Showing up

At the midpoint of the LMS evaluation marathon, I’ve been cooling my heels with an appropriately dressed colleague at the “social media in higher education” professional conference previously mentioned. What’s the difference between a professional conference and an academic/disciplinary conference?  Just about everything, from the business attire dress code to the regularly refreshed glasses of iced water and the bowls of mints and the corporate pens and the sit down lunch and the fairly decent coffee with little pastries and…

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Birds in our sleeves

Underline everything, I’m a professional in my beloved white shirt (The National, ‘Squalor Victoria’) One of the troublespots of shared governance in higher education institutions is the tone to strike in corporate communication with students. Is there a business unit that can stalk them on Facebook without seeming creepy? Who should follow their tweets? What happens to the brand if they’re dissing us to their friends? We don’t even know how to communicate with them officially, given that we’re institutionally…

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Going forward

One of the challenges facing a higher education institution trying to choose a new learning management system is the blind taste test that passes for product demonstration. Typically this involves being hustled through a demo site that’s been populated with made-up students in imaginary classes exchanging imaginary one-liners with each other via a discussion board, while imaginary academics set up imaginary course content, and the whole thing flows through to imaginary gradebooks or generates imaginary tracking reports. Because the number…

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That’s right, we’re not from Texas

End of semester.  Winter.  Grading and student feedback, plus those odd moments that make you stop and think, like the shine on a wet pavement. Students who write and say that they appreciated being in class with someone whose first language wasn’t English because they learned something about a bigger world.  Students whose first language isn’t English writing to say that it was being in an online class that made it possible for them to participate at all. Given the…

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Vertical thinking

The “education vertical” sounds a bit more thrilling than it is.  The first time you hear it, it seems to share the weird poetic syntax of “the body electric” and “the life everlasting”. It’s education, on an updraft. A bit of googling fishes up a turn of phrase that has more concrete aspirations. This vertical is both market and solution  (“Callista cracks open education vertical“) and it continues intermittently to appear in the promotional talk of software vendors and government procurement….

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Blank slate thinking

It seems we’ve made the decision to standardise our first year teaching mode to two hours of content delivery, with one hour weekly for class discussion.  At the moment, more than half teach in this way, but some disciplines offer shorter lectures and longer discussion.  It’s a classic bit of historical untidiness, like an uneven streetscape in an area destined for gentrification. Straightening this out will make our individual workloads easier to calibrate, and in turn this will make everything…

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Tablets, tablets everywhere

Ferdinand von Prondzynski, VC at Robert Gordon University, is asking why universities have been relatively slow to mainstream the innovative teaching practices that will match the speedy uptake of mobile and tablet devices by their students.  As he puts it, technology-enabled learning shouldn’t be “the preserve of nerds”. The need to break out of the nerd enclave is critical for any institution hovering on the brink of committing to an enterprise-wide LMS contract. This is going to cost so much that…

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Open all hours

Ben Wildavsky has a message for Australian universities.  He’s the author of The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities are Reshaping the World, just out from Princeton U. Press. He’s keen to promote the benefits of free trade in higher education, not least of which is that “knowledge is not a zero sum game”, and that if we create more of it in one country, we don’t lose it in another. Somehow this is calling to mind the joke about…

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Online learning in the iron triangle

We’re hearing from every direction that online learning is going to be the solution to the coming bricks and mortar shortage. This week, Swinburne DVC(A) Shirley Leitch writes that: If we are to meet the target of 40 per cent of 25 to 34 year olds holding a bachelor degree by 2025, we need to move beyond bricks and mortar to learner-centred solutions. I’m not so sure that these two things are simple opposites.  My daughter is at the stage…

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Bursting point

There’s a conversation building about whether we’re wise to look at higher education through the lens of the economy, given that nothing much looks good through the bottom of that dirty glass. Markets achieve extraordinary results using the levers and pulleys of scarcity, rivalry and desire, but this volatility doesn’t always help the big public institutions that deliver other kinds of social and cultural benefits, like education. So we half-protect these familiar institutions of public life from the market in…

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