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The Society for Research into Higher Education

Ian Kinchin


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Student evaluation of teaching: are we reaching for the wrong type of excellence?

By Ian Kinchin

Over twenty years ago Carr (1994: 49) wrote:

 ‘It is a shallow and false view of education and teaching which takes it to be a matter of the technical transmission of pre-packaged knowledge and skills in the context of efficient management’

However, it seems that this false view is still able obscure a more contemporary and research-informed views of teaching. The on-going drive for ‘teaching excellence’ still seems to focus on actions of the teacher that promote Carr’s ‘shallow view’. That is not to say that the student voice is not important, but we need to ensure that students are asked the right questions so that we do not promote student passivity as learners and do not subvert the student voice for purely political ends.

Fitzgerald et al (2002) wrote Continue reading

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Universities reel after Hexit vote

By Rob Cuthbert

The referendum result shocked the universities, going against all the expectations that ‘Remain’ would triumph and that the status quo would be preserved. The campaign had become increasingly frenetic as the date for the referendum approached, with claims about the consequences for ‘Leave’ and ‘Remain’ ever more inflated. But even on the day of the vote no-one, least of all the opinion pollsters, had really expected that ‘Leave’ would win. It was only as voters left polling stations across the country’s campuses that the realisation dawned, with exit polls immediately showing unexpectedly high votes for ‘Leave’, especially in crucial constituencies like Sheffield. As the results came in it was clear that Sunderland, one of the earliest to report a ‘Leave’ majority, had established a pattern that would be replicated everywhere except in parts of London and a few other cities.

It had all seemed so different only a year earlier. Continue reading

Ian Mc Nay


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Excellence and equity

By Ian McNay

This piece is shorter than planned, for which my apologies, though some of you may be grateful. We may get sucked in to the excellence debate over the next few months. My concern is about equity, and what has emerged recently on this.

One of the issues raised by the Green Paper is a commitment to doubling BME entrants to HE, and looking to the white male underclass. The second is urgent, but goes beyond HE. The first is odd, because, overall, participation rates from BME communities in  the UK are higher than for the white population. That is despite the evidence from Vicki Boliver and Tariq Modood about racial imbalance in the profile of offers made, particularly by elite universities, and despite Mary Curnock Cook’s comments.

My regret is that my own university failed to look at impact when the new VC reduced full-time undergraduate intake following higher fees in an attempt to move up league tables by raising the average UCAS tariff of entrants. Continue reading

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

Ian Kinchin


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Survival in extreme environments

By Ian Kinchin

When I was actively researching biology (rather than education), a high point for me was when I was able to contribute to the naming of a new species (Bertolani and Kinchin, 1993). That was quite a buzz, and i still have a strange affection for Ramazzottius varieornatus – even though almost nobody has ever heard of it.

The Tardigrada is a particularly fascinating group of invertebrate animals. Whilst tardigrades are basically aquatic animals, they are able to survive periods of drought by desiccating their bodies. When in this dry, dormant state, their bodies are extremely resistant to environmental extremes that would normally be fatal. The animals can stay in this state of suspended animation – described as anhydrobiosis (life without water) or cryptobiosis (hidden life) – for months or even years (see Mobjerg et al, 2011; Welnicz et al, 2011). Once favourable environmental conditions are restored, the animals are able to rehydrate and continue their lives. Continue reading

Alison Le Cornu


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MOOCs: Uncovering the learning experience

By Alison Cornu

There has been an enormous amount of hype around MOOCs since they first entered the UK HE arena roughly five years ago. That tens of thousands of students from around the world could enrol and study simultaneously was something both to marvel at and question.  Two big issues have dominated discussions about the future of MOOCs on the HE landscape: first, what business case can support them; and second, what evidence is there that students learn? Today, with much water under the bridges of both experience and research, we are in a better position to put forward a view of what we think about MOOCs.

At the outset, the notion that so many students from so many backgrounds could all learn together, and learn ‘properly’ and effectively, seemed to some impossible. As a society we have consistently had drilled into us the fact that learning best occurs in small groups. One-to-one is perhaps the crème de la crème, but groups of four to six adults offer an excellent environment for learning one from another, epitomised in the traditional Oxbridge style. Parents are keen to see their children in smaller classes and governments hasten to reassure them that everything is being done to ensure that is a reality. The paradox with MOOCs, of course, is that while at one level thousands learn together, at another, in typical distance learning fashion, each student is a lone individual working away in isolation, miles from any peers whom they don’t know and are unlikely ever to meet.

So are these initial reservations merited? What do we now make of them pedagogically? Continue reading

Ian Mc Nay


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Applications to UK universities: digging beyond the headlines…

By Ian McNay

‘Record numbers apply to enter higher education’ was the good news reported at the end of the first application period in January by most papers – I have not seen one to query this, but I have not checked them all. The March figures are now out, almost unreported, and confirm what was true in January: applications are up on last year, by just over 2 per cent. The increase for the UK is lower than that, at about 1.6 per cent.

That is good, but the claim of a record depends what you count and compare with. The secondary headline was that this record showed that high fee levels had had no impact, implying that the record applied where fees had been raised. Not true. Continue reading