The Society for Research into Higher Education

Ian Kinchin

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Complexity of representation or simplicity of thought

By Ian Kinchin

Typically, concept maps that are more complex are scored more highly than those that appear simpler. This has been the basic principle that has guided the analysis of concept maps in numerous publications. Consequently, maps that include more stuff have been seen as a better indicator of understanding than those that contain less stuff. I have always had a problem with this and have been aware that some high-flying students who clearly have an excellent understanding of a subject (along with some subject experts), have been observed to construct smaller maps (that score less) than many of their less expert colleagues who score more simply by including more stuff.  I don’t think this is because geniuses are lazy, I think it represents the different ways in which people see the same content. This is one reason why I have avoided using any of the available scoring rubrics for concept maps (whatever the claims for validity and reliability) in recent years as I feel they mask the underlying story.

Dowd et al., (2015), provide a helpful paper Continue reading

Geoff Stoakes

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Grade point averages

By Geoff Stoakes

In May, the Higher Education Academy (HEA) published a report about the pilot study into a national grade point average (GPA) system. This study was prompted by the debate around the perceived limitations of the honours degree classification (HDC) system, in particular, insufficient differentiation between student performance, a lack of recognition outside the UK, and limited transparency in how the HDC is calculated by different higher education providers.

In his speech on 1 July 2015 at Universities UK, Jo Johnson, Minister for Universities and Science, highlighted that one of the things he wants to focus on in the forthcoming green paper is how a Teaching Excellence Framework can help improve how degrees are classified. He believes that the standard model of classes of honours on its own is “no longer capable of providing the recognition hardworking students deserve and the information employers require.” Continue reading

Ye Liu

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China’s one-child policy helped women make a great leap forward – so what now?

By Ye Liu

The Chinese Community Party’s decision to end its infamous one-child policy has significance beyond its impact on the country’s demographics. What was missing from all the discussion and reflection on the policy’s impact on the size of China’s labour force and on families’ human rights was the positive consequences of the population control policy – particularly for girls’ education.

The one-child policy, introduced in 1978, opened up educational opportunities for urban girls. Before its introduction, large families invested a little in each child or prioritised their resources in favour of sons rather than daughters.

But when parents were restricted to having only one child, and if it happened to be a girl, she benefited from being the focus of all their aspirations and investment. Continue reading

Ian Kinchin

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Pedagogic paupers: where’s the distinctiveness?

By Ian Kinchin

When you scan a range of university web sites, they all seem to claim their institution offers a distinctive student experience. In many respects, this may be true. However, when it comes to pedagogy, I wonder if there has been a trend towards homogenisation rather than distinctiveness?

Pressures of work and the emphasis on research outputs appears to drive many academics to “play it safe” when it comes to classroom practice. The irony is that these same academics would claim to be serious researchers – people to reflect, innovate, question and experiment. And yet these ‘researcher traits’ don’t seem to be carried over into teaching. The ‘it’ll do’ sentiment of the unenthusiastic amateur seems all too common, though (I would hasten to add) not universal.

I would not for one moment claim that the pressures on university academics are not real, the squeeze on resources and the restrictions posed by accrediting bodies (for example) all appear to drive academics towards a conservative approach to teaching. The old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” seems to be the underpinning philosophy for many.

However, my own undergraduate friends and relatives often provide me with stories and anecdotes that suggest that, if not broken, much university teaching still requires something of an upgrade. Continue reading

Image of Rob Cuthbert

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Green shoots before the Green/White Paper

By Rob Cuthbert

Over the Summer the new(ish) English Minister for HE, Jo Johnson, has been making speeches about his plans for a Teaching Excellence Framework, with hints about what it might contain. But only now, as SRHE News goes to press in mid-October, is a Green, or perhaps White, Paper expected. Clearly these things are easier to talk about in broad terms at election time than to lay out in specific terms six months later.

It was easy to see why the Government want to bring in a Teaching Excellence Framework. We already had a Research Excellence Framework, and outgoing Minister David Willetts was making increasingly apocalyptic statements about teaching quality both before and after he ‘stepped down’ from office. Nobody is against excellent teaching, so a pledge to reward it was an ideal manifesto-filler: it didn’t give any ground on undergraduate student fees, and it might even have placated some students (and their parents) about the value for money of their £9000 a year investment. And of course it might be possible, when we get to the detail, to justify uncapping fees completely for at least some of the Russell Group, and perhaps even to take more money off the rest, as the REF and the RAE have tried so hard to do.

This wasn’t, of course, where we started from. Continue reading

Ian Mc Nay

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Teaching Excellence Framework

By Ian McNay

This contribution is adapted from a paper first written to brief the trustees of Coventry Students’ Union, and just before a THE feature on senior staff from Coventry. So, it emphasises the need for a student involvement in assessing teaching excellence, but the messages have resonance for the rest of us, I hope. There are four basic questions to ask:

  • How do we define excellence/s? (The plural is important; excellence is contingent, it varies by purpose)
  • How do we measure it? Output and outcomes may be easy; process less so
  • How do we encourage and develop it?
  • How do we reward it?

None have yet been answered, even at a basic level.

Jo Johnson’s speeches to UUK had some good points, but Continue reading

Kelly Coate

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Reflective teaching in higher education

By Kelly Coate

Those of us who research higher education, and universities in particular, are endlessly offered rich sources of data from one of the most enduring and fascinating institutions in the world. Higher education is an unusual site of research, given the wide range of disciplines that can be employed and the diversity of approaches that can be taken. It is unusual for other reasons too: here in the SRHE we continue to develop as a very strong community of higher education specialists, but we know that almost anyone who works in academia might fancy trying their hand at doing higher education research, most likely in their classrooms but increasingly with other groups such as administrators or managers. Some of us may despair at the lack of knowledge and depth that higher education research ‘amateurs’ bring to bear on the field, but others of us encourage novices to get involved, mainly through the postgraduate programmes in academic practice that have become embedded in many institutions. Therefore another distinctive feature of higher education research is that we speak to many audiences through our publications. Mainly – as in common with other disciplinary specialists – we like to talk to each other, but our books and articles are increasingly used in those academic practice programmes just mentioned, and so a wide range of other disciplinary experts are now engaging with our work. Continue reading


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