Following the university’s restructure of support staff, a number of people are now in a redeployment position and all managers were asked to attend this HR training session on how to help those staff fit into their new roles. This was principally about the procedures to be followed and paperwork required during a six week trial period beginning in January, but also covered how to set reasonable objectives and on how best to provide feedback.
Just finished writing a new version of my CMALT portfolio, adding the new ‘Portfolio Review’ section which is now required every three years. It feels like I’ve just submitted an assignment, which of course in a way it is. About 2,600 words, and took me the best part of a week to write.
The final day of the first semester was a little unusual. The morning was given over to a review of the assignments for this module which are to complete the UKPSF form, critique a learning session, analyse a learning theory, and write a report on the experience of peer observation, comparing the experience of being the observer and the observee. Drafts are due at the end of semester 2, with final versions by September. All well and good, and all covered in the module guide. This session didn’t add anything, and yet we did literally spend the entire morning debating it. Strange things happen when you have academics as students.
The afternoon session was more useful. First there was a short presentation on evaluation in general, why and how to do it, followed by an introduction to nominal group technique. A definition of evaluation was given as ‘assessing the process and practice of a prior learning strategy or event by feedback and trying to make objective summaries of an often subjective interpretation.’ This was followed by a discussion on the different types of evaluation – student, staff, data, and self – and the difference between quality assurance, which is backwards looking and tends to be about accountability, and quality enhancement, which is about how to improve and develop your programme or module.
With quality enhancement in mind, nominal group technique was then introduced followed by actually using it to evaluate this first semester. As a group, and with the programme leader absent, we drew up two lists of ten to twelve points of things that are going well, and things which we think need to be improved. These were written on a board in no particular order, then individually we had ten votes, or points, with which to rank what we thought were the most important points. So for example, if you thought that ‘over-assessment’ and ‘use of VLE’ were the two most important things that needed to be improved upon, then you could give each one five votes. The programme leader was then invited back in and the votes were added up to show what we collectively ranked as the most important things for improvement, and what we felt was going well. The outcome of this evaluation will be actively used in the development of the programme for the second semester.
A very interesting morning session for the technology module, EDPM08, covering uses of technology to support self and peer assessment. The great thing about the tutor on this module is that they don’t just know their stuff, they back everything up with research proving that what they’re talking about works. That’s definitely something to keep in mind and aspire to in my own teaching.
First there was a discussion about peer marking, and research that shows that it only takes a surprisingly small number of peer grades to be averaged for it to approximate the grade of a tutor. That’s something that could prove very useful in the assessment for the ArtWorks MOOC that I’ve been assisting to develop. Then we covered the value of real-time formative feedback assisted by quiz tools such as Socrative and Poll Everywhere. And finally, not strictly supported by technology, there was a discussion about comparative marking, giving tutors two papers and deciding which of the two should get a higher mark, but without actually grading them. An interesting idea that I would like to look into further to find out more about how it works.
There was also a nice, almost throwaway remark about the concept of ‘desirable difficulties’, and anecdotal evidence that students learn more from bad lecturers as it makes them have to work harder to make sense of what is being taught. A kind of unintended experiential learning!
The afternoon session was back to the core module, EDPM05, and the use of reflection on teaching and learning. This was facilitated through an iterative exercise where we discussed where and how reflection takes place, wrote down ideas on sticky card and then worked the cards round on a board to reach some conclusions as a group.
The second half day optional module on the Leading from the Middle programme and the final session. Rather than a straight up session on health and safety itself, the focus was on our responsibilities as leaders in ensuring a culture of workplace safety and our responsibilities and obligations under law, specifically as pertains to the Health and Safety at Work Act, 1974.
The session was divided into five units of work. The first unit was on the roles and responsibilities of line mangers in ensuring that the university’s commitment to health and safety is fully cascaded to all staff, and the need for us to lead by example in embedding this culture throughout all of the university’s activity. Leading on from this, the second unit covered the university’s policies and procedures relating to health and safety and what responsibilities we each have for ensuring that the university environment is safe for all. For myself, this includes leading on risk assessments for my team, monitoring the office environment, and resolving any potential hazards as they are discovered or arise.
Unit 3 went into the detail of how to assess and control risk. For a practical exercise in this we were presented with a scenario, a picture of a large kitchen area that you would see in, for example, a hotel, and were asked to identify all of the potential hazards, e.g. open flames, hot surfaces, sharp corners, water near electrical outlets, etc. There was something about the image, perhaps the angle, that reminded me of the scene in Jurassic Park where the velociraptors got into the kitchen in pursuit of the kids. We were then introduced to the university’s risk assessment matrix which scores the risk of an activity by assessing the likelihood of an accident occurring against the severity of the potential injury on a scale of 1 to 25. I had to concede that though rampaging velociraptors are highly unlikely, there is a good chance of fatality in such a scenario, therefore warranting a score of 5 on our matrix. According to our guidelines, with such a low score no corrective action needs to be taken to lower the risk, but the activity should continue to be monitored.
Unit 4 covered how to investigate accidents and incidents. First we were introduced to two conceptual models on how accidents happen. The Swiss Cheese Model posits that when an accident happens it is because of a series of holes in barriers and safeguards which align, and the Domino Theory which depicts an accident as a cascade of events. We then discussed how to investigate an incident in order to uncover both the direct and root causes, and the university’s obligations under RIDDOR, the Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations.
Finally, unit 5 covered how health and safety performance is measured at the university. This includes both proactive methods such as audits and inspections which are informed by our policies and procedures, and reactive activities such as recording accidents and near misses.
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.