A student’s lecture to professors (via @timeshighered)

amphitheather-667184-mThis looks like it could be worth a read – a student tells his lecturers what they should do with their lectures in order to ‘allow learning’:

The question “Why am I here?” often strikes in the 73rd minute of a droning lecture. Don’t misunderstand – I love lectures. But only if the person delivering it knows how to allow learning. And yes, I do mean “allow”, for academics don’t create learning – only the student can do that. Unfortunately, most if not all lecturers are crippled by misunderstandings about their students and ill-founded assumptions about education itself. If we can filter the mud from the Pierian Spring, then they will have far less frustration in their lives and students will stop wishing that they were somewhere else. So one afternoon, after a particularly frustrating day with my professors, I sat down and wrote my lecture to them. I pray that they are taking notes.

Read full story in Times Higher Education.

The Scholarly-ness of Sources

ml6m22KInteresting piece in this week’s Times Higher Education. I certainly use a range of sources in my writing, but then my recent book Raising Children in a Digital Age does not count for the REF, as it’s aimed at a ‘general readership’ (which does at least mean it gets read by 1000s of people, rather than the average of 3!)

A student is researching scholarly material for her essay. She finds an excellent quote. It ticks all the boxes: original and insightful, persuasively argued, provocative, with just enough holes for a good forensic analysis to expose any weaknesses. There’s one problem, however. It does not come from an academic paper. It comes from a blog written by an obscure amateur. It has, technically speaking, no academic credibility.

By convention, students – and academics – are supposed only to engage in critical discussion with “academically credible” sources. What, then, is the student to do? Pretend this precious nugget doesn’t exist? A terrible waste. Plagiarise it (after all, who’s to know)? Downright unethical.

Read full story… and check out this piece from Barbara Graziosi re women and the REF.

Perhaps, I considered, women simply prefer to devote their energy to research and teaching.

Getting a Scholarly Monograph Published

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Having published my first book, with calls for a sequel of case studies … I would like to get my PhD turned into a book this year (10 years aftetr I finished the PhD), so this guidance may be helpful:

It involves blood, sweat and tears, and the experience is most frequently likened to childbirth. But with the right support and guidance, the process of publishing an academic book – a key step in most scholarly careers – need not be too excruciating. While the careful crafting of the manuscript itself is the key step in a book’s formation, many other elements contribute to the creation of the finished volume and, ideally, the author will benefit from the expertise of colleagues and professionals at every stage of its gestation. For first-time or inexperienced authors who have set their sights on a career-enhancing scholarly monograph, however, getting to grips with the dos and don’ts of academic publishing can be daunting.Times Higher Education asked a panel of academic authors to share their experience and expertise and to point out pitfalls to avoid.

Read full article.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

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I went on a course on emotional intelligence … so interested in this piece that came up in this weeks Times Higher Education:

It is about recognising your own emotional reactions to what happens under your leadership. For instance, one female head of department told me that she always checked her mood and emotional state before leaving the car park every time she arrived at work. If she didn’t, she feared that she could “begin the day screaming at a colleague because I have had a late night or agreeing to something ridiculous because I had just enjoyed giving a lecture”.

But you do also need to be able to manage the emotions of others. So when a colleague is faced with a personal tragedy or competence issue, the emotionally and socially intelligent leader will ensure that the person is supported to make their work realistic until their crisis is resolved. This may seem like common sense, but tell that to the senior manager who once told me: “I make the rules here and I think he should be taking on a full workload – even if his mother is dying.” That manager was gradually undermined because the staff saw that none of them would be supported if they themselves were to suffer a temporary personal setback.

Read full post.

A call for Interdisciplinarity

mhihBNsHaving had a role promoting interdisciplinarity, and taken a job where I can be part of a team within an academic context – an interesting argument for more working together in the humanities:

Why not the academy? What if we were to picture a team of professors, the academic equivalents of Lincoln’s collaborators, devoted to maintaining not the Union but instead the union of the humanities? Might this approach be no less effective in leading a first-year course than in leading a nation?

Few lines of work are more public yet more solitary than teaching the humanities. We are alone in our research, alone in our reading and alone in our writing. And though it is the most banal of observations, it nevertheless still surprises when we realise we are alone in our teaching. From our graduate days, we knew this would be so, but truly understood what it meant only on the first day we stood, alone, in front of a full lecture hall.

Read full article.

PhD: Has the quality dropped? If so, who’s “to blame”?

mfIRNyuThis is rather concerning (but not particularly surprising, as we’ve heard all those complaints about GCSE, A-Level, degree level standards dropping, etc.) re PhD doctorates. Really, by the time you sit the viva, you should know that your work is ready to pass, and that your job in the viva is to demonstrate that you actually wrote it (although others will still see it as a test) … and as I hope to take on a PhD student before too long:

Our experience does not lead us to criticise any particular system of examination or type of thesis. However, it does raise serious issues about the quality of work submitted for the PhD degree (or its equivalent) and the standards employed to judge such work.

To cut to the chase, a significant number of the theses we have examined did not deserve to pass – at least, not in the form in which they were submitted. One of us has examined six doctoral theses in the past year and believes that not one of them was worthy of the degree. Yet he had the means at his disposal to fail only two of them. Administrative conventions and examination procedures, not to mention social pressures, simply did not allow the possibility of failure.

Read full post.

Creating ‘Networking Buzz’

2dzvOq5Enjoyed this piece, as I’m always looking for ways to connect people up and make the most of that knowledge – let’s stop reinventing the wheel, and put our heads together:

The forty delegates were asked to submit information in advance both about their own research interests and about the specialist areas that they wanted to know more about. After the first couple of talks, there was a “speed dating” round, where each was paired up for 10 minutes with four people with very different knowledge bases.

Even this created an immediate “buzz”, said Dr Carazo Salas, and “at the next set of talks questions came from all over the room, not just the usual couple of rows at the front”. A second “dating” round made even more direct use of the “wish lists” to bring together people with highly developed skills in a research method such as intravital imaging or microfluidics and those who wanted to learn about that method.

Read full article.

Times Higher: Is there still a place for lectures?

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The end of this piece made me laugh:

Not that lecturers themselves are necessarily so wedded to such high-minded considerations. One extremely distinguished English literature professor habitually ended his lecture on Shakespeare in the middle of a sentence. Baffled students read any number of interpretations into this idiosyncrasy. Was he implying that there was no definitive conclusion? That students must fill in the meaning for themselves? Was the content too ambiguous to merit a traditional ending?

Someone finally plucked up the courage to ask why he insisted on leaving his insights incomplete. He explained, patiently, that it was nothing more than a linguistic device to keep everyone else in their seats while he secured his place at the front of the lunch queue.

Read full article.

#TimetoTalk with Historian Barbara Taylor

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In the Times Higher Education today there’s an interview with Barbara Taylor, a historian who is the subject of The Last Asylum.

“By the time Eve was published in 1983,” she recalls when we meet at a cafe near her home in Crouch End, “I was incapable of doing any sustained work. I struggled on, the next project flowed so naturally out of it that I knew how to go about it, but I just wasn’t capable.” Among the obstacles she faced was that “I usually couldn’t read. The only time I could read was last thing at night. Losing the capacity to read was just agony.” It was years before she returned to the project – “I literally blew the dust off my files” – and eventually brought it to completion as Mary Wollstonecraft and the Feminist Imagination (2003).

Read full article.

“I shouldn’t really be here” says @timeshighered

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Been thinking about ‘Imposter Syndrome’ etc a lot recently, so here’s an interesting story from Times Higher Education about so many academics feeling like frauds:

On a recent train commute to work, a young man, seeing me editing some documents, asked me what work I did. I told him that I was a university lecturer. “That must be a cushy job,” he responded cheerily. Given his beaming smile, I felt that an equivocal murmur was the most appropriate response…..

This scepticism is particularly directed at academics in the arts and humanities, who are increasingly likely (in the UK, too) to find their claims that they contribute to a wider social or cultural good ridiculed in favour of a view of such subjects as private indulgences that should not be subsidised by the public purse.

Read full story.

The Power of Words (@timeshighered)

blackboard-abc-1132275-mThis is an interesting piece on the power of words:

It is only an imaginative use of language that allows for the emergence of new ideas and a new understanding of ourselves and the world we live in. We need to be linguistically inventive and ingenious if new insights are to be conceived of and articulated. And we also need to be aware of language that is no longer fit for purpose. It is incumbent on us to do something about words that have lost their vivacity and lounge lazily on the page.

C.?S. Lewis inveighed against the practice of verbicide – or the killing of words – a concept that was first proposed in the middle of the 19th century. Of course, words can’t be “killed” in a literal sense, but damage can certainly be done to them. For Lewis it meant hijacking words in order to use them to make evaluative judgements. His examples included “awesome” to mean “excellent”. “Awesome”, as far as Lewis was concerned, meant “inspiring awe or dread”. As I was writing this piece, using Microsoft Word, I clicked on synonyms for “awesome”. Up came “no suggestions”. The word has been confused. Another recent example of verbicide would be “wicked” to mean “excellent”, rather than “evil”.

Read full piece.

Lectures Still of Value?

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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.

MOOCs are damaging Mentoring?

hands-family-1314523-mHaving spent a significant chunk of today talking about mentoring, an interesting piece to come across in Times Higher Ed:

I have spent nearly my whole life, since kindergarten in 1956, in love with learning and teaching. I have derived lots of pleasure and satisfaction from thinking, reading, exploring new ideas, and trying to identify and then answer questions and solve problems. These are all to me social processes that need to be protected and nurtured for the good of society. So when people tamper with the personal and interpersonal humanising elements of education, I feel they are defiling something sacred and making it harder for others to learn what it is to be human in the ways in which I was lucky to have had the chance to do.

Let me make two strong opinions clear. First, Moocs are a threat to the educational environment. Second, being mentored in a meaningful and lasting way is an endangered phenomenon.

Read whole article.

Rudeness in Academia?

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It’s definitely there! Is it really required? I am not really interested in working with people who focus on criticism over critique, a core difference in attitude:

And this, in Bloom’s cheerfully jaundiced view, is part of a wider sense of “resentment and defensiveness” resulting from the fact that most academics “don’t really produce anything that people want”. In extreme cases, this can lead to “hatred of the public and the world generally”. On one occasion, he recalls, his place of employment, at that time Middlesex Polytechnic, was visited by the mayor and mayoress of Haringey, “a small, olive-skinned Greek Cypriot couple, both in their chains of office. We gathered to meet them in the common room. As we stood in line with drinks and nibbles, one colleague turned to me and exclaimed rather too loudly: ‘Oh my God, they’ve invited the cast of EastEnders!’”

It is not difficult to turn up examples of academics being deliberately rude to each other, whether in print or in person, openly or anonymously. Another striking instance is recalled by Deborah Cameron, professor of language and communication at the University of Oxford. Many years ago she was invited by a similarly young and junior feminist academic to give a lecture on a feminist topic at a university in what was then West Berlin.

One to read with interest … what is the value in being rude within academia (or any other space!)

“You Get Out What You Put In”

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Universities are now devoting large chunks of time to trying to help students to understand that they need to put their own effort in – and often the more (if well focused) – the better. It’s incredibly frustrating when a student looks at their timetable and thinks they only have 3 hours of work for a module, when they should be doing 2-3 times that in their own work alongside:

How many people actually work at the Bank of England?” went the question when I was a trainee there in the 1970s, the answer being: “About half.” That jibe has often run through my mind as evidence has mounted of a sharp decline in the academic effort required of UK undergraduates.

Mercifully British universities are now shoring up their weakest flank. That is the heartening message to be taken from the Higher Education Policy Institute/Which? Student Academic Experience Survey, published in May of this year. From a historic low six to seven years ago, UK undergraduates have on average increased the time they devote to study during term by nearly two hours a week.

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.

Is an academic research career possible?

mfmpiAKHmmm, having left Manchester saying I was never going to work in a University again, never move so far north again … and after time with LICC, that I was clearly destined for secular work…

There is a “significant credibility gap” between researchers’ expectations and the likelihood of their forging long-term careers in higher education, a survey has found.

More than three-quarters of research staff responding to the Careers in Research Online Survey 2013 said they aspired to a career in higher education and around two-thirds said they expected to achieve this.

But it was “unrealistic to expect” that this number of research staff, or even half of those in the early stages of their career, would be able to secure a long-term research role in higher education, says the report, based on the survey produced by Vitae, the careers organisation for researchers.

“Anecdotally we expect that probably fewer than half are, in reality, going to make it into academic careers,” said Robin Mellors-Bourne, director of research and intelligence at Vitae and the report’s co-author.

Read full story.

Meetings: Good or Bad?

mhgnVuOI was fascinated by this piece in Times Higher Education about the power (or otherwise) of meetings. I have been to my fair share of tedious meetings, but also find regular meetings, particularly if they are focused on decision making, incredibly valuable – decisions it would take me hours to make on my own can be done quickly… and in many ways the question about what people are doing (note the obviousness of getting the laptop out) are similar to those about what students are doing whilst you are teaching … are they engaging with what you are doing, augmented with material online, or are they off doing something else (and is that something we, as lecturers, need to worry about?)

However, enjoy this rant, and recognise some of the negative possibilities of meetings:

This brings me to my second point about meetings: avoid, at all costs, the obvious. Don’t insult your attendees’ intelligence. Don’t read the minutes to them or bore them with reports that they could read on their own. And don’t say something that could easily go unsaid. None of this is an easy trick to pull off with academics; in my limited experience, I either overestimate the knowledge of my listeners (like most academic articles do) or infantilise them (like a lecture course gone wrong).

Read full article.

Don’t Forget the Questions ….

mhAJos0Interesting .. considering am just ramping up for a couple of conferences, but some interesting advice on the kind of questions to expect/prepare for at conferences:

Cary Cooper, distinguished professor of organisational psychology and health at Lancaster University, maintains that “Q&As after a talk at conferences are definitely a rite of academic passage, with in some cases heavy psychological undertones”. While there is no doubt that challenging, provocative and engaged questions are the lifeblood of serious scholarly discourse, some are more peculiar. Here are a few you might have fielded this summer.

Read full article.