As promised, here is the first in a series of posts in which I apply Fink’s method to the design a specific course. The method is a simple mental exercise that forces one to think of a course as a system. Fink divides the process into three phases; this post will outline the first, which is to identify primary components. Please note that Fink uses a reverse order for the third and fourth items. In my mind, what gets assessed comes before how it gets assessed, but I will leave it up to you to decide whether it is better to stick with the sequence as Fink presents it in his book.
Where am I? (situational factors)
This will be my third iteration of teaching a first-year seminar to entering college students, but my subject — human migration — is new. Because of academic and personal interests over the years, I have some familiarity with immigration and refugees. Also I’m a first generation college student who might be able to teach skills that will help first-year students be academically successful. So I’m enthusiastic about teaching the seminar.
About eighty percent of students in the class will enroll because it fit their schedules. Other than perhaps two or three students who are immigrants or the children of immigrants, the class will have no prior knowledge to build on and little initial interest in the topic. A major challenge thus will be motivating students to engage with lived experiences and perspectives that are very different from their own. And guess what? Retention is critical at a tuition-dependent institution like mine.
Like the ticking of a rather slow clock, we’ve just had the publication of a White Paper on Higher Education here in England and Wales. This comes after a long consultation process that stretches back into the previous Parliament and which leaves as many questions open as it addresses.
I’m not going to run through all of it because a) it’s very long, b) not all of it relates to L&T and c) I can’t face it: there’s lots of good pieces here and here. But I will update on the famous Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), which I’ve written about before (here, here and here).
For those of you who have managed to avoid this idea so far, firstly my congratulations: essentially, it’s seen as an equivalent of the Research Excellence Framework (REF), trying to provide some judgement on the quality of teaching provision in a way that is comparable across institutions and disciplines. In so doing, it aims to increase transparency for students and to drive up standards.
As with all good ideas, the operationalisation has been the problem: how do you actually do this? Continue reading →
I gotta tell ya: Hong Kong is a great place. I’m on the verge of saying it’s the most cosmopolitan city I’ve ever visited, and I’ve lived in (and loved) London. It’s a true melting pot of cultures, where everything seems to be the product of exciting blendings of East and West, North and South.
I’m only able to tell you this because this week I’ve been visiting, in order to run a couple of our ALPS workshops at the City University’s Department of Politics and Public Policy. Just as engaging as the city itself has been the chance to spend some time working with the colleagues there on their situation and interests about developing active learning.
However, rather than just make this a travelogue or an advert for our very-well-received and insightful workshops, I want to unpack a couple of issues that came up in our discussion that have a wider bearing.
Reading Peter Scott’s piece in the Guardian today, I was struck once again by the continuing failure of policy-makers in the UK to define a clear and consistent approach to British Higher Education. While I don’t think that’s just a UK problem, as Chad’s numerous posts here can attest, it’s one that impacts more directly on my professional experience.
In essence, Scott argues that the nominal drive towards ‘improving standards’ is fatally undermined by the lack of clarity about what ‘standards’ consists of, and about who sets and checks them. Financial implications and the pressures of a globalising market make it hard to gain university-level buy-in.
But while it’s easy to be all doom-and-gloom about this, it’s also worth reflecting on the possible opportunities it brings. Continue reading →
What is the knowledge signified by a bachelor’s degree in political science? A college graduate who majored in psychology, economics, or anthropology probably encountered the same concepts, often in the same sequence, as those encountered by graduates in the same major at other colleges and universities. These academic disciplines have standards for undergraduate curricula that, for the most part, are commonly accepted. The American Psychological Association, for example, publishes guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major.
Yesterday, I was invited to talk to a colleague’s class in another university. As always, it was good to get out and about and see other places (even if that place was a tad unprepossessing), but it was the discussion over a sandwich afterwards that was most enlightening.
Discussion was ranging over a number of topics, when one of the party said that they were always surprised by how conservative students have become, in the sense of disliking anything other than conventional, lecture-and-seminar formats. This has come after someone else had related how they felt obliged to provide the more passive lecture content in addition to the active learning, so that their (final-year) students wouldn’t feel too deprived of knowledge.
Very occasionally, different parts of one’s life collide with each other, often after you’ve had a bit too much to drink, which further contributes to the further unrolling of the evening.
In this case, no drinking (except of cups of tea) was involved for me this week, when I attended a ‘wargame’ of the British renegotiation of European Union membership. Run by Open Europe, the day had two parts, each intended to cast some light on what might happen in, respectively, the current renegotiation and then in the event of a ‘no’ vote in the referendum.
This was a high-rent production. Fancy City venue, live-streaming of the entire event, plus (most importantly) roles being played by People (former ministers and ambassadors): The British were represented by a former Foreign Secretary, Maclom Rifkind, and a former Chancellor, Norman Lamont. All of this built on a previous event in 2013 and given the number of TV camera crews from across Europe, it was not your usual event.