Blog Archives

Priorities

The Sunday Times have produced their annual University Guide with todays edition of the paper. It makes for interesting reading.

The ranking order of Universities and Institute of Technology in the country is given. NUI Galway are top. As usual, people are likely to quibble about the components of this ranking and how they are measured. For example, one element concerns the number of first and 2:1 honours given to graduates.  The idea being that the more of these there are, the better. The dumbing-down argument is never far away. I have a previous post related to this so I won’t go into it here. Suffice to say, that I consider the rankings to be an indicator only and recognise that an open mind needs to be kept.

What really grabbed my attention was the profiles of the various universities / colleges. Each institution profile asks a student therein to suggest a “Worst Feature” and a “Deal Clincher” for their institution. The student comments for each institution can be found in the file box on the right (I knew that box would be useful sooner or later).

 Did you notice what I noticed? 

Very very few of the comments concern academia. With only a small number of exceptions, practicalities like parking and social life dominate the list.  I’m reminded of the episode of Friends where Rachel says she switched her major from psychology because “there was never any parking beside the psychology building”. Cue audience laughter based on Rachel not being a serious college student.

Should we as lecturers be worried?  Are learning, skills acquisition or knowledge enhancement not as important to our students as we think they are?   Or are these things simply not at the top or bottom of the list for most of the student representatives here?   

Whatever the answer, it’s a cause of worry.  If student and lecturer priorities have drifted so far apart we have a problem.  We have to fundamentally question what is the purpose of a third level education and we need to do so with our students.

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Under-valued

What does “higher education” mean? What do you think of when you hear the term “academia”? When someone mentions a higher education college or university what do you think of?

What answers did you come up with – learning, teaching, students, ………….. or research?

Apparently, by focusing on the teaching aspect, I’m not up there in the valued and appreciated realms. The Times tells me that ‘driving excellence’ is in research and not in teaching.  Generation of new knowledge carries more status than the joy of passing on this knowledge to others. Who decides this, who’s calling the shots? The UK HEA seems to suggest that senior managers in a third level institution care a lot about teaching but their academics don’t seem to believe them, citing promotions as being very much driven by research achievements.

Who is doing the learning – the academics in their research. Who’s doing the teaching – the academics when they can squeeze it in.  Where do students fit in? Knowledge and pushing the frontiers of uncovering and discovering knowledge need to be constant and research is the way to do this. On the other hand, where do researchers begin their learning – by being students in  a class of fellow students. If they didn’t have this opportunity would they have become successful researchers?If their lecturers didn’t pass on their learning and research achievements to them, would they have thrived as researchers?

Its time to pass learning back to the learners. Teaching must be valued and considered on par with research activities. Otherwise, we risk losing out on budding researchers of the future, and why would we want that?

Time Optimisation

Sometimes when I read people’s blog I wonder how they possibly get time to do all they do. It seems they spend their days writing / reading blogs, watching youtube, commenting on discussion boards, twittering, skyping, etc. On the one hand I’m jealous, on the other I’m confused.

This blog doesn’t have a post everyday because it’s author simply doesn’t have the time. Neither does she…. shock, horror….. twitter on a regular basis for the same reason. Here’s a typical day –

  • Get up, and potter about apartment. This isn’t time-wasting, it’s a needed relaxation before the day starts. TV3s Ireland Am is on in the background, it gets channel-flicked to gmtv or the bbc at odd times.
  • Take 35 minutes to walk to work.
  • Work day is spent: giving classes, preparing for classes, doing student consultations, answering / sending emails, attending meetings with colleagues, marking student work.
  • A work day can end anytime between 4pm or 8pm depending on how busy a particular day is.
  • Talk 35 minutes to walk home from work.
  • Much of the evening is spent reading / writing as part of my phd research studies.
  • I need me time to pursue personal activities that have become a needed part of sanity e.g. going to the gym (once or twice a week) , reading for pleasure (next up is Sebastian Barry’s Secret Scripture), going to the theater / the NCH, etc.

Not much time is left for engaging is social internet activities. I can multi-task with the best of them, but ‘interruption’ social internet activities squeezed in to the above tasks can be interruptive to those tasks.

There’s a time and a place for everything. I’m happy to spend the time I spend in Facebook, I enjoy posting in here, I enjoy reading the blogs I follow. I know that there are other blogs I would like to follow but I have to prioritise.

I have my blogs and news pages routed to a reader to speed up access time to them. I have my preferred websites book marked on delicious to keep them within easy reach. I have other tools that speed up my internet life but I still find I haven’t the time to do all I like to do.

Such is life. Time needs to be prioritized, simple as that.