In case of emergency…

Thanks for the various feedback on the three streams idea: I’ll be posting more about it next week, when I’m properly back in the saddle/office.

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Sadly, absolutely no photos exist to illustrate this post. At all.

In the meantime, I thought it would be good to write a quick piece about covering your bases in the classroom, when things don’t work. This is a bit different from learning from failure, which primarily revolves around failures to reach the nominal class objectives. Instead, I’m talking about when things go more broadly belly up.

These kinds of failure fall into different categories:

  1. Technical failures. If the projector doesn’t work, how screwed are you? Ideally, there’s someone you can phone to try and fix it, but if that’s not an option, can you adapt your class to run without any slides: unless you’re putting a lot of data into the slides (which you shouldn’t be), then you probably can, although the experience it likely to remind you of how much of a prop those slides can be: remember you can always email out/post slides after class. More mundanely, your room might have a whizz-bang computer pod, but you might want to take along your own laptop, just in case.
  2. Rooming failures. Usually you know what sort of room you want/need, but timetabling can’t always oblige and you might have to be moved around. Can your class survive a move into a raked lecture theatre, when you’d planned for a flat seminar room? Again, it’s usually not a huge problem, but some thought about such things beforehand probably makes sense: it might even throw up some interesting ideas.
  3. Student failures. My good colleagues have covered much of this, especially the failure to prepare or to act as predicted. Here, I’m thinking more about what happens if half the class doesn’t show up, or all but one fail to show up: I have exactly this second scenario occur earlier this year, for a group exercise, which posed some interesting challenges and hasty improvisation. However, we got something working (partly by removing to have some liquid refreshment): smaller numbers is much less of a problem then you might think because you can start to tailor content more closely to needs and become more interactive. A bigger (and rarer) problem is when a whole bunch of extra people turn up: can you fit them into the room and do something useful with them? Snowballing is a good way out of this one.
  4. You failures. As a keen reader of this blog, this shouldn’t be a problem, but it’s still reasonable to talk about this: we have all messed up at some point. My personal nadir came as a teaching assistant when I found myself sprawled on my bed, still clothed and drunk from the night before, 20 minutes into the morning class I was supposed to be giving to the students I’d been out drinking with the night before. Suffice to say, it wasn’t pleasant for anyone involved. Let’s just say that I speak from experience when I say that some judgement might be exercised in such situations. Aside from such catastrophes, can you cope if you leave your teaching notes on the bus to work, or if you have four hours of class back-to-back? Knowing your breaking points is important if you’re going to be able to handle them (and, ideally, to avoid them).

This is be no means definitive as a list, just something to get you thinking about what you really need to make your class work. Sometimes you get hit from different sides at the same time, sometimes some promised help doesn’t materialise.

For me, the important thing I’m taking from writing this list is that usually you can cope, if you keep your head and prepare to run with something a bit different. And that’s another great reason not to get smashed out your head the night before.

Rip it up and start again

For a variety of reasons, I’m thinking about what we do as teachers in a fairly fundamental way. Today’s trigger has been a piece about how a group of Spanish academics set up a political party, Podemos, this January, which is now in serious contention for government. To quote Marx, “Die Philosophen haben die Welt nur verschieden interpretiert; es kommt drauf an, sie zu verändern.”

If you could start with a totally clean sheet, what would you do with with your students? What if that clean sheet was not just a module/course, but a whole degree, or even a whole university?

Such situations might happen very rarely, and even more rarely for benign reasons, but as a thought exercise it is a useful way of focusing on what you feel to be important and how you might get there. I was fortunate enough many years ago to be part of a blank-sheet creation of a new department of politics, which let me try out a whole range of ideas that probably would never have happened otherwise: certainly the experience is one that continues to shape (positively) my sense of what one can do.

But let’s leave that aspect to one side for a moment, and focus instead on the first question: what does your ideal learning environment look like?

For me, there are three key aspects I would want to pursue.

The first is a deep embedding of experiential learning. While I would love to import wholesale the Finnish Team Academy model, I can see some issues in applying it to a politics setting. Team Academy essentially sets students out to create and run real-world businesses, with everything else a function of that. For a politics focus, the issue is…errrm… political. Consider again the Podemos example at the top of the page and you’ll see how pressing students into political activism raises problems of internal collective action.

The second idea is that of integrating subjects as much as possible. Modules/courses tend to encourage students to view elements of their study as discrete and siloed, for all our efforts to promote reflection across the bigger picture. This is particularly a problem for the ‘boring/difficult’ stuff, like research methods or political theory (apologies if you like/work on this, it’s not personal). Talking with colleagues, it is often when these elements get used in an applied way that students see their value and build their interest.

Finally, I think we would have to place more stress on team-work and collaborative learning. This is both a reflection of the realities of the world of work, where we are very rarely left to our own devices, but also of the more basic need to encourage students to become independent learners, drawing in from all sides, not just the traditional top-down teacher-student model.

You’ve got to have a dream

So what does that look like, in practice? I ask because I spend much of my day job asking just such questions of colleagues, who have to fit into the regulations and practices of the university.  Clearly, here I’m feeling less bound by that, although it obviously becomes an issue at some point.

The starting point would be a set of streams, rather than modules/courses, which would run through the programme as a whole. Each of these streams would form a home base for students to explore a particular aspect of their studies, as well as building a stronger corporate sense of identity with fellow students.

The streams would each tackle a basic element: exploration, research and engagement. The exploration stream would be closest to a conventional programme, taking a broad area of political activity (the state, the international system, civil society, etc.) and providing an integrated environment in which to study it. That might well take the form of an extended simulation, together with lecturers on hand to provide advice and to unpack key issues as they arose.

The research stream would be a space for students to get their hands dirty in the world of academia, by designing studies, collecting data and analysing it. Clearly, the role of staff would be vital here, since they would need to work with students in that process, sharing their research ideas and practice, as well as leading students towards ever more challenging topics. The Student-as-Researcher agenda is an ever-more prevalent one, not least because it makes the link between research and teaching more properly meaningful.

The engagement stream is a more modest version of the Team Academy idea: getting students out into the world, not simply to understand it (that’s the research stream) but to change it. Activities could cover anything from producing materials to influence public debate (e.g. local politics, national debates, consultation exercises) to participating in political activity (I’ll admit I’m always disappointed that my students still haven’t cornered the elections to the students’ union). It’s also potentially the place to embed professional placements.

The streams build on each other. Exploration gives a sense of the world, enabling research to asks questions of it, even as trying to shape it through engagement. Those can happen simultaneously, providing further reinforcement of the learning experience for students.

In all three streams, the content would be a matter of consultation between staff and students, within a broad framework of overall learning objectives. Because the work would be very dynamic, there would be some risk that less attention would be given to some aspects than others, but it wouldn’t be beyond the whit of those involved to manage that.

Back to life, back to reality

Of course, all of this runs into any number of practical problems, from regulations to rooming. Most obviously of all, such a system would require a very much more flexible relationship between students and staff. The former would have to know more of their mind and their objectives and be able to articulate that from the go. The latter would have to become much more responsive to students’ needs, in the sense of not having a pre-defined set of classes to teach, but rather to address the specific and emergent needs of each group, each time.

Likewise, the boundaries of politics would be severely challenged. In this set-up, you can see how we stray into sociology, economics, psychology, geography and a bunch of other disciplines. That might be a problem, but it’s also a useful reminder that the world isn’t disciplinary.

So there we go; some blue sky thinking. How much of this I can ever put into effect is a very moot point, but without thinking such things I can be confident that I will not continue to develop my practice: who knows what opportunities lie ahead?

Teaching with social media

Facebook_like_thumbReading Casey’s post, I have been reflecting on my own use of social media in the classroom. Here at Surrey, we’ve long been active in this field, because we recognised the value of developing new spaces of communication as a way both of getting more from our teaching and of preparing students for the world outside the classroom.

The value of that has become clearer over time, not least in the facility that our graduates have demonstrated in using those media to make themselves more attractive to employers and to support the community of learning they developed during their time with us. For our part as educators, we have see real benefits from connecting and engaging with a far wider community than might have been possible in the bad old days of the 2000s (sic).

But all of this raises a number of questions, not least of which is the matter of how one gets to a situation where social media can reasonably be brought into the classroom.

In part, this is a transitional issue, since usage of social media becomes more and more pervasive. Certainly, as everyone seems to be using social media, so the pressure to join in becomes ever higher, and the barriers ever lower: the amount of technical expertise needed to use Twitter (for example) is minimal, even if optimal use still requires some work.

However, we have to recognise the limits to this: I still encounter groups of students who have no experience at all with particular media (including my own class, last week). Precisely because there are so many platforms to choose from, there remains a distinct possibility that your students won’t use (or know how to use) the platform you want. Put it like this: none of us use Pinterest.

In such cases, either you have to train people up – as I’ve done for my Twitter negotiation – or you have to use a Bring-Your-Own-Device model, where the substantive content can be accessed via multiple platforms. The latter is more flexible for students, but requires much more technical expertise on your part.

Surrey’s approach has been to create a more general environment in which social media are mainstreaming into different parts of our provision. That means active Twitter and Facebook pages, which get used to connect prospective and current students, programme information and specific content within modules. By trying to link together elements, we raise the overall visibility and introduce the different platforms to users.

A good example of this is our use of hashtags in Twitter, to highlight particular campaigns: currently, our #PoliticsMonth events are bringing in a range of activities to the university, and students can not only see those more easily, but also contribute more easily. When I chaired a hustings for the general election for our Politics Society last month, I could gather questions from the floor using the event hashtag, which meant more efficient gathering and organising of their input to the panel. A similar system could be set up for large classes, with the lecturer getting instantaneous feedback to their device during lectures, which could then be fed more seamlessly into the content.

Likewise, the encouragement of students to use social media to talk with each other and with teaching staff provides a rapid and accessible means of supporting student learning: a tweet or a Facebook post can be read by others who might be in the same situation. In terms of general student support, this has been a great boon, especially for our students out on professional placements, often overseas.

The keystone in all of this is then a degree of engagement by staff. If they don’t use social media, and use it often, then it’s very hard to get students to do the same.

In that, I have been very fortunate to have the group of colleagues I do, since we have had a very high level of buy-in to the social media work. That has covered Twitter, Facebook, blogging and other platforms. Importantly, it’s also required a maintenance of activity over a long time-frame.

Indeed, that time-frame is effectively open-ended: we’re about three years into this and we’ll carry on as long as necessary. That needs someone to keep reminding people to do it, until it becomes almost second-nature: certainly, many of my colleagues use social media very reflexively, which is easy for them and reinforces the message about the value of doing it for others.

Even without the kind of massive investment that some other units have made into this field – LSE is a good example of what can be achieved online – I would hope that our example will show how even a modest application of effort can have significant pay-offs.

Learning about (Teaching about) Learning

10517938_10153212028179063_7472983191788095865_oAs part of our programme for Liberal Arts & Sciences students, I’ve been teaching about learning in recent weeks. By providing a framework of enquiry and reflection, I hope to give students a way of getting to grips with the multitude of disciplines they encounter, as well as a higher-order way of investigating their own practice.

As part of that exercise, I thought it would be useful for the students to talk about models of learning, as teachers use them, for the simple reason that formal educational spaces are rather particular and that teachers have particular ways of pursuing learning. Without that perspective, students will be impaired in their ability to engage with that educational space.

Unfortunately, such material can be rather dry and as much as I had set some preparatory reading for the class, I wanted to develop an exercise that would engage and develop their understanding. So we tried this.

  1. Ask students to get into small groups and make a list of verbs linked to learning. Since this was a bit abstract, I suggested they think about the language of assessments as a way into this: hence ‘compare and contrast’, ‘describe’, ‘analyse’, etc.;
  2. Once the list is done, the group then has to group the words into cogent categories. No further guidance was given, since it’s useful to see how they understood any order;
  3. All of this gets put on the whiteboard and shared with the rest of the class;
  4. Only at this point do I contribute with a presentation on both Bloom’s taxonomy and Bigg’s SOLO taxonomy, making repeated reference back to the students’ work and how they compare. Typically, while students appreciate the distinction between recollection and analysis, they tend not to stretch their view of learning into more creative and applied actions: whether that’s because they don’t think like that or they don’t get that kind of assessment isn’t clear;
  5. The focus shifts back to the students now. They have to map both Bloom and Biggs onto their words/categories. This is a good way to encourage them to discuss what the categories mean in practice, and to appreciate the difficulties of mapping out the range of learning;
  6. Finally, we can then discuss as a single group what has been learnt from this. A very useful talking point is how the activity itself would map on to the taxonomies and models and why this might be more valuable to them than a simple read-and-recall test.

The subject material here lends itself very well to such a reflective and self-aware process, but you can see how it might be used in other cases where categorisation is problematic and/or central. Even if students do get wise to the methodology and come with a reproduction of a taxonomy, then they still have to engage with other students and other taxonomies and have to articulate and defend it in an active manner.

What game shows can do for our teaching

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Studio optional

Much as I like to think (and tell people) that my teaching is great, it is very rare indeed that I am approached with a request to reprise any of my ‘greatest hits.’

Thus, I have been very happy that just this has happened here at Surrey, where our undergraduates told my colleague that they’d like to have another go at my immersive technique for developing public speaking skills.

Of course, they framed it more on the lines of: “can we play that game again?”

That game is – in this case – not even my own game, but the BBC’s. ‘Just A Minute‘ is a very British panel game show, where contestants have to speak on a given subject for one minute ‘without repetition, hesitation or deviation’. Break any of those rules and you get the subject for the rest of the time.

Even those students who have never listened to Radio 4 can pick it up in a couple of moments and its format leads itself very well to political subjects. We’re going to be going through rounds with suitable topics, giving everyone an opportunity to use their knowledge actively, try out some public speaking in a fun and engaging manner, and generally building community (which has always been a key part of these sessions).

In short, it’s a way into getting students to buy into the skills-development agenda, which is often difficult to do: it’s one reason why we’re not packaging this as public speaking. As an approach, we’re doing something not so very different from Amanda and her ‘Best X in Town‘ model of research methods: an applied model, on which we can build the architecture of more conventional teaching.

With this in mind, we might usefully think about other examples of where we can take game-show formats to hijack for our classes.

The difficulty is then one of finding the correct format, since many of them are about knowledge-recall, which might not be quite what we want to develop. If we do, then you could run a ‘Jeopardy‘-style quiz at the end of each class, to check on recall: easier questions for this class’ materials, harder ones for previous classes’.

For more active learning, then you need to have a format that let’s students create something more than just a factual answer. ‘Whose line is it anyway?‘ might be a step too far (albeit a very amusing step), but certainly one could consider getting students to generate questions for a ‘Catchphrase‘ session. That could be much closer to a pick-up-and-go format than the more obvious ‘University Challenge/College Bowl‘ approach , although you could get students to build up to this, to test their teachers.*

The trade-off is going to be familiarity (with the format) against utility (for your objectives). That said, most games that make it to TV have had enough development to be simple to understand, so have confidence in your students’ abilities and who knows where it might lead?

* – Given how I rubbish I was when I actually went on University Challenge and how much grief I’ve had about it in the 15 years since, I’ve advise caution on this one.

Simulations for Large Classes: Problematizing Unitary Actors

Today is the first of a series of posts by a guest contributor, Casey Delehanty, doctoral candidate in political science at Florida State University.

Large ClassAs an instructor at a large state university, one of the main challenges of active learning exercises is employing them in large classes. Many existing simulations are designed for classes of 10-30 students, and adapting them to larger classes can be intimidating. Despite this, I encourage folks to think of large classes as an advantage rather than a hindrance. Rather than presenting students with the necessarily simplified world of a small simulation, you can introduce students to even more complex concepts. Here are a few tricks I have picked up from using simulations in classes with 50+ students:

Simulations or games built with smaller classes in mind have to make certain assumptions about the internal decision-making structures of the actors involved. A larger class offers the ability to add internal political structures that introduce students to the notion of juggling domestic interests versus international possibilities. This notion does not have to be limited to simulations of state actors; non-state groups can also be assumed to have internal decision-making structures.

Students who comprise actors that are expected to multi-task in a simulation can be assigned distinct roles to perform. However, a major problem in larger classes is the tendency of some students to free-ride. It is imperative to make roles specific, varied, and incentivized to avoid the following pitfalls:

First, students often do not immediately understand how their roles fit into the overall simulation. As much as this may be obvious to you as the designer, students often need some time fully grasp their role within a larger system of interlinked pieces and what actions they should take in order to maximize their effectiveness. It can be helpful to give students guidelines about possible actions they can take and strategies they might want to pursue. I create advisory guides that are no longer than one page to orient students to the simulation (“your role can determine the fate of X”) as well as giving them some ideas as to how to be effective (“should you want to accomplish goal X, you might want to explore paths A, B and C”). While it is important not to reveal too much and let students find their own path, limited class time makes this kind of advice necessary.

Second, students often obtain the impression that their role is being adequately performed by others within the simulation. This tendency in and of itself can lead to a lecture on free-riding, but it can sometimes alter the balance of a simulation. Moreover, shirking tends to be contagious; if one student is sitting to the side checking Facebook, etc. it will be much more likely for others to do the same. It is therefore important to make student roles unique, so that each student is solely responsible for a single aspect of an overall mission. It can sometimes be beneficial to assign more than one student to a specific role, but I avoid assigning the same function to more than two students in a simulation.

Third, students often lack incentives to play their roles effectively when forced to compete with one another. Sometimes students would rather depart from their role than perform actions that might put them at odds with another student. This can be very damaging to an otherwise effective simulation given that competitiveness between students is often designed as an institutional constraint. To solve this problem, I introduce goals tailored to each actor or group of actors for students to achieve, with “bonus points” as a reward. These goals often compete and conflict with those of other actors, and it is nearly impossible for any one actor (or group of actors) to achieve all of their goals. Instead, these goals function as a tool to incentivize certain behaviors within the simulation. I separate these points from other forms of assessment, since I don’t want the competitiveness of some students to adversely other students’ grades. Instead, I award bonus points for goal completion. These points are, of course, almost insignificant when it comes to students’ final grades, but I find that they generate much more competitive behavior. Students are suckers for points.

Turning instructors into facilitators

After my travels, I’m now back in the UK, working through the pile of stuff that seems to have accumulated in my absence. But before the moment gets too lost, it’s worth reflecting on some of the key lessons from TLC and the INOTLES workshop.

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Apparently, Georgia is the cradle of wine. Not that we got to see any of it. This is a stock photo. Honest.

For me, the big point that I had underlined was the need to shift attitudes when pursuing active learning. This was particularly striking with our INOTLES session in Tbilisi, where we were wrapping up the training-trainers phase of our project.

As part of that, we had a group session for the people who have been learning about simulations. I wanted to get a sense of what they had got from the process and where they still saw difficulties.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, we talked about many of the same topics that got covered at TLC: assessment strategy, learning from failure, the balance of knowledge acquisition and skills development. This reflects the rather different nature of simulations and the need to step out of conventional practice.

In particular, it was apparent that the overarching challenge was this aspect of changing attitudes, on the part of both students and staff.

For students, there has to be a explicit mechanism to reinforce the message that a simulation can be both enjoyable and academically valuable. Giving students licence to step out of themselves and speak more freely is central in making the most of this pedagogy: we shouldn’t be surprised if that takes some getting used to.

For me, I like to use some small exercises to limber up and set this frame, before moving to the more involved stuff, but it is important to keep on showing students that the more they get into it, the more they will get out of it.

However, this also requires adaptation by staff too.

Simulations are intrinsically uncertain, in the sense that they might point in a general direction, but the precise path taken will not be known until you are on it. One of my colleagues in Tbilisi got a bit worried about this, probably because I overstated this point: it’s not that you have no idea at all what will happen, only that you have some uncertainty.

That uncertainty requires staff to be willing to let go from the conventional model of controlling the classroom. In a lecture, you are in charge, the students are mute and you are the conduit for all that is ‘important’. In a simulation, you set out a framework, but then students take the driving seat and do… well, they do something, which so-of matches what you intended. Then you have to debrief them to see how that matches up with your ideas.

In short, you co-create with the students.

Now, that can be a tough step; indeed, it’s often the toughest step. It imposes an additional burden on you to be responsive and adaptable to what happens, just as it imposes a burden on students to produce action. Your facilitation requires some different skills to those needed for classical instruction.

The reward is a much more engaging learning environment for all involved. Students get to see the value of their contributions more clearly, and get to make more active use of their knowledge and skills, while staff get a much more grounded space in which learning occurs, since it has to build on what students actually know, rather than what they supposedly know.

The Hazards of Meat Space

Raw filet steakSome brief thoughts on how the physical environment affects one’s ability to teach and learn, whether one is outdoors or in a classroom.

In part this post is inspired by the slightly unwieldy arrangement of tables and chairs at the recent APSA Teaching and Learning Conference (TLC*), but mostly by what I experienced on the first teaching day of the spring semester.

The classrooms on the top floor of one of our oldest campus buildings were repainted and outfitted with new equipment over the winter holidays. Instead the usual hard-wired computer console, each room has what is literally the largest flat screen TV that I have ever seen, mounted on a wheeled metal stand. Between the wheels and the TV is a small shelf at mid-thigh height. A laptop and DVD player are anchored to the shelf with short lengths of cables that connect to the TV.

To use the laptop, the instructor must kneel on the floor with his or her back to the class. Pedagogically this is about the worst thing that an instructor can do while teaching. Of course whoever is teaching in one of the rooms can bring his or her own laptop, but there are no cables long enough to connect the laptop to the TV and no podium or table to set it on.

There is also no whiteboard in the room. Without one, there is no ability for an instructor to easily communicate unfamiliar terminology or concepts to students, especially to those students who might be hearing impaired.

The rooms are a great example of what happens when people in charge of configuring classrooms don’t bother to communicate with the people who actually teach and learn in the classrooms.

*The 2016 TLC will likely occur on the first or second weekend of February in Portland, Oregon, USA.

Who debriefs whom after a simulation?

One of the topics we covered at TLC at the weekend was the difficulty of debriefing after a simulation game. Gavin Mount (of New South Wales University in Australia [NB his hair’s not that wild in real life]) highlighted the perils of this, as part of his paper about the normative underpinnings of games.

Gavin’s argument was, roughly, that it’s easy to build in normative views of the world into our games: certainly, I’ve have pushback from students about my austerity game and why states have to cut budgets at all. That problem then can extend into debriefing.

Gavin suggested that this part of the process can often take the form of the instructor telling the students what they have learnt and what it’s all ‘about’, pushing them to cleave to our interpretation of both the game and the real world.

I found this interesting because it’s not been how I approach the debrief.

My starting point has always been that a simulation is a lived experience and as a result there is no one objective interpretation of what has happened, only the multiplicity of subjective interpretations of the players and the observers. Even with very close observation, one cannot really know all that has gone on, nor what meaning another person has given to it.

Therefore, my debrief is about me finding out what the participants have done and thought, rather than telling them what they should have done or thought. The key question for me is always “what have you learnt?”

How common the two models of debrief are is very unclear, so comments are welcome on this, but the debate is an interesting one, that deserves further consideration.

What is the best performance indicator of teaching?

As the ALPSblog all prepare for their biennial reunion at the APSA TLC in Washington later this week, I’ve been thinking some more about how we measure success in teaching.

Partly, this is because it’s my job to think such thoughts, but also it’s because we’ve just had our own big L&T event at Surrey: ExciTeS. With a mix of colleagues and external speakers, the day was an excellent opportunity to join up some of the dots in our practice and to do some big-picture stuff. Using more appropriate jargon, naturally.

ALL HANDS IMAGERYA theme that emerged from our debate was the extent to which institutional structures constrain or enable different teaching practices. For instance, the university’s requirement that all taught modules be only one semester in length meant that previous year-long modules could no longer run, but it also allowed colleagues to try out some new ideas.

More particularly, we talked about how to measure success and how best to maximise that success.

Success strikes me as a rather nebulous concept at the best of times, given that it has a deeply subjective base: if I think something is important to achieve, and I achieve, then who is anyone else to say I’ve not been successful?

We know this is a problem, which is why many institutions target proxies for good performance: completion rates, percentage of ‘good degrees’, entry into employment post-study, and the like. Exam boards and boards of study will look at student performance at a module level, to identify problems or bottlenecks. We also use students’ evaluations of teaching (via their end-of-module questionnaires), not least because they already exist and provide a different perspective. In short, we have lots of metrics and lots of data.

This is not the place to discuss the merits or demerits of each of these, not least because it is very rare to rely on any one of them alone to make a judgement about the success of the teaching. Instead, we could more profitably ask how best to produce outcomes that work for those metrics (which often become targets) and also work for whatever wider sense of success we might hold personally.

This is what brings us back to the discussion about institutional frameworks: the institution requires us to meet certain targets, so is that a problem or an opportunity?

Too often, it’s a problem. A target becomes reified, held up as the ultimate purpose of our activity, rather than being treated as a metric, a way of measuring how we’re doing. Yes, everyone could come out with top honours if we just marked very leniently, but that would not only offend our quality-assurance mechanisms, but would also offend our sense of how best to support our students.

For me, I work in learning & teaching not to hit targets, but to help each student achieve the very best of their potential, whatever level that might be. When I teach, I try to get the most of the sessions I run with students, because it is the most engaging thing for them, not because it improves their performance on a particular metric.

Importantly, it is not to say that metrics aren’t important, but that they are just what they are called: metrics. My classes get good metrics, but not because I’m trying to improve them: I’m trying to improve my teaching and improve students’ learning.

It’s all too easy for us to get hung up on metrics – on a quantified vision of success – but if we can recall that education requires a holistic and integrated approach, then perhaps we can create learning environments that are good for students, good for those who set targets and good for us.