Category Archives: teaching

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…