Monday, 29 September 2008

Assessing Courses for Teacher Training

At the start of the DipLaTHE course, each of us was asked to say what we thought teaching was. Each person's view is very dependent on their expectations of the course. Some people are expecting to be given practical advice and that the course will teach you how to be a good teacher. They are less interested or not interested at all in the theories of pedagogy. Others take a different approach they are more open to the ideas of theory and the possibility that being a good teacher is a goal that you always try to achieve but never succeed.

What is interesting to me is the range of proposals for the final portfolios. Almost everyone had changed their view of what they could learn from the course. Almost everyone had embraced a "deeper" approach to learning about teaching. This might be because they have read the assessment criteria and they have adapted their portfolio plans to meet these criteria, while their underlying beliefs have remained unchanged, but this is not true in most cases. So the course has been effective as it has changed the participant's perspectives about their teaching and student learning.

The course is effective because it has clearly stated aims and these are aligned to the course assessment. One of the most common causes for courses failure is that they do not have clearly defined aims and learning objectives, or if they do have objectives they are not successfully aligned with the assessment.

My own experience is a little misleading as I have been on such a course before and so I was not coming into the programme as a blank slate. When I was appointed as a lecturer in Exeter we were required to attend a SEDA accredited course for new lecturers. The course lasted two years but after the first year because of a lack of institutional support the main staff of the course left the University and without that momentum most of my cohort did not submit their final portfolios even if like me they had got to a draft stage.

So in terms of Fox's personal views of teaching I did not start the course from the same point as those tutors who took part in his survey. What was interesting to me was reading some of the same papers again. When I had read them before I had made some notes and now I could see how my own viewpoint had changed over the intervening years. My own experience agrees very much with Fox.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Differing Views of Higher Education

If I were to ask an academic, a student, a politician and a university vice-chancellor what is the purpose of Higher Education then I would probably get four different answers. If we restricted their answers to; wealth generation, subject engagement, personal transformation and critical citizenship then I would probably get different orders of priority, although all four might agree on the main priority.

As the numbers of students in higher education increase and the cost of going into higher education also increases then more students are taking a strategic/rational approach. Most students are not learning for learning's sake. Many students see a university degree as a stepping stone to a career, this is something you have to do, and you take the path of least resistance by taking a degree in a subject that you engage with most that will lead you towards your career goal. There is one group of students where financial considerations are less likely to be the most important factor in deciding to study and those are the lifelong learners who often take a course for their personal enjoyment and to broaden their knowledge.

The university vice-chancellor is also driven by the need for financial security and so students are transformed into customers and higher education into a market where the product that is being sold are the degrees. The demand depends on the institutional reputation also defined within league tables, which also depend on student/customer feedback.

The current educational policy aims to widen participation in higher education and to increase student numbers. Underlying this is the belief in a knowledge based economy and that a successful economy requires a better educated work-force. So again the economic priority is central.

Academics are the least likely to consider the financial consequences as the most important but they still understand that this is a driving force in the environment in which they are engaged.


Friday, 19 September 2008

Making maths engaging

A new report by Ofsted is complaining that secondary school maths teaching is teaching students to pass the tests and not to actually comprehend the subject. I did maths under the old 'O'-level system and the current exams are at least a bit more realistic and less theoretical but still maths teaching is not really fit for purpose and so it will continue to be taught in order to fulfill an artificial testing system.

Many children come to hate maths - they find it too abstract and inaccessible. I can understand their point. All through my undergraduate degree we were discouraged from the mathematical side by lecturers always emphasizing how difficult it was. Maths is not really like that, often it has a very simple elegance and when you study it properly it is not the impenetrable subject many teachers (who find it difficult themselves) portray.

Teachers want the students to pass and they think students find it hard so they teach the shortest path - they teach surface learning and this will cripple students who go on to further and higher education. Maths can be challenging but taught in the right way students will engage with it and find the challenge "fun" - something they want to overcome. As teachers we should not underestimate student's ability by teaching them bad habits.

Thursday, 11 September 2008

The Loss of Grammar

There is something about Neil Sean's column in Metro that he repeatedly makes the most awful mistakes in his spelling. He is obviously using spell-check and it comes up with a word, except it is the wrong one.

Today's examples is good:

"Model Agyness Deyn has no problem with nudity in her job. She explained: 'I am at one with nudity and I think that people should all stop been prudes really'"

Well done Neil, that is a monumental error.