Lectures Still of Value?



Really interested in the debates about teaching styles, especially re: lectures:

By the 1970s, educational scholar Donald Bligh had written one of the first comprehensive reviews of the research evidence about teaching in higher education, a book titled What’s the Use of Lectures? It was comprehensively damning. Although there are a number of pedagogic systems that almost every research study has found to be more effective than the conventional alternatives, for the lecture-based approach the reverse is true.

More than 700 studies have confirmed that lectures are less effective than a wide range of methods for achieving almost every educational goal you can think of. Even for the straightforward objective of transmitting factual information, they are no better than a host of alternatives, including private reading. Moreover, lectures inspire students less than other methods, and lead to less study afterwards.

Read full story.

The ‘Unconference’ in the Classroom?

marquee-1120036-mInteresting reflections from Kevin Fong re the impact of attending an unconference on his thinking on teaching:

The unconference originated in Silicon Valley, where in the late 1990s computer-programmer types decided that everything about their work and way of life – including their meetings – should be more “open source”. That philosophy partly brought about the digital revolution, which in turn has brought our ways of communicating and engaging with students into sharp relief.

With that and the other changes in higher education, student expectations are likely to grow far more quickly than the rate at which our course material becomes more engaging. And so, during this year’s introductory chat, I think I’ll finally start chipping away.

Read full piece.

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.

#BigRead13: Day 27: Teacher

#LentPhotos has an interesting challenge today – look for #divine – I think we can see “The Divine” in everything, though it was of course tempting to use Divine chocolate…





#BigRead13 Thoughts

As someone who’s been involved in the development of teaching and learning, it’s always good to think about what it is that makes for a good teacher – some thoughts from the top of my head:

  • Passionate & knowledgeable about their subject
  • Cares about their students, and what they get out of it
  • Allows space for interaction/engagement/input
  • Can explain something in more way than one
  • Has lots of inspiring examples to draw on – making learning interesting
  • Respects the student, and makes it possible to be respected in return
  • Creates an enjoyable atmosphere – as Caspian’s teacher does

Can be difficult to make all happen – and that’s why many teachers spend several hours preparing for each hour of teaching…

Today’s Bible verse seems to indicate that we will become most like “our teacher” – or anyone that we learn from I have to say, whether that be parents, friends, museums, church, etc. etc..


Well, I wrote it, so obviously I think that clearing out your wardrobe is a good thing, and have done it – learning from others in the process!!

Brian Draper: Lent 40

So the first step, today, is to notice when you’re tempted to prove yourself or defend yourself. Noticing this is more than half the battle. At that point, simply step back – maybe count to ten.

Remember that we are loved by God, that we have nothing to prove though my brain is thinking, but we still should our best, but as Carol Fogarty said to me many years ago – aim for excellence, and not perfection!


#Do1NiceThing Lent Challenge today – Say sorry even when its not your fault! #OthersRWorthIt

Stephen Cherry ?@StephenCherry1: Attended service @durhamcathedral to provide welcome. Preacher praised virtues of #NOTBUSY Sermon included 5 mins of sheer silence. #chuffed

I have to say with #notbusy am still finding it hard to stop still entirely, but it is encouraging more to take time out for myself – e.g. my swim this morning “eeek, panic, don’t have time”, but it’s so important for my mental health aside from anything else!

Pam’s Perambulations: “I have to confess to getting a little irked by Building Conservation.  Not keeping a good building how it was if it can be enjoyed by all as part of our heritage, but when such buildings are no longer fit for purpose, yet it is insisted that it is kept how it was – even if it doesn’t meet the needs of today’s community.” Oh yes – people think that as a historian I must want everything kept “as is”, but really – what exactly is “what it was” – buildings change over time – do we take it back to its original state, it’s most famous state, most recent? etc.. Function SO should be a consideration…

Learning Outcomes of Any Value? #HigherEd

Interesting article in Times Higher about ‘Learning Outcomes’ and the general impatience and disregard that most academics view them as – dangerous tickbox exercises rather than helping improve learning & teaching:

“Professor Furedi, how do you get around learning outcomes?” a young lecturer asks me in a breakout session. I have just spent 10 minutes explaining the corrosive influence of learning outcomes on education to my audience at the recent Think Festival in The Hague. Nevertheless, I am caught off guard by my blunt questioner. That is probably why my reply is a bit more candid than I had intended it to be. “I just make them up and ignore them,” I say.

I should not have been too surprised by the question. One week earlier, when I put forward the same argument to a group of PhD students and staff at the University of Birmingham, the predominant reaction to learning outcomes was also one of cynicism and contempt. After my lecture, a recently appointed lecturer in education sounded like Jean-Paul Sartre when he described how he and his colleagues managed the institutional expectation that learning outcomes should be taken seriously: “With bad faith,” he chuckled. And bad faith is what the Quality Assurance Agency communicated in its 2007 reportOutcomes from institutional audit: The adoption and uses of learning outcomes, when it boasted “that, despite differential rates of progress between and within institutions, the adoption of learning outcomes has been addressed with vigour”. Only in passing did the report point out that it “is apparent that not all staff embraced the learning outcomes approach with equal enthusiasm”; a bit of an understatement. Vigour and enthusiasm are not sentiments that normal academics express towards learning outcomes.

Read full story.

#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.

Gravity Always Wins @timeshighered

A great piece on the dangers of teaching in the arts, when our culture no longer really seems to value it:

And as I grow older, so I am mocked by technology. Today, every device insists on telling me the time. I watch the red figures on a microwave count down the remaining seconds of my life. “Cook for three minutes,” it says. So I cook it for two and save a minute of my life. I take a similar approach to the National Lottery. I don’t play. That saves me £50 a year. This year, what with the recession, I decided not to buy two tickets, so I am saving £100. If they continue to freeze salaries, I may not buy three.

So what used to be a secure life is so no longer. Our teaching is inspected for its effectiveness, our research explored for its “quality”, awarded stars like children in primary schools rewarded for not wetting themselves. Our students are asked if they love us. We are required to explain our relevance, recruit students with higher qualifications, students with lower qualifications, produce more first-class degrees, explain why we give so many first-class degrees, recruit overseas students while the government turns them away at immigration.

Read full story.

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.

Do we write our students off as heroes or zeroes?


It’s very easy to ‘decide’ whether students look like they’re worth the extra effort or not, but as Tansy Jessop has always said (notably in the PGCLTHE teaching), all students can learn, so I was really interested to see this article:

That evening at the Queen’s Hall I realised something about my own profession with great clarity. We who teach in further or higher education often look at the students who aren’t applying themselves and dismiss them as useless ne’er-do-wells. Our contempt is really no more than a reflection of theirs: they seem to insult us by their total lack of interest in the subjects to which we have devoted our adult lives. It irritates us. These kids shouldn’t be in a college or university, we mutter to ourselves. They’re a waste of space, time and funding.

And yet, I see now, we actually have no idea who we might be dealing with or what’s going on with any of our students. Ralph and I must have seemed annoyingly hopeless at the age of 16 or 17, but in fact some kind of mental activity must have been stirring in us. We found our separate ways to what we were destined for, and society did eventually begin to get something back from us. It’s just that society had no idea in advance what it would get, or from whom. And we had no idea either.

Read full story.

Academic Independence? Possible in an age of Quality?

http://www.sxc.hu/photo/1137792Working in a Learning and Teaching Development office, we look at questions of quality quite a lot, so picked up on this story:

As officialdom’s demands for meaningless Transparency and Information multiply, Thomas Docherty asks: has clandestine scholarship become the only way to carry out real research and teaching?For a number of years, the university, in common with much of public life in general, has become obsessed with the need to present itself to the world through the twin pillars of Transparency and Information. It is taken for granted that we will piously revere, and robustly comply with, the demands of these iconic towers. Ostensibly, demands for Transparency and Information are positively good: after all, who would want important decisions to be based on a lack of information; and who would want procedures to be covert, operated according to unspoken laws or whimsy, and governed by secretive cabals?

But Information and Transparency are not as innocuous as they seem, especially in the university. When unquestioning respect for them is simply taken for granted as an axiomatic good, they start to assume the power of the obsessive fetish, and the price of fealty exacted is high. Transparency and Information become the means of securing the university’s official conformity with the prevailing social or governmental orthodoxy and dogma. When they assume a primary importance, they govern the official identity of the university, and they thereby deprive the institution of the capacity to make any serious claim for a cultural function beyond the society’s or the government’s official views of the academy.

This brings serious consequential dangers for the university and its proper priorities of teaching, learning, research and scholarly study. These things are all grounded in two axioms of intellectual life: first, that truth should nowhere be taken to be transparently self-evidencing; and second, that information must be subjected to critique if it is to help us seek or form knowledge.

Read full post.

Poor marks for compulsory (HE) teacher training



Interesting, having recently completed my PGCLTHE (which I found helpful)… the general gist of the story is that there is support for the idea that all who teach in HE should be appropriately qualified, but there’s a debate as to how this should be done, and whether this should aim for ‘one size fits all’…

It said at the time that it “strongly recommended” that all new academic staff “be required” to complete an HEA-accredited teaching programme, such as the postgraduate certificate in higher education.

It also said that all postgraduates who teach should undertake training, that existing staff should be “offered opportunities” to do a PGCHE or the equivalent, and that classroom observation should become part of any teaching qualification.

But the HEA’s report on the consultation, published this week, reveals that more than 70 per cent of respondents oppose compulsory discipline-based teaching qualifications.

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.


‘Too Detailed and Prescriptive’

Experts have raised “serious concerns” about new requirements for lecturer training.

The proposals, set out by the Higher Education Academy, are “too detailed and prescriptive” and could be counterproductive, staff in the field have warned.

Plans to revise the UK Professional Standards Framework were published by the HEA in November after the Browne Review called for teaching qualifications to be made compulsory for new academics.

The framework, which was first published in 2006, is used to accredit universities’ teaching-development activities, but the HEA has admitted that many staff do not see it as “relevant” to their career progression.

Under the HEA’s proposals, the updated framework says that in future, all staff on academic probation will have to complete an HEA-accredited teaching programme, such as a postgraduate certificate in higher education. Postgraduates who teach would also have to take an HEA-accredited course.

A “sector-wide profile” on the number of staff who have reached each level of the framework would be published by the HEA annually.

Meanwhile, training courses would have to meet more detailed requirements.

Read full story. An interesting story, as I look to complete my PGCLTHE, which I have found very helpful in enabling me to think about my own teaching practice, and those things that I can do differently, and enabling me to learn from others.

The ‘Mickey Mouse’ that roared: media studies takes on its critics

Media studies has long been cast as the classic “Mickey Mouse” subject. Now, at a time of widespread cuts in the academy, scholars in the field have launched A Manifesto for Media Education, a web-based project designed to fight their corner.

“We hope to achieve greater clarity about our subject,” explained Jon Wardle, director of the Centre for Excellence in Media Practice at Bournemouth University.

“Should media education be about serving the jobs market, reflecting society back to itself or holding power to account? And since the media are now central to our lives, should they be studied in a separate discipline or right across the university syllabus?”

To get the ball rolling, Mr Wardle has co-authored an initial statement noting that the project comes at a time when media education appears to be flourishing.

“Applications to media courses in the UK have never been higher,” it says. “In Southeast Asia, media education is now a legislated aspect of schooling in a number of countries, and in the US various foundations are making millions of pounds available for academics to investigate the nation’s media literacy.”

Read full story, or read the Manifesto.

Daily Diaries of Lecturers @timeshighered

Do you ever wake up in the middle of the night worrying about work? Feel that you have really “earned something” only after a session teaching? Or think about the learning process over the washing-up?

If so, you are not alone, according to a series of accounts academics have written about their daily lives.

To inform Share, a research project that is investigating the ways in which academics around the world represent, share and change their teaching practices, university teachers are being invited to keep a diary on the 15th day of each month over the course of a year.

The first batch of diary entries – extracts from which have been published in a newsletter to contributors – reveal what was on participants’ minds on 15 September.

For one, the day began at 4am with sleep broken by “worrying about the tsunami that is the new academic year that is going to hit us in two weeks”.

Other diarists blur the boundary between home and work, “checking emails while in my nightie” or “answering emails from my sofa” at 6.45am.

Read full story.

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“.

Bex: Crazy Timetable

2009 So Far
This year has been amazing so far. I returned from Oak Hall in November, just as the credit crunch hit, really unsure where/whether I’d be able to get work, but returned to Winchester, as I knew I had a good reputation there, and was sure I could pick up a few bits! Friends put me up in their spare room whilst I applied for work, but after about 3 months, I had enough bits and pieces coming in to rent a room closer to the University of Winchester, where I was picking up most of my work, with every small project leading to another one… and at one point having to turn down work!

In May, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get through the summer, as teaching was coming to an end, but I picked up a couple of summer projects, went to France with Oak Hall, and in fact haven’t completed my own studies this summer, and teaching commences again next week! I then started conversations with a few others, and look what’s happening now…

2009-2010 Timetable
Semester 1 (Finishes 5th February)
I have quite a full timetable (all modules include preparation/marking):

  • Monday 3-6: Introduction to Media Studies
  • Tuesday 9-12: 20th Century British History
  • Wednesday 10-11: Landmark (The Internet as a Landmark in History)
  • Wednesday 1.30-5: STUDYING the PGCLTHE + associated 3 x 4,000 word projects
  • Thursday: 7.5 hours “Blended Learning Research Fellowship“, including Learning Website
  • 5 Final Year Project Students for Media Studies (Due 5th May 2010)
  • Media Studies Website (for March 2010)
  • History Website (for March 2010)
  • SkillsNet Website (Content, Staff/Student Evaluation)

To also fit in:


  • Cooking at Lauterbrunnen for Christmas Week
  • New Year, who knows yet…
  • Complete VD poster article. Start to think about Book Proposal (Thesis to Book – note am not necessarily expecting to submit)
  • Get ready for semester 2!

Semester 2 (Finishes 18th June)
I have an extremely full timetable:

  • Monday 3-5: Introduction to Media Studies
  • Wednesday 9-12: Dreams and Nightmares
  • Thursday 9-11: Film History
  • Thursday 11-3 (2 hours of): Creating and Consuming History
  • Friday 9-12: Researching Media Studies
  • 2 hours for 6 weeks: Reflecting
  • History Independent Study Module, Dissertation/Second Marking
  • Tuesday or Friday: 7.5 hours “Blended Learning Research Fellowship
  • 5 Final Year Project Students for Media Studies (Due 5th May 2010)
  • Media Studies Website (for March 2010)
  • History Website (for March 2010)
  • SkillsNet Website (Content completion – for May 2010)
  • Adding French content to ARCA website (awaiting translations).
  • Been asked if I’ll teach 4 weeks on ‘History of Public Health’ and 6 weeks on ‘Design for Digital Media’ – hmmm

To also fit in:


  • A week away in Cornwall with my housegroup – woot!

The summer is yet some time away, and the Blended Learning is permanent, so I guess if I’m sensible with my money… Although waiting for the dates of Oak Hall in Israel, and may go there next September… I know it’s quite tiring, but invigorating in other ways.

So if you’re wondering why I go quiet for long periods of time, this may kind of explain it, as there’s usually approximately 3 hours of preparation for each hour of teaching… and then the marking, well, we try not to think about the marking (e.g. Intro to Media, around 40 students, 2 assignments, about 1/2 hour + per assignment)! Some weeks there’s tutorials, and some courses run alternate weeks rather than all term, so manageable – with a few late nights, I suspect!

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: