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.