How close to the moment can you get? “Be here now,” urges 1960s psychologist Richard Alpert. A mythical Google aspires to a perfect concurrent rendering of this reality: in real-time, in software. How much rewinding can we do before anyone notices the pause for thought? Reflection in action often has the effect of: “Oops! Don’t do that again.” Have we all heard ourselves tell ourselves, “Don’t say that,” and then hear ourselves say it? The warning reverberates like a slow bell buoy. It fades until the next wave makes a ding! Good learning is sometimes referred to as “authentic”. What is this but being “in the moment”?
I have been invited to “Listen to and comment on” a number of presentations this morning. These presentations will be made by participants on a study tour for Chinese academics and higher education professional and student-support services staff.
I received the invitation yesterday morning in a hotel dining room in Cardiff, shortly before co-facilitating a workshop for newer academic staff at the University of Cardiff, who may be new to teaching and leading study modules.
So this is a note to myself, in the moment between. My colleagues at OCSLD and I use a phenomenographic approach to analysing learning events and the work of those who lead, teach or otherwise facilitate learning in higher education. Try to distinguish between event and judgement. There is data. And, there is analysis.
I have engaged with four one or two-day events organised by Oxford Prospects Programmes. Two events were for about 50 “senior academics” (n=100) from a number of Chinese Universities. One event was for about 45 professional and student-support services staff. One event was a symposium on “Education and Social Governance” jointly organised by Beijing Normal University and the Department of Education at the University of Oxford. At the symposium, academics from both institutions, eminent local government officers and representatives of the British Embassy in Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in London addressed contemporary socio-economic impacts of higher education and the role of education in social governance issues such as rural depopulation, industrial development and teacher education.
I am seeing these events all through a professional development eye as an authentic opportunity to consider where a globalising academy sees itself going next.
Systems or people? We can model learning in order to develop ways for our machines to acquire, store, process and apply data: information gathered from the world around. Although I put it as a vague question of preference at the start of this essay, it has many ramifications. Are people not just quite complex systems? And is complexity simply a diversion? Is it not a more simple question? Where are the boundaries and limits?
I ask this at the beginning of term because this is hurricane season for university administration people and systems in general, and has been in particular for my university at this moment. We are building a new student record system. Well, we are acquiring, localising and implementing a student record system consisting of many new – and large – components. And, it is the system we use to manage relationships.
Which means, for the moment at least, we need to manage relationships in a different way: through people not systems. Or at least we have – for the moment – to act as though people are different to systems. Or, maybe that systems are people?
One thing we do know about people is that they feel things when they are under stress. They feel things like anger, anxiety and fear. Can I repeat that, please, using “I-statements”? I feel angry, anxious and fearful when I am under stress. While I want to be careful about projecting those feelings onto colleagues, I also want to attend to others with empathy for the possibility that they might also be angry, anxious and fearful.
He recapped a familiar argument: you are Facebook’s product. But when he hit “data science” I turned up my sensors. He says, “There’s a whole discipline, data science, to guide the writing and revision of algorithms”. Then he picks up on Cameron Marlow, “the former head of Facebook’s data science team”:
Facebook has a team, poached from academia, to conduct experiments on users. It’s a statistician’s sexiest dream – some of the largest data sets in human history, the ability to run trials on mathematically meaningful cohorts. … Marlow said, “we have a microscope that not only lets us examine social behaviour at a very fine level that we’ve never been able to see before, but allows us to run experiments that millions of users are exposed to.”
What kicked me off on this audio exploration of academic multimedia? Two things.
First and proximal cause: when I reported that my colleagues and I had been asked if we could give workshops on technology enhanced learning (TEL) the suggestion was scoffed. Why give workshops when you could do a series of three minute talking heads?
Week one has flown by like a simile. There are 58 participants on the course of whom 22 are doing the module for academic credit (10 credits, level 7) towards a PG Cert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE). Sixteen (16) of the assessed participants are from Brookes and six are from other places. So far 20 people have claimed the “Scholar” badge for contributing to the collaborative annotated bibliography. The most distant participant is in Central America, but this year the participants are largely based in the UK.
I am not sure what these numbers tell us. In many ways FSLT is now quite an “ordinary” online course. That doesn’t mean it isn’t engaging. It might mean the mooc buzz, such as it was five years ago has vanished into the maw of Coursera and Future Learn. FSLT justifies itself because of the internal members of staff who take it as part of their mandatory PCTHE. We used to run our introductory module twice a year, once in each semester. No we run “Learning and Teaching in Higher Education” (P70405) face to face in the first semester and offer people the opportunity of taking 20 credits online in the second semester. Opening the course up to the world for free allows us to widen our audience and expose ourselves to a wider community of teachers in the expanding tertiary education sector. That is, as well as being good for what it teaches, it should be beneficial to our teachers because of the wider community they might meet. And for those from beyond Brookes, we trust it isn’t too bound up with local jargon.
It has been a lot of work this year getting FSLT ready to go. Partly this is because as ever, I start too late. We also pulled the starting date forward from last year by two weeks so not only am I late the course is early. There were several reasons to do this, but mainly we hoped to be able to engage with teachers before (most of) their own teaching started.
But the main reason for the load of work was because the course had become over complicated and a lot of the internal links had broken or degraded. It needed a lot of patching up and this led me to do a root and branch overhaul. We have simplified the assessment scheme, tidied up the activities and are rebuilding the resources. We hope to stay at least a week ahead of the timetable! It is still not perfect, but it is a lot better than it was (in my eyes).