Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Higher Ambitions - and what might it mean for us?

On 3rd November, Lord Mandelson launched "Higher Ambitions", a framework for higher education in the UK. The document is available at the BIS website, and announcement from the Lords is on the BBC democracy live site.

Pleasingly the document notes the success of HE in the UK, across a variety of institutions and their different missions: "The success of the last decade is not simply the achievements of the ancient institutions and the leading research centres. Many of the most encouraging developments have come in new and transformed institutions which are pursuing excellence in particular fields and building creative links to local communities and businesses around the country."

The framework covers:

  • Wider and fairer access to higher education
  • Equipping Britain’s workforce for a global economy
  • Research, innovation and knowledge exchange
  • The student experience of higher education
  • Engaging with our communities and the wider world
  • Supporting a world class system
Wider and fairer Access to HE

As well as statements regarding improved advice and encouragement to potential students, an increased used of contextual data in admissions processes and a review of widening access to the most selective universities, an interesting point for our faculty is a "priority to growing a diverse range of models of higher education. These include options such as part-time and workplace-based courses aimed particularly at mature students or those from nonconventional backgrounds". This is pleasing to see - much of the statement (and this was picked up in the questioning in the House of lords) was very much about "normal" 3 year degree programmes for 18-22 year olds.

Equipping Britain’s workforce for a global economy

This is the potentially contentious area - are universities just there to train workers for future jobs in the economy, or also to provide broader educational aims? Universities do both, and different universities do a greater or lesser part of each, depending on their individual goals.

Again, of interest to us as a faculty is the proposed enhanced support for STEM subjects, where skills gaps will be identified, and contestable funds provided by HEFCE, allowing funds to be diverted to courses that meet strategic skills shortage needs, and diverted from those institutions where courses don't meet required outcomes. An interesting debate that needs to be had here, is how do we attract students to those areas that are identified as being shortage areas - the reduced interest in subjects such as engineering and computer science are well known.

Research, innovation and knowledge exchange

Excellence will remain the basis for assigning research funding, and this will mean more concentration of funding. The paper notes that not every institution should feel that maximising success in REF is central to its mission. That's not really a surprise, and emphasis the fact the not all universities are the same, and nor should they be.

The student experience of higher education

There will be an expectation that universities will provide more information to prospective students on issues such as: contact hours; study responsibilities; availability of facilities and employability amongst others. The expectation is that QAA HEFCE and UKCES will work to identify a mechanism for providing this information.

Most universities make all of this readily available in prospecti, programme specifications, at open days etc - I'm not sure how providing raw data will help student choice, as it will need to be understood in the context of the whole student experience, and what we expect students as engaged partners to put into their studies.

Engaging with our communities and the wider world

A recognition that universities are major contributors to the regions in which they are located - providing employment, and and impact on the local economy from students. The wok of universities with regional development agencies is noted - we can look to our own University Quarter developments to see this in action.

Supporting a world class system

This section notes that universities in the UK do achieve excellence but that "Universities may need to withdraw from activities in which they cannot achieve excellence in order to focus on the areas where they can." Oh dear............but again, this links to the previous points about different universities doing different things. And to support this, there will be a review of fees - as trailed heavily for months - which will report after the general election. Bets are now on for the outcome of that!

Overall then, an interesting paper, and one which is supportive of UK universities. Some of the headline grabbers - the information on contact hours - pander to a press and government determined to identify students purely as customers, rather than engaged partners in the education process.

The key issues for this faculty will be around: selective funding of STEM subjects; working with different types of students; engaging with employers; reassessing our commitment to research; looking a the data provided to prospective students and eventually looking at our bursary scheme.

Friday, October 30, 2009

National Student Forum - Annual Report

The National Student forum, which was set up by Government in Feb 2008 to give a greater voice to students on Higher Education courses across England, has produced its second annual report.

Under a range of key topics, the report provides:
  • an ideal vision of what it would be like for students if everything is working well in this area
  • suggestions as to how individual universities and colleges can support students in this area recommendations for Government, and/or for areas which require further consideration and collaboration at a national strategic level
The key topics in this year's report are:
  • Teaching and Learning
  • Employability
  • Postgraduate Students
  • Mature and Part Time Students
  • Disabled Students
  • Accommodation
Under Teaching and Learning (obviously the area I will look at first!), the following comments are made:

"We would like to see all universities and colleges:
  • professionalise teaching and learning within the institution personalise and differentiate approaches to take account of disabilities, learning difficulties and learning styles
  • increase flexibility in course structures and modes of study
  • develop a cross-institutional strategy to enable students to co-design and manage their learning
  • undertake regular reviews of course content and material to ensure currency and relevance (where appropriate to subject matter)
  • ensure a university-wide focus on assessment for, not just of, learning
  • review adequacy and accessibility of study resources for number and range of students
  • monitor and formally record students’ broader learning
In particular, we identified some of the current barriers to the growth of technology-enhanced learning: unequal digital access; unequal digital literacy for both students and staff; the lack of time and lack of support for tutors to develop the necessary skills and restrictive university policies and practices at some institutions.

We would like to see all universities and colleges: implement a systematic policy to enhance traditional teaching methods with new technologies; leverage technology to provide innovative methods of assessment and feedback; implement a dedicated support programme for students and lecturers to develop skills and confidence in using technology; support whole campus access to ICT resources for all students; and promote the university or college’s technology-enhanced learning approaches and resources to prospective students."

Not much to answer there then!

Professionalising teaching in universities is always a thorny subject (maybe more so in some institutions than in others, but for those who are primarily involved in teaching undergraduate and postgraduate students, subject expertise will get you so far, but there is an increasing recognition that teaching IS a key part of the role of a University lecturer, and so aksing for professionalisation of this part of the role is not unreasonable. Of course, promotion and career progression still tend to be associated with parts of the job not associated with teaching....

The increased flexibility and modes of study will come - due to market forces if nothing else. For any institution to maintain the number of its students, relying on the traditional market of 18-22 year olds wanting to study for 3-4 years for a degree, will be difficult in light of student finance and a falling demographic. New modes of study are already being developed which will fit in with a broader range of students' aspirations,

I would hope everyone carries out regular reviews of course content - not just as a part of formal quality procedures, but as a recognition that subjects develop, and the material supporting awards in those subjects needs to move on as well. Sets of lecture notes and slides that are 5 years old, may not just be out of date, they also show to students that we don't care about the material we give them.

Assessment for learning as well as assessment for learning is essential - and links to the other key theme always raised in student surveys - the amount, the timing and the usefulness of feedback given. Institutions and individuals have to develop was of providing this feedback more quickly and during the delivery of a module - not easy with 300 students at a time!

Adequacy and accessibility of resources is always raised as an issue, especially in technical subjects where labs, studios, IT centres are needed. We've already moved to a 24/7 library and information service, and have increased lab and studio opening times, but these are a finite resource that are under heavy demand for 24 weeks a year. So what about the other 28 weeks.........

Monitoring and recording student's broader learning - increased used of negotiated modules, and fully negotiated awards goes some way to recognising and providing a solution to this issue. Broadening this to wider groups of students might also present two possible issues - resourcing, and ensuring credibility of any learning accredited in this way.

All in all, a welcome report, that shows real demands from real studnets, as opposed to some of the more hysterical comments in the press, and one which provides plenty of food for thought

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Keeping our universities special - Surviving and thriving in a turbulent world

A link to an interesting publication by PA Consulting Group, which looks at the potential future for universities, and lays down their thoughts.

The starting point is a University-centric model of HE - a "producer-led, self-defined model has been sustained largely on its own terms by generous public funding and protection by statutory powers and regulations. And it has worked extraordinarily well, educating generations of national leaders in every field and sustaining the UK as a global engine of scientific and intellectual progress."

Four themes are presented that are undermining or inexorably changing this current position:
  • the expanding economy of knowledge
  • the rise of new competitors meeting the demands for knowledge
  • the advance of information technology
  • the change in public policy
It is proposed that currently universities are built on 7 major building blocks
  • organisation
  • products
  • delivery
  • quality
  • brand
  • governance
  • economics
Each of these is subject to change from the 4 themes, and the paper concludes with a different seven building blocks-
  • organised for solutions
  • co-creation of learning
  • lifelong learning relationships
  • knowledge "kite-marks"
  • recognition of achievements
  • optimised portfolio value
  • governance of results
The paper concludes with "What is needed now is for the sector to transform itself from without, from the outside-in, while remaining true to its defining values of independence and learning. It is some challenge."

This is really worth a read - it distills many of the things we think of when considering where Universities, including ours, are going, and provides interesting pointers for future development. The institutions that do mange to transform themselves over the next 5 years will be the ones to reap rewards in the area in which they have chosen to specialise, the ones that continue to do just as they always have (particularly in the "new" university sector) will be flailing or even failing.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Mickey Mouse" Degrees and Employability

Interesting article in today's Sunday Times, that bastion of traditionalism. The argument is made that degrees frequently described as "mickey mouse" - and how often have we heard those comments in the media, including on R4's Today programme - are now proving a hit with employers.

David Willets. the shadow secretary of state for innovation, universities and skills has said:

"“The attitude towards some so-called Mickey Mouse courses is a classic example of the information problem. There is an assumption that all of those courses must be useless, but when you look at the hard evidence, it’s just not the case. Some of these courses are useful, and some of them are useless. Some of them are really valued by employers. Young people and their parents are entitled to that information.”

Peter Bradwell, at the think-tank Demos, has recently completed a study on higher education and the university system, and believes Willetts may have caught the mood. “Whatever angle you look at higher education from,” he says, “the really interesting question is why people do a degree, and why that might be changing.

“Traditionally, going to university was about learning, utility and virtue. As the cost of higher education is increasing, and falling more heavily on the learner, students are going to think much more rigorously about what kind of returns they are going to get.”"

The comment is made in the article of a student who attended a top 20 University, which had a graduate employment rate of only 56% for that course.

Students are becoming increasingly discriminating consumers, especially those who are choosing vocational qualifications, and tables such as the National Student Survey are useful here, giving the kind of data that might help more than a simple ranking in a typical league table. But still, NSS results need to be read with caution - the data provided is still not granular enough to give an indication by course - students would be best advised to read all sources of information, and ask some piercing questions at University open days.

Sunday Times University Guide and Tables

Published today, the Sunday Times has weighed in with its annual University guide and league tables. As usual not many surprises at the top - Oxford overtake Cambridge (yawn) to take first place.

Staffs Uni don't seem to have so well - a drop to 95th from 77th last year. It'll be interesting to work out why this is, but I hazard a guess that a high weighting applied to research excellence will have had an effect based on the most recent RAE scores.

For Midlands universities we score 14th out of 19.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Edgeless University

Today (23rd June 2009), the thinktank Demos launched "The Edgeless University", a new pamphlet exploring the impact of technological and social change on universities. The launch was by David Lammy MP (Minister for Higher Education and Intellectual Property) Peter Bradwell (Researcher, Demos) Malcolm Read (Executive Secretary, JISC) Ann Mroz (Editor, Times Higher Education, Ed Smith (Demos Trustee and Board Member, Higher Education Funding Council for England) and Richard Reeves, (Director Demos (Chair))

The full document can be downloaded from here an dit addresses why higher education must embrace technology.

Here are some key quotes:

"The aim has to be to make those running universities realise that technology isn’t just something that means you build a room full of computers on your campus."

"Universities provide spaces for developing expertise, validating learning and they bring prestige to those affiliated to them. This is not going to change. Instead they will have to start to open up continued learning and innovation to a wider population. Giving more people more ways to learn and research will be the only way to reconcile aspirations to maintain a world-class education system with high participation rates and moves towards equality of access."

"Institutions will find it difficult to continue to absorb rises in student numbers, or to pursue research excellence or handle the diversity of needs on campus. And people will continue to
take advantage of more flexible opportunities to learn outside the system. This is the value of and opportunity for the ‘Edgeless University’. At its most radical, edgelessness can lead to
institutions exploring new ways of accrediting learning, of providing recognition of research and learning and of offering affiliation. Those in informal learning can be offered help in finding routes to formal qualification, connecting with alternative providers or alternative open learning resources and of finding new forms of course provision."

The document looks at the importance of getting the technology right, but just as importantly getting the policy right.

Chapters are:

1 Universities challenged
2 Technology as cause: information technologies, learning and collaboration
3 Technology as solution: becoming edgeless
4 Managing the Edgeless University: challenges and recommendations

I'll blog more on the document once I've read it in more detail,but suffice to say there is plenty here for us to listen to, to consider where we are now as a Faculty or University, to recognise where we are already doing well under some of the headings, and most importantly where we need to do more.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Peter Mandelson Speech at Aston University

Lord Mandelson has given a speech on his vision for HE and FE delivered at Aston University on 16 June 2009. This provides some useful pointers for the future.

Key points:
  • "First, a high degree of autonomy for universities and further education has been central to their success."
  • "we can boost the role of universities in generating our economic growth without in any way compromising the place of fundamental science or curiosity-driven research in their mix."
  • "Finally, over the next few months we will be publishing a framework for the future shape of our higher education system followed by an independent review on student fees.
Questions? Will autonomy be preserved? To what extent will there be more emphasis on shorter term commercialisation of research? And what's the betting that the review of student fees will take place after the election!

BIS, Mandelson and the future?

It's been a while since I've had the time to right anything of note on this blog - and so much has happened in the intervening period - on a work related note we've been busy with assessment and award boards and some really exciting new developments for our Faculty. In the wider world, the political establishment has been tearing itself apart after the revelations in the Daily Telegraph about expenses, and the results of local and European elections.

So after the inevitable cabinet reshuffle, we no longer have a government department with the word "universities" in its title, and higher and further education now comes under the remit of the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, led by the irrepressible Peter Mandelson.

SO what is it all going to mean for us...........some have complained that universities need to have more visible representation (going back to titles of departments?) and others are not happy about linking universities and business. Linking them to innovation and skills doesn't seem to be such a bad idea though!

This week's Times Higher has a report and an interview with Mandy. The article discusses the possibility of universities being given financial incentives to address skills shortages in the economy. Les Ebdon, chairman of the Million+ group of universities, warned that while the idea of predicting future skills needs was "superficially" attractive, the Government had an "awful" record in the area. The interview is interesting - Peter Mandelson told Times Higher Education that far from being horrified by the restructuring in Whitehall, universities were "delighted" by the change.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sex and Degree Classification

Had to pass this one on - a report in today's Observer discusses a survey by the student newspaper at Oxford University, relating sexual activity to the discipline studied and also the relationship with final degree classification.

History students are supposedly the most sexually active while at university, followed by PPE and English Lit students.

Students who have the most sex are likely to get a 2.:1 or 2:2, whereas the less active are more likely to get a first or fail.

15% of students said they had yet to lose their virginity.

Having discussed the issues of gender balance on our own campus with students, and looked at comments they have made in student surveys, I can have a pretty good guess who the 15% might be!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Cheating has always been around in schools and universities - but the internet is making it far worse | Marcel Berlins | Comment is free | The Guardian

A short comment piece from The Guardian on cheating and plagiarism.
Surely the solution is to design cheating out of the assessment.
Testing knowledge and understanding outside of a closed book exam is
asking for trouble. The higher order learning outcomes - enquiry,
analysis, application- can be assessed in assignments that demand
indidual creativity without sole recourse to Wikipedia et al.

Sent from my iPhone

Monday, May 18, 2009

Committee of Enquiry into the Changing Learner Experience

This committee has produced a report titled Higher Education in a web2.0 world, which was looked at in one off my meetings today (the Information and Knowledge Board). Full report can be found at (published 12th May 2009)

The background findings of the report are under heading of:
  • Prior experience of HE learners
  • Learner Expectation
  • web2.0 use in HE now
Critical issues are classed as:
  • immediate and fundamental - the digital divide, information literacies,
  • ongoing drivers for change -tradition, environmental factors, diversity in the learner population, a richer educational experience, practice in schools, open source materials and online universities, skills development
  • fundamental over time - the role of the tutor
The conclusion of the executive summary states:

"Higher education has a key role in helping students refine, extend and articulate the diverse range of skills they have developed through their experience of Web 2.0 technologies. It not only can, but should, fulfil this role, and it should do so through a partnership with students to develop approaches to learning and teaching. This does not necessarily mean wholesale incorporation of ICT into teaching and learning. Rather it means adapting to and capitalising on evolving and intensifying behaviours that are being shaped by the experience of the newest technologies. In practice it means building on and steering the positive aspects of those behaviours such as experimentation, collaboration and teamwork, while addressing the negatives such as a casual and insufficiently critical attitude to information. The means to these ends should be the best tools for the job, whatever they may be. The role of institutions of higher education is to enable informed choice in the matter of those tools, and to support them and their effective deployment."

I was interested in the short section on Open Source Materials and Online Universities - commenting on the amount of online content available, the committee felt it not unreasonable to foresee a situation with a small number of international purveyors of HE, and that students may choose to use these, or go overseas for study. This links to my thoughts on Jeff Jarvis' book "What Would Google Do" (see earlier in this blog). What a University must do is to define itself not as a provider of information and knowledge, but as something else (doing what you do best, and linking to the rest). Indeed the committee report does go on to say that the idea of a university as a place to go to is firmly embedded in the national consciousness (but for how much longer?) but that they should develop their potential to ensure continuing relevance and centrality to society.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

A bit more on the Guardian university league tables

As well as the overall table (in which Staffordshire showed a huge gain over last year), and which does not take account of research, the Guardian has also published tables of subject areas. Not all of our Faculty's disciplines can be seen (entertainment technology awards, for instance, are not easily identifiable form the headings used), but here are the ones we can see:

Computer Sciences and IT 54th out of 100. This places us above Brookes, Kingston, Hallam, Coventry and others.

Mechanical Engineering
45th out of 54.

Electrical and Electronic Engineering 34th out of 61, interestingly ahead of Aston.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Guardian 2010 University League Tables

Yes, it's time for yet anothe league table, this time courtesy of the Guardian. And we don't really pay league tables much heed, unless of course we've done well in them. In this one, Staffordshire University has risen from 67th place last year to 55th this year, so the methodology used must be superb!

No surprises at the top - the first five are Oxford, Cambridge, St Andrews, Warwick and LSE.

The interesting positions are lower down - for example Bournemouth (the highest placed "new" university) ranked above Manchester. Other post-92 universities punching above their weight are Trent and Napier. Staffs position is good, above Oxford Brookes, Birmingham City and Hallam.

The rankings are based on teaching excellence, and the factors included use data from the NSS to provide values for: % satisfied with teaching; % satisfied with feedback; spend per student; student staff ration; career prospects; value added and average UCAS entry tariff.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Call for efficiencies in Universities

John Denham (Secretary of State) has written to HEFCE laying out the savings that Universities have been asked to make. He writes of the "absolute priority of protecting and enhancing the quality of teaching and research, while sustaining progress in widening participation."

The Guardian reports the story under a headline of "Universities told to cut admin costs"

Report issues warning over impact of Web 2.0 on teaching and learning

An article in this week's Times Higher looks at a report on the impact of web2.0 on teaching and learning.

As with so many things, web2.0 is seen as good in parts - and very bad in others! "Academics who spoke to the committee, which was led by Sir David Melville, the former vice-chancellor of the University of Kent, expressed "strong reservations" about students' ability to critically evaluate information from the web.

The committee says that information literacy is a "significant and growing deficit area", although it adds that Web 2.0 has also encouraged experimentation, collaboration and teamwork by students."

This is a key issue as students, and staff, increasingly move to using web based resources (especially in a What Would Google Do? kind of way, where the advice is to "link to the rest"), and use web2.0 tools for sharing materials. The role of the University and the tutor will have to be a lot more about developing student skills in critical thinking need to interpret and assess credibility/relevance of source material. Indeed the article states "Universities are not controlling information any more. What they should be doing is supporting students in becoming much more critical thinkers."

The report also notes that use of web2.0 is patchy, and driven by enthusiasts - this is to be expected by any technological advance, where early adopters take the risk of experimentation prior to main stream adoption. Interestingly students are seen as being wary of engaging in online discussion initiated by staff - this links perfectly with the work on Tensions Between Innovation and Control by Mark Stiles.

One of the last comments in the report is the suggestion that students might teach their tutors to use web2.0 technology! Yep, I think we know how well that might go down! But again, going back to the innovation vs control argument, could the reluctance to engage in these tools be due to a fear of loss of control?

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Yet Another League Table - The Indpendent

This time it's the turn of The Independent to publish a league table of universities in the UK.

No real surprises in the top ten! Staffordshire comes in at 80th overall, no change from last year, putting us above Manchester Met, Chester, Wolverhampton and Liverpool John Moores - all competitors.

In the regional ranking for the West Midlands we rate 6th out of 9, and are the second placed post-92 University.

On student satisfaction we rate as 62nd.

Methodology used for creating the tables is here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The End of the University as We Know It?

Op-ed piece from The New York Times by Mark C Taylor, Chair of the Department of Religion at Columbia University, published on 26th April, proposes a complete restructuring of higher education to make learning more agile, adaptive and imaginative.

Some of the language and ideas are obviously aimed at a US audience, and refers to HE in that country, but ideas 1 2 and 3 below are certainly interesting, particularly in the light of curriculum reviews we are beginning to undertake in this University. I'm not going to comment on 6!

He proposes 6 steps:
  1. Restructure the curriculum so that teaching and scholarship become cross disciplinary and cross cultural
  2. Abolish permanent departments and develop problem-focused programmes
  3. Increase collaboration between institutions
  4. Transform the traditional dissertation
  5. Expand the range of professional options for graduate students
  6. Impose mandatory retirement and abolish tenure
He concludes with repeating what he has said to students: “Do not do what I do; rather, take whatever I have to offer and do with it what I could never imagine doing and then come back and tell me about it.”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Podcast on "bonkers degree courses"

This podcast was recorded by Paul Greatrix, registrar at University of Nottingham (who began his career in academia at Staffs), and in it he considers the development of awards with niche titles, and defends their legitimacy based on sound QA procedures and delivery by experienced academic staff. I love the idea of an award in Zombie Studies!

His concerns are more around degrees with less defensible academic origins, eg homeopathy, and refers to the Arthur Koestler chair of the paranormal at Edinburgh University - which reminds me of "The Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks" by Christopher Brookmyre.....

Video Marking

Interesting article from today's Guardian on use fo video for feedback on assessment - one step beyond our current work on using audio for feedback, although I am hearing good reports on that project.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

The eduGuru Blog

I'm obviously spending too much time on Twitter and reading other peoples blogs, but there's an interesting article here (published a few months ago) on Social Media in Higher Education, written by Rachel Reuben of State University of New York at New Paltz. The paper is "geared towards high level administrators in higher education, such as Presidents and VPs who have heard about social media, but need a complete introduction to the concept and potential."

Not that dissimilar to meetings I have been to recently where the speaker (Dave Parkes) has introduced the range of tools to senior staff, and asked the audience "who used Facebook?" "who used Twitter?" "who has a blog?". I'm not telling you the answers - you can probably guess....

Anyway, the report attached to the eduGuru blog page is a good introduction to tools and techniques, and picks up some interesting concerns:

1. Loss of control
2. Time commitment
3. Information overload
4. Anyone can create an "official"account for you University

All the usual suspects - I've written before about the link between control and innovation (thanks to Mark Stiles), and have seen plenty of groups on Facebook "belonging" to either awards or groups of students, where the control of the group may be in the hands of the students or their course leaders, and the although not official may be the first place that students look for and gain information. That's not to say it's a bad thing, but will there always be enough time available to ensure that such groups and other fora are kept up to date and relevant?

Universities offer downturn help

From BBC News, HEFCE have announced a £27m fund aimed at helping people and businesses through the recession. More that 70 universities and colleges will share in this funding, and details of the funds released to successful bidders, can be seen on the spreadsheet at HEFCE - including the amount that Staffs has been awarded.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Edustir blog

Came across this blog Edustir this evening (by following a link in Twitter), and here's a guy (Ron Bronson) with some interesting thoughts on the use of social media tools by Universities.

For example in "debunking you have to go where the students are" Ron Bronson talks about why you shouldn't invest energies in developing a social media presence, by pointing out the downsides of using Facebook et al. He also points out what the benefits can be, and shows how these may highlight deficits in an institution's web strategy

In "Social Media is not a Must Have" he states: "The three keys to remember about social media deployment are:

1. Doing it wrong can hurt you, more than it can help you.

2. Learning and maximizing any new technology takes time and money. Without the personnel to effectively deploy and utilize these tools consistent with your messaging, you’ll found yourself floundering on another platform. With more work to do.

3. All of the social media in the world won’t revive a moribund institutional brand with no focus. You have to create a cohesive message and promulgate that in all your other areas of marketing, to extend your value into social media."

He goes on to say "There’s a great deal of value in these tools and it’s incumbent for institutions to start pushing the envelope; not just in how these tools are used, but how their teams are structured to maximize benefits, break down silos and create better information sharing within institutions.

But make no mistake, social media is not a low-investment, high-yield tool. It requires attention and dedication to achieve success."

Thought provoking stuff as many of us experiment with these technologies and look to see how we can best get an advantage out of them, at the same time ensuring that we send the right messages to current and future students.

And leaves me with the usual questions - the innovators, the leading edge users of these tools (I mean staff here, not students who are already often more switched on to these tools), how are their developments controlled by the institution? Should they be controlled? Will control limit innovation? Will lack of control potentially diminish the message or indeed mean the wrong message is sent?

Data FromThe Guardian University Tables

Oops, I must have missed this when it was first published.

On March 10th The Guardian made all the data available from its league tables for UK Universities A feature of the Guardian tables is that they go more deeply into subject areas than other newspaper university tables. You can find details of 46 subject areas from medicine to music, drama to dentistry, as well as an overall ranking of universities and another one for small specialist institutions.

Careers and Employability Service At Staffordshire University

Here's a link to the blog written by our Careers and Employability Service. It's updated regularly with items of careers-related news an dother items of interest to the HE community.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Vince Cable on the recession and the numbers of students going to University

Picked this up from the Guardian politics blog. It refers to interviews on Radio 4's Today programme, where Vince Cable said "Trying to reach Tony Blair's declared target of 50% of youngsters going to college is very expensive, and we won't be able to afford it as we pay the bill for rescuing the banks".

This is followed by lots of comments from Guardian readers - a surprising number of who think that the numbers in Universities should be reduced, that some degree subjects should not be studied. No doubt they are all middle aged graduates of older Universities.....

It is an interesting point though - do we as a country invest in raising participation in HE, on the understanding that a better skilled workforce can raise GDP, or do we look to making savings to pay for rescuing banks?

Working in an institution heavily committed to widening participation and on a journey to increase its numbers, some of these ideas come as a bit of an anathema!

Twitter friends on a map

Where are your Twitter friends?

Monday, April 6, 2009

From The Chronicle of Higher Education

Here's a short article on whether or not students should be using the web and specifically web2.0 tools to aid learning. Or should they be banned from using laptops in class, so that they can concentrate on what the lecturer is saying?

For those who do see the benefits, the Chronicle also identifies 10 higher education professionals who are using Twitter - obviously they are all US based, since it's a US website.

All of this and more can be read at the Wired Campus Blog.

Monday, March 30, 2009

The Student Experience - Consumer or Engaged Partner?

Have been catching up on some reading, and have just gone through the response of Paul Ramsden (head of HEA) to the DIUS HE debate.

His remit was to look at "The Future of Higher Education Teaching and the Student Experience", and he makes some interesting comments regarding students as consumers - in fact he suggests that this may become a self fulfilling prophecy unless we work to develop an engaged partnership between students and their University.

This strikes a chord, particularly after a couple of complaints I have dealt with recently where emphasis has been placed on the fees paid, and what services were expected in return.

The paragraphs below are reproduced from the report which can be downloaded from the DIUS website.

"There is abundant evidence that the most effective higher education environments are ones in
which students are diligently involved as part of a community of learners. As part of this
engagement, they work together with academics to enhance teaching, assure quality and maintain standards. In these contexts, they understand themselves as active partners with academic staff in a process of continual improvement of the learning experience.

To sustain a high quality student experience, we must not fall into the trap of accepting as accurate a reading of students principally as consumers, demanding value for money, expecting
‘satisfaction’, passively receiving skills and knowledge, grumpily complaining about service
standards, and favouring above all else the easy acquisition of qualifications.

Hard evidence that students in higher education are more passive and consumer-minded than they used to be is slim; but this dystopian picture of today’s students and the likely students of
tomorrow has the incipient signs of a self-fulfilling prophecy. It presents a threat to our reputation for quality. We must articulate a different view to meet the challenge that this distorted image presents.

The vision of learner as passive consumer is inimical to a view of students as partners with their
teachers in a search for understanding – one of the defining features of higher education from both academic and student perspective, and powerfully embodied in academic culture since at least the time of Humboldt. There is no reason to impose a false divide between higher education as a road to a better, more highly-paid career and a vision of it as a life-changing personal

Student involvement in quality processes should start from the idea of building learning
communities. Practically speaking, this involves shaping student expectations of their role as
responsible partners who are able to take ownership of quality enhancement with staff and engage with them in dialogue about improving assessment, curriculum and teaching. Development of students’ own ‘pedagogic literacy’ and their understanding of curriculum and assessment is a necessary condition. The responsibilities on students in this partnership will be great, but the prize is worth striving for."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Applying “What Would Google Do” to a University Faculty –some initial thoughts

I’ve been reading Jeff Jarvis’ book “What Would Google Do” in which he analyses the success and operation of Google, and deconstructs the company’s approach so that it might be used for other enterprises, industries or organisations. He does include a chapter in the book, imagining the Google University.

Since we talk a lot about our students being of the “Google Generation”, and all that that entails – not all good, if you look at the numbers of cases of plagiarism based on simply lifting material from the web – maybe it’s appropriate to look at the lessons of the book and see if they can be applied to ourselves.
In doing so, other touchstones that I’m eventually going to consider are the University strategic plan, the goals of the Faculty, and other outside documents, for example the latest HEFCE report on technology supported learning. It may be that many of these get kicked straight into touch if they don’t adequately reflect a new reality.

Let’s look at some a couple of the “Google Rules”

New Relationship – Your worst customer is your best friend and your best customer is your partner

In a world where it’s easy to blog, to provide reviews of university experience at, and a hundred other places, then the relationship we have with our students has to change. If they’re not happy, they’ll soon make their voices heard, outside the University, as well as inside. And the voice heard outside is the one that will damage us most if we aren’t listening. As a Faculty we make our responses to the annual student surveys, both our own Viewfinder survey, and the National Student Survey. And our reposnse? In so many cases we write “there isn’t enough data for this to be representative”. No matter that students are complaining, that they are withdrawing and we are seeing the same comments again and again, we continue to operate in a world where we feel that we know best.

Let’s look at Jarvis’ statement of turning our worst customer into our best friend. He or she is the student who isn’t happy, who might lodge a formal complaint, who may ask their parents to contact us, who might post on their own blog or forum, but who will certainly let others in their class and beyond know of their dissatisfaction. What do we do about this student? In the past we might have been able to hide, but not anymore – information on anything we do or are seen to do is publishable and searchable in an instant.

So let’s start engaging these people – let them help us, let them tell us what is wrong with what we might be doing, let’s see what we can do to change to mean that our students are happy. And if we keep this student happy – guess what? They are going to become one of our supporters and are going to tell their friends about how good we are! That’s why we’ve recently been going round talking to students to find out why they wrote what they did in the last survey. Very revealing – we knew that in general students are never happy about timeliness of feedback on work. Now we found out who hadn’t handed anything back to them from 10 months earlier!
Not difficult is it?

New Architecture – do what you do best and link to the rest

“Do what you do best and link to the rest”. This is common sense really – but this isthe key issue facing a faculty like ours. Thinking through this short phrase tells us what business we are in, and what we need to focus on, and which bits we can just link to elsewhere.

Reading any undergraduate or postgraduate assignment these days shows that students understand this only too well – anything we set that involves them demonstrating knowledge and understanding (instead of any higher order learning outcomes) will mean we receive a set of scripts containing material from Wikipedia and from the results of Google searches. Hardly surprising really.

What we need to do is think about what our function really is, and make sure we are really good at it.

Universities are seen as the gatekeepers of knowledge, and acolytes come to hear and learn from their masters – the university lecture hasn’t changed much in 600 years. But if the knowledge, the facts, the opinions, the analysis, the debate can all happen just as easily away from the University, what is our role going to be?

I see that the key thing we provide is accreditation of learning – that recognition that an individual has met a series of learning outcomes, that they are able to do a series of things. How they travel to that point is not as important as arriving.

That means that what we are here to do is not present information (unless it is so cutting edge no-one else has ever thought of it), but to show our learner which bits of information to use, to enable them to reach their goals, to enable them to meet their stated learning outcomes.

So we move away from being in the knowledge and information business, where that knowledge is our key asset, but to a business where our expertise is in helping students achieve and providing recognition of their learning that is accredited by us and by the learned societies (BCS and IET)

So.............what does that mean for the content of our awards? It means that the move to defining awards in terms of learning outcomes a number of years ago was remarkably prescient. Stating what students will be able to do, rather than what they should know fits the new reality perfectly. Our negotiated modules and awards are a clear example of this – awards that have no defined content, but anyone who studies on them will receive an award demonstrating they have met the outcomes.

We now need to look closely at our “normal” taught awards – how will these need to change? How important will it be that we write lecture handouts, create documents on secure sites and deliver standard lectures several hours a week? If the information is already out there, shouldn’t we be providing students with the information literacy skills to use it effectively? Shouldn’t we be setting assignments that truly test higher order learning outcomes, not just asking for a regurgitation of material readily available elsewhere?

And what else is our business going to be? Creating a community for all of us – teaching and support staff and students will be key. Where and how that community might be or how it might be supported is a related but different issue – let’s not forget our students already create their own communities on Facebook and Ning. We might need to question ourselves how much we need to have control of these communities. Again a big change from 20 or even 5 years ago, where we had control of the systems – not anymore.

More to follow

Jeff Jarvis continues his book with a consideration of : New Publicness; New society; New Economy; New Business Reality; New Ethic; New Speed and a New Imperative. I’ll return and look at these at a later date, and also try to expand the initial thoughts above.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

HEFCE launches strategy for technology-enhanced learning

HEFCE has today published 'Enhancing learning and teaching through the use of technology - a revised approach to HEFCE's strategy for e-learning'. This revised approach follows an independent review of the strategy and is designed to provide further support to higher education institutions as they develop their own e-learning strategies.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

What Would Google Do?

Ok, so this is the book I'm reading at the moment - and it's stunning!

Jeff Jarvis looks at Google as a busines, how it operates and then suggests how this model can be applied to so many other situations

Dave Parkes of the University's Information Services has referred to this book a number of times recently in presentations I have attended, making me want to read it, and I now want to look at how the ideas could translate into how a university faculty could operate in the future. There are possibly some other obvious links to Mark Stiles' work on Tensions Between Innovation and Control, particularly when considering the ideas in an education setting.

Once I have read, digested and assimilated, I will post my thoughts, but in the meantime, here's a few resources:

Powerpoint presentation about the book

Jeff Jarvis' Blog

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Connecting with learners through social media

A great JISC podcast here. Some interesting ideas about what a degree should be, the use of mobile or ubiquitous computing, the limitations of "corporate" VLEs - lots to think about!

Student-consumers demand value for money and efficient service

An interesting piece from the online Guardian today.

A reflection on the changes in universities ( an interesting comment is posted after the article on the debate on what a University shoud do), but the article does pick up on the issues of widening particpation that are faced by all universities:

"Gone are the days when universities just put out their prospectuses, and hoped willing punters would come through the doors come September. Now learning is linked to skills needs and to individual student requirements. It is at our place, or at your place; in our time, or in your time; just-in-time or for a lifetime.

"Only connect," wrote EM Forster a century ago in Howards End. Now it is schools, colleges and universities, employers and their future employees, who need to build enduring connections. Thereby, Leitch's ambition for 2020, "prosperity for all in the global economy", will have a chance of being achieved."

These connections are what we as a Fsculty are now working on, in developing our links with major employers, so that we can deliver awards to their workforce; so that the organisation benefits from upskilling of that workforce, and so that individuals reach their own personal educational goals.

Google Maps Streetview

Off the usual topic for this blog, but this is the latest cool thing from Google - street views of UK cities.

Read about it at the BBC, then try it out in Google maps - I've just seen my brothers car parked up in London - and it needs a wash!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

More on Tuition Fees

The Times Higher has weighed in with an article on the UUK report on changes to tuition fees. It contains comments from both NUS and UCU, both highlighting the impact that a raise in fees would have on student debt.

Here's the original report from Universities UK "Changing landscapes, future scenarios for variable tuition fees".

Tuition Fees

First story after the 7am news on the Today programme this morning - a survey of Vice chancellors on the issue of tuition fees.
  • Two thirds of those surveyed said fees should be raised
  • levels suggested of between £4000 and £20000 per year
  • some expectaion of differential fees between courses
  • 2/3 of those surveyed believed that inroduction of fees had not reduced applications from students of poorer familes
More details on the BBC website.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Bobbie and Nia at the Technology Showcase

Blogging from iPhone

This is just a test to see how easy it is to write and publish blog
posts from the phone.
One thing it won't allow of course is cutting and lasting from
elsewhere as the iPhone doesn't do cut and paste!

Sent from my iPhone

Technology Supported Learning Showcase

Yesterday went to this event, which was in the Ashley Centre and organised by LDI.

Some great presentations, and the key emphasis was on how technology can be used to support learning, and not really focused on the technology itself.

Highlights were:
  • a presentation by Dave Erskine and Mark Savage on creating a community of practice for distance learners - they used Ning to do this. This type of tool could be really useful for supporting our students on negotiated and work based awards, as well as providing a sense of community for on campus students. I know our Games Design students already run their own forum that provides many similar tools.
  • workshop by Ben Scoble on social tools for learning - this is where we got to discover how much of a nerd we were by admitting your use of Twitter, blogs etc, but there were some interesting ideas on how we now access information and where we turn to for answers to questions

Just to be on trend, I was using Twitter during the event - here's a pic of Mark Stiles giving the keynote presentation that we took and posted during the event.

Very pleasing to see FCET get mentioned so many times, as being involved in many development projects and initiatives, but disappointing that so few managed to attend ( I know, it was in Stoke and on a teaching day).

Main message is that as a Faculty we need to sharpen up our act on use of new tools, and capitalise on the infrastructure we already have to make sure we get ahead of the rest of the university

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Laurie Taylor and The Poppletonian this week

I'm a big fan of Laurie Taylor, and this weeks column in the Times Higher is just perfect.

Two gems - Dr Piercemuller's view of students, and a lovely line about research - "In difficult economic times, it is more important than ever that we preserve the tried-and-trusted process in which the Government funds research that, when completed, can only be assessed by unpaid peer reviewers and then published years later in private profit-making journals."

Just too close to the truth too often!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Web 2.0 Tools

Web2.0 has been a buzzword for a while, and I guess all of our students use many of the different systems out there, and so do many staff.

There is an interesting conflict between the use of University supplied and managed systems (control) and learner/tutor developed systems outside of the University (innovation). Mark Stiles has done a fair amount of work on this tension.

Here are a few links to document produced that look at the use of web2.o in education (and could be read in conjuntion with the University Challenge article from the Guardian, previously blogged.

Great Expectations of ICT - produced by JISC and Ipsos-Mori

Student Expectations Survey - again by JISC and Ipsos Mori, about what students expect of ICT at University

A series of reports from Franklin Consulting about a range of e-learning issues

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

NUS Journal

NUS have produced a journal about academic issues - issue 1 is out now. A copy can be found here.

This first ever edition concentrates on a subject dear to my heart - and to many others - FEEDBACK.

NUS have picked up on the poor results from the National Student Survey regarding feedback on assessed work.

They have published 10 principles of good practice regarding feedback:
1. should be for learning, not just of learning.
2. should be a continuous process
3. should be timely
4. should relate to clear criteria
5. should be constructive
6. should be legible and clear
7. should be provided on exams
8. should include self assessment and peer to peer assessment
9. should be accessible to all students
10. should be flexible and suited to students needs

Many of these principles are those which we should abide by, and many are picked up the University's new draft assessment policy. The issue regarding feedback on exams in interesting - this is not current policy for the University, though I know it has been discussed at our Learning Development Team. As soon as some universities start to provide this, then you can be sure that others will have to follow.

The document also contains interesting case studies - such as Northumbria where the turnaround time for providing feedback was reduced to 21 days. There is also an article by David Nicol of Strathclyde, whose REAP project has been reported previously in these pages.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Increase in UCAS Applications for 2009 Entry

Overall UCAS applications are up this year by 8%, with increases in mature applicants (I wonder why that could be?).

The Times Higher has an article on this story, and shows some of the winners and losers - Birmingham City University has seen its applications rise by over 35%!

I guess the question is, what are they doing to achieve this? And more importantly for them, how will they meet student expectations if this translates into a big increase in student numbers?

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Guardian University Challenge

I meant to post this a while ago, and was reminded to while reading a page at JISC. The Guardian in January published a supplement on challenges facing universities.

There are some really interesting articles on:
  • the rise of the cyberstudent - how students use web2.0 tools to help with their learning, and in doing so change the learning paradigm we are used to, or indeed are expecting them to abide with.
  • a review of the latest ICT tools - and how these might be used in teaching, and how there may be a rise in plagiarism (as if googling the answer to an assignment wasn't enough)
  • open content - discussion of a pilot project to make educational content more open (let's face it MIT have being doing for ages, and they don't seem to worry about letting the world see their learning material)
Well worth a read.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Postgraduate Awards

The Guardian (yes I know it's my favourite source) has produced tables of information on postgraduate awards in the UK, as part of an extensive set of articles and webpages on postgrad study.

It would have been nice if they had covered all of our sign of Mechanical Engineering for example.

Full details at postgraduate master tables.

Recession and the Impact on Universities

So what effect will the recession ( are we allowed to call it that yet?) have on Universities, and specifically on a Faculty like ours?

Data suggests that there has been an increase in overall applications to University for 2009-10 entry - potential students possibly realising that higher education can lead to higher earnings over a lifetime, and also recognising that 3-4 years in University may be long enough for the jobs market to get moving again.

There's a long article in the Guardian about this.

In addition to undergraduate demand, there has been an increase in demand for postgraduate awards - again from The Guardian

But what could we do as a Faculty? Here's a few suggestions:
  • market our undergraduate and postgraduate provision to those in work on a part time basis as a way of upskilling
  • provide postgraduate awards for those professionals who are likely to lose their jobs, and need to upskill and use a period of redundancy effectively
  • look at how we can offer incentives to enter awards - again at postgraduate level, Durham and Teeside offer incentives for existing undergraduate students to take their awards (between £2000 and £2400)
  • work with employers to identify the training and education that they need to ensure their survival in the current economic climate.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Yet Another Survey

As if the National Student Survey, our own Viewfinder and Barometer surveys were not enough, the Tmes Higher has weighed in with yet another on student experience.

The difference with this one is that the attributes being assessed were identified by students themselves, and the weighting applied to these attributes was based on how important they were to students.

So where did we come? Staffs Uni is ranked 73rd out of the 101 insitutions included. Comparing our individual scores in each category, we are equal to or above the average in "good student union", "good support/welfare", "good persoanl relationships with teaching staff", "cheap shop/bar", "tuition in small groups", "good library and opening hours" and "fair workload".

We don't do so well on social life, nor on thefactors relating to quality of courses and teaching.

On the plus side, we scored better than Brunel, de Montfort, Coventry, John Moores, Wolverhampton, and even LSE!

Full details here.

A New Book on Plagiarism

Reviewed in this week's Times Higher is "Academic Writing and Plagiarism: A Linguistic Analysis" by Diane Pecorari.

The book covers the alarm about plagiarism in HE and details the systems put into place to combat the problem. The author's response though is that the solution is through the pedagogic approach to be taken by lecturers - essentially how can we teach our way out of the problem?

Even without reading the book, there are plenty of thought proviking ideas in the review itself - the review can be found here.