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Posts Tagged ‘higher education’

I could honestly weep. This is our ‘welcome week’ before teaching starts on Monday, and today I was meeting – f2fip! – my new personal tutees. I have been trying to imagine what it must be like for them, making the transition to university in such extraordinary circumstances, and really wanted to ensure that as their tutor I could offer some degree of calm reassurance, a bit of a community, some essential guidance for the first couple of weeks while they find their feet. Well, it’s possible that I have succeeded in making them feel more confident and on top of things, in contrast to their shambolic tutor. For I was indeed the one to turn up half an hour late for the meeting because I couldn’t find my way into the building because of some very misleading signage…

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This time of year is usually the calm before the storm; the brief pause, full of anticipation and nervousness, between the end of the summer and the start of the new term, when it’s impossible to settle down to any proper research and one falls back into the fond belief – which does occasionally come true – that it’ll be fine once everything settles down into a routine. This year? It’s not the calm before the storm, it’s the frantic rushing around before the flood. The water is clearly, inexorably rising, though we don’t yet know how bad it will be. What to do? Try to shore up defences? Secure valuables? Move livestock and children to higher ground? Try to improvise a boat? Assume the worst or hope for the best?

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Connected

Whether or not anyone noticed, I’ve been less present on the internet over the last few days, as a lightning strike last week took out the WiFi router. While waiting for a new one to turn up, I’ve been discovering the delights of persuading the laptop to talk to the phone and persuade it to share its data, with a moderate degree of panic as I was scheduled to participate in a virtual Open Day this afternoon – and the joys of paying lots of extra dosh for additional data, as my usually ample allowance quickly ran out. And it’s not as if I stream stuff… (more…)

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One of the basic principles of our society is that success and failure are individualised: you are naturally talented and worked hard, YOU are just not good enough, or should have tried harder. This is fair, isn’t it? Places at the Best Universities should go to the Best Students, Important Jobs should go to the Right People, it should all be sorted out on merit rather than attempts at social engineering or quotas or positive discrimination. Just think how awful it would be for someone to know they didn’t get on that course through their own merit, or if they got a job that was better suited to someone else. Clearly unfair. Not everyone can have prizes.

But fairness is not evenly distributed. (more…)

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Ignoreland

Yesterday I marked some essays, did more work on preparing next term’s teaching, produced supporting materials for an ongoing political literacy schools project and had a productive online meeting with a postgrad about his dissertation. I followed a new recipe for green coconut rice, and made some red pepper and tomato sauce from garden produce; I had a cup of espresso by the pond, watching water boatmen, dragonfly nymphs and water snails; I detected six different species of bat. And this is all good, and helps keep me grounded, and helps fend off the VAST BLACK ABYSS FULL OF TOXIC FUMES AND ENDLESS SCREAMING THAT IS EVERYTHING ELSE. (more…)

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It’s a very long time since I had any direct contact with UCAS forms or the whole process of undergraduate admissions. At that time, a vital part of the knowledge handed down by more experienced colleagues was how to recognise examples of what one might call Lake Wobegon School of Reference-Writing: Where all the students are above average, and one of the best I have ever taught, and uniquely well suited to the degree programme in question. We could have filled our admissions quotas many times over with such applicants, which would be fine for the bottom line, but a slightly depressing teaching prospect, especially thinking of the better students we might miss because their teachers were more honest and/or less practised in talking up their charges. Oddly enough, such boosterism was wholly associated with fee-paying schools.* (more…)

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Wicked Game

I’ve been spending quite a lot of time over the last week or so in conversations with colleagues about how we’re going to manage teaching next year. One takeaway from this is a reminder of how dedicated, imaginative and insightful the aforementioned colleagues are. It’s fair to say that we’ve got a spectrum from those who see this as an exciting opportunity to try out new approaches and radically change some of our traditional teaching styles, and those who are focused on ways to maintain more conventional teaching approaches in dramatically new and uncertain circumstances. But there’s nobody who is insisting on privileging their convenience over flexibility, or unwilling to countenance radical change if that’s what best suits student needs. (more…)

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Shock Tactics

Every crisis is an opportunity, and the idea of creative disruption – shaking up the system to create space for innovation and profit – is so much easier if something else has already done the shaking up for you. This is as true for universities as for everything else at the moment. The immediate and understandable response of most has been to wonder how to restore the pre-plague status quo as quickly as possible, or to worry about how far some things may already be broken beyond repair (a business model based on ever-increasing numbers of overseas students, and devil take the disciplines that can’t recruit them, for example). Some – like me – have quietly welcomed the sudden acceptance that take-home papers and other ‘alternative’ forms of assessment are actually fine and dandy. But it doesn’t take too much imagination to hear the hand-rubbing and gleeful cackling of people whom we should generally prefer to be subdued and miserable; just think of the most cynical approach to higher education you can, and almost certainly someone is already planning it… (more…)

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Further musings on what next year’s teaching might look like… Yes, I know that there are already highly successful distance-learning models out there, above all from the Open University, and we don’t want to reinvent the wheel, but I suspect that what we end up doing will be rather different: we don’t have the time to develop all the material and supporting framework for full-blown online courses by September (especially with the likelihood, given recruitment freezes due to enormous financial black hole, that we’ll all need to take on more courses than planned), and most of us lack the experience (and probably skills) to make that work – better to produce a hybrid that plays as far as possible to our existing strengths – and finally universities are likely to want to distinguish their offerings from what’s already available from the OU. (more…)

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It’s the first day of the new term! Interesting to see how far the countryside along the line from Castle Cary to Exeter has changed in just a month, especially with all the warm weather we’ve had in recent weeks. An excuse to drop into The Exploding Bakery next to Exeter Central station, as it’s over a month since I last indulged in one of their cakes. Lovely to meet up with colleagues again. Above all, however, it’s the culmination of my final-year Thucydides module, the student conference on Thucydides’ Contemporary Relevance, in which they all offer their different perspectives on the text that they’ve been slogging through all year, culminating in a guest lecture and general debate. Well, that was the plan… (more…)

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