Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference 2019

advance_he_conference

Attended, and more importantly, presented at the Advance HE Teaching and Learning Conference held this year at Northumbria University. Day 3 of the conference was themed around STEM and the keynote was given by Debbie McVitty, editor of Wonkhe, who talked about the impact the TEF has had on the sector and how to really measure teaching excellence.

A highlight of the day for me was the post-lunch Ignite Sessions which saw 8 presenters speaking for 5 minutes about their work or project. “Pride and Prejudice and technology (that enhances learning)” from Katie Stripe of Imperial College London will stay with me for her unique approach, as will the brave soul who used audience response in an Ignite presentation by asking people to stand or remain sitting in response to questions. Also from Imperial, Drs Tiffany Chiu and Freddie Page presented on their work around what an ideal student looks like which attempts to address the disconnect between how students see themselves and what they want out of their HE experience, and what staff want from, and want to get out of students. And Dr Helen Kaye from The Open University discussed how they are supporting final year psychology students to complete an empirical research project which possess unique challenges for distance learning students.

I also came away with ideas and additions to my reading list. For my own teaching on our PG Cert I’ve been inspired by the University of Strathclyde’s Dr Patrick Thomson to include a session around peer instruction, expanding on what we’ve done around peer assessment. I also want to expand what we have traditionally taught around rubrics and online marking, to include a discussion about the value and role of marking and the different ways it can be done. To my reading list I’ve added Alone Together by Sherry Turkle and Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi.

By far the most important thing to happen today however, was that I presented for the first time with my colleague Dr Katrin Jaedicke on the work we have done to convert her statistics for biomedical sciences students course into a full fledged massive online open course (MOOC). It was mostly Katrin’s talk, as it is of course the content that is key, but I was there to contribute to any discussion around the technological and pedagogical considerations in the conversion of the course from a flat web page into a MOOC. I also ran a live quiz at the end of the session, giving people a taste of the MOOC. Katrin had initially wanted to give people a handout of one of the self assessment quizzes, but I suggested doing it live using Poll Everywhere and awarding participants with a digital badge, just like the MOOC students receive, and I’m pleased to be able to say that it all went very well.

It’s Not Easy Being Green

Possibly a first today, I read a government paper. Specifically, if you haven’t been able to guess, Jo Johnson’s green paper on the future of HE (a good overview can be found on THE’s website here). It has some good in it, but also a lot that worries me, and of course there is no question of anything that undermines the ideology of market good, public bad.

The big thing in the paper is the new Teaching Excellence Framework of course, something I think is basically a good idea, but it will succeed or fail on how good and useful it is, and on how difficult it is for universities to complete; qualitative measures are notoriously difficult to define and measure. The paper promises that the TEF will not be an administrative burden, which sounds to me like it is going to rely on reductive measures that will be taken to infer teaching quality, and I’m not sure that there’s a lot of value in that.

The expansion of private provision and speeding-up of degree awarding powers is the most worrying part of the paper for me. This has been tried in FE and it has not being going particularly well, with huge amounts of public money disappearing into the profits of private companies with very little student benefit. It’s going back to the underlying ideology of the government which believes that private is always good and public always bad, and all evidence to the contrary be damned. I welcome the acknowledgement of the need for exit measures of some kind in case of a course being withdrawn or the failure of an institution, but this area of the paper is extremely light on detail. A transfer to a similar course at another institution is fine, but I think there needs to be additional financial support available if someone has to relocate or travel so that the student is not left worse off, and the suggestion of a mere refund of fees paid if there is no transfer option is grossly insufficient, as the withdrawal of a course can have a devastating effect on someone’s life and career plans. I think this needs to be acknowledged and appropriate compensation offered in addition to a refund.

The best thing in the paper is the shake-up of the degree classification system with the introduction of a complimentary GPA. I kind of like the traditional honours degree classifications, but there is no question that they have lost a lot of value when 70% of students get either a First or an Upper Second, so I like that the GPA is being introduced as a supplement rather than a replacement.