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.

Continue reading

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.

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

To tell the truth

Sic

Reading this week’s Economist article on new algorithms for generating audio and video content, I was really struck by the speed with which the assumptions we teach our students have to be questioned.

As the techy types interviewed in the piece argue, it’s only a question of time before it will be possible for anyone to generate any content they like; to get anybody to say anything you want them to.

While that might have some benefits – the technology will allow us to identify such fake content more easily too – it’s also clear that our traditional reliance on content as a repository of ‘truth’ is under attack.

More prosaically, we all have enough trouble as it is with our students’ (and (sometimes) colleagues’) inability to make critical judgements about the veracity of sources: if you doubt me, come and spend an hour or two on Twitter.

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Coming up for air

Do catch up on sleep, too

It’s that strange, twinkling time in the academic year; that point when your acquaintances ask: “so now the students have gone, I guess you’re on your holidays too, right?”

I appreciate this will vary for colleagues in other countries, but here in the UK it’s a 12-month year and the summer is the time to ‘do all the stuff we didn’t do in the semesters.’

In several ways, this is almost an unilluminating as the queries about how you fill your summer, since everyone I know in academia is busy doing all kinds of things all the time.

Given that our workloads all all as unique as we are [sic], rather than try to generalise too much, I just want to share my reflections on how I’m passing the time until the end of September, when we get our academic year going again. Continue reading