Training on the university’s policies and procedures on how and when to refer staff and students to the various support services which are available, e.g. when people are affected by issues such as bullying, discrimination, disability, health problems, etc. Bundled into this was the university’s obligations with regards to the government’s Prevent Agenda on radicalisation which applies to all far right groups – in the North East the principle group of concern is the EDL. Included in our discussion was how the process of radicalisation typically works, how to spot the signs of potential radicalisation, and most importantly want to do about it, which for myself, and indeed most staff, is simply to refer to the relevant Safeguarding and Prevent Officer for the service.
Two sessions today, delivered by two guest lecturers on different topics. The morning was devoted to peer observation and discussed the exercise in general terms, the balance which needs to be struck between institutional and individual focus, and between negotiated and imposed criteria, and then on how it works here at Sunderland specifically. Here there is a standardised form which is part of the academic quality handbook, and everyone has to be peer observed a couple of times every year. One of the assessments for this module is for me to be observed, conduct an observation and write a reflective piece on the experience.
This was followed by a discussion on various quality frameworks and their different purposes which we assessed on a scale of institutional / individual focus, and negotiated / imposed criteria:
- UKPSF: About an individual’s professional teaching;
- NSS: The National Students Survey about their experience;
- TEF: The impending Teaching Excellent Framework which is designed to capture the performance and effectiveness of institutions;
- DfE Teacher Standards: About the role and responsibilities of teachers;
- Oftsed Observation Matrix: About the quality of learning as a result of teaching.
Our lecturer in the afternoon began with a discussion on different types of knowledge in practice, including research based evidence, tacit knowledge (from the work of Michael Polanyi who gives, as an example, the ability to ride a bicycle but difficulty in explaining how), and postmodernist approaches which argue that knowledge is socially constructed and thus particular to a given set of social and historic circumstances.
This was followed with reflective practice, the usual suspects, Gibbs and Schon, and a new one for me, Jan Fook, who writes about critical reflection and the need to unearth and examine the deeply held assumptions underlying our experiences.
Finally there was a discussion about his own research in auto-ethnography, a disciple which combines anthropology with biography to record the experience of being in a particular culture.
Remember back in the days when Bootcamp was a fantastic utility that just worked and made installing Windows on a Mac easier than on a PC? Those days seem to be long gone.
Part of the problem seems to be the need to use a bootable USB flash drive now that we’re in the post physical media age. Today, trying to install either Windows 7 or Windows 10 on a 2013 MacBook Air running Sierra has been a complete nightmare. No matter what I tried, different ISOs for different versions of Windows on different USB drives by different brands, the Mac simply failed to recognise the drive as bootable.
In the end I was only able to get it working by abandoning Bootcamp and using Microsoft’s own utility on a machine already running Windows, the not terribly well named Windows USB/DVD Download Tool, to create the bootable USB drive from the ISO.
Then I had a new problem. Those bootable USB drives are always left with a hidden 200 MB protected partition which is ignored on Macs, so you don’t know it’s a problem, but on Windows that first 200 meg partition is all that is seen. No matter how you reformat the drive, on Windows or Mac, that partition is not removed and the drive remains pretty damn useless. I first discovered this problem a few months ago the hard way, after the last time I installed Windows on something. Removing the hidden partition to restore your flash drive to full functionality is another massive headache, but I have found this method that works on Windows.
The penultimate session of the course began with a fairly cringe-worthy ice-breaker exercise in which we were tasked with matching some very diverse faces with names and occupations. Knowing the nature of the session we were naturally at pains not to apply stereotypes, placing us in a situation of double and triple guessing ourselves, rendering the exercise somewhat moot. Thankfully it didn’t take too long before we moved on.
The session was delivered by a guest academic who has spent their career researching gender equality and she gave us a brief history of her work which includes a chapter in the forthcoming Re-reading Spare Rib. Recommended further reading included When Giants Learn To Dance and A Tale of O – A story on Diversity.
We then discussed the problems of stereotyping and how gendered language can disadvantage women in business. For example, describing leaders as ‘self-confident, assertive and inspirational’ is problematic as these attributes do not match gender stereotypes of women as ‘nice, friendly and sensitive’, but do match male stereotypes such as ‘dominant, assertive and forceful’, with the potential result being lowered evaluations of women as leaders.
This led on to a discussion of bias, the inclination towards or prejudices for or against something, both explicit and unconscious. This isn’t necessarily negative as it allows our brains to make quick decisions based on prior knowledge and experience, but it is important to be aware that we have them. An example of research in this area was provided that showed racial discrimination in the interview selection process by submitting identical CVs with different names on them, those with a ‘white sounding name’ were almost a third more likely to be selected for interview.
Some advice was given on how to mitigate the effects of organisational bias, including first of all being aware of one’s own and organisational biases, sifting CVs blindly looking at content only, being careful with the use of gendered language in adverts and descriptions, and using aggregate scoring in selection. We also covered equality and diversity legislation, including the nine protected characteristics.
A task we were given to assess our own biases was to take one or two Implicit Association Tests. I took two tests which is both cases showed that I had a moderate bias towards one particular side. In the ‘Countries’ test, for example, it was revealed that I had a slight preference towards the UK over the US. I’m not quite sure how valuable this exercise was. This outcome struck me as unexpected and logical, given that I have lived in the UK all of my life and was therefore able to more quickly recognise those statements and things which pertained to the UK than the US.
Finally, in the latter half of the afternoon we were split into two teams and pitted against each other to design a game of some kind that would teach colleagues something about equality and diversity. My team came up with ‘Career Ladders and Snakes in the Grass’, a variant of snakes and ladders but with different rules for men and women. If you draw the male card you get a head start, draw the female card and you can only roll a maximum of four, both rules designed to show how much harder women have to work to get ahead. There were a couple of special themed squares on the board. The Glass Ceiling square towards the top of the board which, if you land on while playing the female card you get stuck on until you roll a six to break through the ceiling, and the Dark Knight square, the full meaning of which I couldn’t possibly explain here as it is a little bit of black humour relating to something that has been happening here at Sunderland as part of the review of staff.
We played each other’s games and I’ve had my own team play ‘Career Ladders and Snakes in the Grass’ and, interestingly, in both cases the person who drew the female card won! Also in both cases the female card was drawn by men who were very annoyed when the rules were explained to them on the grounds that it was unfair, which of course was exactly the desired reaction. The other team’s game was a variant of Trivial Pursuit with the questions relating to equality and diversity issues. We won. Our game was declared the best and most fun. Not that I’m competitive at all.
Finally got my hands on a Google Cardboard VR headset today. Ironically the cheapest and most common VR system is the one that has eluded me until today. Perhaps it’s because I’ve came at this backwards and tried the least advanced system last, the one that’s supposed to be a cheap, quick and easy demonstration of the technology to get people’s interest, that I was unimpressed. It simply isn’t immersive. Having to hold the headset to your head with one hand and all the ambient light that seeps in through the sides spoils the desired illusion. I tried a few apps and games, including what I thought the Cardboard would be good for, 360 degree videos, but they all disappointed. When having to move your head around to follow things there was noticeable lag which comes in part from the need to hold the headset on and the low processing power of mobile phones. I tried different apps with both an iPhone 6S and a Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge.
I also got to play with a Playstation VR a few weeks ago thanks to a colleague. That was a different story. It’s big, it’s heavy, but also comfortable once it’s on. On dark screens light does seep in from the bright lights used for motion tracking, but once you’re in a game it’s completely immersive and the relatively low resolution compared to the Rift and the Vive is nullified. Set-up is a breeze which is exactly what you would want from a console driven system and everything just works.
This is the one. Undoubtedly if I were going to buy a VR system for personal use it would be the PlayStation VR. For non-gaming uses, quality and an even more completely immersive experience it would be the HTC Vive, but that’s over twice the price of the PlayStation VR and needs a gaming PC costing around £1,000, rather than a PlayStation 4 costing around £250, and which I already have.
Continued our discussion on curriculum design, this time using John Biggs’s idea of constructive alignment. This is the theory that learning is best accomplished by having students construct meaning for themselves, rather than trying to impart or transmit knowledge. The role of the teacher in this model is to be a catalyst for learning and to facilitate the process by providing relevant learning activities and an optimum environment in which learning can take place.
We then discussed the importance of getting learning outcomes right and the need to regularly review and revise them based on student outcomes. A tip given for writing learning outcomes was to avoid using ‘understand’ as the measurable verb, to instead use something which places the focus on a practical application if possible. Again, Bloom’s taxonomy was recommended as a source of inspiration for alternatives.
For the afternoon session there was a change of lecturer and topic, to discuss the scholarship of teaching and learning using the work of Angela Brew as a starting point. The argument here is that, as an academic, you should focus on teaching and learning first, and scholarship will follow naturally. We discussed Foucault’s ideas about truth and the regimes of truth, and how the current neoliberal agenda is repurposing higher education to produce employable and marketable students who will become high earners, rather than the traditional purpose which was to produce citizens capable of critical and independent thought. Tying these strands together, if the neoliberalisation of HE was applied consistently, then teaching would be more highly valued than scholarship or research, as the bulk of university funding now comes directly from students through tuition fees.
The morning session picked up EDPM05 where it left off the week before, discussing curriculum design and setting learning outcomes. There was a discussion on the distinction between learning outcomes which are for students, and learning objectives which are more of a tool for staff when designing the curriculum. Advice given for writing good learning outcomes was to phrase them in the future tense, and make them achievable, assessable and easy for students to understand. It was recommended to build each outcome around a measurable verb, e.g. reflect, hypothesis and solve for high level outcomes, and describe, identify and measure for low level. Bloom’s taxonomy was cited as a source of inspiration in looking for these. In terms of practical considerations and UK HE culture, we were advised not to set too many learning outcomes as they need to be assessed, and too many learning outcomes can quickly lead to assessment overload.
To put this into practice we were given an example from a real-world module which, when inherited by the current programme leader, had 24 learning outcomes, and we were asked to find ways to reduce these. The programme leader actually got these down to 9 by clustering a number of them. Removing any of the outcomes wasn’t a possibility because that would have constituted a major change and triggered a re-validation.
The afternoon session was for EDPM08, the optional module on Digital Learning which I am teaching on, so I was there not as a participant but as a teaching assistant to support the discussions that were taking place. Today’s session utilised an audience response system so there was a discussion about the merits of using dedicated handsets over newer app and text based systems such as Socrative and PollEverywhere. Research was cited showing that such systems increased student enjoyment and engagement.
There followed a live application to get learner’s feedback on a discussion of Marc Prensky’s argument that today’s learners can be classified into digital natives or digital immigrants, depending on whether or not they have grown up with the internet. Critiques of this argument that we discussed included evidence that the multitasking Prensky claims digital natives are capable of is actually detrimental to performance, that he creates an artificial barrier between generations, and that the ability to manage the types of non-linear and non-hierarchical leaning spaces generated by the use of hyperlinking is more a matter of a person’s working memory capacity and pre-existing knowledge than any skills they may have gained by growing up with modern digital technologies.
The morning session for today was given over to a discussion on the related concepts of change and transition, and importantly the difference between them, and was heavily contextualised to address the university’s cross institutional review of support staff which is now reaching its conclusion.
We began by considering the drivers for change in the HE context, consistently returning to what we felt was the one huge macro factor acting on the education sector nationally and internationally, and for a number of decades now, namely the process of the implementation of a neoliberal philosophy, and the shift away from viewing education as a public good that benefits the whole of society. This has driven competition between HEIs to attract students, especially in the last few years as the UK has undergone a demographic dip in the number of eighteen year olds while the government has simultaneously cracked down on international student recruitment. This led us to consider how the university has responded to these changes. With students now being the direct source of the majority of university income, one response has been to try and find ways of providing students with a good return on their investment in their education. We have also found new ways of expanding the market, by taking over an institution in Hong Kong for example, and by reviewing our estate portfolio to find efficiencies, and implementing the cross institutional review which was aimed at streamlining the support staff structure.
In this context we were introduced to the work of William Bridges, specifically Managing Transitions. Bridges distinguishes between change and transition by defining change as something that is situational, e.g. getting a new manager or moving to a new office, and transition as a psychological process that people have to go through as they are dealing with change. This, he argues, is something that cannot be rushed, that people have to go through at their own pace, and that the role of a leader is to help them manage this process and guide them with positivity and sensitivity.
He defined three phases of transition, ending or letting go, the neutral zone, and new beginnings. It is the neutral zone and the uncertainty that comes with it that he argues is the most difficult time for people. Part of the reason for this is that there is a temptation for people to either want to cling to the old ways of working, or else move on to a new situation too quickly, not giving them enough time to explore options and possibilities, both of which can cause a change initiative to fail.
This led on to the work of John Kotter who published research in 1996 showing that 70% of change initiatives ended in failure, a figure which has not been shown to have significantly declined in later studies. He suggests that one way to improve this is by involving staff in the story surrounding the change, as it has been shown that people are more committed to something when they have chosen it or at least have had some input.
Something I really liked from Kotter’s article, which was provided as a handout, was the section on role modelling which talked about self-serving bias and how this can be found in leaders who rate themselves as better agents of change than they actually are. The anecdote about Kevin Sharer attempting to get past this by asking his employees ‘What should I do differently?’ stuck a cord with me and is something I may try using with my team to inform my own feedback and for use in the assessment of this course.
The afternoon was given over to the computer based EduChallenge Simulator which was designed to give us experience of implementing a major change in an HE context. The simulator placed us in the position of a change agent at the fictional Humfield University, our purpose to persuade the Dean of the Graduate School of Management to implement the new AcadQual system for improving academic quality which has been adopted by the rest of the university. The simulator gives you six months, 120 days, in which to complete this task.
This was an interesting exercise with a lot of potential. It was good to experience the other side of a change implementation, but it was hampered by the extremely dated software. The main problem being around the way language has changed since the software was written, over a decade ago from what I found in my probing. Activities like ‘Electronic Mail’ don’t work at all as you would expect. Instead, to send a message out to all staff you have to use a ‘Memorandum’. Then there is the obscure and bizarre, the ‘The Sandwich Meeting’ and the ‘One-Legged Interview’ for example. There is descriptive text which is meant to describe what these are, but we found that it was rarely helpful, and only in carrying out an action, using up precious days, did you actually learn what it did. This made the exercise clunky and annoying; it felt very unfair. This is a shame as I can see the value in the activity, it just needs to be updated to make it more intuitive and useful again.
The first full session of the course introduced us to the UK Professional Standards Framework, or UKPSF, not to be confused with the UK Paintball Sports Federation. This framework is published by the HEA and defines 15 criteria in three sections – Activity, Core Knowledge and Professional Values, against which professional practice can be mapped. To gain Fellowship of the HEA you have to demonstrate ‘a broad understanding of effective approaches to teaching and learning support as key contributions to high quality student learning’ across all of the criteria.
Guidance given to complete the Fellowship application was to provide two examples, backed with evidence, for each of the 15 criteria. So 30 points in total, and for each one you need to answer the questions: ‘What do I do?’, ‘Why do I do it?’, and ‘What impact does it have?’ Helpfully, the mere act of being on this course demonstrates that you have met A5 on engaging in relevant CPD. One down, 29 to go.
In the afternoon we started to discuss how to design courses, and the QAA Quality Code was cited as the starting point if you ever have the problem of having to start from scratch. This was followed by a discussion on how to write good, relevant learning outcomes and how to design the course so that students are guided towards meeting those outcomes. This discussion will be picked up again at the next session.
I was asked to write a little something about virtual reality, augmented reality and mixed reality to give our academic community and overview of the current state of play and how these technologies can be used in education. What started in my head as a little webpage turned into a whole section on our My Sunderland wiki.