Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Day one: Where we were and where we are now?

I thought that I'd start off by reflecting a little bit on the differences I perceive between academia when I was an undergraduate (1996-9 in Durham University), and now. Admittedly, back then I'm not sure I was terribly aware of many things behind the scenes, but it seems that students get a very different deal now.

We recently had a series of open discussions with our new Principal (that's Vice-Chancellor to those of you at traditional universities) and one of the objections to the new 'programme-led' focus that the University is pushing (about which there will, inevitably be much much more) from an experienced and respected academic (not from my Faculty) was 'Where is this coming from? I don't think any students are asking for this.'.
My immediate (unspoken and unrefined) response was 'Students are idiots'. By which I mean that when you're in the gears of the machine, you can't often see the workings of the machine in enough detail to critique it. Unless you know that there is an alternative, you, generally speaking, accept what you're given.

I wasn't aware of criteria, and I had very little feedback except for a handful of assessments. The calculation of my degree result was a mystery to me, and I had no support in choosing modules (in fact, the list of modules went up on the board and we had about a week to pick our choices - choices which were substantially diminished from the list in the programme handbook because some staff were on sabbatical). I think that there was probably more support available than I was aware of, but it certainly wasn't made apparent.

And I'm not blaming anyone at Durham. That was how it was done. I remember that when I first started teaching, I found the whole need to keep students informed about specific little details about assessments and class content superfluous and unnecessary. They didn't need this information. Now, looking back, I'm shocked at how little information I had as an undergraduate. Now, looking at where we are, I'm proud to be teaching on a programme that disseminates so much information to the students, that makes their ownership of their own learning a priority, and that enables them as learners.

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