not. Where absolutely all some people have is the child in their arms and a half a bottle of water.

Like I said, the task, for me, the lots to-do is to transform theory to practice. Education development aims not just to bring about correct understanding but to create social and political conditions (that is, community) more conducive to human flourishing than the present ones.

Backpacks, badges and epistemology: an interesting conversation that leads to happily ever after

Grant (2014) asks in the title to her book about digital badges, “What Counts as Learning?” This succinctly expresses the question of higher education and explains the continuing interest in badges, and in learning technologies in general. The fact this is less explored, gives me an opportunity to explore both learning technology and epistemology.

I have developed a new MA Education course module, “Philosophy and policy of higher education”. In this 20 credit level 7 module the question: “What counts as learning?” will be explored. That is the seductive game higher education plays: a chance at determining or being among the determiners of meaning – what counts as learning – for a generation or so. To extend the “play” metaphor to a stage on which higher education acts, higher education as an institution and its practitioners as individuals seek to occupy the limen, the space on the edge between consensual suspension of belief in order to “live the dream”, and the world as it is, explained. More critically for those in the game it poses the question about one’s own underpinnings, one own “will to power”, or academic identity or even life.

Badges are something like brand propositions and to some extent depend on other similar propositions. Like many brand propositions their link to truth is explicitly unattested. The badge can only serve as a conversation starter. Like travel badges on a backpack seen on an overnight Eurail while sleeping in the vestibule: “So when did you go to Sweden?” Most universities have a t-shirt and sports kit with a name and often a crest or logo. Some might serve the question: “Were you at Malmo?” To which an answer might be “No, it is a good hoodie.” But could also be, “Yes, for ice-hockey in 2009.”

Possibly the internet will work like the cold vestibule of a Eurail under an ex army coat, and when we see badges on a site we may start that interesting conversation that leads to happily ever after: life, love, career, changing the world? Or same as it ever was. That conversation about changing the world? Because as it is now, the foundations of meaning sometimes appear both unsound and cruel, not just one or the other.


Grant, Sheryl. 2014. What Counts as Learning: Open Badges for New Opportunities. Kindle. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.