What do you see?

They let me out last week, to give a talk at a schools event, about studying at university. As well as a chance for some fresh air – and to discover the back roads of Dorset – it was also an opportunity to try out some new things.

In particular, I had been toying around with how to communicate what happens in a university, as compared to a school. Central to that – I decided – was building individuals’ capacity for self-awareness and self-reflection.

So I showed them this:

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The Change All Around, Part 2

An ideal teaching environment

In my second post about factors that are affecting my teaching this semester, I’m going to zoom out to the institutional environment. When the spring semester ends, I will have taught seven distinct courses, two of which were online and in two sections each, so a total of nine classes for the academic year. I am also a department chair, for which I receive one course release each semester. My contractual teaching load is seven courses per academic year, so as calculated by the university, the overload teaching and department chair duties boost my workload by 57 percent. Yet in relation to my salary, I am only compensated an additional 18 percent.

Economically this is irrational, so why do it? Continue reading

Making alignment work

Still not…

I’ve just been helping a young child who lives in my house with their French homework, practising sentences for a test that’s coming up. I imagine that many of you will have done the same, either in the parent role or the child role (or both, for that matter).

For me, it was a pointed demonstration of the perils of alignment in teaching. The child is going to be testing on their ability to write out a series of sentences, so is focused entirely on that. Thus, when I ask them to read out the sentences, I get something that even I know isn’t good pronunciation: ‘magasins’ is remembered as ‘being like mega, but maga, and then sins’.

In short, this child, like pretty much every learner, is learning to the incentives that are provided: if the teacher isn’t going to be bothered about the speaking, then why should the child? Continue reading

Evaluating module evaluations

As for many of you, January is the time when students’ evaluation of your autumn courses and modules come in. It might also be the time when you have exciting conversations with line managers.

I think that I’ve laid out my view on such evaluations over the years – managerialist and often mis-directed questions – but perhaps its useful to think about how you can make the most of the information they provide.

As so often, three ideas to frame all of this.

The first is that course evaluations are useful, if properly contextualised. That means using them together with all the other feedback you get from students, plus your own reflection. I like using the ABC method for more constructive student input, but there are also all those chats you have with students, plus their assessed work: if no-one seems to understand concept X, or confuses A and B, then maybe you’re not presenting things very well to them. The key point here is triangulation: does a piece of evidence have support elsewhere?

The second idea is that you have to engage properly with the evaluations and the reflection. I, probably like you, have been known to skim through the comments, find the thing that it is obviously ridiculous and use that to roll my eyes about the whole exercise. As political scientists, we should know that just because people sometimes say and do silly things doesn’t mean that they are silly, or that everyone is silly. Instead, we need to understand why they say these things and how we might respond.

Of course, this is a bit tricky, especially when evaluations are anonymous and asynchronous to the class activities. Hence the importance of you running your own running evaluations throughout your contact time. Often, the source of the frustration is that you feel you’ve done something and the student hasn’t recognised that: this autumn, I laid on much more support on my assessment than before, only to read one student’s comments that even more was needed. The point should be that I need to think about how I communicate what I provide more clearly next time, rather than trying to track down this year’s lot and justify myself.

And this is the third point. Course evaluations are not meant to be character assassinations and – in the very large majority of cases – are not used as such by students. Much more common, in my experience, are staff taking comments as personal attacks.

Just as evaluations are about the students’ experience of the course, rather than about the student themself, so too should you treat them as about the specific instance of the course, rather than about you.

There’s the old teacher-training trope – which is actually very useful – that says people go through three stages in their teaching practice: they start by thinking everything’s about them (as teachers), then think it’s all about the students, and finally realise that it’s about the specific instance of interaction between them and the students. And so it is here.

One of the things we keep on returning to here at ALPSBlog is the idea that there is no one right way of doing things, only a series of choices that you can explore with your students. That requires self-awareness and self-criticality, underpinned by a sense that things will never be completely ‘right’ in any lasting sense.

Course evaluations might be flawed, but that doesn’t mean they’re not useful. But it also doesn’t mean that they are the be-all and end-all.

Would you wiki?

Did you know…? Oh, you did?

It seems that Brexit has not sorted itself out over the Christmas break, so I’m still deep in people asking me to give my views (despite last week’s hopes). But I’m going to try to build some synergies with my L&T by using some new approaches to it all.

This week, I’m trying to get back into wikis. As you doubtless know – not least from your TurnItIn reports – wikis are webpages that can be edited and refreshed by multiple people. They are a good way of getting near-simultaneous input into building a collective output, coupled to clear tracking of who’s done what and when. As wikipedia regularly demonstrates, the results can be very impressive. We’ve used them before for our students, but never with a public audience. Continue reading

Around we go again…

Seriously now: what?

Some how it’s already 2017, a year whose only bonus is that it’s not 2016. Of course, that might mean nothing more than saying 1917 wasn’t 1916, but let’s give it a chance.

Relieved of my duties as a fellow on the UK in a Changing Europe programme, I’m expecting to spend more time back in L&T matters, starting tomorrow morning, bright and breezy, with a workshop for our univeristy annual L&T event, Surrey Excites.

Apparently I’ll be running a one-hour workshop on how to keep the fun in teaching. Their suggestion, but one that sounded interesting back in the middle of last year.

Of course the big question – and certainly the question my children have been pestering me with since I told them about this – is “what am I doing to be doing?” Continue reading

What a year! What sort of year?

Insert joke about being two-faced here

I’m dragging myself over the line of 2016. I’m sure we all feel that each new year is more draining than any before, but in this case I have have nothing even vaguely comparable in terms of professional activity. A couple of weeks ago I totted up flights I’d taken, only to spend the days since adding in more and more.

That’s lovely – if you love airport lounges (which I don’t) – but how does it relate to L&T?

Last week, I found myself suggesting Victor’s identity salience exercise (here, but he still needs to write it up for us) to a colleague. It’s a great way of getting to the core of how we see ourselves, and understanding how our identity is made up of various elements that we might not normally see as connected.

I’m now fining myself wondering whether this couldn’t be re-purposed for reflecting on what’s happened this year. So let’s try it. Continue reading