Monthly Archives: September 2010

You know the new term has started when….

  1. “Your mailbox is nearly full” warnings appear with increasing regularity
  2. Walking up / down a corridor takes longer than usual, particularly within five minutes of the top of the hour
  3. A trip to the library takes longer than usual (yes, I take my physical self to the library on occasion, not everything is electronic …. yet)
  4. Messages from the library asking you to return books you’ve had on loan all summer start arriving
  5. The decibel level in the local coffee shops noticeably increases
  6. There are lots of delightful “ohmygodhowareyouyourhairisgorgeoushowwasyoursummerhowwasnewyork…..” conversations to be heard among students
  7. The lift takes 100 seconds longer to arrive on your floor
  8. You find yourself wondering if the proportion of excited / bored / scared / nervous / ambitious first year students has changed from the previous year
  9. Entries and exit doors to every building acquire a haze of cigarette smoke
  10. You know (without looking at a calendar) the dates that every Monday falls on at least 3 months into the future
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Buying a degree?

There educational news world is awash with discussion and commentary on the falling value of third-level degrees. The consensus seems to be that degrees are not what they used to be.  Pass degrees and lower honours degrees, in particular, are suffering from a lack of value.

All this increases the pressure on students to get a higher honours classification.  This, of course, leads to pressure on colleges to award this higher classifications. Should they give in?  There is no doubt that this is the easier option, but academic ethics might have something to say about it.  Students should get the award level that their work deserves regardless of pressure to bend on the side of the higher level. The result is that lecturers spend even more time and effort giving feedback, and there is nothing wrong with that.

What happens when things go too far?  What happens when a student is so upset with his grade that he goes outside the college appeals systems to express his disappointment. A student in Queens University Belfast is doing just that. The student claims that inadequate supervision was the difference between a 2:2 and a 2:1 honours in his degree classification.  He is taking his case to the law courts.

QUB respond by saying that the courts are not the place to tackle the dispute and that the student graduated with, i.e. accepted, his 2:2 degree. This seems reasonable, and one assumes that QUB, like all educational institutes, gives students a reasonable period to query and appeal results.

Does the student then have a case? The proverbial jury (in this case, Judge) is out for the moment.

Meanwhile, we have to ask.  What does better supervision mean and how do we measure the quality of supervision?   Guidelines for supervision and tracking student progress are possible.  These need to be flexible enough to allow for a supervisor/supervisee rapport to develop and evolve as the student’s work progresses.  If they are overly prescriptive the progress might be stifled by bureaucracy. Where is the happy medium that allows for a robust supervision but prevents the claim of lack-of-supervision by a student?  No easy answers here.

Induction & 7 Weeks

Things change and evolve. That’s all we can be sure of in this life.

As an undergraduate in UL in the later stages of the last century, I remember that all was trimestered. There was orientation week, then 10 weeks of classes followed by exams, then another 10 weeks of classes followed by exams, then a final 10 weeks of classes followed by exams.  If you took your time settling in then you tended not to make it out the other end of the 30 weeks.  If you needed the first six or seven weeks to get settled then you’ve probably missed a few assignment deadlines and left yourself with precious little time to prepare for exams.

Flash forward to 2010, and it’s all so different.  There are no longer any trimesters. Far more effort is put into inducting students into third level education.  This seems to be happening everywhere and not just in UL.

Social media tools are being used to help.  Both IT Sligo and UL (and no doubt, numerous others) are using Facebook as part of their induction.  I’m particularly taken with UL’s page (yes, I know I’m biased). There are a myriad of reassuring and practical information sets here, all presented in the Facebook manner likely to be familiar to newbies. I particularly like the Teach Failte (that’s Welcome House for the non-natives) idea of dropping in and having a cuppa with fellow newbies and seasoned veterans.

7 is the magic number for UL with lots of “7” themed ice-breakers.  Their research tells them that it takes approximately seven weeks to settle down in a college environment. My anecdotal personal experience agrees.  In about week 6 into week 7 I can usually identify students who are likely to struggle. At this point some students themselves recognise if they have made a mistake in their course / college choice. Some drift into confused disenchantment – a horrible messy place to be. If UL’s (or any other college’s similar initiative) can help students to avoid the zone of confused disenchantment then the work put into their induction is well worth it.

It is interesting to consider that the “7 weeks” did not exist in my undergrad day and now it is needed.  What has happened in all that time?  Did secondary school prepare students for college back then?  If so, how and in what ways?  There are far more students attending third level now, are they all suited to it?  There are as many questions as answers.

The UL site has a link to the Felder & Solomon learning styles questionnaire.  I did work on this about 4 years ago.  I created different multimedia versions of some class content, one visual, one podcasted, one written, and then versions of those further split between the global / sequential, and the other variations popularised by learning styles theory. My student respondents proved themselves to be strategic in their preferences, adopting whatever learning style suited the context they were in.

Learning styles is not a science and students should be encouraged to manage a variety of styles so as to avoid one-dimensionality.  Having said that, for anyone who’s interested, my style preferences have not changed in 4 years: reflective as opposed to active, global as opposed to sequential, somewhat balanced on sensing / intuiting and very balanced between verbal / visual.

Here’s to 7 weeks.

The End

This location and content of this piece of Maser graffiti art is particularly meaningful for me these days.

What am I doing to be proud of?  ….. answers on a digital postcard……

What’s going on at the moment

This dear ole blog seems to have taken a back seat in recent times.  Now it’s back to reality and I’m playing catch-up with the Internet news.

I’ve now got so many Firefox tabs open that the laptop is starting to slow down. Here’s a snap-shot of what’s there at the moment:

  • Ping – social networking around itunes from Apple.  A nice way of doing the who’s-zooming-who thing. Seems to be getting mixed reaction so far though
  • Axl Rose throwing a strop – tsk tsk, that band don’t like being on time
  • Blame gravity. Apparently we evolved out of nothing, no divine intervention in our being part of planet earth.
  • How to treat employees like responsible adults – now, isn’t this sensible?  Treat employees responsibly and they will actually produce the goods.  No clock watching, no regimentary day, no thou-shalt-not-take-time-off-to-rescue-your-ill-child.  As long as the work gets done, you can set your own day-to-day working conditions.  And it works.  Shows that happens when an employer trusts employees, though it is open to abuse.  Nice plug for Clay Shirkey’s new book at the end.
  • Work practice ideas from HBR – John Hagel 111 & John Seely Brown blogging in the Harvard Business Review tell us 6 interesting common-sense work rules.  The last one, in particular, speaks volumes.  Killing off employees’ passion for their work is truly disastrous.  It’s common sense but sadly all too common.
  • Value-Added Modeling – Scary that this is being taken so seriously. Assessing teachers is not easy. It’s not meant to be easy.  Hence, there is a need to use multiple methods. Sacking teachers because they rank lowly on this scheme alone is downright dangerous.  Read the article to see the holes that can be pulled in the concept.
  • Blogtalk – would love to have gone but alas………….  Good to have a highlights page though. The debate on location-based social networking looks interesting. I can’t for the life of me decide if I like the “I’m in Limerick Junction waiting for the train” type tweets or not.  Foursquare seems to be taking off, meaning that the location stuff is popular.  Social Identity construction looked like an interesting discussion too. I’m fascinated by how the internet allows alter egos to emerge without rejecting the true persona.  It’s like unleashing a part of yourself that would be otherwise hidden for various reasons.
  • Illume – Just in case you have nothing to do in the city for the next week or so, troddle along to illume in the courtyard in tcd to see some seriously high quality sports photography. I wonder why all the photographers seem to be male?
  • Alternatives to Ning – The guys at Ning went to a paid model earlier this year and promptly lost a lot of users, who went off to find free alternatives. This site gives a nice listing of what alternatives are what under various criteria of interest.   Have to ‘fess up and admit that a lot of these are new to me.
  • Enn.ie – I like the content of this site but the layout of the home page makes me want to cry. There’s just too much there, I don’t know where to start.
  • Facebook is numero uno – just in case you didn’t know already, here are the stats to support the claim.

So there.  That’s what trending in my life at the moment.