Keeping it fresh IV: sense-check

Mmm. Maybe I need a certified sense-check, from Germany.

I’m (slowly) rebuilding my negotiation module for the autumn (starting here), and am toying with different ways of doing this.

Apparently, it’s the season for this, and reading the recent posts from Chad and from Natascha I think it’s a good moment to try to get out of my furrow and look around.

Chad pointed to the work by Erin Baumann and John FitzGibbon on the utility of stripping back content: focusing on what’s not needed, rather than what’s good/nice to add. This is very much an issue for mature provision, where the barnacles of “a bright idea I had 5 years ago” impair the sleek running lines of the original design.

Typically, I’ve approached this problem from the other end, telling people that it’s best to start out with something simple, then add in complexity as you go along and feel more confident about what’s what. What Baumann and FitzGibbon are doing is asking us to sense-check as we go, and not just add for the sake of adding.

In either case, it’s a matter of keeping your learning objectives crystal-clear, wherever you are in the journey.

For me and my particular case, a central objective has been to develop self-awareness and self-reflection on the part of students, so they can make their own judgements about their negotiating practice.

Over the years, that’s meant trying to carve out more space for practice and for debriefing, which is where Natascha’s post comes in.

Natascha writes about flipping a research methods class and turning it into more of a tool-box: students come in with diverse needs, so why try to fit them all into the same format?

Clearly, there’s an issue here with present and future needs – it might be great to be able to avoid learning about a particular technique that you don’t like, but much less great if it turns out you need that technique down the line.  For me that’s an issue, as someone who thinks methods follow questions, not the other way around.

However, in the more limited context of negotiation, I think this issue is much smaller. Partly that’s because all the elements interlink and partly it’s because the practical activity of negotiation tends to play up that interlinkage. To take an obvious example, any negotiation can be understood better by focusing on preparation, just as any negotiation can be understood by looking at communication: both are essential and pervasive.

With this in mind, I’m very tempted by the toolbox approach that Natascha sets out – parking my delivered content in podcasts and/or online elements – and using contact time to run exercises that are less driven by different factors. Indeed, this might help with the joined-exercises approach I discussed last time around.

But the most important message I’m taking from this stage is that the wheel has already been invented.

Rather than having to go back to the drawing board every time, and do it all from scratch, there is a great community out there, with ideas and approaches. And because most people are happy to share, we should make the most of that.

So my next stage is to go hunting and found out more of what’s going on, and thinking about how I can re-use it.

Marketisation in the UK

Do ya feel lucky about the potential range of educational choices?

As Chad’s posts over the years has all too often shown, one consequence of introducing a market for Higher Education is that sometimes providers fail.

Of course, this also partly depends on the market in question: the US has always had a mixed economy, whereas here in the UK things have been rather different. In particular, the state has been the predominant actor for the whole of the post-war period, and even now continues to hold pretty much all the cards, albeit at arm’s length.

That’s meant that until now, the collapse of providers has not been allowed to happen, with mergers or emergency support hiding the issue.

But that’s now changing.

As a recent report in The Guardian highlighted, several institutions are facing big drops in student numbers, just at the time that the government appears to be ready to let some failures occur, mostly to underline their resolve to allow for changing patterns of provision.

The basic shift in government funding has been from institutions to students: money now follows the latter. That’s meant a series of waves of change in recruitment, as universities competed for both quality (needed for league table performances) and quantity (needed to pay the bills). Most recently, we’ve seen a big rise in the number of unconditional offers – students getting places before their final school exam results – as a way of locking them into an institution.

As in any market, students get attracted by reputations, league tables and the kind of offers available: they become consumers. and that produces institutions that become uncompetitive.

I’ll pass on the opportunity to rehash the student-as-consumer discussion, not least because I guess you already have views on this (and Chad and I have both written about some applied consequences of late), but moving back out to the macro-level, it’s evident that government wishes to see a dynamic set of providers.

Reading the article, I will admit to feeling rather conflicted, not least because I work in one of the universities that has benefited from this dynamic situation. However, I’ve seen enough – in my university and in others – to know that everything is contingent and that things can change very quickly.

The upshot is that we all have to be much more aware of our surroundings and of the conditionalities upon which we work.

More importantly, it should remind us that education is a collective enterprise: we are strongest and most effective when we work together. That’s true for research, teaching and everything else. Indeed, without dialogue and collaboration, academia does not work at all.

Something to chew on, especially in the coming months, as British universities face another major challenge to their pension schemes.

Knowing your audience

Any questions?

As part of my other duties, I work with “UK in a Changing Europe“, trying to contribute evidence-led research to the debate on UK-EU relations, in which Brexit is a particular focus.

We’re branching out a bit on the programme these days, having built a very good reputation with journalists and policy-makers in Westminster. Very much conscious that influential though these people are, they’re not the be-all and end-all of things, we’re getting out across the UK to public events and to talk with as many different groups as we can.

One upshot of that has been the creation of masses of materials, on our website and our various flash publications. Which raises an interesting opportunity for us: talking to students. Continue reading

Keeping it fresh III: what model to follow?

I’ll admit now that I’m rather enjoying working through this refresh of my negotiation module (here and here), both because it’s intrinsically satisfying and because it’s giving me a bit of focus on L&T these days, when there’s much else I have to think about with the rest of my research.

So far, we’ve established that, while generally good, my module has got a bit stale (for me), so I need to consider how to renew it all, without losing the good stuff.

This brings us to the next big question. If I’m keeping the same core logic – flipped lectures and using the contact time for student negotiation activities – then how might I run both elements?

The flipped part certainly needs to be re-recorded, for the technical reasons I discussed last time around, but do I need to keep the same basic material? Continue reading

Keeping it fresh II: The wheat and the chaff

Yesterday, in the staff common room

As I wrote last week, I’m redesigning my negotiation module for the autumn, since I’ve got more time on my hands, and I’m doing to be doing that in as open a way as possible.

I’m happy to report that, having decided this, I’ve been really excited over the past seven days, trying to work out what I might do and how I might share it with you. (It’s January: I’ll take my pleasures where I find them).

The most useful starting point is, of course, to think about where I am now. In particular, are my learning objectives still appropriate and how have I been doing in meeting them?

This matters because no matter what path I take in this process, I need to making sure that everything points in the same direction, i.e. to giving students the best opportunity possible to achieve the learning objectives. A quick trawl through our fine search function will show just how often we talk about LOs and alignment and why that matters: short version is that without this, it’s just messing about.

Continue reading

Keeping it fresh I

Getting someone else to keep their finger on my pulse…

It’s only just occurred to me that this coming semester I don’t have any teaching, and even then it was only because I was thinking about this blog: truly my finger is on the pulse.

My lack of classtime this spring is down to my recent success with research funding, which means I’ll be spending a lot more time talking to civil servants, politicians and journalists about the wonderful world of Brexit. Great though that is, it’s a rather unusual feeling not to have a class.

Looking back, this’ll be only the second time since I started my career that I’ve had such a situation: the other was a formal sabbatical, during which I first met my lovely ALPSblog colleagues, so maybe that’s a good omen.

This time around, I’m not on sabbatical (despite what some line managers think I’m doing): I still have dissertation supervision for taught students, and tutoring duties, but it’s a small fraction of normal commitments.

The question is raises is how do I keep my hand in L&T, when my main route – teaching – isn’t there? It’s going to be October before I stand in front of a class again and as might be expected, one’s capacity atrophies without use. Continue reading

Storm in a teacup?

Storm damages scaffolding, in metaphorical whirlwind

Reading Chad’s post yesterday – talking about the structural pressures on student demographics in the classroom – was an excellent touchstone for me, as I received my feedback for my course on negotiation.

In common with other UK institutions, we have a system of centralised evaluations of courses, which we encourage students to complete: I’ve written before about these, but suffice to say that while it’s good to get a more standardised measure across provision, it’s not without issues.

In the case of negotiation, I’m often aware that I benefit from the unusual delivery – hardly any lecturing, but instead practical sessions, together with some flipped learning: students like the freedom it give. However, this year I’ve noticed some new comments creeping in, somewhat akin to Chad’s situation. Continue reading