What is the difference between strong, thorough and exceptional? – Weeknote #36 – 15th November 2019

BT Tower in Fitzrovia
BT Tower in Fitzrovia by James Clay

One interesting read this week was this blog post

An ‘Edinburgh Model’ for Online Teaching Programme: Notes from a pilot run.

In this post, Dr Michael Gallagher, a Lecturer in the Centre for Research in Digital Education, describes how he and colleagues drew on current expertise and research within The University of Edinburgh to inform and design a new online course…

It was an interesting read, but I find it equally interesting that we are still having difficulty with delivering and teaching online that we still need to run pilots.

There has been substantial amounts of research and practice in this space, this is reinforced by the forthcoming A Manifesto for Teaching Online which, as indicated in the article on the  ‘Edinburgh Model’ was a source for the course, much of what is distilled in the course comes from the outcomes of the Near Future Teaching project and the Manifesto for Teaching Online.

This isn’t though a course which is delivered online, this is a course for teaching people how to teach online and it wasn’t initially delivered online.

This first pilot of the course was run face to face to allow the team to focus on specific areas and get rapid feedback from participants.

In my reading and experience, people really get to understand the challenges and affordances of delivering online if they have first hand experience of being taught online, both bad and good. A similar thing can be said for non-online teaching (or what we sometimes call traditional or face to face teaching. This is something that all teachers will have experience of, being taught in a face to face or traditional manner before they start teaching themselves. Though I wonder can we teach online if we have never been taught online? Should be said though the team are planning to run the course fully online in early 2020.

I suppose there is for me an element of frustration that the concept of online teaching isn’t new, there has been considerable research in this space, but it’s still something that we as a sector struggle with. Hopefully sharing experiences from these pilots will help, but we have been doing pilots for decades now…

Chinatown in Soho in London by James Clay
Chinatown in Soho in London by James Clay

On Tuesday I was off to London for the “first” content meeting for the Data Matters 2020 conference. Train problems meant I had to join a meeting remotely on the train, I had hoped to be in the office by the time the meeting started. I also had to leave the meeting early, as I had to travel on the tube. The experience on the train wasn’t at all satisfactory, the connection came and went, as did the quality of the call. I don’t mind attending meetings remotely, but it does reinforce the need for a decent connection.

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay
Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

On Wednesday and Thursday I was back to London for the Advance HE PVC Network Meeting. There were some interesting sessions across the two days. The first session for the meeting was on Higher Technical Education. I was reminded of Jisc’s higher and degree apprenticeships toolkit.

This Higher and Degree Apprenticeships Toolkit shows how effective application of digital technologies can support the delivery of the new apprenticeship standards at levels 4, 5 and 6. It is aimed at universities and colleges, and organisations delivering end point assessment (EPA).

The second session was on the sensitive subject of grade inflation. This has appeared many times in the media There is the challenge of improving the quality of degrees, which should result in higher grades, without appearing to be inflating grades just to improve the position of your university in the league tables. One slide showed that the issue wasn’t a recent phenomena and probably wasn’t due to the massification of university education, or the introduction of fees.

I was also reminded of the new initiatives that have been announced to protect the value of UK degrees.

The importance of institutional autonomy is something that came up as well as institutional distinctiveness. Celebrate differences, or should we all be the same?

Nostalgia about the past isn’t necessarily helpful either. Just because you experienced something, doesn’t mean that the contributing factors are the same now.

Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, has been a stern critic of the increase in good degrees, accusing universities of having “entrenched” grade inflation, and claiming that when he graduated in 1997, “you could count the number of students on my course who got firsts on one hand”.

 He attended the University of Bradford, where the rate of first-class degrees awarded nearly tripled in seven years, from 11% in 2010-11 to 31% in 2016-17.

 Williamson said: “I am clear that universities must end grade inflation and I will be watching closely to see if these initiatives do help to tackle the issue. I expect the Office for Students to challenge institutions which continue to record unexplained rises in top degrees awarded.”

One document that did prove interesting was from the QAA that sets out common descriptions of the four main degree outcome classifications for bachelor’s degrees with honours – 1st, 2.1, 2.2 and 3rd.

One of the things that I felt would be challenging is answering this question consistently across all subjects within an university and across the sector as a whole.

What is the difference between strong, thorough and exceptional?

Kiss the Hippo Coffee by James Clay
Kiss the Hippo Coffee by James Clay

Thursday I was at the second day of the PVC Network Meeting. The first session was on the Subject Level TEF pilots.

Though the original focus of the TEF was on both providing information and enhancing provision, now the rhetoric appears much more on providing information to prospective students on the what to study, where to study and the how they can study.

One of the challenges for the subject level TEF is categorising subjects. Unlike in further education where an A Level Economics is generally the same across England, is an Economics degree the same across all universities? They may be similar and there may be a similar core, but outside that core, there could be big differences.

Another challenge is providing evidence of impact for the TEF submission, this is where I started to think if analytics and data recording could make this evidence collection easier.

Image by rawpixel from Pixabay
Image by rawpixel from Pixabay

Friday was a day to catch up on the week and plan for the next few weeks where I have some more meetings that I am running or participating in.

I had a chance to discuss the online community I want to build for our Technical Career Pathway.

My top tweet this week was this one.

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