Monday, 22 May 2017

Adventures in Learning and Teaching

Last week I attended the University of East Anglia Learning and Teaching day. As I no longer work for UEA it was both strange and wonderful to be with my former colleagues talking about subjects I'm so passionate about, and interesting to see from an outside perspective the work UEA is currently doing in this area. Rather neat then that the theme of the day was 'Outside in: how external factors influence our teaching'.

In fact, the main external factor driving the discussion of the day seemed to be 'students as customers' - a debate that's been preoccupying Higher Education for a long time now, but resurfacing now in the light of the Teaching Excellence Framework and generating an explicit link between 'teaching excellence' and charging students more money. Professor Andy Wood's keynote was arguably provocative, outlining how the university could (and probably is) seen as a business by government, and where in that arena we are falling short. For example, if research is our 'product', then it is too slow to the market for adequate return on investment. How can we improve this?

I find this way of looking at HE uncomfortable to say the least, and in an environment where we change our focus to be driven by consumer demand, I worry that the value in great learning and teaching becomes lost. Great teaching does provoke students to have ideas and provide the messy, mistake-led learning space in which students can explore them. But it doesn't then have to turn those ideas into money making enterprises. Not everything of worth is a product to be sold. 

Much of my day riffed on this theme: discussions of embedding employ ability into the curriculum; linking student assessment to industry; being explicit about the skills students learn which will lead them into employment; evidencing 'learning gain' while student are studying. However there were also some fabulous ideas explored with regard to working in partnership with students to shape their learning experience, using triggers such as photographs to explore student-led ideas and fostering independent learning through MOOCs and supported online learning. 

I can't tell you the future of HE or how the role of teaching and learning is going to be forced to change to fit restrictive and metrics-driven funding structures, but at least I can tell you that there are some very talented, enthusiastic and dedicated educators out there providing a fantastic experience for students. 

Resources from the day will appear here: and I've saved my highlights from the day on Twitter below: