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The Society for Research into Higher Education

Ian Kinchin


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Sick of Bullet Points

By Ian Kinchin

There is a plague that has infected higher education over the past decade. One that has been so invasive that it has changed the habits of teachers and the expectations of learners in ways that are quite profound, but have gone largely unnoticed. I am talking about the infestation of lectures with bullet points.

It is a hobby-horse of mine, but I am sick of watching bullet points (especially when presenters think it is cool to have them zooming in from the side of the screen, one-by-one), and I regard it as a sickness among our colleagues that needs to be treated.

Students have asked me if university teachers are instructed to read out bullet points during their lectures. I obviously say, ‘no’, to which the students reply, ‘so why do they do it?’. Everyone I speak to tells me that reading points to students in lectures is bad practice, and yet there appears to be a form of pedagogical paralysis that prevents some colleagues from breaking free of this affliction.

There are a number of assumptions that I make in my mind (fairly or unfairly) about presentations that consist of nothing but bullet points. I assume that the presenter lacks the imagination to offer anything other than bullet points (the greasy-spoon mentality of ‘chips with everything’). I assume that the presenter is lazy, and cannot be bothered to present materials in a more engaging way. I assume that perhaps the presenter doesn’t know the content well enough to transform the content into a different format. I presume that the presenter has not been able to construct a coherent schema in his/her mind and so has to work with atomised chunks of content – whilst expecting me to generate some coherence from the presentation.

I even think there is a direct correlation between the extent of bullet point usage in a presentation and the level of teacher dynamism and audience engagement, the “bullet point effect”:

The bullet point effect

PDF of figure:  The bullet point effect

For these reasons, I have all but given up going to keynote lectures at conferences. By the time I get to the third or fourth slide of bullet points I have switched off. And I am not alone. I make a point now of sitting near the back of the audience during these sessions; partly so that I can make a quick getaway if it gets too boring. But more interestingly, so that I can observe the audience to see what they are doing. From the speaker’s perspective, it often looks like the audience is engaged and they are busy typing down the pearls of wisdom on their laptops and tablets. From the back what you see is a sea of screens on which the audience are busy responding to their e-mails.

I was sat in the audience of a keynote a few years ago next to a colleague who knew of my hatred of bullet points. Six slides in and we hadn’t seen anything but bullets. Then the presenter announced the next slide as “the triangle of research”. My ears pricked up and I looked at the screen in anticipation of a geometric depiction of said triangle. What did we get? Three bullet points. To which I said to my colleague, “where’s the triangle?”. His response, “I suppose we have to presume it is in his head – so I wonder who the slide is for?”.

There are exceptions. There are presentations that have been really good. But there seems to be a correlation (at least in my mind) about the quality of the PowerPoint and the quality of the presentation. Some excellent presentations have used PowerPoint, but to show things that cannot be adequately summarised in bullets. Things like graphs, maps and photos. I have even been to presentations where PowerPoint has not been used at all. Imagine! Yes, it can be done. One of the best presentations I have been to recently used a single slide – an image that was the focus of the lecture. Also, colleagues need to remember that PowerPoint can be turned off for part of a presentation – just press ‘B’ on the keyboard and the screen will go black.

I was recently unable to attend a presentation in London. One that sounded potentially very interesting and was to be led by the great and the good. Although in the end I couldn’t go, I was pleased that the organisers would send me copies of the presentations from the day. When the files arrived in my e-mail, I was eager to see what I had missed. Unfortunately, all I got was a lot of bullet points. From this I was unable to determine if there was any coherence or innovation in the ideas that had been presented. It was like seeing the chapter headings from a book. Useless!

One year, a group of us did hatch a plan to produce Tee shirts for a conference with the logo:

“STOP USING BULLET POINTS – THEY RESULT IN NON-LEARNING”.

Perhaps next year, unless a cure is found in the meantime.

Reference

Kinchin, I.M., Lygo-Baker, S. and Hay, D.B. (2008) Universities as centres of non-learning. Studies in Higher Education, 33(1): 89 – 103.

Professor Ian Kinchin is Head of the Department of Higher Education at the University of Surrey, and is also a member of the SRHE Governing Council. This post was first published on Ian’s personal blog, https://profkinchinblog.wordpress.com and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.

Camille Kandiko


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International research on the student experience: Power, methodologies and translation

By Camille Kandiko Howson

The SRHE Student Experience Network featured a discussion at the 2014 SRHE Conference exploring international dimensions of student experience research. We featured three international speakers to provide examples of topics and challenges faced when conducting international and comparative research:

  • Madeleine Kapinga Mutatayi , from Congo DRC, Kinshasa, Phd student Department of Educational Sciences Center for Instructional Psychology and Technology at KU Leuven, Belgium
  • Dr Johanna Annala, Senior Lecturer, School of Education, University of Tampere, Finland
  • Dr Rebecca Schendel, Lecturer, Institute of Education, UCL, UK

The event was chaired by Student Experience Network co-convenor Camille Kandiko Howson with co-convenor Matthew Cheeseman in spiritu.

The Student Experience is growing in importance around the world (Barber 2013), whilst at the same time decreasing in common understanding, shared definitions and research coherence. This may be due to variety of foci of research into the student experience, including:

  • Curricular (learning gains, assessments, breadth and depth) (Douglass et al 2012; Crosling et al 2008)
  • Co-curricular (additional opportunities, such as community engagement, study abroad, and industry collaboration and employability) (Mourshed et al 2012)
  • Extra-curricular (accommodation, lifestyle, sports, societies, politics) (Thomas 2012; UNITE 2014)

These levels are then further compounded by levels of analysis, including individual, group (such as minority groups and international students), institutional (on topics such as governance, engagement and satisfaction), and inter/national (such as access, progression, labour market and rankings). Following the paradox of globalisation, and as countries around the world position higher education in society (such as dropping tuition fees in Germany and dramatically increasing them in the UK), what key issues about the student experience are of relevance across higher education research, beyond national politics and policies?

Two questions were used to stimulate topics for discussion:

  •  What research questions are not being asked about the student experience?
  • What research and evidence could promote productive, effective educational models of higher education?

Across national contexts, the importance of measuring and researching learning strongly emerged. Several delegates raised troublesome issues when Western views of educational research and practice were used in other contexts. This encompassed staff and student perceptions of the learning environment and their relationship to each other, in terms of culturally-bound classroom and research practices. This highlighted power issues between staff and students, particularly the notion of students publically challenging or critiquing staff, even in confidential research settings. A fundamental question arose about different national and cultural interpretations of the concept of student voice, and the need for more comparative work about what student voice means in practice in different political contexts, inside and outside of the university setting.

The challenges of borrowing, or imposing, Western views were also discussed in relation to methodologies, particularly the use of large-scale surveys. The US-based National Survey of Student Engagement offered both the opportunity for comparative research of student engagement and student learning using a validated tool but researchers noted that many of the underlying theories are culturally-bound, such as ‘ideal’ forms of engagement between staff and students and notions of democratic participation, particularly in non-Democratic settings. From East Asia to Africa to the Middle East, different perspectives and modes of interaction were discussed. Related methodological issues were challenges in translating English-based research resources into other languages and cultural settings.

A useful framework picked up from conference presentations was that of using ‘powerful knowledge’ and ‘powerful understanding’ when crossing borders, using international methods and tools and in partnering with colleagues.

This seminar concluded with a desire to share opportunities for collaboration and participation in exploring these areas of research. This entry is a start to this endeavour, welcoming comments and proposals for projects that could carried out in multiple national contexts and engage the international higher education research community. So please comment, share and get in touch with one another!

Dr Camille Kandiko Howson is a research fellow at King’s College London and co-editor of The Global Student Experience: An International and Comparative Analysis

Barber, M., Donnelly, K., and Rizvi, S. (2013) An Avalanche is coming: Higher Education and the Revolution Ahead, London: Institute for Public Policy Research

Crosling, G., Thomas, L. and Heaney, M. (2008) Improving Student Retention in Higher Education- The role of teaching and learning, London: Routledge

Douglass, J. A., Thomson, G., & Zhao, C. M. (2012). The learning outcomes race: the value of self-reported gains in large research universities. Higher Education, 64(3), 317-335.

Staddon, E., & Standish, P. (2012). Improving the student experience. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 46(4), 631–648.

Mourshed, M., Farrell, D. And Barton, D. (2012) Education to Employment: Designing a System that Works, Washington, DC: McKinsey Center for Government

Thomas, L. (2012) Building student engagement and belonging in Higher Education at a time of change: a summary of findings and recommendations from the What Works? Student Retention & Success programme, London: Paul Hamlyn Foundation

UNITE (2014) Living and Learning in 2034- A higher education futures project, University Alliance and UNITE.

MicheleGirotto


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The Catalan universities and the ‘unseen scenario’ of a hypothetical independence

By Michele Girotto

The self-determination referendum is a current hot topic in Catalonia. A reflection of this atmosphere is the pro-independence and the right to vote march that took place in Barcelona on 11 September during Catalonia’s national day. The debates surrounding the referendum are bringing forth issues of history, culture, language, legislation, economic and financial affairs, as well as education. Concentrating on the single topic of education, there have been several arguments engendered over the past years and especially in recent days, about whether an independent Catalonia would perform better in its national higher education system.

According to the president of the Vives Network of Universities, a non-profit organisation that represents and coordinates joint action in higher education, research and culture of 21 universities from 4 different European countries in the Mediterranean area, a 100% Catalan government would pay more attention to higher education Continue reading

MarciaDevlin


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Election Promises

By Marcia Devlin

When they were in opposition, the now Australian government promised they would make no cuts to education if elected. But that was before the election, you see. Now they have been elected, they are proposing a twenty percent cut to base funding for universities.  It’s after the election now and things are very, very different. The main difference I can see is that opposition are now the government.

While in ‘proposal’ form at the time of writing, this cut will almost certainly go ahead. The government have also proposed a significant increase in the interest rate for the loans Australian students take out to pay their contribution to their study costs through the Higher Education Contribution Scheme.  This increase and related changes will deter some students from studying at all; will create lifelong and crippling debt for many graduates; and will have a particularly adverse effect on women graduates who take time out to have and raise children while their study loan debt compounds. There is almost universal opposition to this component of the government’s suit of proposals so its trajectory is less certain.

The government have also proposed the deregulation of fees for study. Fee deregulation has gone so smoothly in the UK, you see, and resulted in such an improvement in fairness, equity, quality and all-round happiness for everyone that they simply could not let the opportunity to do this in Australia pass. Oh, wait … maybe that’s not why we’re doing it. I can’t remember … Continue reading

Vicky Gunn


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Interdependence and HE systems

by Vicky Gunn

My life has entered a period of dramatic change. I am not referring here to my imminent move from an institution in which I have worked for nearly 18 years (Glasgow University) to a new adventure at Glasgow School of Art. No, the dramatic change I refer to here was my intellectual discomfort around the Scottish independence referendum. For me, the last few months have involved a growing realization that the fragile imaginary social fabric (to adopt a phrase of Maurice Bloch’s) which is stitched together to tailor the United Kingdom was being unpicked by two seamstresses of quite different hues: one focused on the holistic ‘sew the patchwork quilt together but slightly differently’ argument, the other on the ‘unpick the lot and start again’ one. Both have seemed wanting in my mind, because both appeared to come from an ultimately misleading question: should Scotland become an independent country? Continue reading

Image of Rob Cuthbert


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Embracing plurality and difference in higher education – necessary but not sufficient

By Rob Cuthbert – Editor, SRHE News

The SRHE Annual Research Conference in December 2014 invites us to reflect on Inspiring future generations: embracing plurality and difference in higher education: ‘Within the HE research community we have the capacity, the history, the knowledge and the expertise to inform and shape the transformation of the higher education sector globally into an innovative, multi-faceted system; one with new and different sources of funding, with diverse modes of participation and one more responsive to the changing needs and expectations of people, institutions and societies.’ Quite right: inspiration is a benefit we expect of Conference every year. We have it in ourselves to be the best, but there are always temptations to be otherwise, with the lure of funds and reputation sometimes suggesting unethical short cuts. SRHE Vice-President Roger Brown, who in his latest book bemoaned the kind of marketisation where it appears that everything is for sale, has recently warned that ‘The pursuit of status will be the death of the university as we know it.’

Reports of ethical lapses are usually tales of individual transgression and recent European research on unethical behaviour suggests that too many academics admit to some of the behaviours of which they disapprove. But even this pales by comparison to an academic scandal at one of the US’s leading universities, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Continue reading

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