#higher-ed, education, university

Professors as employees?

Yesterday Frances Woolley made an interesting post on the Worthwhile Canadian Initiative blog.

Prof employees

He quotes Akerlof and Kranton’s idea that a person who identifies with her employer – an insider – will think “she should work on behalf of the firm. Her ideal is to exert high effort.” He goes on to explain that there is often a misalignment between professorial effort and university priorities. Professors can at best be relied on to strive to be good professors, but we “are motivated by our disciplinary and professional identities, not our identities as university employees”.

This is something that managers frequently forget and they should read the whole post.

During these days of transformation, budget cuts and decolonialisation of the curriculum managers often talk about what “we” will do. We will improve the university’s standing in some or other rankings, we will pursue external consulting jobs to earn third stream income for the university, we will expand into Africa, or launch a MOOC.

It is going to take more than a few big ideas to get the Professors involved.


HigherEd in the news

I cannot even try to join the discussion on higher education and #feesmustfall. It is moving too fast and there are some proper experts out there. I do want to share some links:

  • Johan and Co-Pierre  explained the opportunity cost of fees falling best in Business Day last year: Universities face an impossible trinity: appoint more black scholars, reduce student fees, or cut spending on outsourcing and maintenance of facilities. They argue that the bursary system should be reformed with targeted support of the students that need it.
  • In a Medium post Justin Goro argued for corporate support and a form of securitisation of future earnings.

I have wondered why no-one has mentioned the inequity of using more of the tax payer’s money to fund university students. Arguments for more public finding ignore the fact that higher education has some substantial private benefits (The Economist has U.S. data on the ‘value’ of university). Although there are poor students, they are not “the poor”.

We all know that education in South Africa faces many significant challenges (and if you want to learn more about it, follow Nic and read his blog), but it seems to me that giving spending more money on the 15 students that somehow had the resources to qualify to go to university, will only fuel further inequality. Where are the other 75 protesting?

Finally, you should read Shaun Stanley’s “Devil’s advocacy for decolonised  curricula” in the M&G Thought Leader. He argues that the way that the curricula is taught can disadvantage particular students. Food for thought.

#higher-ed, EdTech, flipped classroom, iPad teaching

EdTech for higher ed

A few colleagues from our faculty have put together a workshop this week on using technology in your classroom. They want info and demonstrations of things that people are doing right now. I volunteered to talk a bit about the cloud services that I use, Dropbox and Evernote, and how I use the iPad app Explain Everything to make little voice-over-PowerPoint video’s for the “flipped classroom”. Here is my video of the story:

#higher-ed, e-guides, quizlet

Some education thoughts of the week

It was a busy week and today I was in three different meetings about teaching-learning. The first was about electronic study guides and we discussed a number of issues:

  • pdf-paper-behind-glass type electronic guides vs. full-scale interactive electronic guides, 
  • what do students need, 
  • what can lecturers provide, 
  • it may help to go green and save paper, but will it save money, and
  • do we have the IT infrastructure? 

All of these are relevant issues, but for me the key is to get more lecturers to buy into the blended-learning model. If you are not flipping your classroom, an electronic guide will just be something that you are forced to developed (hopefully using some template!) and it won’t be used properly for learning.

In the School we had a nice session on assessment, talking specifically about essay questions and papers and the memo’s and marking rubrics for those. I learned that I have to go and have a look at Bloom’s taxonomy and the action verbs again. A big word of thanks to Dr Inge Venter of Academic Support Services for her time.

Finally I also started playing with Quizlet. I hope that the first years will start using it and create a resource for studying the basic concepts of introductory Economics. Have a look at these (in Afrikaans):


#higher-ed, flipped classroom

Flipping ECON, chapter 1

This afternoon was the first of my flipped ECON111 lectures and I though it went quite well. The video was uploaded unto eFundi two days before and viewed 139 times by lunch time. The English version on YouTube had 2 views.

To start off the class I showed the video and then we worked through a few multiple choice questions. Hopefully I will have those on the Quiz system next week and then students can answer them before class on their mobile phones. Today we used the old-school show of hands. In cases where every option had some votes I first gave them the opportunity to explain their answer to a neighbour and then vote again. This was followed with some explanation from my side.

I still want us to spend some time making outlines or mind maps of a chapter’s content in class, but I first have to book a document camera for our room. Depending on the topic, I would like to add some group work and a debate to the MCQ-Q&A part.

It is way to early to judge success, but I enjoyed it.

I would love to hear your thoughts and comments.

#higher-ed, EdTech, research

Advice for post-grads

This week we are receiving the Master’s degree students of 2013 in the School and I am busy updating a few presentations. Along with the usual advice on how to approach the research proposal and tips and trick for academic writing, I also want to share my thoughts on how they can add value to the post-grad experience. This goes along with a post from last year about thinking like a researcher.

So I make a few PowerPoint slides and would love to get more input:

#higher-ed, badges, gamification, serious games

A few first thoughts on games and badges

At the start of the new academic year I am reading and thinking about the so-called gamification of education. I have not read enough for a proper overview, but want to get some thoughts out there. Put very basically, the idea is that learning can occur through play. That does not mean that there has to be some kind of simulation, on-line or in-class game, rather it is about a way of structuring the learning experience. The ideas behind game-based learning are:

  • learning-by-doing,
  • focus on problem solving, and
  • engagement of students.

A nice post on the Inside HigherEd blog explains how something like the Fitbit brings gaming elements to fitness and what that may mean for learning. (Fitbit is an activity and sleep tracker, similar to the Nike Fuel Band). You can set your objectives, in the fitness case, in terms of calories or steps. Measuring steps taken or floors climbed adds motivation. The data can be tracked and analysed, but there is also immediate feedback and recognition of milestones reached. There is a social element and you can share the process and the results. It is of course all very much mobile.

For teaching an Introductory Economics course this could mean:

  • finding a way for students to set their objectives, 
  • regular measurement of knowledge, skills and competencies gained, with quick feedback,
  • adding elements of sharing, collaboration and competition through badges and leaderboards, and
  • ideally it should all be easy to access – electronic and mobile.

I don’t know how to tackle all this yet, but it is being done. HBR blog network reports how Deloitte made learning in their leadership programme a game with great success.

I’ll keep everyone posted on the progress.