The power of reflective writing. And parma violets.

I feel twitchy because I haven’t written anything (sensible) in a long time. Work has been so stressful I don’t think I’ve had the brain capacity. Suddenly now this year my other work – open education – my outside of office hours work – the work I get no time or recognition for in my institution – is bursting with activity. I was bored on Twitter just now, and as always the wonderful Sally was poised with a challenge: So what shall I write about?

I don’t know yet but I’ll let you know by the end of this blog post. It might be:

  • Parma violets are disgusting but I’ve eaten the whole packet anyway.
  • I’ve bought daffodils and Haribo for my team meeting tomorrow.
  • I’ve seven invited talks and conference presentations between now and the end of June!
  • We buy our first house and move. Soon!
  • Yoiks.

Actually I know what I’m going to write about and it is going to be ugly. Because blogging is a great way of getting things off yer chest and solving problems with a wider community. The trouble is I’ve national awards for my work – I’m a National Teaching Fellow and a Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. That is fine, but as part of that work I have to mentor others, promote the scheme. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of the Higher Education Academy and wish them well in their transition. But I sadly think learning and teaching in institutions is moving away from that community of teachers, the learning and teaching culture that is the heart of your university, to being top-down strategically decided. I see this everywhere and I’m not picking on any university in particular. So I’m struggling to attend workshops to mentor folk through their applications, to sit on reviewer panels, to read applications, because if I’m totally honest, I’m thinking it is an absolute waste of time (apart from getting to hang out with fantastic people).

The work of the wonderful Annette Cashmore and colleagues from their 2013 report always comes to mind: Rebalancing promotion in the HE sector: is teaching excellence being rewarded? They talk of a two tier system. Career cul-de-sacs. Others have referred to career suicide. As commented at the time – the students are at the heart of the system. For sure! But we must “value and properly reward those who teach them”. In a 2016 communication – you can see how grumpy I was getting then – I reflected upon the fact that as a sector there is still a fair bit of inertia in recognising great teaching. As stated on the poster below, Jo Johnson in all of the papers said that teaching should not be the poor cousin of research. Unfortunately the teaching excellence framework (#TEF) will be about as useful as a chocolate teapot, and I suspect a fair amount of fabrication and spin has already gone into TEF submissions. Care for amazing National Teaching Fellows and care for fantastic research and evaluation to improve learning and teaching practice will have not.

But surely we recognise excellence?

 I presented this poster last year because I’d been declined from a job. An essential criterion was ‘postgraduate teaching qualification’ and based upon the HEA, HEFCE and HESA definitions, verified by our lovely HEA chums, I did indeed have some of them. I was rejected from the selection process. In the end it wasn’t because I din’t have ‘postgraduate teaching qualifications’ but ‘I didn’t have the right ones’. OK I’m from Romford, I can take shit on the chin.

Poster_VRolfe_TeachingExcellence

What can we learn from elsewhere?

A really interesting conversation on the Association of Learning Technology (ALT) mailing list echoes some of these points. Our wonderful community of learning technologists in the UK I do feel is on a similar trajectory. In the US and Canada, techs and library staff are the power houses of university and college innovation. In the UK they are sequestered into dark basement rooms and never see the light of day. (I love them all). Then, considering about 90% of learning /teaching and assessment is digital these days, we need to listen to ALT conversations and the likes of the awesome Tony Bates who talked about the digital in this entirely free and openly licensed textbook: A MUST READ FOR ANY PGERTHE STUDENT: That is free to read. And openly licensed. To share. Teaching in a digital age. The email thread (of about 20+ responses) asked about the use of evidence-informed decision making. I think the same applies for learning and teaching these days:

  • Evidence is slow – the research model does not work
  • A focus on particular technologies / assessment and feedback strategies (not the learning)
  • Long lists of journals presenting positive impacts of TEL (and less so of pedagogy) on learning (which is perhaps part of the problem – publication bias)
  • I’m pretty sure James Clay won’t mind me quoting (cos I can’t get onto his blog article) “when an academic asks “for the evidence to show technology can make a difference” the problem is not lack of evidence, but one of resistance to change, culture, rhetoric and motivation”. Sure. I also think academia has expanded like layers of filo pastry in Mary Berry’s oven. Do we think about students, ourselves, our league tables, metrics…WHAAAT? (Come on, I joined this gaff because I just wanted to teach).

There was then on the ALT list a general melching of agreement that in terms of learning and teaching versus technology (still separated at birth – why) implementation, implementation of processes and technology, implementation of new assessment policy happens from the top-down all the time, but is rarely backed up by evidence or research. And certainly never published. As for being in a university with a community of librarians – technologists – and passionate teachers, this is long gone. How bloody sad. I’m trying to think of a metaphor here but failing. What is tragic is that this system – the omnipotent – is failing some students every day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So welcome to the end of the blog post.

Where next? Well let’s try and influence our friends in influential positions. Wait! That is many National Teaching Fellows and Principal Fellows! You are heads of learning and teaching, pro-vice chancellors.

 

So let’s hopefully have some honest discussion about what we are doing. And for god sake. Parma violets are bloody disgusting.