The month’s highlights on higher-ed from across the web
If you have ever had the experience of pouring hours into preparing for a class only to find it fall flat on its face, then you will already know that, in the case of prep and planning, that you can have too much of a good thing. As lecturers we are more at risk of doing this at the beginning of semester when students are new and ambitions are high. As such this article in July’s Chronicle of Higher Education is not only useful but timely. Written by James Lang, author of the highly accessible book Small Teaching (also discussed on this blog), the article offers applicable strategies that will help you make better use of your time, and that of your students.
In this article for The Chronicle of Higher Education, David Gooblar, lecturer in rhetoric at the University of Iowa and author of Pedagogy Unbound , describes information literacy as: ‘one of those meta-skills that lurk behind the ability to master any subject. How can students succeed in any intellectual pursuit if they cannot tell what’s true from what’s false?’ While most of us would agree with this, knowing how exactly we teach it may be new – especially given the large scale changes that the web has brought to the information landscape. This is a quick read that not only advocates for information literacy but provides some concrete suggestions for how to teach it.
An article in this month’s The Times Higher Education Supplement summarises the findings of a large UK study of assessment at teaching-intensive and research-intensive universities. Amongst the key findings are that research-intensive universities were found to have a greater proportion of exams, whereas teaching-intensives were found to have a higher variety of assessment types such as projects or portfolios. The study highlights the problem with both of these approaches. While the benefits and problems of traditional exams are well known (Pros: perceived rigor, prevention of plagiarism; Cons: stress, rote-learning etc.) it is interesting to note that more varied assessment can also be problematic; though assessment variety is inclusive and recognises different types of learning, too much variation can cause student confusion, meaning that students never quite get the opportunity to master what is required of them. The full study, published in the scholarly journal Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education makes a few recommendations namely that assessment should be reduced in quantity with attention paid to a better balance of types of assessment and quality feedback. This approach may also mean planning assessment more holistically over the course of a degree or program, instead of it being solely determined within individual units or subjects.
Over on The Thesis Whisperer is a great article on ways to improve the way we give feedback, not only to benefit the student but to avoid what Dr Davina Tauber refers to as the academic ‘reader rage’: “I know I responded to this in the last draft, but here it is again…unchanged.” Though targeted at doctoral supervision, the article offers a thoughtful discussion on the nature of feedback and some nice practical suggestions that could easily translate into taught undergraduate or postgraduate programs. Tauber’s point about the limits of academic shorthand, marginal notes that proclaim something as “confusing” or “unclear”, draws attention to the cognitive leap that students have to take to interpret this by “recreating the scene of the reader’s confusion, […] to experience the text from the reader’s point of view”. Since the advance of Canvas tools in speedgrader, the suggestion of using oral, or even video, feedback to augment our scribblings makes for a feasible alternative.
Lastly, on matters regarding academic life, Associate Professor Nathan Hall (@prof_nch) used Twitter to ask academics to give career advice to their younger selves. Hundreds of academics have since contributed to this thread and with a mix of honesty, cynicism and humour shine a light onto the various facets of academic life. If you’re not on Twitter or don’t have time or inclination to explore the thread in full then the Times Higher Education Supplement has compiled a summary of the main themes and the sharpest tweets.