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Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

It’s been one of those years… As far as the blog is concerned, I’ve managed to keep up a reasonably steady routine of posts – it does help that the WiFi on South Western trains is pretty reliable, so I can get things written on the commute down to Exeter – and the viewing figures have been pretty steady (no weird public controversies, and I managed to resist the temptation to launch unprovoked attacks on any prominent media figures during the slow weeks). I have at various points wondered whether it’s worth it; on the one hand, this remains a great opportunity to write about things that would never make for a proper academic article (or which perhaps might count as groundwork for something more substantial in due course – I am committed to giving a paper about Thucydides on Twitter in February), but on the other hand it is a time commitment, and in a year when it feels like I’ve lacked both time and energy even for the regular work stuff, sometimes it’s felt like that ‘one more bloody thing’ which could turn out to be that one thing too much. (more…)

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It is perfectly possible that I spend too much time on the Internet, and on social media. But there is so much amazing stuff out there – insightful, informative, passionate, provocative, brilliantly written stuff, produced not for profit but for the sake of the ideas and the wish to communicate with others – and if it wasn’t for the Twitter I wouldn’t know a thing about most of it. My ‘best of’ list seems to get longer every year, perhaps because I’ve got into the habit of making notes as soon as I’ve read something, rather than relying on my ever more erratic memory to recall things from earlier in the year – and this is as much about reminding myself and revisiting things as it as about recommending that you should read them too… (more…)

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It’s interesting – I can’t work out whether it should also be sobering – to reflect that my main ‘legacy’ to academia, broadly defined, may have nothing at all to do with any of my miscellaneous scribblings about Thucydides, the ancient economy, historiography, the influence of classical antiquity on the development of 19th-century social theory or counterfactuals. It won’t even be directly related to my teaching, but rather to my past identity – somewhat out of step with my usual academic persona – as ruthless academic bureaucrat, determined to bring order and consistency to the organisation of teaching and learning at department, faculty and university level. As a legacy of my time as Faculty Education Director in Bristol, and more specifically being named on the website in such a role, I still occasionally get invited to apply for positions as Pro-Vice-Dean for Educational Enterprise, and even occasionally wonder about that alternative career path. A certain preference for tidyness leads to guideline writing, guideline writing leads to subject review processes, subject review processes lead to the dark side… (more…)

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There’s been a lot of discussion on the Twitter this week about an advertised vacancy for a fixed-term teaching position that expects the successful candidate to devise an MA module related to their own research. I’m going to out myself as an Old Person, and possibly bring a shower of condemnation on my head, by confessing that my feelings about this are more mixed than the prevalent judgement that this is obviously and unacceptably exploitative. In my day, when I was applying for such positions, I was far more attracted to positions that offered such freedom rather than defining the job in terms of which pre-existing courses should be taught – and, yes, it’s entirely revealing that I think of this in terms of ‘freedom’. (more…)

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Black Box

It’s widely recognised – at least among education professionals – that national debates around are unhelpfully shaped by anecdata, the extrapolation of personal experience into broader principles and the legitimation of such principles through lived experience. It’s the “I was beaten regularly and it made me the man I am today” approach to discipline, the “grammar school allowed me to escape my deprived upbringing so it must be best for everyone” policy, the “I learnt my times table and lots of dates so obviously it’s the lack of those that explains The Problem With Youth Today” school of curriculum reform. It’s a major source, if not the major source, of the nostalgia for the days when university was a minority privilege that pervades discussions such as this morning’s fuss about too many Undeserving People getting Inflated Grades, spoon-fed snowflakes and lax standards, nothing wrong with a Desmond ha ha in my day. (more…)

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Over-Sharing?

Just in time for Mental Health Awareness Week, I spent most of Friday in a training course with departmental colleagues on Mental Health First Aid, aimed at improving our understanding of mental health and our ability to help support students and colleagues. Highly recommended for all teachers in higher education, if you get a chance (we did the one-day course specially for higher education, rather than the half-day taster or the two-day full qualification); plenty of things that I found moderately annoying, especially the ridiculously small amount of space left for discussion in order to fit everything essential into the day, but the ratio of useful stuff to moderately annoying stuff was far better than on the majority of training courses I’ve done over the years. (more…)

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In recent years, it’s become clear that the traditional model of work, in which one is paid a regular wage for specified hours and tasks, generally carried out at a designated workplace, applies to ever fewer people, at any rate in the West. The division between work and non-work is blurred, as increased connectivity and/or zero hours contracts both, in different ways, create and support the expectation of permanent availability, and – especially but not only in the creative industries, including academia – the mantra of “do what you love, love what you do” turns enthusiasm and dedication into a system of self-exploitation. One of the revelations of the recent (ongoing) industrial action in British universities has been the revelation – for me, as I suspect for many, not so much a hitherto unknown bit of information, but something previously not fully registered or felt – of how far the whole system depends on us all working way beyond contracted hours (insofar as those can be defined at all), so that working to contract is tantamount to failing to fulfill the terms of the contract. Goodwill, self-sacrifice and willingness to go the extra couple of miles are now treated as the norm, or even the minimum. (more…)

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