Blog Archives

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.

Clearing the browser

Browser tabs are a great idea. You can open various sites at the same time and flick between them. You can save the lot and have them load up next time you browse the net. This is useful until there are so many tabs it takes time to scroll from one to the other.  This is a problem for me these days as I don’t get to surf the net to the extent that I might like.

Here’s a sampling of what’s tabbed at the moment –


Good and bad policies

Every week seems to produce new ideas and thoughts regarding higher education. There’s nothing wrong idea generation and the consequent discussion and analysis per se. After all, the best ideas can come from non-judgemental brain-storming.

But, oh but, there are some strange ones. Here’s a sample from this past week –

  • Uk  “University courses are to be tagged with their drop-out rates, graduates’ future earnings and the number of contact hours students can expect with tutors” becasue this is an “indication of quality” of the courses. Are these really quality indicators of the quality of a course? We all know that drop-out rates have a myriad of reasons which often have little to do with the course itself. Future earnings – so Higher Dips in Education are to be a low quality course? Contact hours – what’s the reasoning here – is more better or worse, from what starting point and in what way might more or less contact time help or hinder.  At what point does more spill over into too much such that students are prevented from acquiring independent-learner skills?  What in all this is the joy of learning a subject matter that appeals to something intrinsic in the student?  Where is the in-depth engagement with a subject matter that allows for enhanced enjoyment and fulfillment?
  • DNA swab for your job”. To take up a job at the University of Akron in the USA the board of trustees require you to submit to not only a criminal background check but you also are required to hand over a sample of your DNA. In my book, that’s just ridiculously invasive. Where is the right to privacy of one’s own person. One lecturer has resigned in protest. An interesting comment asks whether the board of trustees will be submitting their DNA samples.
  • “State needs Catholic University”. The President of Mary “I” College of Education in Limerick is calling for a specifically catholic university in the country. I have never met and I know little about the president of this college so I’ll not say much apart from wondering what exactlya strong religious ethos can do for an educational institution.

Frtunately all is not quite so negative.  There are efforts to highlight the dangers of negative practices –

  • IFUT are highlighting the dangers of market-based funding. Their seminar during the week seems to have many international guests saying lots of meaningful, interesting and important things on the theme. A quote from Mike Jennings (IFUT General Secretary): “Irish universities must not become the pawns of market forces and private speculators, who view education as just another source of profit and their students like customers in a supermarket”.  Last word goes to Jens Vraa-Jensen of Education International (EI): “The basic raison d’être for any private enterprise is to create profit for its owners. The purpose of a university is not profit but to spend money in the most appropriate way on teaching students and conducting research to develop the intellectual capacity of future generations and provide the society with new knowledge for future development and welfare”.   Well said!

And on that note, I’m off to spend the afternoon / evening working on my PhD.

The time of it

This week I found myself walking around with a Christmas tree. Yes, Christmas in the middle of June.  I felt uneasily out of time and out of sorts.

It got me thinking about regimental time-bound lifestyles. Why do we have to bow to artificial man-made time enforcements?  Some quick examples –

  • Most workplaces begin and end their workdays at approximately the same times
  • Most workplaces allow lunchtimes over the same narrow time periods
  • Most colleges and schools have their academic calendar starting in September and ending in June
  • Most tv stations chose 9pm for their prime time news slot

The biggest “for” argument is that strict and specific time-slots puts structure on activities and people. Otherwise, we risk living in chaos.  Coordination and execution of activities could become very difficult indeed. Routine would not exist and without it the learning curve for each day would be very high.  In your daily life, how many things do you do in a specific time frame and at a specific time?  The answer might surprise you.

Even with such fixed time structures we need “time management” skills to manage this already structured concept of time. People pay good money to learn how to manage their allocation of time so as not to waste a minute.  Multi-tasking is a valued skill as it allows achievement of more within a given timeframe. Technology allows instant communication, optimising time allowances.

Perhaps we have it wrong. Why are we slaves to time structures we ourselves have put in place? Surely some flexibility would be a good idea. What’s the worst that could happen if tomorrow you changed your typical time management routines for the day? Go on…. try it………

By the way, is anyone wondering about the reason for the Christmas tree in June?

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.