Tag Archives: PCTHE

Blog conversation on FSLT12

Lakhovsky, Conversation (public domain)

The feeds are starting to come in to the FSLT12 blog aggregator. And it is already a rich source of information and potential conversation. Questions are being asked about what makes a good teacher, and what makes a bad one! Jenny Mackness addresses the issue of blog aggregation generally in a MOOC. We are struggling with this and will be making changes to the template so that syndicated feeds only show the first 100 words or so.

But my question is more about the nature of conversation in this context. I will need to locate references, or ask if anyone has any to support my assertion, here. I wonder if this new epistolary form may be going a bit Baroque or even Rococo.

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Teaching and research are correlated but the link is loose and highly nuanced by para-academic factors #pcthe

There has been an excellent discussion on the SEDA maillist on the links (or not) between teaching and research. Hunt it down in the February archive here: re: PhDs and Learning and Teaching https://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/webadmin?A0=sedaMy contribution makes less sense out of context, but I want to post it for my own purposes:

As a relatively recent appointee to lead a PGCert (and an even more recent PhD), the references and insights in this discussion are very useful. I can only add personal anecdote, expanding a little on John Lea’s observations. Although the evidence is convincing that there is at best a loose correlation between research activity and teaching practice, I suspect the story is a lot more nuanced and is coupled with what might be called para-academic factors of economics, institutional and disciplinary micro-politics, and identity.

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Digital Humanities and the #alt-ac track – but why need it be centered around the “academy”

the #alt-ac label speaks to to a broad set of hybrid, humanities-oriented professions centered in and around the academy, in which there are rich opportunities to put deep — often doctoral-level — training in scholarly disciplines to use. Recent #alt-ac conversation online additionally tends to focus on the digital humanities, a community of practice marrying sophisticated understanding of traditional disciplines with new tools and methods. The digital humanities constitute, in my opinion, the best gig in town — attracting scholars who exhibit restless, interdisciplinary curiosity, mastery of relevant research tools and methods (old and new), and uncommon comfort — in a world that defines expertise like this — with a general assumption that practitioners are jacks-of-all-trades.

Or, rather, ought the “academy” be equated with the “institutions” of higher education, which, now, seem to be serving the community of scholarship so poorly.

Posted via email from George’s posterous

First thoughts on the final (?) draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience

Oxford Brookes Academic Enhancement and Standards Committee has made its final (?) modifications to the draft Strategy for Enhancing the Student Experience (SESE). The two objectives of this strategy are to:

  • [implement] approaches centred on critical reflection, impact evaluation and continuous enhancement of the student experience.
  • [maximise] student involvement in the development of policies and practices for teaching and learning and in extra-curricular, student led initiatives.

The strategy has principles and guidelines and (eventually) will have maps. Overall the tone is a bit directive: there is a lot of insistance and requirement, but the intentions are (I believe) worthy ones.

From a PCTHE perspective some of the key messages of this document are:

  • All staff who support learning will participate annually in high quality professional development (3.5.2)
  • All academic staff who support learning will engage with processes of evaluation, reflection and research into pedagogic practice (3.5.4)
  • The fundamental purpose of assessment will be to help students learn by providing formative feedback. (3.6.2) (so obvious but so often ignored in practice)
  • Students will be expected to take responsibility for their own learning, to actively engage with feedback and assessment (3.3.1) (this is perhaps one of the key messages of the Assessment Compact)
  • Students [will have the opportunity] to provide input and play a role from the outset in the development of new programmes. (4.3.4)

From a wider educational development perspective:

  • [With our] internationally recognised in-house expertise in educational development, we commit to routinely carrying out impact assessment, review and revision of all significant academic development initiatives and of measures taken forward in the SESE and the consequent strategy maps. (

Learning technology messages

  • [People will be] able to use technology to shape their own learning environment and interactions. (3.2.2)
  • [The] curriculum will be enriched by technologies that empower students’ development as self-regulating, digitally literate learners, able to shape their own learning interactions and author their own digital artefacts. (3.4.5)
  • The physical environment will be augmented by digital environments and technologies in ways which support a distinctive Brookes learning experience (3.7.2)
  • The functional access, skills and practices necessary to become a confident, agile adopter of a range of technologies for personal, academic and professional use. To be able to use appropriate technology to search for high-quality information; critically to evaluate and engage with the information obtained; reflect on and record learning, and professional and personal development; and engage productively in relevant online communities. (4.1. d)

Counting and dividing: half the #pcthe cohort enter with AP(E)L

The new PCTHE cohort is significantly different to those of years previous. There are 43 on the register. Of these 22 – just more than half – are eligible to enter with AP(E)L for 20 (out of 60) credits at level seven. They arrived with QTS and/or Associate membership of the HE Academy and/or a willingness to write a reflective statement demonstrating their attainment of the objectives of the first module through experience. I observed last year that it appeared the numbers of people arriving with APL might be increasing and that this stood to reason. This year APL has been realised as a significant factor in our programme. This will change the balance of our teaching programme. The first module, “Learning and Teaching in Higher Education”, will only have 22 enrolled. The second module will have 42 people on it. At this point only one person has stated an intention to do the first module only. Experience suggests that as the semester progresses several more will step down to a slower route, doing the single module this year and the double module next. This has implications for an outdated HR policy of making the PCTHE a condition of probation for new academic staff. We (the course team) are opposed to the PCTHE being a condition of probation. There is too much going on. Yes, make it a contract condition that they complete the programme in the requisite three years. Maybe make the Associate course (module one) mandatory in year one. But the full PG Cert is a significant effort which, with all the other pressures on new staff, seems in some cases un-necessarily harsh. There is a catch 22 also. Some schools give new staff time off teaching to do the PG Cert, but then they do not have enough teaching to qualify for the programme. Constructive alignment with policy and procedures is far more difficult than with intended learning outcomes, activities and assessment!

The first day of the PCTHE

We must have been given the worst teaching room in the University (Gibbs 2.15). It was on the edge of a building site with fork lifts reversing all morning. The room was the only unrefurbished one on this floor of the building. The seating was really poor quality: ripped seats, gum on the floor. There was no wireless coverage or 3G in the room (some might consider this a positive feature?). Roy is looking into finding a different room for Wednesday.

But that was not the whole story. The participants were a buzzy group: very little evidence of reluctant participation and a real willingness to talk with each other.

Frances showed Mike Wesch’s excellent video, A vision of students today. This stimulated discussion: what are we preparing learners for? This opened up a discussion of transferable outcomes or “graduate competencies”: team working, communication, academic literacy and so on. Frances also referred to John Biggs, one of the theorists that we draw on. Biggs characterised the “academic” and the “non-academic” learner (deep and surface) and advocated constructive alignment as a means of creating or inducing the behaviours of the more academic student in the less academically inclined. Our challenge is as much how to involve less academic learners as it is to stimulate and challenge the more academically inclined. This reminds me of a discussion I recently had with a participant on a previous cohort whose background was from an ancient university in another country. Her observation was that Brookes students, compared to those she was used to, were less well motivated. I am cautious of such generalisations, but I do expect that we experience much greater diversity in all dimensions of learner difference here than in some other places; but, I also expect there are places where the diversity is even greater. This is a factor of British Higher education policy over the past 15 years or so. The great benefits of widening participation are matched with new challenges for teachers.

The VLE introduction session took place in a brand new pooled computer room. The room was locked when I arrived 15 minutes early to get set up. There was no projector. It appeared as if the computers had never been turned on. All took 15 minutes to boot while building the registry, updating applications and so on. at least five computers would not run at all. At least five others would not launch applications from the desktop – though they did run from the “Start menu”. These are the things sent to try us. But again, the participants this year are a very tolerant group. They coped probably better than me!

I wonder, indeed, if this is the last time we need to run this session in this way? Each year I observe that the participants are more and more computer literate. At least half the problems, if not more, were due to the Brookes LAN and the pooled room: the computers not booting correctly and logging into the Brookes network caused more difficulty than interacting with the applications. Even people who had never used the VLE were able to find their way around and use the forums. Categorically, only the use of the Wiki was problematic, and some of those problems were only down to the fact that not only our group of 30 people were accessing. Greg observed that at the same time across the university over 500 people were engaged in similar  sessions. The load will be balanced by next week. Though the Wiki was a challenge for some to use, we probably picked the worst time and the worst place and the worst way to address the challenges.

Social Media and the Harrisburg Experiment

Last week the social media networks and the printed press, too, were buzzing with news that Harrisburg University of Science and Technology was blocking access to all social media sites for the week. There were predictable reactions from all sides. But ultimately interesting questions could be asked and there is probably something worth studying about learning behaviour among the many different groups of people who participate in higher education these days.

For me, I can’t understand why everyone doesn’t bring their laptop to class and use it for note-taking. I have been doing this for more than 10 years. Over the time I have used a range of tools for this purpose. (Currently my favourite is Xmind for mindmapping.) Since the Internet has become widely available through services like Brookes wireless (eduroam) I might indulge in a little fact checking if the lecturer refers to something interesting that I want to pursue. Yes, sometimes I might use Twitter to make a back-channel comments. And, frankly, if the session has lost my attention, I might as well make other notes off the topic.

Demanding attendance and attention as virtues in their own right can only go so far. But, in the classroom such demands can be appropriate at times. If it is an intended outcome that learners learn to pay attention for a stretch of time beyond the usual (contemporary) bite-sized time-slice, then make that explicit, and assess it, and maybe even show that such attention is valued with a (small) mark premium (or penalty). Rhona Sharpe speaks about this in her lecture on lecturing. It is easy enough to do by signalling the intention and designing a quick post-session recall exercise. This was the subject of a PCTHE participant’s sustained inquiry two years ago.

Many teachers assume that if learners have their laptops (or smart phones) open that they are necessarily not paying attention. But, people have doodled for a long time on paper while tuned out of the lecture. That said, there is a lot that students and teachers have to learn. Passing notes in the back of the class is rude, whatever medium the notes may be in. There are genuine questions about attention spans and new bricolic epistemologies. There is a question about Facebook “addiction”.

So, class time is class time. We all have some responsibilities to it. Taking away the internet during a lecture, for me, would impoverish the learning experience. Asking me to close my laptop and “pay attention” would be like telling me, 25 years ago not to take notes in class. But at the same time, it would be rude of me to be somewhere else altogether, and laugh out loud at a private joke just when the lecturer was making a salient point.

So, I guess the question, for me, is how do you build teaching sessions that take account of the increasing social media use by learners in the classroom? And, how do you include everyone, laptop users and non-users alike?

Related to this are questions about what student class-room social media practice really is. Do we know? Or, do we just assume? We should not assume that just because a student has their laptop open that they are not engaged with the topic.

Harrisburg’s Social-ucation site

Reflections on the eve of a new academic year

There is still a hard day’s work ahead before the introduction to the PCTHE for 2010-11. For some reason the VLE and wiki are not developing themselves. Packs for the day do not seem to be reproducing like the little bunnies I wish they were. The to-do list of best intentions is shrinking to only those that absolutely have to be done to ensure neither humiliation nor the sack hits me.

But that is not the whole picture. We have a remarkably good team and a robust programme. This is the fifth time we have run this version of the course. The design is dialogic and largely peer tutored. We all have to dig into ourselves to find both our well established coping strategies and something new for this year.

And, we have. It might be a bit close to the QA wind – nearly a minor change – but we have introduced two important variations to the programme: a base group position paper on how our assessment practice is an example of good teaching, and base group seminars. We are quite keen to see the seminars at work. We have conceived of these as a means by which our learners can influence the curriculum. This is really an anticipatory manoeuvre in advance of launching the revised course in 2011-12.

Implicit in all that we do is that there is something of value in higher education; it is not just higher skills training. Even if precarity increases and unrepentant financially-driven managerialism presses on all sides there remains something worth doing in the academy. We may end up gipsy scholars chewing off our own legs for the chance to bite the hand that feeds us, but there are principles – or “course values” to be upheld: an instrumental focus on the learning of others, experiential rather than didactic learning, reflective practice, critical thinking (and theory), delight in diversity, and learning communities.

So, here we go again.

Posted via email from George’s posterous

Writing a Course Review

I recently met with a student who had been unsuccessful in achieving the criteria for one of the assignments on the PCTHE. Most of my comments are of a general nature regarding the writing of a course review, so I thought I would post them.

  1. Back up your assertions with evidence. As teachers and students in higher education we must be familiar with the many forms that evidence can take. Avoid unsubstantiated statements and in every case where an assertion is made, think of how it might be evidenced.
  2. In general we are interested in your experience, ideas and theories, not your ability to reproduce the theories of others. Theory is simply an answer to the question “why”? That is, one of the principal purposes of theory is explanatory. It does help to recognise the theories of others that came before and have also experienced similar questions and come up with their own explanations. One of the principal theories that underlies this course is Constructive Alignment. Frequently problems in course reviews arise at least in part due to a lack of such alignment. And, a solution might, in part, lie in taking an aligned approach to course and assessment design and implementation. Remember there should be alignment between objectives – or “intended learning outcomes” (what the learners should be able to DO), learning activities in the classroom (or wider teaching environment), which allow the students to practice the objectives, and assessments which allow the students to demonstrate that they can do what ever the objectives suggest. Assessments should be backed up with criteria by which that doing can be evaluated.
  3. Tell the story. Start at the begining:
  • In the first paragraph state the key point of the paper (write this after you have written the rest)
  • I first taught this course …
  • It attracts such and such kind of students. Be as precise as you can with the observable demographics: age range, gender mix, full-time/part-time, in employment or not, etc. Avoid simplistic psychometrics (learning styles, etc) unless you have a particular reason to use them.
  • The course as inherited had these characteristics:stage, CATS points, programme context; external professional bodies (referees); aims (what you and the referees want to achieve); learning objectives (what the students must DO); teaching activities; assessments
  • The course as inherited had these problems (whatever they were). Provide evidence for how you know these were problems: i.e. attendance, participation, engagement, outcome (exam) results, informal feedback, your own observation, discussion with students, discussion with colleagues, etc. Draw on the writings and theories of others to show that these problems are not unique to your situation. That is to say, use outside authorities to show that your problems may be generalisable to a wider context.
  • In light of the students and the problems observed, you have made the following changes: changes implemented during operation in the first year (i.e. through reflection IN practice); changes implemented in a revision (i.e. through reflection ON practice)
  • Evaluation: how will you know the changes have been effective?
  • Next steps