Expect The Worst/Best/Whatever.

An interesting article today on university expectations for first-timers.

It is quite correct to say that new students believe they will be getting more teaching hours than at school. I cannot count the number of times I have been told – by students – that they do not get enough hours in class. Every time I have to explain that at university students are expected to take charge of their learning as part of of, um, the learning process.

This suggestion usually causes consternation to appear on their faces as they try to reconcile the fact they are paying for having just a few hours of contact time. Usually the complete the interaction cycle by saying, ‘well, we need more hours’.

Well, this coming year they will be getting more hours, at least at my university. The powers that be have wanted to head off complaints, possibly so they can increase fees later in the year. It will be interesting to come back to this topic this time next year to see if indeed expectations have improved.

Nevertheless, more contact hours for students will have an impact, and not in the way they envisaged. As students will be gaining extra hours on their timetables, they will need to be accommodated for longer on campus. Given that most students now have jobs with long hours, they will have to give up some of those paying hours to be sat in a classroom. This will cause problems, particularly for those with children as the teaching day stretches out to 6pm.

There will also be problems in terms of keeping them in a subject group for longer. You might think that a two hour session now stretched to three hours would occur at different times. Not so; it will be a block of time. That means being faced by one person for three hours, even if there is now time to have say, two lectures split by a practical session. The average attention span of a student is 15 minutes these days, so that is going to be a problem for all concerned.

Another issue is commensurate with the paid work of students. If we are to allow them to still take up gainful employment, we will need to timetable their ‘longer’ classes for a few days to allow them to do full days work – the preference for our students. This naturally means that the days they are in campus they will be sat in classrooms for most of the day.

I for one have one day where I get a single hour free during a 9am to 5pm period. That means any comfort breaks must be taken on the run. You might consider that I will at least be able to eat lunch. However, you need to remember that students who have to spend all day on campus are also those who need tutorial help while they are no campus.

And so, I do not envisage being able to eat lunch that often. It is another action I shall have to carry out on the run; perhaps eating and toileting together in order to save time? As long as I remember which hand I am using, I should be OK.

Someone/institution with foresight would have made school visits in order to explain how university works; but who am I to suggest this? All I do is stand in front of classes for seven or eight hours a day.

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Boys at Exeter academy wear skirts in uniform protest

I noticed the article in the title today. It made me think of all those who have to wear long trousers, shirt and tie to the classroom.

It cannot be ‘fun’ to stand there in full regalia in 35 degree heat without the benefit of air conditioning.

Of course, some colleagues have to teach around the world in higher temperatures. This is also problematic, but has been a trend for many years.

Some might say that here in the UK we only have such temperatures for a few days and so should just put up with it as they wont last.

However, it is easy to say this if you are used to such temperatures. I saw colleagues melting in the heat this week. Putting up with it stoically they let their sweat drip off their faces, only occasionally wiping it away when it became a nuisance.  Why did they perspire so much? Because they they were wearing dress code attire and there was no movement of air in the university buildings. staff had to bring in their own fans or beg and borrow them from the university.

It was notable that in my building their air temperature was 40c, but no one was told to relax their dress. It is ironic that in winter we are told to wear sensible shoes and wrap up warm if there is ice or snow, but in summer, it is everyone for themselves.

Ah, the  British.

Categories: colleagues, work

To TEF and Back

The TEF results are out and it appears that no one really knows how to teach!

Surprised?

I expect there is a lot of head scratching going on in the higher echelons of plenty of universities today.

At Southampton University, the vice-chancellor was aghast at being awarded a bronze. He said it was “hard to have confidence in a TEF which appears devoid of any meaningful assessment of teaching”.

I have to agree as I was never benchmarked in the classroom. So did they actually come into classes and view the quality of lectures? Of course not, that would cost money, lots of money.

In addition, it is a very subjective assessment, with different benchmarks for each institution. How can that have any currency for students making decisions about where to study? This lack of equity in assessment makes a mockery of the exercise.

The Value of Everynothing

There is an interesting article in the news today ‘Students say university ‘value for money’ falling’. I thought it interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly, because it was something I warned of a few years ago, and, secondly, because it comes at a time when students are voting in ever increasing numbers.

When fees were mooted I tried to advise my then HoD that it would open a door for consumer complaints, due in part to the notion that students could now put a ‘value’ on their education. Far from allowing students to see how much things cost and so understand they should put in more effort to gain the highest qualification possible, I advised it would allow them to evaluate every teaching session for a sense of ‘value for money’. This would now be the overriding concern of students rather than seeing how hard staff work to make sessions function as they should, student would sit back and silently say – “impress me”. This despite them not actually knowing what that might mean in real terms, other than whether the topic/delivery bored them or not.

My colleagues suggested that this could easily be negated by showing students how their money was being spent and why it was good value. Students of course, not being ones to understand that their fees pay for administrators, campus security, water bills, photocopying paper, telephone calls and personal tutorial time, as much as for the poor lecturer who has to excite them day after day, week after week.

I also pointed out that the rumours were true, teaching staff do spend less contact time with students, not out of choice, but out of necessity and workload ‘orders’. I for instance was only in front of a class for 10 hours a week at the time. However, it takes two hours to design, prepare and produce each hour in a class. This is after all HE and so there is no national curriculum to draw upon. In many ways, it would be useful, given that for every hour of class time I actually have four hours of non-teaching duties.

Some of you are now doing the maths on that and have come up with the result that fitting this into a 38 hour week is not possible, so must be untrue. However, I can assure you it is not untrue, my working week does span the 60 hour divide. I work most evenings and weekends and do not take leave until the summer months when I simply must have a break.

Of course this ‘summer’ time is when I am supposed to be at my most active non-teaching and non-administratively. So, instead of using my annual leave for relaxing, I am rushing round researching and writing. Yes, this will aid any career aspirations I might have in the long run, but in the short run, it is tiring. Other’s would use this leave (holidays) to go on holiday, or to do things with/for their family. Instead I sit forlornly looking out the window at the sun, listening to the sounds of people having fun, wishing I was them.

These are the things students should be made aware of, not the cost of photocopying paper. For them such trivialities are irrelevant; they focus on what they can see in front of them day-to-day – the lecturer. If my time is spent on non-teaching things, it is impossible to be in front of them for as long as they think in necessary to provide value for money.

You are probably wondering about that mention of voting earlier. Well, students voted in larger numbers this time and for parties that promised to eradicate fees if they won and even back-date that. Now that is ‘value for money’ in anyone’s book. The message that students pay for a host of things they use but do not think helps them gain their degree, is not getting through.

Of course it probably never will in a consumer focused society that turns everything into a cost. After all, who cares about workers in factories making high-end phones, it is only the quality of the phone that matters. Shoddy goods are made because workers are treated badly and paid little for their efforts.

Hang on, are there similarities here with how HE staff are treated by their employers? Low pay or below inflation pay rises, check. Staff expected to work more hours than they are paid for, check. Staff criticised for not being the ‘best’ or ‘most innovative’ lecturer, check. Staff criticised for not publishing at A* level, even though they have little time to do so, check. Staff criticised for not being ‘available’ to students 27/7, check. The list goes on, but you get the drift I am sure.

Students are the middle-aged voters of tomorrow, if they know the value of nothing today, then the future is going to have to be based on a consumerist notion of value in things, rather than people.

Perhaps we could put tags on everything to show the cost of each and every process on campus. 10p for flushing a toilet, 5p for loo roll, 50p for the lights being on while in a lecture, £2 for a lecture, etc..

That of course, is a recipe for a disaster no sane person would want.

So we are left back at the beginning, education is either free or someone has to do some very detailed explanations of the ‘value of things’. It would probably fall to the poor old lecturer again to do this as they are the very front-facing friction point for students. ‘Is that another job I have to do as part of my workload?’ Oh dear.

Get What you Deserve

I learnt a long time ago that if one wanted to get through life without all the regret and histrionics, one should not expect too much.

The ‘sweet spot’ is to go for small increments and anything larger that happens to you is a big bonus and will probably fill you with more joy than if you think you deserve it in the first place.

So, when new tasks come around at work, I do not think I will receive anything other than a crock! There will be no recognition for taking on additional tasks, just the unreasonable fact that what little time I once had to do the things to aid my career, is smaller than before.

That said, I have been able to mitigate the worst of it. Given I actually have a substantial role that no one else has been bothered to get their head round, I can make a strong case for refusing most of the extra work.

Having said that, if I were one to be flexible with rules and regulations, I could probably take much time to daydream in the office. Of course the hope would be that no one ever questioned my work, lest they realise it is mostly flimflam. Failing being very popular with my line manager, I have taken to knowing the rules better than they; much to their chagrin at times.

Do I get what I deserve? Sometimes; but that is only right if I want to avoid stress.

Categories: education, jobs, life, work

Board Time

February 12, 2017 Leave a comment

It has been one of those few weeks where you seriously consider the point of carrying on working.

Suddenly everyone wants work completed the day before yesterday, but they have not asked until the day after tomorrow!

What this tells me is two things. One they are stressed out and have been lumbered with more work than they can cope with. Secondly, and consequently, they have forgotten what they are supposed to be doing and only remember when it is too late to really do something about it.

Unfortunately I was on the receiving end of this stress driven anxiety the other day. A seemingly innocuous message arrived asking about a report they had asked me, by email, to write just before Christmas that was supposed to be due back that day.

‘What report was that?’ I enquired scouring my email for a hint of what I might have missed. I could find no trace of any email in my rather overstuffed work email account. A previous debacle had turned me into a hoarder of emails, so these days I rarely delete emails until they are at least three years old and some are kept in perpetuity.

Queue a headless chicken routine from the requester. This got particularly animated when I asked if they had been in contact before to enquire where  I was with said report. Of course they had not, probably too stressed to consider following up.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, I spent a very bored day and night, about 18 hours in all, when I should have been doing something else completing their report. At which point you would think they would appear grateful. Not this person, their retort to me when I sent it to them was more like ‘and don’t leave it so late next time’!

As this was me doing them a favour in the first place – the scenario is too long to go into here – I suppose I was well within my rights to feel aggrieved a this.

I have resolved in future to do less favours and act more like the character in the cartoon below.

 

Categories: colleagues, jobs, life, students, work

Anatomy of a Failed Meeting

January 30, 2017 Leave a comment

I was right, the meeting went something like this:

I was basically fobbed off and told they would look into it. I have waited a couple of weeks to report back, in case they actually did something positive.

In the end it has simply been stored up for another day.

I despair sometimes of people in charge. If they only took a brief amount of time to actually look at the job they are asking people to do, they would realise it cannot be done in time.

Categories: colleagues, jobs, work
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