Fancy a week in Cyprus? A call for proposals

Did I mention you’ll be right next to the Green Line? #PoliSciHoliday

As the staff close up Chateau Usherwood for the traditional summer break, I’m reminded that the call for paper for the ECPR Joint Sessions is now open.

These Sessions run on a similar format to APSA’s TLC – a firm ALPSBlog favourite – but with four full days sat with the same group, working through papers on a common theme, with an output very much in mind at the end.

The idea is that you spend a proper block on time, focused on the issues and get/give lots of feedback to each other to move things on.

Plus, next year it’s in Cyprus, so that’ll be good too.

I share this because Peter Bursens and I have organised a Session on learning gains from active learning, i.e. exactly the kind of thing you guys are well into.

If you’d like to join us, then you just need to submit a proposal via the online portal: you’ll need to sort out your status with ECPR first (membership is institutional rather than individual). There are also some funding options available too.

I really hope you can join us, both because this is emerging as a critical area of work in L&T, and because it’s good to have the time and space to discuss such things.


Fight! Fight! Fight!

So, I’ve had an unusual experience this week.

I’m teaching in a summer school at another institution, and I put up a photo of the UKIP “breaking point” poster (google it), only to have several students lay into it, about its veracity, legitimacy and loads more.

In these situations I like to let things run a bit, because it often conveniently sets out points for subsequent discussion. And this did that.

However, very quickly it became a bit personal. And then a bit more.

I intervened at this point, asked for a bit of self-reflection on it and then trying to get things moving again. At the end of class, there was some apologising.

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Blown up out of all proportion? Grade-inflation in the UK

So, grade inflation is back in the news over here. Using government data, the Press Association constructed tables showing how the percentages of first-class honours degrees have risen very markedly over the past five years.

It’s a dubious honour that my own institution tops the list, with the biggest percentage increase.

You can read my Vice-Provost’s comments in the story linked at the top, noting that this is both a national trend and a reflection of the efforts we’ve put into making sure we make the most of our teaching of students.

I’m in no position to comment on this, having left the heady heights of middle-management behind some time ago. However, one thing that’s not been mentioned – and which I can note – is the more mechanical effect of our changing student intake.

For the period in question, the university was rapidly ramping-up its entry requirements, as part of an effort to improve its position in university league tables. In essence, the argument was that by taking stronger students, the university’s entry tariff would go up, there would be fewer students dropping out (because they’d be more able), and they’d get better final results, and be more likely to get employed. All those things are counted by league table compilers.

And so it has proved: our rise up the tables has been very impressive.

However, as this story shows, that is not without problems. And certainly it’s not the only thing at work here.

As American colleagues will know better than I do, grade inflation is a pervasive issue and one with its own logic. Notwithstanding the very different quality assurance regime here in the UK, that logic also sticks here too.

I offer no answers on this, but will leave it as something to chew on over the summer break.

Mills College: When the Bus Leaves the Station and You’re Not On It

credit: Chad Raymond

In May, Mills College announced that its board of trustees had declared a “financial emergency” after persistent budget deficits. The financial stabilization plan sent to the board by the college’s president in June recommended an administrative reorganization, recruitment initiatives, staff reductions that include ranked faculty, and the modification or elimination of academic programs. Five tenured faculty members have already received official notice of termination. Undergraduate majors in Latin American studies and philosophy were slated for closure, as were minors in creative writing in Spanish, Latin American studies, government, and physics. Master’s degree programs in mathematics and translation were also identified for elimination. The financial stabilization plan concluded by saying:

“After years of struggle with an intractable deficit and significant cuts, we understand now that Mills needs transformational change. We cannot build a new Mills by holding onto everything we’ve been doing in the past . . . The measures in this plan are taken because actions to date have failed to put Mills on a solid financial basis.”

Will the plan, if implemented, put Mills on the road to recovery? I think not, because the plan makes the same assumptions about market positioning that put the college in its current predicament. Mills has historically branded itself as a women’s liberal arts college, but that strategy has failed to give it an advantage in the higher education marketplace. Mills needs to abandon what isn’t working and develop a radically different model, if not an entirely new mission. Continue reading

Back in the mix – UPDATED

Like this, right?

A short post right now from me, as I’m back to school for the day.

Elements of my family felt that I needed nothing more than cookery lessons, so I’m spending the day working on my cucina italiana, at a secret location in nearby countryside.

I think it was meant in a positive way.

In any case, I’m off and like any self-respecting pedagogue (pedagologist?) I’m wondering how one structures such classes.

Is the focus on techniques (ways of preparing food that are ‘Italian’), or on basic elements (key ‘Italian’ flavours), or some vaguer ‘Italian’ sensibility? Or perhaps I’ll be walked through a few dishes then I’m on my own?

Put differently, what am I going to get from the day that I couldn’t get from reading Marcella Hazan? Continue reading

TEF Pfft

You’ll have noticed we haven’t talked TEF for some long time now (I did some posts a way back (here and here)).

That’s largely because there’s no much more to say.

For those of you outside the UK (and possibly for some of you in it), TEF is the Teaching Excellence Framework, the government’s bright idea to balance out the traditional focus on research with a more explicit evaluation of the teaching side of universities.

The first set of results came out a couple of weeks ago, with a subsequent blossoming of gold across institutional websites.

In a not-at-all-surprising outcome, places that are good at research are not always the ones that are good at teaching.

I know. Continue reading

Is Your Employer in Trouble? Part 4

A changing landscape

The American Academy of Arts and Sciences (AAAS) has reported on trends in U.S. undergraduate study. Between 2012 and 2015 (the year for which the most recent data is available), the number degrees conferred in nearly every humanities discipline has declined, with decreases of 17 to more than 20 percent in fields such as archaeology, history, classics, and English. Private, not-for-profit institutions used to award a far higher percentage of humanities bachelor’s degrees than did public universities. Now the percentages are nearly identical, and both percentages are declining in parallel. According to the AAAS, “After 10 consecutive years of declines, the humanities’ share of all new bachelor’s degrees fell below 12% in 2015 for the first time since a complete accounting of humanities degree completions became possible in 1987.”

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