Friday, 19 December 2008


Yesterday I wrote about CPD and how it can fit in with what a university should be doing. I was also thinking about what Schank had said about delivery and the best way of delivering CPD. So these are some other jottings.

What is the use of CPD?

CPD reaches the students that other teaching cannot reach. Many people want to get out of education and start earning as soon as they can, but later they find that they do not have the knowledge or skills that they need and so CPD is the best opportunity to reach these people. It also has great benefits for the university. We would like to believe that those who stay on to do PhDs are the best of the best but we do lose real talent in the graduates who want to earn a living. Amongst them might be brighter stars than those who do continue, and so this is a way of reaching out and finding them. Not all great undergraduates make great PhD students and not all great PhD students were amazing undergraduates (Einstein for example). So a second chance to spot talent is always good especially when they will have built up a wealth of real-world experience.

Bite-size Learning

If you are going to get something out there and get industry interested you have to break it down into nice tasty bite sized pieces. Industry want results and they want to know that the course that they have paid for is going to give them returns. They cannot afford to have employees away for long periods at a time. So it is important to make courses timely, short and relevant. It is better to have them take many little bites than try and force them to eat the entire 4 course meal.

Just-in Time Courses

This is an idea of Schank's that relates to the bite sized learning and making the courses relevant. If you want someone to remember something then teach them when they need to know it and when they are going to use it. A course on statistics will only be remembered if you are going to use those statistics straight away. So as well as making it bite–sized we have to orientate the bites to fit with what people are going to need the course for. I know that the only time I learn something well is when I want to know something new and I go and research it – find the papers and the textbooks and read then so I can carry out a specific task. This is what we have to mimic when we are teaching, to make it student relevant.

Thursday, 18 December 2008

Continuing Professional Development

Roger Schank believes that Education will change dramatically in the future as we make it fit for purposes. One of the problems we have in University Education is the question of what a university is for and what they were created to do. The idea of the university comes out of the medieval period a place to train the scholars who were largely for the religious orders. The red-brick universities sprang up to supply the industrial revolution with new man-power. So what does a university do now? Trying to get the balance right between research and teaching is particularly difficult. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of thinking that a university position is about your research and to forget the service to the "community" to create new potential. Even if there is consideration to teaching it is often focused on producing the next research student and not on producing someone who will benefit society.

Now we have a global economic crisis it is more important than ever that we produce students who are employable and this is often no compatible with students who would be good research students. We need to focus on the practical and not the theoretical (I am a theoretician so look who is talking). We need to teach students skills and this might not be a bad thing for universities as a whole. Science in particular seems so abstract to many people that it is losing its connections to the real world. John Horgan wrote a book called the "End of Science", where he wrote that science has become ironic science, big experiments with unproven conclusions that are of little importance to most of us. I am not as pessimistic but we do need to think about what we do as scientists. We need fundamental research but this has to be balanced with more applied research and we need a sensible approach to combining them both.

So what has all this got to do with CPD? Well this is something which universities can do while they try and find the balance between the fundamental and the applied. We can at least do some sort of outreach bringing the fundamental research to a wider audience and through this engagement hopefully both parties can benefit. The fundamental researcher can see new directions for their research and the student can get the latest techniques to try and solve the important problems.