Postgraduates: All about employability?


Interesting… I studied what I studied (although it was by research, rather than taught) because I was interested, and when following interest – more interesting opportunities open up:

“I feel guilty for finding it all so interesting,” a student on a taught master’s in history told me recently. My surprise must have been palpable because she went on to explain: “It’s just with the expense of it all, you have to tell people you’re doing it to get a job; otherwise it seems like an indulgence, really.”

Read full article.

Teaching of Value?


Teaching is the lifeblood/energy so far as I’m concerned in universities (hence why I was promoted to Senior Fellow in Learning and Teaching in my last job), so this is quite disappointing:

Amid concerns that promotion in the sector is too heavily based on research excellence, the report, commissioned by the Higher Education Academy, found that just 28.4 per cent of academics have been rewarded by their institutions for their commitment to teaching or student support.

Read the full article, or the report.

#LoveHE Award

Encouraging to see recognition of good teaching & learning (rather than just research):

Colleagues laud devotion to duty in our #loveHE competition to find sector stars. John Elmes writes

A tutor technician with an “outstanding” work ethic who has successfully bridged the gap between two key university roles has been named the winner of the Times Higher Education #loveHE Unsung Hero Twitter competition.

Jonathan Hunt, who works on the University for the Creative Arts’ BA in animation, was described as a “can-do guy” whose “strength lies in his empathy for students and their learning. Nothing is too much trouble for [him].”

Read full story.

The History Boys and Girls #timeshighered

An interesting article here. I definitely think that students are not all fully appreciative of the opportunities they get, and many could do more, but is there too much of a glut of universal education?

o one expects anything comparable to happen now. Most schoolchildren in the UK and the US show – if we admit the facts frankly and interpret the exam results objectively – little appreciation of their opportunities. Typically, they emerge from school with lamentably low standards of literacy and numeracy, and no taste for prolonging intellectually strenuous forms of leisure. If they go on to further educational experiences, they are more likely to choose vocational training than lectures unrewarded, except for the sheer thrill of learning, on the Salian and Hohenstaufen emperors. How did this collapse of educational ambition happen? Why did ordinary people’s appetite for learning ebb? Why did excellent autodidacts disappear?

I’m sure readers will tell me that these changes are the effects of easier, cheaper access to competitive forms of pabulum, drivel, belly-laughs and mundane amusements; or that the fault lies with bad schools; or with a system that denies teachers resources and freedom; or with prevailing consumerism and materialism, which condemn children to share their parents’ and rulers’ dreary values and narrow aspirations. I suspect, however, that the real problem is deeper and more secret – so shocking that we barely dare think it, let alone mention it out loud: maybe the entire project of creating universal, compulsory, free education was misguided. And maybe the destruction of real, heartfelt demand for learning has been one of its consequences.

Read full story.

Media Training at Open University (aka Video Debut?)

A great training course, I have some notes which I’ll extract at some point (probably!).. not bad on about 2 hours sleep!

Notes below YouTube video: An extract from interviews created in the process of a Media Training workshop. The first interview was many more questions (and I apparently have a ‘Hollywood Smile’), whilst the second was a 1 minute pre-planned script (not 100% learnt I have to say) – this was the fourth attempt – need a bit more work on where my eyes look (lens, not the shiny light above it!), and the ending ;-)

Note, I recorded the file using screen casting, so any sound quality issues are down to that!

Men/Women Learn Apart?

Just thought this was interesting, as an academic from Manchester Business School ‘reluctantly’ concludes from his research that we should consider segregating men/women in learning because of their different learning styles.

“Personality differences aren’t aptitude, they’re just differences in…the way you behave,” he said. “It’s not that one personality is better than the other, it just tends to fit people better to certain situations.”

Read full article, and some interesting comments coming through too.

Please, don’t spoon feed!!

Oh, I’m so with this story… one of the greatest gifts we can give students – a responsibility for their own learning… be the guide on the side, not the sage on the stage!

On his finding that one in three first-year undergraduates struggle to learn independently, he said: “They are not taking control of their learning in the way we would want them to because they still want to be trained like they were at school.”

Dr Ovens added that the current generation of students had been assessed “more than any other”, and that the problem of dealing with students unused to independent learning was not unique to the UK: “When we talk to colleagues worldwide, they have very similar problems, and they agree that the problems are getting progressively worse year on year.”

Current UK reforms focusing on the student experience carried the risk of a “knee-jerk” response that would lead to even greater spoon-feeding of students, Dr Ovens said.

He argued that academics had to respond to these issues by treating students as independent scholars: “Their autonomy is the single biggest value that can be developed; academics should not view students as empty vessels to be filled with knowledge.”

Read full story.

Teaching Overseas: A Cultural Challenge

Fascinating insight into teaching practice from Dr Jennifer Hill, a lecturer who had a six-month tour of Iraq with the Royal Engineers as a Territorial Army officer:

But Dr Hill’s time in Iraq was not just about serving Queen and country. Working with a completely different set of students made her a better teacher, she believes.

“We were there doing post-war reconstruction and helping to get their infrastructure back on track,” she said. “I was in charge of a group educating and training local artisans, who were learning under a system with no formal framework of qualifications.

“These electricians and carpenters had a certain level of technical knowledge, but they could not apply it beyond their basic training.”

Saddam’s regime, she said, “had completely squashed their ability to think for themselves and problem-solve.

“We encouraged them to reflect on their strengths and weaknesses – to make their own decisions and think more creatively.

“It made me think about how I taught my students in Bristol, and consider whether I spent too much time thinking about the cognitive and academic demands of a course, rather than how students were interacting with each other or approaching materials.”

Also a great advocate for PGCLTHE:

Dr Hill is an unapologetic advocate for compulsory teacher training for young academics. She took a postgraduate certificate in teaching and learning at her own university seven years ago and highly recommends the experience.

“The course validated many of my teaching activities, clarified the theoretical foundations on which they were based and prompted me to consider how I could improve my practice, especially how to engage students more actively in their learning.”

Increased use of podcasts, video clips and other new-media materials is another way that teaching can be improved, she said.

“I teach a lot of bio-geography about forests and deserts, and it’s often difficult to convey what a place is actually like.

“I film a lot of stuff on location and students love it, but you have to make sure it’s engaging with them in a useful way. When I first did it, students were not coming together or learning from each other.”

She also cautioned against allowing students to think that their lecturers will spoon-feed them with all the materials they need.

“You need to anchor them in the subject and challenge them to find out more. I now set quizzes about the materials and generally help to move them in the right direction.”

She finishes:

“Every university should encourage and support teaching to the same extent that it does research.”

Knowledge is not enough…

…lecturers must be able to impart what they know. Craig Mahoney, head of the HEA, believes training can make any academic a more effective and inspired teacher

“When I moved to England from Australia, I was excited at the prospect of undertaking the postgraduate certificate in higher education,” writes Francesca Haig, a senior lecturer in creative writing at the University of Chester, in a 2009 article for the Higher Education Academy’sAcademy Exchange magazine.

“In Australia, such qualifications were not required for academic posts, and I thought that the emphasis England placed on teaching qualifications indicated a regard for teaching, usually so undervalued in academia (although not by students). Colleagues in England laughed ominously at my enthusiasm; such qualifications, I soon learnt, are commonly viewed as yet another hoop through which academics must now jump.”

Read full story, and note that I really enjoyed the PGCLTHE at my University, and am now teaching on it.


Stand And Deliver @timeshighered

So university students will pay higher fees, unless they are poor, and pay them as debts rather than as taxes. Parliament in both houses has decided.

What happens next? If students are to be customers, will they exercise the power that traditionally belongs to those who buy? The adage about paying the piper and calling the tune suddenly looks apt. In any consumer society the customer is king. Tomorrow’s student may not be that. But he may be a student prince, and an old operetta could become the tune of the times.


The student prince of the third millennium will demand better teaching and more of it; in arts subjects, at least, a trickle of complaints about bad lecturing could soon become a flood. The usual solution was to not go to the bad lectures; but that will look less like an option if you are paying through the nose.


Of the Three Great Rules – put your notes high, look at the back row and do not drop your voice – only the first, which can be done at once, can be consciously remembered and obeyed. The other two can be observed only as a cyclist unconsciously obeys the laws of ballistics. I have no idea how that happens, and can only say it feels wonderful.

The student prince, silent or censorious in the back row, will probably expect nothing else.

Read full story.

All good advice, as we look to provide more interactive, more interesting learning. Occasionally, however, there is material that has to be got through… and there may be no ‘fascinating’ way to teach this. Are students best placed to judge, and are they judging as if teaching is a packet of washing powder on a shelf. We are not here to give students ‘content’, but to encourage them to become active learners…


Graduates as Critical Thinkers… yes please!

Rather than factory produced bodies who want to write the “right” essay…

Everyone teaching in a university should want to bring ideas, facts and principles to life in a way that will encourage their students to find out more for themselves. The heart of teaching in higher education is, as Alfred North Whitehead put it in “Universities and Their Function” in 1927, the “imaginative acquisition of knowledge”. A university education is nothing if it does not ignite a burning desire to learn. Imagination illuminates the facts and structures them. It makes the dull and obscure parts of learning a challenge to be overcome rather than a burden to be endured. In that frame of mind, students are ready to understand and will want to share with other people the remarkable feeling that understanding brings.

Effective university teaching matters a great deal – but not because it has much to do with student satisfaction. That’s a by-product. It matters because it gets students to engage with abstract ideas in a way that allows them to make the subject their own.

Accomplished teaching is the single most important method of producing graduates who can reason and act for themselves, and can apply theory to practical problems – precisely the skills that any employer wants to see.

It is not a simple equation of cause and effect. The other important element is the resolve of the students themselves. By their own efforts, they can convert the opportunity into the outcome. Students decide their own destinies, and lecturers only add or subtract value at the margins. Skilful teaching, by teachers who apply their learning with imagination, can inspire students to do more than they ever thought they could.

Teaching in higher education should never fool students into thinking there is an easy path to success. Rather, it should make the hardest road enjoyable to follow by communicating complex ideas clearly and succinctly.

Read full story in the Times Higher Ed, and read also the next story “Credit where it’s overdue“.

ALT-C 2009: In Dreams Begin Responsibility

Watching ALT-C 2009, streaming live from the University of Manchester, from today through Thursday 10th August 2009. There’s also some other sessions being streamed via UStream.

Follow the stream on Twitter. (#altc2009 seems to be the main hashtag, but there are other’s noted!).
Beware of the concept of Digital Natives: