Category Archives: education

Work rage.

I swear people really are getting dumber! Year on year I see basic academic expectations (the ability to write a coherent sentence, read a brief and follow instructions) fail to be met, even after a whole year of ‘study’. Doing away with strict entry requirements is just asking for trouble: how much more can the degree classification be devalued all in the name of bums on seats and pass rates..? The students we currently have don’t care – why should they? Paying rent and buying food is more important in their day to day life than studying – and life is tough; so the odd party is better for the soul and mental well being than reading a journal or three for an assignment which, in the grand scheme of things, is only 20% of a 15 credit module, fine, I get that. But customer culture, especially this cut-price ‘get everything for nothing’ society we appear to have nurtured, does not belong in Higher Education, not if obtaining a degree is supposed to mean something.

Turning learning into business devalues learning: valuing the trappings of knowledge over the actual attainment of knowledge is all that occurs. Current intakes seem to want the award paper without the work and will do the bare minimum required to get that bit of paper. You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink - unless you're a teacher. Then you'd better force feed that nag and hope it wins tomorrows race or you're fired.Sadly, because the more bits of paper we give out the more students we get in, the bare minimum is all we really ask for in the end due to pressure from above to keep that tracking spreadsheet happy: we cry the party line of ‘extend and enhance the student experience’ and we do our best to awaken interest and engagement but the sad reality is, every year fewer students respond and the bright, engaged, interested students are like rare glimmers of gold in the dross: but we – the overworked, over measured teaching staff are always to blame for low attendance or poor pass rates.

I honestly think that some of the students we’ve had this year are ‘secret shoppers’. You know, the people who sign up for things or visit places and be disagreeable/ hard to please in order to test the service. These students must be testing to see how far they have to push to fail: It’s the only explanation! I’ve had more no-shows and lack of submissions than the last 3 years combined: no work? yes, outright fails – I could rant up a storm about marking disputes over ‘satisfactory’ evidence but where there is nothing to mark at least I don’t have to rip out my hair and pull out the .5s and the .75s just to agree a grade at moderation.

We have the constantly late-submitters who argue the toss about a lateness cap being applied due to the missed deadline: which management generally uphold because, I mean, why should our paying students have to have ‘detrimental’ consequences for their actions? What’s a week here or there  (or even a whole semester for some) if by losing the lateness cap they manage to pass overall?
…but then there’s the ‘last-minuters’ (who management want us to get through by whatever means necessary as ‘the pass rate is the most important thing’) they, upon receiving a prescriptive list of the submission requirements for a basic pass (along with specific submission directions) proceed to send in a part submission via email, then another bit via StudyNet and even odd bits by hand on USB (never just one whole submission via the required directed submission route) and each time I have to point out the bits they’ve failed to address from the aforementioned list, resulting in multiple marking and feedback sessions for one assignment AFTER the official deadline – when it’s supposed to be one deadline, one submission!

These idiots (yes, idiots! I stand by the description – I’d even go so far as to call them fucking morons because really, why pay for a course and teaching expertise if you refuse to engage with it? What a waste of my time and your cash!) these idiots who have been chased and chased and reminded and cajoled and handheld through the entire process,  just shrug and begrudgingly offer up what can, at best, be generously called ‘evidence of work’ but in such piecemeal fashion that I have to keep returning it to them for improvements that need to be done just to meet the most basic pass criteria; and it all has to be checked IN MY OWN TIME because as an hourly paid  zero point contract employee I only get paid for timetabled contact time and agreed meeting hours: email and ‘informal meetings’ are not covered by my wage – yet we have to get these ungrateful, entitled, work-shy feckers to pass, otherwise the almighty spreadsheet may show crappy figures resulting in a discontinuation of the programme and therefore a loss of job for me: but what do these morons REALLY learn through this process other than helplessness and a lack of personal responsibility pays off?

I don’t mind extra help for the ones who attend, really try but struggle to ‘get it’ I’m happy to see them on my day off (well, willing) but these entitled bullshitting motherfuckers who obviously feel that their life is more important than mine: because obviously I have nothing better to do than work around them, I LIVE to respond immediately to their extension requests and stupid excuses. UUUUUUurrrrrgh! If I got paid for the hours these idiots waste I’d own my own home.

This is why no employer wants somebody who has just about scraped a pass in their degree: they know the quality of employee they will get – bottom feeders suck. If it wasn’t for the 1-2 students a year who really engage I think i’d have quit by now because some days teaching really is a thankless stressful unrewarding drudge.

 

Stupid assumptions

I’m currently doing my PGCHE certification and while I’ve passed the module necessary to obtain my AFHEA accreditation (ahhh thankyeow!) every day I’m on the course I am exposed to diverse learning and teaching theories, concepts and practice and while this is incredibly stimulating and great for professional development it’s more the conversations with my students that tend to stop me in my tracks and make me re-evaluate my understanding.

Yesterday a student complained that none of the feedback I had given her was positive; I was momentarilly stunned as I thought my feedback was ‘good’ and covered all the main points.
The assessment in question was a role play task and I had to write down feedback for both participants during the course of the role play. As this means writing targeted comments quickly I clearly addressed areas for improvement with positive suggestions on ways to do so but it seems the lack of approving comments with no application beyond a pat on the head detracted from the feedback so much that she did not want to engage with what I had said to her. I apologised for indirectly making her feel bad – obviously that is not the intention, I thanked her for the feedback and agreed that obviously this is an area in which I personally need to improve.

But the interesting thing here is that she then commented in a very surprised manner about the way I accepted the criticism; to me, feedback that can help me improve or show me how I could approach something differently is ALWAYS gratefully accepted (unless of course it’s given by family but we all have our blind spots eh?!) it was not so much the comment on how I handle it that stopped me in my tracks but her surprise on the matter; as though she had expected something very different from me.

I immediately saw then where I’ve been going wrong with some of my students this year.

I truly believe that my main goal in life is to become a better person; not just better with regards to skills and the application of knowledge but better in the sense of maturity and understanding of the people around me and the way I deal with them – I read a great deal and listen to the experiences of other people with several thoughts in the back of my mind; how can I use this? How can I improve? The blindingly obvious thing to come from all this reading and listening is that everyone is different and yet with my students I was still expecting them to have the same internal thought as me.
This is such a blinkered and false assumption – not to mention bordering on the idealistic that I kind of feel really stupid all over again for not realising I had it sooner; in my defence it isn’t that I consciously expect everyone to have the ‘how can I be better?’ mentality but when I give feedback I do it in the way that I would like; a way that would help me to do better next time; so it appears that I have fallen foul once again of the 1781 observations of Immanuel Kant that “we see things not as they are but as we are” as introduced to me 2 decades ago in a communications class at Daventry tertiary college – but hey; we can’t be BETTER all the time. I guess I just have to keep trying.

Microteaching for #7EDU1024 – Teaching And Supporting Learning

This is the first module for my Postgraduate Certificate in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education and although I have another day to go for the classroom learning element I can honestly say it is well worth doing if you want to be a good teacher in a higher education environment – which I most certainly do!

Today we all had our microteaching sessions and I will admit that I was ridiculously nervous about receiving my feedback as this is basically the second time I’ve ever had another lecturer present during my delivery (that I don’t also think of as a friend – friends tend to be less critical than others in your peer group) and there were 8 of them at once!

I sat through the morning with my stomach knotting increasingly tighter as each of the other members in my group delivered interesting and in 2 specific cases seemingly flawless 5 minute ‘lectures'(one of whom I really need to pinch the slides and microteach video off if he’ll let me have ’em) nearly everyone else in the group seemed to be brand new to teaching and in some cases never before having taught in a classroom environment. This knowledge just made me feel, if I’m honest, a little more sick; I’ve been doing this for a year now – what if they (very nicely) told me I suck? Eventually everyone else had faced their own personal ordeal and I finally had to get up and face mine.

Now, normally when I teach a class I’m not this nervous but there is just something about demonstrating knowledge or a skill in front of other practitioners that throws me into kinks and I guess I’m not alone in this feeling – but surprisingly, looking back at the video you can’t seem to tell. I look (even to me) fairly professional and ‘together’ so I guess the flipcam can’t pick up shaking hands if you keep ’em moving.

The most negative thing said during the feedback session was that I need to smile more (and it was a unanimous response so maybe my nerves were showing a little after all…) I guess I should be grateful about that but I know the geek in me was shuddering at the loose explanation given of internet technology; normally I do take more than 5 minutes over this and touch upon DNS and the fact that www is NOT the internet but a service like VOIP, file transfer and email which runs ON the internet using TCP/IP and that Tesco actually use TIE which is their EDI equivalent along with an explanation of how that works… But 5 minutes is not a lot of time and I did go over by about 25 seconds so I guess what I’m saying is that no matter how positive people are towards me I’m never truly happy with anything I do *sigh* guess THAT is what I really need to work on…

On the plus side almost every person in the room said they liked my house/ garden analogy to explain how an intranet is extended into an extranet so this is definitely one explanation to keep using. I also hadn’t realised how often I sum up as a way of reinforcing the points I make – it’s just something I now do naturally; seems motherhood is good training for becoming a lecturer because it was pointed out just this weekend how often I do this with elf.

The main things that I’ve taken away from this experience (outside of the knowledge that mutated proteins get sticky then bond together and cause disease or that gold is created at the heart of a supernova) are that I can boil down many of the core concepts I have to teach into 5-10 minute sessions like this and use them to break up my 3 hour classroom sessions. On a lighter note I’ve also learned that I badly want one of the document display OHP ‘thingummys’; being able to draw what I mean on a piece of paper where everyone can see it clearly on the smartboard instead of having to clamber on and off a chair to make full use of a white board in class would be awesome! I hate being short…

While trying to settle on a topic for this microteach I also thought of numerous ways of applying this technique to virtual sessions with videos and prezi presentations (as a kind of information treasure hunt) for 2 different modules and I know that it will make for a very interesting and informative class task to do with my students in another module; the constraints of the task itself made me look at my subjects in a slightly different way so I am completely sold on this as a method of teaching and peer review.

A parents duty

I’ve been concerned for a while about the achievement level of my 5 year old daughter, I’ve watched her friends as they read and write and count in the double figures and despaired over her complete lack of interest or attention span with these academic tasks and in the last few months have attempted to help her attain the skills I thought she should already have, but over the last 2 weeks I’ve started to feel differently about this.

I’ve finally stepped back and understood that I am not her academic teacher – I’m her mother.

Academically my teaching role in her world is a supportive one, it is not my place to insist she should know her ABC’s by now; it is my place to ensure she can dress herself, attend to her toiletry needs and be aware of the correct way to act in any given social situation, to help and support in an emotional fashion and see to her needs in the home.

She is pretty observant when it comes to the social side of things already and her verbal communication skills are (in my opinion) above average so the fact that she doesn’t always recognise her own name in writing should not bother me as much as it has done, she starts school on Monday and they will pick up in this area – I need to step back and let my little girl sort her own academic level or I’ll be spending the rest of her schooling life spoon feeding her answers and nagging about homework which will do her no favours later on when she has to plan her own schedule and take ownership of her own progress.

I need to chill. But it’s bloody hard to step back and quit worrying I can tell you that for nothing! My little girl is growing up but I need to enjoy the growing without worrying so much about the ‘up’.

I’ll get there, hopefully without driving her too far up the wall in the process…

What I do: the role of a teacher

Here the aim is to describe the role of a teacher within the subject area of computing and business at a higher education (HE) level; though a more accurate descriptor of this role may be ‘learning facilitator’ as in HE the student is expected to take ownership of their own journey and expand upon information provided in class.

The onus is on the teacher to be aware of how her particular module fits within the structure of the overall programme so that she may assist her department in providing instruction which fits seamlessly into the expected learning outcomes of each individual student. To this end the teacher needs to be aware of both the level of teaching and assessment required in order to support her students in realising their academic goals and to be aware of individual student needs that must be incorporated into her delivery and assessment methods. In computing it is the opinion of the author that a blended learning method is most appropriate. This is a method comprising both online and classroom delivery which may also extend into the way in which student learning is assessed; this could take place as computerised in class tasks or tests (both formative and summative) or the adoption of ‘virtual meetings’ for the sake of 1-2-1 tutorials in order to alleviate the financial burden/ time cost of lengthy travel into college.

Some of the barriers to learning which exist may be a direct result of outside influences (family problems, financial issues, disabilities) and as previously mentioned a blended learning approach may help counter these, however the flip side to this is that it pre-supposes every student has both the necessary hardware and connection in a safe environment; while internet use is growing rapidly it is sadly still not the case that every household has the required tools necessary to interact in this fashion. For these students, a blended approach may be more of a disadvantage as they will be unable to use the time outside of class as effectively as other students can, for these instances it is for the teacher to adapt her materials in such a way that they are accessible by all, allowing each student an equal chance to succeed.

Teaching influenc-ez…

I’ve realised today that I appear to have unconsciously imitated Mr Bruten.

This guy left an indelible mark on me (along with the knowledge of the meaning of ‘pugnacious’) he taught us English language in secondary school for one term and will always be one of my favourite teachers in memory. He was a pleasant enough guy but you put a single foot wrong and he would turn on you like a terrier with a rat. He peppered his lessons with random information (such as the meanings of long and seldom used words) and would do things like make us repeat him in a sort of sing song chorus in order to get his point across (I’ve yet to try this one with my guys but now I’ve remembered it I can see it happening).

He was friendly but demanded obedience, he made things fun but kept you on your toes with his mercurial moods, if he said he had a headache and didn’t want to hear a sound then (usually once Ricky McCormick had been forcibly ejected from the room) there was not a peep to be heard – if there was then the offender would usually be rubbing the part of their anatomy which had been struck by an accurately thrown piece of chalk; unless the question was one that had not been covered in the lesson delivery (I may have to institute a nerf gun policy for this purpose…)

There were also the days when we had pleased him so much that he’d just out of nowhere produce a pocket full of sweets and start handing them around at the end of the class.

I think the thing I liked most about his classes was the unpredictability of them; even when reading he would find some way of shaking things up. This is how I want to be. Learning should be fun, it should be something you look forward to doing because life is far too short to do things that make you want to slam your head through a window. Yes, I realise it is impossible to make things fun all the time – but it is also far too easy to make things boring; I refuse to take the easy route, I want my kids to take something from the class beyond the required material; I want them to start thinking as well.

This is why I’ve attempted to incorporate the use of chat rooms, in-class exercise contests and allow little bit of free chat where I will answer practically ANY question asked of me – OK so occasionally my response may be ‘is that really appropriate?’ but I think  a small amount of an ‘anything goes’ laxity within a moderated space is healthy; these guys come from all walks of life and incredibly varied backgrounds – if you can’t address that in some fashion in the classroom then what exactly are we teaching them beyond the requirements of an assignment?

I just hope I’m not quite as mercurial as Mr Bruten on the mood front; I will admit that he was a tad scary on occasion…

[insert interesting title here] my PhD studentship proposal

So today I handed this in along with my application form and two embarrassingly glowing references (which I honestly wish I could frame over my workstation to buck me up on THOSE days when I’m struggling to do a task I’ve set myself and am staring at the screen thinking “I’m so shit at EVERYTHING!”)

…But I digress.

Most of you will have no interest in the topic which has had me scouring google scholar for papers I could access (and to the delightful love who loaned me his athens details for the last few days I shall be eternally grateful as without that this proposal would likely never have been finished on time!)

But.. for those of you who ARE interested in VLE’s and PLE’s and actually know what they are – here’s my research proposal: (I know, the title could use a little help but if I actually do get the studentship I’ll have 3 years to work on it)

Developing PLE 3.0: a look at web 2.0 and the HCI considerations for use in an integrated composite based system

In recent years, there has been increasing interest in the field of electronic learning (E-learning), prompted in no small part by the changes in our global economy and the different methods and technologies now freely available for educational resourcing. A Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) also known as a Learning Management System (LMS) or in the case of large institutions a Managed Learning Environment (MLE) is arguably the most important component in the commercial E-learning delivery system.

Despite its long success, the commercial VLE has a number of problems in use as outlined in this observation from Vance Stevens in the electronic journal ‘On the internet’ (2012) who states:

“Even worse are the pedagogical implications of reliance on one-stop LMS. To varying degrees, both Bb and Moodle put course developers into a straitjacket when they call into play the same features over and over. This is not to say that neither program allows imaginative development, but it’s difficult for lay teachers to break away from templates that look alike and do exactly what they purport to do, manage learning. The problem is that too often, it’s the LMS that manages the learning and not the teacher as course designer…“

Seven years ago Siemens (2004) accurately described how the pre-packaged LMS ‘straitjacket’ approach is at odds with the rapidly changing demands on learners and those words are as true today as they were then:

“It appears that our real-life manner of learning is at odds with the design and implementations of most LMS. Strongly structured tools, with limited extensibility, face short life cycles in rapidly changing environments. Modularized approaches give the instructor or learner (not the administrator or organization) the control to follow the meandering paths of rich learning. Selecting specialized tools to achieve specific tasks – and being able to add them to the learning environment quickly – are critical to rich learning ecologies.”

Debate still continues about the best strategies for the management of online learning resources and the student experience resulting in newer technologies and a slow rise in educators breaking away from their institutional MLE’s to create a more personalised learning environment (PLE).

This occurs even in cases where the institutional MLE allows the use of in-house versions of the desired web 2.0 tools, as we discovered during the CABLE 3.0 ‘To build a virtual learning community across the Hertfordshire HE consortium’ project in 2008 (which first piqued my interest in the field of E-learning and VLE’s in particular).

We also learned while presenting at various conferences (University of Hertfordshire International Blended Learning conference 2009, 2010 and 2011 and University of Greenwich ‘Future Learningscapes’ 2010) that, due to their ease of use, blogging platforms such as WordPress or blogger are increasingly being chosen for use as e-portfolios across different disciplines.

The supposition of this proposal is that the main reason for such a migration is that there are Human Computer Interaction (HCI) issues within the use of the institutional offerings which make migration a more attractive solution to educators than simply learning how to use the in house options. This theory is based primarily upon findings made during my involvement in the CABLE 3.0 project, and observations shared whilst part of the ESCAPE and the HEA Inclusive cultures projects. Conversations with members of my extensive personal learning network on twitter, specifically regarding the use of blogs and wikis, alongside a recent in depth literature review on VLE design characteristics support the theory that it is indeed HCI considerations which are leading to PLE uptake:

“…For example, interface, respectively, screen design is found to show an impact on users’ perceived functionality of a VLE (Cho et al., 2009). That is, the better the visual appeal of the VLE’s graphical user interface is, the more users perceive the VLE to exhibit appropriate system functionalities.”

Mueller, Daniel and Strohmeier, Stefan (2011) p2511

The definition of a PLE as given at a conference in 2011 would suggest adaptation of a large legacy system to allow for such integration may be more time cost effective than attempting to change the institutional offering to attempt to match user expectations and the more specialised web 2.0 tools.

“From a technological point of view PLE can be defined as an integration framework that incorporates 2.0 technologies, supports interaction with other learning contexts, facilitates interoperability with other existing systems (such as learning content and resource repositories and VLE) and provides monitoring systems for learner’s activity.”

Conde et al (2011)

As this conference paper shows, work has already been undertaken to allow such integration to occur in LMS platforms such as Moodle and Blackboard, but from my observations of conference presentations over the last 4 years it seems WordPress is steadily gaining ground as the chosen content management system (CMS) at the heart of these PLE’s; purely because of the gentle learning curve for new users and its flexibility with regards integration with web 2.0 tools.

To add a pertinent example; my Bachelor of Science final year project was to build a website for a peripatetic music teacher that allowed some VLE functionality and her request was specifically for a WordPress installation for the perceived ease of use.

Therefore it seems reasonable to extend and develop this work and look at the ways in which a managed learning environment could integrate with this type of WordPress based PLE; perhaps by using an industry standard such as Basic LTI in a similar manner to the work on Moodle as highlighted at the 2009 CETIS conference. The beauty of such an approach is that there would be no reason for the institution to change the VLE, this would just allow the incorporation of web 2.0 tools to allow more flexibility for its users.

However, before this could occur there needs to be a PLE which reflects the reasons for migration from the institutional MLE and to discover which web 2.0 tools are currently being used in such a manner and for what purposes.

It is not the intention to suggest any company or institution need replace their current VLE in favour of the proposed PLE model, the final aim of the proposed PhD research is to provide a clear indication of the areas where integration with readily available web 2.0 tools is more favourable than further development of standalone ‘plugins’ thereby reducing the time cost of VLE design and maintenance in line with the Agile principle of eliminating waste.

To this end, the main questions this PhD research proposal seeks to answer are:

  1. What are the staff and students reasons for migration to PLE from MLE?
  2. What are the preferred web 2.0 tools?
  3. Why were they chosen?
  4. Of the most popular, which tools are best suited for inclusion in a ‘one-stop’ PLE model with a view to allowing MLE integration?

At a global level, this data would enable a component based system to be modelled that allows for an adaptable web based ‘PLE 3.0’. Having a PLE model would give educators the ability to ‘plug in’ the most suitable web 2.0 components for the course needs without having to do a lengthy search and suitability evaluation process themselves. In effect, this would give them the advantage of a commercial VLE without the lock-in of a template driven course design.

Having such data available would also be of use to the open source community who are responsible for the design and maintenance of many of the web 2.0 tools in use by educators. This would hopefully lead to improvements in such products and possibly even an interest in making such interoperability for VLE integration a priority in future versions.

A web 2.0 PLE model would also likely be of value to the commercial sector as it would mean small businesses could set up training packages using such tools in this manner with minimal cost and effort. At a corporate level, this would likely be an attractive alternative to current commercial VLE offerings as it would mean using tools already utilised in their every day workflow thereby cutting down on training overheads.

Future study would seek to answer the question of how such integration could take place and which would be the best method to use.

 

Resources:

Stevens, Vance (2012) “Learner-centered Do-it-yourself Learning Management Systems” The electronic journal for English as a second language: On the Internet 15(4) p 2. Available [online] at http://tesl-ej.org/pdf/ej60/int.pdf accessed 15th June 2012

Siemens, George (2004) “Learning Management Systems; the wrong place to start learning” Available at http://www.elearnspace.org/Articles/lms.htm accessed 15/06/2012 accessed 15th June 2012

Cho, V., Cheng, E. T. C., & Lai, J. W. M. (2009). The role of perceived user-interface design in continued usage intention of self-paced e-learning tools. Computers & Education, 53(2), pp216–227 Cited in: Mueller, Daniel and Strohmeier, Stefan (2011) Design characteristics of virtual learning environments: state of research Computers & Education 57(4) pp2505-2516 available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0360131511001461  accessed 20th June 2012

Personal Learning Environment conference (2011) Merging Learning Management Systems and Personal Learning Environments. Proceedings of the PLE Conference. Conde, Miguel A. and García, Francisco J. and Alier, Marc and Casany, María J (authors) 10th – 12th July 2011. Southampton, UK. available at http://journal.webscience.org/559/  accessed 17th June 2012

JISC CETIS (2009) Composing your learning environment: new models. Proceedings of the JISC CETIS conference; A Brave New World. Kraan, Wilbert and MacNeill, Sheila 10th -11th November 2009. Aston available at http://wiki.cetis.ac.uk/index.php?title=Composing_your_Learning_Environment%3B_new_models&oldid=18201 accessed 14th June 2012

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So, if you got this far you either REALLY like this field or you’re in complete procrastination mode at work – if the latter then SHAME ON YOU *cracks whip* get back to work! …If the former – whaddaya think? I obviously think of this as an interesting topic for research and I’m dying to get the lowdown on what web 2.0 tools people use in their course delivery – I’m even more interested in learning WHY those specific tools were chosen, how they’re being used and what the opinion is of them in use.

Somehow 3 years doesn’t seem long enough for this project when you look at it like that.

Reaching for the sky

The last few weeks have been spent perusing journal abstracts and any freely available papers I could get my hands on in an attempt to formulate a decent Phd topic in order to apply for a studentship at the University of Hertfordshire. The main problem I have had is paring down my million and one ideas and areas of interest into one decent question that has enough literature out there to avoid ‘tracks in the snow’ type issues.

The initial ‘boiled down’ idea which seemed promising based on a couple of abstracts I found was to do with a percieved difference in the critical success factor of BME students between online and offline learning – sadly when I managed to obtain an athens login to actually check my assumptions it turned out the actual papers said nothing of the sort – so scratch that!

After arranging to meet with Theo to ask specifically about his current work, I ended up sat in the humanities department office chatting with 5 or 6 lovely folk about their ongoing Phd work and my past experience and interests. Several times I was advised to work from an experience perspective for now as I can always migrate more towards my less understood areas of academic interest when I’ve done enough reading to justify it; apparently for the application process I merely need to show that I’m a good candidate who can structure a proposal that the department can resource and supervise. They actually EXPECT you to change focus at least slightly in the first 8 months as you start immersing yourself in the literature of your chosen field.

This is encouraging. While not extensive, my experience in projects conducting participatory action research is recent and fairly varied, I’ve presented several times at UK conferences about these projects and once at the international Blended Learning conference on my own final year project and experiences as an undergrad. This shows I can take what I’ve learned and present it to others – a Phd requirement from what I’ve heard.

The hope is that I will be accepted onto the studentship, actually put some of my ideas into action and make a difference. it’s like the ultimate dream ‘job’ for me: being paid to study and help other people academically in a place I can walk to with people I already respect and admire.

So yeah, fingers crossed and any advice re the UK Phd application process gratefully received. It’s a long shot as competition for these places will be fierce but I’m hopeful – and what’s life without hope eh?!

I’ll show you mine..

jumping girl
While it may come across as a little smug, I’ve written this for the next time I feel crappy because of the ME/CFS or when certain family members try to pull me down and denigrate my achievements; I can look back at this post and feel proud that not only did I finish my foundation degree with a commendation after missing the first 6 weeks of the final year to nurse a newborn child, (and get a student of the year award in the process for also managing to help run a university project) I then went on and NAILED my bachelor degree as a direct entrant.

Sorry? Did I say ‘nailed’?

You’re damn right I did; 1st class honours baby, read it and weep at my brilliance!.

Being a direct entrant to the final year of this course at the University of Hertfordshire meant that unlike most of my fellow students who had enrolled in the first year, my final grade was dependant purely upon the work completed in this year; no prior grades to depend on as a backup for any failed module. (So no pressure eh?!)

I had to defer all my semester B modules because of the ME/CFS issues and this resulted in half my grades being in alphanumeric format (semester a modules) and the new numerical format the university had switched to during  the gap between my initial semester B and the retake semester B

As the table below shows – anything with a numeric grade of 80 or above is deemed ‘outstanding’ BUT, as you’ll see from my DES grade,  an A1 which is the highest possible alphanumeric grade available, is only worth 78 numerically – how someone is supposed to achieve an ‘outstanding’ is beyond me; still, guess I can live with an overall descriptor of ‘Excellent’ *grin*

Numeric Grade  awarded

Undergraduate

Grade Descriptor Equivalent Classification Descriptor
80-100
70-79
Outstanding
Excellent
1st Class Honours
60-69 Very good Upper 2nd Class Honours
50-59 Good Lower 2nd Class Honours
40-49 Satisfactory 3rd Class Honours
30-39
15-29
0-14
Marginal fail
Clear fail
Little or nothing of merit
Not applicable

The degree in question is Bsc Information Technology (web based systems) and it comprised of several modules:

Professional Issues in Computing – Core module
This 3 hour exam showed that I have learned:

  • To understand the standards expected of a computing professional, and the responsibilities that these place on those occupying these roles;
  • To appreciate the legal, professional and ethical issues that can arise during the course of the work of a computing professional; and have an understanding of the impact of computer-based systems on their stakeholders, and on society in general.
  •  To be able to recognise legal, professional and ethical issues in the context of professional computing practice, and deal with them appropriately;
  •  To be able to articulate a well-informed, up-to-date opinion on legal, professional and ethical issues in the context of interactions with, for example, colleagues in professional computing practice and non-technical colleagues.

Grade achieved: 72 (converted from A3)

Digital Entertainment Systems (Digital Media Production) – Optional module

The required coursework showed that I;

  • Understand issues in the development, design, implementation and evaluation of high quality digital media;
  • Understand the wider context of digital media, for example culture, research and future trends in digital media, for example audio and video formats;
  • Understand usability and Human Computer Interaction as it applies to the development of interactive multimedia systems;
  • Developed the range of skills required in order to produce digital media.
  •  Demonstrated professional competence in areas such as image, animation, video and audio production and editing;
  • Developed scripting and programming skills in order to create interactive digital media systems

Grade achieved: 78 (Converted from A1) <– felt so cheated that I got the highest possible alphanumeric grade and in the conversion it wasn’t even an 80! I was quite gutted to see it drop like that.

Principles and Applications of Web Services (technology) – Core module

The 3 hour exam showed that I have learned to

  • Understand the different components of typical web service architectures including data representations, messaging protocols and service description based on XML
  • Understand the different approaches to implementing web services across a range of application such as mash-ups and enterprise services
  • Generate requests to a web service using appropriately formatted requests, and process or display the returned XML data
  • Create a web service using appropriate standards, protocols and tools to enable third parties to access particular data or functionality

Grade achieved: 72 (converted from A3)

Principles and Applications of Web Services (architecture) – Core module

Another 3 hour exam which demonstrated my knowledge of

  • Different approaches to web service architecture including mash-ups, RESTful services, and Enterprise Web Services;
  • The role of XML standards in developing service oriented architectures such as XML Schemas, BPEL, and WS Policy/Addressing/Security.
  • How to use XML schemas and data in the specification and configuration of web services;
  • How to evaluate the applicability of different web service architectures in a given situation.

Grade achieved: 71

Web Application Development (Design) – Core module
The 2 hour exam and additional coursework portfolio showed that I have learned

  • To understand and explain the importance of separating style from content;
  • To discuss principles and practices of good web site design and the standards that web design should comply with.
  • To participate in the planning, design and development of a web site, selecting suitable tools and technologies for the task;
  • To evaluate and improve existing web designs to make them more accessible or effective.

Grade achieved: 72 (converted from A3)

Web Application Development (enhancement) – Core module
This was another 3 hour exam which showed that I’ve learned

  • To describe the document object model;
  • To discuss the capabilities and pitfalls of using client side scripting in web sites.
  • To create or interpret state charts of the interface;
  • To add client side scripting to web sites using standards compliant instructions;
  • To incorporate visual or time-based media to a web site that does not affect the function or accessibility of the site.

Grade achieved: 69

Web Based Systems Project – Core module
This is the one all the lovely folk in my social networks got sick of hearing about – but I really owe the folk of the web for getting me through it, random questions answered, emotional support and the odd kick up the virtual behind meant that the coursework I submitted and the website I demonstrated proved that I had learned to:

  1. Understand a coherent set of Information Technology principles and techniques appropriate to the solution of a practical problem that involves the development, deployment, or management of a Web-Based System;
  2. Appreciate when and how to apply those principles and techniques to the solution of problems in Web-Based Systems.
  3. Select and resolve a substantial practical task which requires applied knowledge of Information Technology in the context of a Web-Based Systems problem;
  4. Plan and conduct a programme of practical work independently of close supervision;
  5. Select and apply an appropriate set of criteria against which their own project work and the work of others may be evaluated;
  6. Document, report on, and critically evaluate  work in a manner appropriate to the needs of a specified readership.
Grade achieved: 71 <– 90% of that grade was down to my ability to follow through on point 6; all hail the English teachers of my past! Danetre comprehensive school and Daventry tertiary college – I owe you too.


So, that’s how I got my degree, by learning a lot of rather interesting and hopefully useful ‘stuff’, it involved a lot of hair pulling, several late nights and relapse inducing cram sessions, So I also know how far I can push myself mentally before things go south on the health front.

No, there was very little programming and coding involved in this last year aside from the tweaking to templates and scripts conducted as part of my project; but I have the basic knowledge needed to go away and teach myself how to do all the fancy stuff.

The main thing this course has taught me is what I am not. I am not a web designer, nor am I a web developer; I am a knowledgeable client or at best a hobbyist. But you know what? That’s ok. I don’t really want to be either of those things anyway, I discovered my love of e-learning during this academic journey, I know how to create reusable learning objects, what tools and techniques to use to aid students with their studies and how to explain what is needed to the REAL techies and creatives out there with either a crude prototype or the necessary models.

I can liaise between geeks and normals with ease in a work environment and find the solution to a problem even if I can’t fully implement it myself (yet) I can write reports well, keep (mostly) to deadlines and GET THE JOB DONE – despite health and home issues.

Basically, I ROCK!

So I’m going to stop beating myself up over the job search issue and give myself a well earned break until Bella goes full time to nursery in January, then I should be able to manage 20hrs a week (travel dependent) in some FE/HE institute working on anything to aid in the creation of an inclusive blended learning environment.

Endings and fears

I’ll start by pointing out that I’m not your average student; I’m a woman in a field statistically more favourable to men and it’s been said by more than a few of my tutors that I have drive and focus beyond the norm.

If this is so then it’s probably because I’m a mature student with a hidden disability and a toddler.

As a mature student I already have experience of the workplace and know about the unspoken politics at play; I’m aware that I have to work three times as hard as the average student if I want to become employed at the end of my degree – especially in the current economic climate. I’ve experienced homelessness, I’ve experienced poverty to the stage where all I’ve had to eat are porridge oats and cold water (don’t recommend) and I’ve experienced the horror of the benefits process and all the ways they grind you down and try to stop you from trying to claim your due.

The drive and focus mentioned above are easily explained in one word: Fear.

I’m afraid that I’ll never get the chance to work again because:

  1. My illnesses dictate that realistically I can only take a part time position
  2. Already having a child also means the possibility of more time off work
  3. As a woman, what if I get pregnant again? (not something I’d do again through choice I assure you *shudders*

Yes, legally none of this should have any bearing on my fitness do do a job but an employer will have to consider the fact that the nature of my illness could result in a relapse and sick days without warning – which under the disability act they have to cater for; so even a part time employer may stumble a little when considering me.

These are the strikes I have against me even before an employer looks at my ability, so for me to compete in the working arena against able bodied folk younger than me without responsibilities, I have to perform well above average.

So, if I seem to be focussed on doing anything that will make me a more attractive candidate for work, imagine just how much harder I’ll work in an effort to retain that position should someone out there take a punt on me? If I can get a position whereby I can work flexi-time and/ or from home, mainly to my own schedule; I could do wondrous things people – just pray that somebody out there will give me the chance!

Like Social networking? Want to meet Kylie Minogue?

In best meercat voice:

SIMPLES! All you need to do is become a student and sign up to social networking site Studyvox.co.uk.

As the lovely lady is the site patron you too could wind up having a cheque or a music award passed into your sweaty grasp – it happened to me; it could happen to you.

Kylie minogue presenting me with my cheque

This time around there were 3 things each of the winners of the inaugural bursary awards had in common:

  1. we were all students
  2. we were all female
  3. we all thought this was some kind of a hoax or scam.

I kid you not, I mean; C’mon! Kylie Minogue handing out cash for nothing more than signing up to a social networking site?

It sounded insane! So much so that Stef and I even organised a house sitter ‘just in case’ while we travelled down to the event..  *blushes* paranoid much?

It’s taken me a while to recover from the exertion of travelling and being sociable which is why the date of the cheque is 25th of February but this blog post is happening in March – the joys of living with ME/CFS I’m afraid ( but this was an event that was definitely worth the health fall-out!)

Both Stef and I have been converted to the view of the studyvoxfoundation crew, we really want them to make of the studyvox.co.uk site everything they dream of. The people behind the charity are wonderful, caring passionate people not lacking in intelligence and their ideas are ambitious; they want to take on every big social networking site out there and as Kev the CEO put it “we want to take everything they’ve got horribly wrong and do it RIGHT!”

They want to create an online home for students, a place where;

  • their profiles will not be held up out of context during a job interview as evidence of lying and debauchery
  • they have representation and help with social needs (things supposedly catered for by the NUS)
  • where they can talk freely about their courses and the towns in which they live
  • a marketplace for them to sell anything from textbooks to clothes and furniture
  • a one-stop shop for all their financial needs and concerns
  • somewhere safe to upload their music, imagery and video footage

In short they are taking on Facebook, myspace, MP3unsigned, Youtube, directgov and any other site you can think of that can hold some kind of benefit to students.

It’s audacious, it’s ambitious, it’s totally nuts – but they are so passionate about their vision that you cannot help but be swept along by it.

The bursary awards are to be a regular thing, any student who signs up to StudyVox is in with a chance of winning – it’s definitely on the up and up, it’s legit and I have the pictures to prove it. If you don’t believe me then just look at some of the news coverage of the event on the BBC and in the Telegraph and obviously the foundations own news site the StudyVox echo (I have several times just to remind myself that I didn’t dream the whole thing)

They want to ‘put their money where their mouths are’ and show in a real way that they are there to help support the student community.

At present I will admit to a lot of teething problems with the social networking website – but that is less down to the vision of the group and more to do with the company paid to do the coding and design; I think, given time and a lot of tweaking this site could well be a force to contend with, the NUS would be well advised to take note and learn a few things.

On education..

Ok, master mutta got me thinking (stop laughing you lot, I do happen to think on occasion!)
I know he wasn’t really referring to education in the UK but in a more general sense, the thing is, his post does raise some valid questions:

  1. What is the purpose of education?
  2. How can we produce employable students faster?
  3. Can 2hr exams really reflect a student’s abilities?
  4. What role should parents play in their children’s education?
  5. Does making education free and compulsory solve or compound the problem?

Now if you look to the comments of said post you’ll see that my response to #1 was thus:

Education is supposed to help prepare a person for life after education, give ’em the best start possible

(which is basically what the first definition on dictionary.com says if you check the above link.)

The easiest way of producing employable students at a faster rate is to specialize as soon as possible. This is where the old apprenticeship schemes were invaluable, not only were the students learning, they were actually working as they learned.

We were talking about hospitals during our recent visit to Yogi’s – unsurprising since his mother is a radiographer and I’ve recently experienced the ‘delights’ of hope where she used to work.
She was discussing a student she recently had in her department, apparently they no longer teach these radiography students anatomy.
Now, forgive me.. But if I’m being sent off to x-ray I would like for the person putting me in front of a radioactive device to have the knowledge of where to point said device so I don’t have to go back and have it done over and over again..
And they say there’s no dumbing down *shakes head in disgust*

As for these 2hr exams. It’s ridiculous – there is no falser environment than an exam room, how can you judge a students potential based entirely on that? I know coursework plays a part in the proceedings, but to assign such a large portion of a students final mark to a one off event seems to me a tad unfair.

Now we come to the meat of the matter as far as I’m concerned.
I’ve had a look at what passes for a curriculum designed to prepare a child for life after education. I have to say I’m not impressed.

Gone are the seemingly obvious subjects of home economics and domestic science, in their place we have ‘citizenship‘. My interest was piqued by this title I have to say – It seems quite Orwellian, perhaps even a tad Marxist, alarmingly so for a supposedly democratic society wouldn’t you say?

I had to chuckle when I read the aims of said subject though:

Citizenship education equips children and young people with the knowledge, understanding and skills to play an active part in society as informed and critical citizens who are socially and morally responsible. It aims to give them the confidence and conviction that they can act with others, have influence and make a difference in their communities.

Ooohhh-kay! and from the growing rate and number of youth related crime in this country it’s obviously having a big effect.
Just thinking back to my own schoolday experiences, looking at the curriculum and the current number of idiots streaming from our school gates – I have to say I’m all for homeschooling.
There is a saying that if you want something done properly , do it yourself. Now I’m not saying that if I want a shower fitted properly, or a new boiler installed I’d do it myself – I’d just rather not have anyone employed by the government do it (trust me on this, you should see the pigs ear the council workers made of our re-wiring and boiler fitting, the british gas guy went on at quite some length about the level of incompetence displayed)

This same feeling most definitely applies towards my children (imaginary though they be right now) I have nothing against most teachers, for the most part I feel they have the hardest job in the country – especially with the way the system binds their hands before they can do it.
I just feel that our education system needs ripping apart and returning to a sterner age.

As with most things these days there is a definite feeling that the government have got it all wrong. More and more people are turning to homeschooling out of dissatisfaction for the current system. It is not as a lot of people seem to believe, illegal to do so – according to the 1996 education act, it is parents who are responsible for providing their children’s education ‘in school or therwise’, suitable for the age, ability and aptitude of each child.

This is where my answer for question #4 becomes apparent. A responsible parent plays the most important role possible in their childs education, they put a great deal of thought and care into the consideration of who will best form the groundwork for their childs future.
This is why I would homeschool for as long as funds and knowledge will allow.

With homeschooling everything becomes a lesson – and lessons do not have to be dull exercises written in books or learned by rote, everything has a practical application and can be taught as such, you need no classroom when you have the world itself to learn from.

Manners should be taught as standard and by example – children are the greatest mimics alive, their earliest standards are fixed by observing those closest to them.
I’m ashamed to say I have a cousin who really should never have been a parent – yet she has three lovely children. Children who all have mouths like sewers and who think nothing of kicking a person out of their way and demanding anything they want as opposed to requesting politely.

We all know kids like this and we deplore them, the people we should really deplore are their parents and the people who have allowed television standards to drop knowing full well that bad parents leave children in front of the tv at every given opportunity.

Education starts at home. The first teachers a child knows are it’s care givers, if they don’t set the right pattern first then the right pattern will never be set.
But I’m going slightly off topic here, mainly because people like my cousin make me want to beat them soundly over the head and sterilise them forever so they cannot harm another childs future through their stupidity.
Yes I know that sounds incredibly arrogant, but no mother should kick her 2yr old child out of the way of the tv and call it a little shit while holding a fag in one hand and a beer in another, nor should she force her children to call every new man in her life ‘dad’, they can do it as and when said man proves himself worthy of the title.
But hey, what do I know eh?!

Anyhow, back to homeschooling.
Once walking, talking and potty training are out of the way there are so many things you can begin teaching a child that will be of actual use in life – lets face it, how many times at school did you say to yourself “whats the point of this?” only to leave school and find that, actually, there is no point.

I would have to teach my child:

  • reading
  • writing
  • maths
  • gardening
  • cookery
  • sewing
  • art
  • languages
  • computing
  • sport
  • sciences
  • music
  • drama
  • decorating
  • woodworking
  • transport and maintenance (car/ motorbike/ cycle)

Obviously I’m not completely proficient in all of those subjects, but for most I have a basic knowledge and I’m not averse to sharing the burden with other parents or people with better credentials than me with the rest of the subjects.

In a homeschooled environment it would be very easy to combine, gardening, cookery and biology. Not only would my child know how to grow his or her own food, they would know the science behind what makes a plant flourish, they would also know just what nutritional value there was to be had in each plant and why it was good for them – they would also know the best ways to prepare and cook said plants so that they were tasty while retaining said nutrients which in turn allows us to teach chemistry.
As an added bonus a child will always at least try a dish they’ve cooked themselves and so I doubt I’d have a great deal of trouble feeding my lot a healthy balanced diet.

Sewing, art, woodwork and decorating could also be combined and this should bring into play the science of physics along with more than a small helping of mathematics.

Computing could also be linked into any and every one of the above tasks, from word processing, to databasing and spreadsheets, photoshop, email, internet and the basic care and maintenance of a pc from the ground up (easy enough to do when the other half is an I.T consultant)

As to languages, I’d take a course or have someone come to the house and I would learn alongside my child, we could do our work together and make a game of it by competing to see who can speak most fluently when we holiday in that country (because why learn a language if you are never going to visit the place it is most spoken?) this in turn would help teach that most basic of concepts, tolerance for the beliefs of others, it is my hope that by keeping a child constantly amused and entertainingly taught, they would then find curiosity in things I have not greatly touched upon, and take it upon themselves to use the tools I’ve given them to explore to their hearts content (obviously I’d be keeping an eye on this exploration, kids are still kids after all)

Oh yes, in my mind I have it all planned out. All that’s lacking is the home and child.
And a large dose of reality *grin*
I doubt very highly this would come about without a great deal of compromise between parents, my views on certain things and his do differ quite a lot, that and when he reads this and see’s the bit on sewing, gardening and cooking.. Well, I bet you’ll hear the laughter in Canada K.

The thing is it would be just as cheap to homeschool as it is to send your child to school, once you take into account uniforms, school trips and dinners, miscellaneous costs throughout the year for materials, transport and all the other little fee’s that appear unannounced..
Another plus, without the influence of peer pressure and bullying, it is likely your child will not suffer that deplorable lust for branded products, which not only makes life less expensive, it means your child will learn to see through advertising gimmicks and make informed purchasing decisions once they are in a position to do so – instead of merely going for the same thing everyone else is buying in order to ‘fit in’.

Yup, I really can’t see the advantages of school over home other than time.
Because of work many parents cannot afford to stay home and teach their children and so they look for the best school they can find and hope for the best. There is nothing wrong with this – but to these parents I would say “in what way do you supplement your childs education? What do they learn from you?” I know what people like my cousin would say and it’s usually a 2 word expletive.
The response I’d expect from people like myself is that they’ve tried to provide anything they feel the national curriculum lacks.

Question #5 is a bit of a tough one since I have no hard or fast opinion on this. I applaud the fact that education is (for the most part) free, if that were to change it would be a sad thing indeed.
The thing I would change is the compulsory part. If children don’t want to go to school then don’t make them – offer a couple of alternatives instead.
Bring back the apprenticeships, have community projects that the children can participate in until they feel they would like to be educated in a more formal way – make it so the schools are not bound by age, make it so they are bound by inclination.

If, for example, every person in the country is allotted up to 11 subjects of their choice for free, more kids would stay in school and be attentive because they’ve decided themselves what they’d like to do.
I’d suggest for the first 2-3 years of schooling they are offered tasters in every subject you can think of and then at the end of that time can choose the ones they wish to focus on, just no more than 11.
Should they show an aptitude for one or 2 subjects then pending a reference from the teacher they can go onto further study – for free.
Once they’ve shown this much aptitude it should be a matter of ease to find companies willing to offer work placements and possible jobs just as certain vocational courses do now.

Obviously there’s much to be tweaked in this vision for the future *grin* but I’ve just noticed that it’s gone midnight and I’d like to be asleep before the idiot downstairs starts playing his music again (in the vain hope it doesn’t wake me up tonight) I hope this proved entertaining and enlightening for you master mutta – I thank you kindly for the inspiration and hope others stop by and put their tuppence in for you.