Going local – Weeknote #70 – 3rd July 2020

A shorter week for me, as I took some time off for family business, well a birthday.

The Guardian reported on the Universities Minister, lambasting English universities for letting down students.

The 20-year crusade to get more young people into higher education appears at an end, after the universities minister accused England’s universities of “taking advantage” of students with dumbed-down courses that left them saddled with debt.

In a significant shift in policy, Michelle Donelan declared it was time to “think again” about the government’s use of higher education to boost social mobility.

Though wasn’t her government in charge for half of that time? What it appears this will mean is that courses which result in high paying jobs will take priority over those that don’t.

I have always felt that education was so much more than getting qualifications and as a result getting highly paid jobs. Some courses are useful to society, but not from a financial perspective. The question is though who pays for those courses, is it government or someone else?

I have been working on some vignettes about the future. They provide ideas, concept and inspiration on the future of higher education. They are not detailed plans of what is going to happen, but will stimulate discussion amongst leaders, managers and staff in universities on what might happen and what could happen.

Here is an early example:

The localised university

We have become so accustomed to young people leaving home to go off to university that the concept of not leaving home to participate in higher education, though common to many, was seen as a somewhat alien concept.

However with the cost of travel and housing rising, as well as concerns about climate change and the impact of travel and commuting on the environment. Many universities decided to take the university to the community.

Some of the delivery would be done individually online, it was also apparent that the connectedness and social aspects of learning would require students coming together.

In small towns across the country, groups of students would come together to learn. Even though the teaching was delivered remotely, the learning was done together. Core aspects of the course would be delivered to larger groups, whilst more specialised teaching would be delivered to smaller cohorts or in some cases individually. The university would either build, convert or hire spaces for teaching and would use the internet to deliver live high quality video to groups of students from subject experts from across the country and in some cases globally.

The students would be supported in person and locally, by skilled facilitators who would ensure that the students would get the appropriate help as and when required.

Content would be delivered digitally, using online resources as required, or even 3D printing of physical objects in the home.

Specialist and practical subjects would be delivered at regional hubs that could be used by students from any university. This would mitigate the need to travel regularly or commute to a campus everyday.

It became apparent early on that much of student support could be delivered remotely, however local specialist support providers working for multiple universities could easily work with students in their catchment area.

Some bemoaned the decline of the “student experience” on campus, but what was discovered early on, in the same way has had happened on physical university campuses in the past, students would, using social networking, create their own local groups and societies, and then would arrange their own social and networking events. Some of these would be online, by many would happen at local social spaces.

I have been on different vignettes in order to make people think, inspire and stimulate discussion.

I spent some time on our mandatory training. This online training needs to be passed, however in order to take the assessment, you need to go through all the learning materials before you can access the assessment. I partly understand why this is done, but one course, which I shall call “state the bleeding obvious” was really painful to go through, as it was so badly designed and written. The test wasn’t much better, as the multiple choice questions were written in a way which the answer was really obvious. Good multiple choice should make you stop and think about what is the right answer. Another issue I have with these kinds of assessments, is they take no account of prior experience or knowledge. So in a previous job I actually wrote the data protection policy and was considered the data expert in the organisation, I still had to go through the materials before I could ace the test, passing with 100%.

I am not sure even of the value of mandatory training as well, does it actually work, or does it merely demonstrate that all staff have done the mandatory training. I think a good example of that was “how to sit in an office chair” training, which I know virtually all our staff have done, but when I walked around the office before the lockdown, it was very apparent that the training had not worked, people were ignoring the advice and were sitting “badly”. Another thought on that, is the training merely there to protect the organisation? So you’ve got bad back from sitting badly, well that’s your fault, as you passed the training module, but you decided to ignore the advice!

So really my thinking on this is, how could we approach mandatory training, how could we make it work better and actually have an impact?

A variation of my blog post on transforming the lecture appeared on the Jisc website and got a bit of traction on the Twitter.

I already am aware of a few universities that are using the concepts outlined in the series of blog posts with their academic staff to support them in transforming their courses for September.

My top tweet this week was this one.

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