Tag Archives: higher education

Could you inspire a future business leader?

I’ve fairly recently taken over coordination of one of our first year modules on ‘Introduction to Business’. It’s been a few years since I last worked with first year students so I’m really looking forward to it.

‘Introduction to Business’ is as it sounds. The module will introduce students to the global economic, political and social forces that shape business. We’ll be discussing how businesses compete internationally and contemporary challenges such as climate change, ethical supply chains and, of course, Brexit.

But in order to enrich the learning with real life examples I need help. I’m looking for guest speakers who have been involved in business and have a story to tell. Maybe you have started your own business? Maybe you’ve been involved in international expansion? Or has your business been affected by Brexit?

Sessions run on Friday morning from 1015-1315 from 22 September to 8 December. Please get in touch if you would like to contribute.

The core text is Janet Morrison, 2016, Global Business Environment: Challenges and Responsibilities. Available here: http://bookshop.blackwell.co.uk/bookshop/product/The-Global-Business-Environment-by-Janet-Morrison/9781137483744. Other information about the course including lecture slides will be uploaded to the university Virtual Learning Environment – The Hub.

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Guest Blog: User Charges and Marketization in Higher Education

By Oladipo Osuntubo, Doctoral Researcher at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

Higher Education in most countries has experienced remarkably consistent reforms in management and finance in the past few decades. These reforms are remarkable because they follow consistent patterns in countries with very different socio-political, welfare and economic systems and university traditions. Furthermore, they can be seen in countries at very different stages of technological and industrial development. This is a relatively global phenomenon with countries such as Nigeria, Chile and the UK (particularly England) adopting practices which include:

  • reduction of, or total elimination of, subsidies by the state;
  • introduction or increase in tuition fees paid by students;
  • encouragement of competition between universities as a way of improvement;
  • deregulation of university sectors to allow private-for-profit providers.

My research involves a comparative examination of contemporary reforms in Higher Education as described above in the context of new public management (NPM) reforms and human capital theory. A cross-national study between Nigeria and Scotland is being conducted because in the context of tuition policies for undergraduate study, these two countries appear to operate policies at two ends of the continuum: with tuition charged for most Nigerian students and none charged for home /EU students in Scotland.

A key focus is the implications of user charges for access by considering the tuition element of undergraduate study as well as the theoretical and practical justifications for reforms. Other themes to be explored include drivers of reforms in Higher Education funding including potential influences of international bodies like international financial institutions and a critique of some of the rationales for market type reforms.

A qualitative approach is being adopted within this study. Currently I am conducting interviews with academics, university finance officers and government policy-makers from both Scotland and Nigeria. Interviews typically take no longer than 40 minutes.
It is hoped that the findings will inform ongoing debates in the reform of Higher Education in Nigeria and Scotland including:

  • the implications of user charges or reduction of subsidies for access;
  • challenges of policy transfer;
  • rationales for state investment in Higher Education; and
  • a critique of theoretical and ideological justifications for reforms.

If you would be available and willing to take part in this research study please contact me directly at OOsuntubo @ qmu.ac.uk

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Interview with David Crighton, Master of Public Administration (MPA) student

NB: This was previously published on the QMU Website: http://www.qmu.ac.uk/marketing/press_releases/Interview-with-QMU-postgraduate-student-David-Crighton-MPA.htm

David Crighton from Glasgow is currently studying the Master of Public Administration (MPA) part-time over two years.

David has worked within local government for more than 30 years. He started his career as a landscape gardener with Cumbernauld Development Corporation (CDC) in the early 1980s. On completing his apprenticeship, David undertook a series of roles within the CDC before moving to Stirling Council in the mid 90s. In that time, he fulfilled several roles, including Cemeteries Officer and Land Services Team Leader. He gained his first service manager post with Falkirk Council in 2013 before returning to Stirling Council in 2015 and taking on his current role of Roads & Land services manager.

David has always enjoyed working in the public service especially within an operational capacity. He works towards improving and enhancing the public spaces that are so important to people for health and wellbeing, as well as recreational use and leisure activities. He has a high degree of job satisfaction in the services he manages and the impact they have in improving the quality of life for those that live, work or visit Stirling and its communities.

Why did you choose to study Master of Public Administration (MPA) at QMU?

“After undertaking various work based learning and training programmes, I started to develop an interest in management and leadership, preparing for my future career aspirations. I undertook a HNC in Management before moving on to a Diploma in Leadership & Management.

“The next natural step was to progress to a MBA and had identified this aspiration within my personal development plan. However, I was provided with information on the Master of Public Administration by my employer, Stirling Council, and noticed it aligned more directly to my work in the public sector.

“I’ve been very fortunate that my employer is very supportive of my learning and has assisted me in gaining a place on QMU’s MPA programme.”

How do you think the MPA will help you develop your career?

“Through the MPA, I’m looking to gain a greater knowledge of public administration and to be challenged academically. I’m working full-time and attend the course on a part-time basis, so I do find it difficult at times to manage my work and learning commitments along with my family life.

“However, there is support amongst my cohort and there are also academic support classes provided at the outset of the course. This has been invaluable to myself have never attended university previously. I think the MPA will help continue my own personal development and ultimate goal of obtaining a postgraduate level degree.”

Top Tips

“I would advise any prospective students to be aware of the time commitments especially if you are in full-time employment. It is important to try and build up a support network with library staff, tutors, course leaders and fellow students. This can be important to share your experiences and understand you are not alone.”

For more information on the Master of Public Administration (MPA) at QMU, visit www.qmu.ac.uk/courses/PGCourse.cfm?c_id=277 and watch our film

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Why become a Fellow of the HEA?

One of the things that social science academics like to discuss is the value of theory. We instill in our students the importance of academic research and theory. We discuss how theory can be used to better understand practice. We also like talking a lot about the importance of reflection; critical reflection that is underpinned by theory. Yes, theory, theory, theory. Everywhere you look there is more of it, Marxist, post-structuralist, Keynesian, feminist, the list is endless.

But do we practice what we preach? If theory and reflection are all that important then presumably we all engage in theory and reflection to underpin our own practice? Do we?

Actually, in order to become a ‘teacher’ at a university (I started in 2001/02) all you need is, ideally, one degree higher than those you are ‘teaching’. Of course it isn’t really ‘teaching’ but that might warrant another post another time. But there is no requirement for formal teaching qualifications. Or at least there wasn’t when I started.

Increasingly universities are requiring staff to undertake some form of training in teaching and learning prior to taking up a lectureship or other academic post. This is often linked to accreditation with the Higher Education Academy and aligned with the UK Professional Standards Framework. But rather than suggest that you must become a Fellow (or Senior Fellow etc) I would argue that you should become a Fellow of the HEA.

I undertook the process of applying for recognition as Senior Fellow in 2015 (via the QMU CPD Scheme). Prior to that I had not really taken much time to reflect on my approach to teaching and learning. What I did was largely the result of the many great lecturers I experienced as an undergraduate at Glasgow Caledonian University – which had so many amazing lecturers at the time that it’s impossible to list them all in one blog post. I had never truly reflected on this and considered what it was about the approach of academics there which contrasted so much with my experiences of school education and how this had impacted on my position in the seminar room / lecture hall.

The process of going through the UK Professional Standards Framework and the HEA application process forced me, for the first time, to properly engage with pedagogy. I read Mezirow, Freire and many contemporary texts on teaching and learning (references provided below). Going through these texts, and thinking critically about my own professional practice, made me much more self-aware. It helped me understand why I do some of the things I do but also made me question some of my practice. This isn’t a one-off process but something that I will continue to do.

Since I gained recognition as a Senior Fellow of the HEA a number of colleagues, from a number of universities, have asked me to send them a copy of my application. I have discussed my application and have supported colleagues in developing their ideas. But I’ve stopped short of sharing my application for one very simple reason – it would be of very little value to anyone else. My application reflects my experience, values and practice. So should yours. Every application should be unique. Every application should, in my opinion, be personal.

My top tip for applying for recognition from the HEA? Make it personal. Start with why you have chosen this career. What is it that has motivated you to be someone who supports student learning? What is it that continues to drive and motivate you.

And one more thing, don’t ask students to engage in theory and reflection if you’re not prepared to do it yourself.

 

References:

 

Astin, A. (1984) “Student Involvement: A developmental theory for higher education”, Journal of College Student Development, 25, 297-308.
Ahmed, Y., Ry Neilson, J.C., Raine, J. and Synnott, M. (2013) ‘Special Issue on Developing the Reflexive Public Manager’, Teaching Public Administration. 31: 3 pp.3-5.
Allan, J. (2013) “Foucault and his acolytes”, in Murphy, M. (ed) (2013) Social Theory and Education Research, London: Routledge.
Alvesson, M. and Willmot, H. (1992) (eds) Critical Management Studies, Sage: London.
Apple, M.W. (1982) Education and Power, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd.
Ball, S.J. (ed) (2004) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Biggs, J. (1999). Teaching for Quality Learning at University, SHRE and Open University Press.
Biggs, J and Tang C. (2011) Teaching for Quality Learning at University, Maidenhead: McGraw-Hill and Open University Press.
Bloom, B.S. (1979) Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook 1: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay.
Brookfield, S.D. (1995) Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Chickering, A.W. and Gamson, Z.F. (1987) “Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education”, American Association of Higher Education Bulletin, 39 (7): 3-7.
Demaine, J. (ed.) (2001) Sociology of Education Today, Hampshire: Palgrave.
Dewey, J. (1916) Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, London: MacMillan.
Elias, D. (1997) It’s time to change our minds: An introduction to transformative learning. ReVision, 20(1).
Entwistle , N. (1988). Styles of Learning and Teaching, London: David Fulton.
Fairclough, N. (2001) Language and Power, 2nd Edition, London: Routledge.
Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshall, S. (2009) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, 3rd Edition.
Joyce, P. and Coxhead, F. (2012) “Ideas and Issues in University Education for Public Services Leaders”, Teaching Public Administration, April: 1-12.
Laurillard, D. (2002). Rethinking University Teaching, a framework for the effective use of educational technology, 2nd Edition, London: Routledge.
Lees, H. (2013) ‘Silence as a pedagogical tool’, Times Higher Education, 22 August 2013.
Little, B., Locke, W., Scesa, A., and Williams, R.(2009) Report to HEFCE on student engagement. Centre for Higher Education Research and Information, The Open University February 2009, available online at: https://www.hefce.ac.uk/media/hefce/content/pubs/2009/rd0309/rd03_09.pdf
Lucas, U. and Milford, P. (2009) Key aspects of teaching and learning in accounting, business and management”, in Fry, H., Ketteridge, S. and Marshall, S. A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education: Enhancing Academic Practice, 3rd Edition, p382-404
Meighan, R. and Harber, C. (2007) A sociology of Educating, 5th Edition, London: Continuum International Publishing.
McKimm, J. (2009) Teaching Quality, Standards and Enhancement, in Fry, Ketteridge and Marshall (eds) A Handbook for Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, 3rd Edition, London: Routledge, pp. 186-197.
Reay, D. (2004) “Finding or Losing Yourself? Working-class relationships to education”, in Ball, S.J. (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Smyth, J. and Shacklock, G. (2004) “Teachers doing their ‘economic’ work” in Ball, S.J. (ed) The RoutledgeFalmer Reader in Sociology of Education, London: Routledge.
Synnott, M. (2013) “Reflection and double loop learning”, Teaching Public Administration, 31: 124-134.
Papert, S. (1993). The Children’s Machine: Rethinking School in the Age of the Computer, New York: Basic Books.
Piaget, J. (1977) Intellectual evolution from adolescence to adulthood, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Quinn, B. (2013) “Reflexivity and education for public managers”, Teaching Public Administration, 31: 6-17.
Ramsden, P. (1992). Learning to Teach in Higher Education, London: Routledge.
Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Werthman, C. (1963) “Delinquents in schools: a test for the legitimacy of authority’, Berkeley Journal of Sociology, 8: 39-60.
Zaretsky, R. (2013) ‘If silence is golden, we should invest in it during seminars’, Times Higher Education, 8 August 2013.

 

 

 

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Do league tables matter?

League tables are most commonly associated with football. Everyone knows that the team who wins the most games goes up the league table. The team who finishes top at the end of the season our the league champions. Having won the league the champions may secure promotion to a higher league or entry to other competitions such as the Champions League or Europa League. And everyone knows that Partick Thistle are, on that basis, not as ‘good’ a team as Celtic, Aberdeen or Hearts. Yet I still support the Jags and think they are better for lots of different reasons.

So, what about league tables in the context of Higher Education? One of the challenges here is knowing what counts as success? It’s not as simple as scoring goals – there is research output, student satisfaction, completion rates, student-staff ratios, employability. And how highly should each of these be ranked? Each league table rates these factors to differing degrees (see here for more comparison of league tables). As well as the most well known tables, such as The Guardian and Times Higher there are also a number of alternative league tables (see here for more). So the overall picture is incredibly complex, even confusing. Hardly surprising when we consider the complex nature of public services (as I’ve written about previously).

There are many question marks around the way figures are reported and potential gaming that takes place in order for universities to increase their performance. Issues like, for example, whether those universities that score well in research are doing so at the expense of their teaching and learning – and do research active staff also engage in teaching or is this primarily delivered by lowly paid staff on causal contracts or PhD students?

Another challenge is the way in which all institutions are compared on the same metrics and in the same table. It is rather like having Partick Thistle and Real Madrid in the same league and expecting them to be equally competitive. Consider, for example, that the University of Edinburgh was founded in 1583, has 6,422 academic staff, 6,458 non-academic staff, endowments of £14.4m  in 2008-09 and total income of £592m (see the Facts and Figure 2016). QMU gained full university status in 2007 (having been first established in 1875 – almost 300 years later than UoE), has a total of 251 academic staff (including researchers) and total income of £38m in 2014-15 (which is actually about half of what Cambridge University received in endowments alone in the same year) (more Facts and Figures 2016). So in terms of headcount alone University of Edinburgh has 26 times the resources that we have at QMU and yet we are expected to compete against the same metrics. To extend the football analogy it’s like playing a team of 286 players against a standard team of 11 players. In this context it might seem that university league tables are truly absurd and best ignored.

Alternatively we could consider the extent to which any one university moves in the rankings year on year. Recently QMU went down on The Guardian league table from 76th to 101st place (see the full table here). But does that mean we have got so much worse over the last twelve months? Again rather than looking at the league table as a whole it might be helpful to compare our closest competitors: Edinburgh Napier (down from 64th to 70th), Glasgow Caledonian (down from 89th to 99th) and Abertay University (up from 93rd to 85th). What this shows is that institutions do tend to move quite a lot year on year. It would seem that very small changes in some of the metrics can result in a very large shift in the league table position. So again, league tables don’t say very much.

Of course, if universities were compared on a per capita basis some of the stats might appear very different. One might ask what on earth do larger, more established universities do with £1bn of expenditure a year or with 26 times the number of staff of smaller institutions. I would argue that QMU generates a lot of benefit with a very small percentage of the income that more established universities enjoy every year. Actually, I think that we are an excellent university. I know that we punch well above our weight and that our staff are incredibly committed to the student experience. I know that we have improved significantly over the seven years that I have worked there. I know there are still things that could improve – but I know that everyone is committed to making that improvement happen.

As just one example of our commitment to the student experience our our recent staff away day focused entirely on our undergraduate provision – and three students were invited to join us for part of the day to discuss their experience. I’ve never known that to happen at any other academic staff away day. And the one common thread across the entire day was how can we improve the student experience and the employability of our graduates. Everyone believes it and everyone is committed to it.

If you want a great experience as a student I can’t promise that you’ll get it at QMU – but what I can promise is that we’ll do everything we can to make it a great experience. What’s more, I know that if you don’t have a positive experience we will ask for your feedback, we will listen AND we will take action.

But here’s the thing; if a student has a negative experience at university, or perhaps doesn’t get the degree they wanted to get, who is ultimately to blame? I actually think it’s misleading to consider the success of a university as being solely down to the performance of the staff. Actually, much of our ‘success’ as measured by league tables, is not within our control. A university is as much a collection of students as it is a group of academics, academic-related and other professional and support services staff. In this sense the analogy with football is clearly completely preposterous – with football the success is down the players on the pitch; with universities the success is as much down to the fans on the stands (the students) as it is down to the players on the pitch. And while it may be easy for football clubs to buy new players during the transfer season what can a university do if the students do not engage in the learning activities in the way that they should? Of course we can encourage students and create learning activities that students want to engage with. But failing that all we can do is award those students lower grades – which then affects our league table position.

So please tell me, what can Partick Thistle do to compete with Real Madrid. And what can WE do to compete with Cambridge?

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Academics in the Real World

I’m often asked if I have any real world experience. Sometimes I’m even told ‘what would you know about the real world’. There are so many flaws in both those standpoints (and much has been written about this previously) but I think there is another important point to consider. What is happening here, is that there is a perception that universities, and by extension those who work in them, are somehow different from everyone else. That we are not ‘real’.

The fact that, in Scotland over 56% of the population attend university has seemed to have been ignored. University education is for all – all ages, all backgrounds, anyone with a thirst for learning. It’s not some distant or exclusive ivory tower. We’re a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns – even academics.

But more than that, I believe that everything we do in universities, has some form of practical focus and thus some basis in ‘reality’. One of my favourite quotes is by Kurt Lewin (1951):

“There is nothing so practical as a good theory”.

To develop any theory we may conduct experiments, collect surveys or observe communities. Then, when we then want our research to have an impact, again we are drawn to working with external organisations and professionals. Whatever the methodology, whatever the subject matter and whatever the impact there is always an external motivation and focus to our work.

For me this is absolutely critical – and the idea that ‘practical’ and ‘theory’ are diametrically opposed is utter nonsense. Yes, theory may not always work out the way we had hoped or anticipated, but that is not to say that it doesn’t matter. One of our students, who is Head of Policy, Performance and Development at Anytown Council, summed it up by saying about our postgraduate programme that,

“[This course] covers very contemporary and relevant issues – which aids the application of learning into the practical work environment. A good level of engagement with academic literature and research enhances this further. In a very time-constrained work life there is value in this course and I have not regretted my investment of time (which isn’t always the case!!)”.

In other words, theory enhances practice! In my own work I have been fortunate to work with many external organisations. I have delivered a PgCert to public servants on behalf of Academi Wales and I’m currently supporting delivery of an MSc Public Services Leadership to City of Edinburgh Council, Dundee City Council and Orkney Islands Council.

Recently, I have been involved in developing a new MPA programme. Again we wanted to make sure there were strong links with appropriate external organisations. As a result we have set up a partnership with the Association of Chief Officers of Scottish Voluntary Organisations (ACOSVO) to enable all students on our MPA to take part in some form of work experience while studying. This is a fantastic opportunity for students to see the links between theory and practice first hand.

We are offering this MPA to individuals and to organisations. And we are always keen to work with external organisations to support employees and to inform the delivery of excellent public services. What’s more, we have arranged a special discounted fee level for this programme for it’s first year. But does the ‘real world’ want to work with us? Well, assuming that’s where you are right now – let me know!

 

This post is also listed on LinkedIn where there have been a number of very interesting comments posted about the extent to which those working in universities can support those in other public services. This can be viewed here: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/academics-real-world-ian-c-elliott

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Using Social Media in Learning and Teaching

I was invited to give a presentation at University of the West of Scotland at their Student Experience Learning and Teaching (SELT) event on 2 April 2014. You can see all presentations via the Storify which is linked below.

 

The topic I was given to present on was ‘Use of Social Media in Learning and Teaching at Queen Margaret University’. In this I drew on my own experiences of using social media within my learning and teaching practice. You can view a video of my presentation here:

 

I was delighted, on the very next day, to receive an ‘Innovative Teaching’ award at the QMU Student, Teaching and Representation (STaR) awards. This award was, in part, in recognition of my use of social media. More information on this is available here: STaR Awards.

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Why I don’t like email

Please don’t email me

Every semester when I start my undergraduate teaching I begin by setting the ground rules. Things like the importance of attendance, the need for extensive reading and so on. All what I would expect is fairly standard stuff. However, one area where I seem to differ from many academics is in my approach to student support. I tell all my undergraduate students not to email me.

This may seem unsupportive. I should stress that at the same time as telling students that they should not email me I do explain why and I also explain the variety of other ways they can and will receive support with their studies. However, this message can sometimes get lost. Given the increasingly consumerist nature of students and marketisation of higher education I thought it would be helpful to provide a blog post explaining my position on this issue.

The following provides a detailed list of my objections to email as well as touching on the other ways I provide support to my undergraduate students.

1. Email is distant

Email is an impersonal and distant mode of communication. This does have some advantages, for example with distance learning students. However, I see my full-time undergraduate students at least twice a week – once in lectures and once in seminars. The use of email can create a sense of distance where, in my view, it should not exist. Consequently I tell all my undergraduate students that, rather than send an email, they should rise any questions they have in class.

Now there is an important exception to this rule. I do think there is a need for use of email with postgraduate students, many of whom are either studying part-time or by distance learning, and so do not have the weekly contact that full-time undergraduate students have. It is also fair to say that email contact is useful outside term time for all students.

2. Email is individual and hidden

Students who receive significant advice or support from lecturers via email communication can, in effect, have an unfair advantage over those who do not receive this information. Rather than responding to individual students by email I devote the first 10 mins of class to an open Q&A session. This allows me to relay answers to all students at the same time – thereby eliminating any favoritism or the likelihood of receiving several separate emails on the same topic. Where any questions relate to assignments I make sure to upload the question and reply to our university Virtual Learning Environment in the form of FAQs so that all students can see the reply – and these FAQs are copied over into future years.

3. It takes seconds to send and minutes to reply

Sending email is very easy for the sender. It can take seconds to write an open-ended question such as “I am having difficulty understanding the distinction between concept x and concept y. Could you please tell me how these two concepts relate to the theory of z“.

That may be a very good question. But while it might take seconds to send, replying is likely to take some minutes. As a result we can find much of our time filled up with what many refer to as “dealing with email”. Alternatively, answering such a question in class is likely to take less time and importantly can stimulate a greater discussion among the students and so support their peer-to-peer learning.

4. Clog up inboxes

The desire to be inclusive when using email often leads to sending one email to multiple recipients. From one email you can then receive multiple replies which can very quickly help fill up an inbox. Alternatively using discussion forums or social media will also encourage replies but without the limitations of the email inbox.
Email, sucks.

Source: Kristiewells (available here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kristiewells/6022279419/)

Ultimately email inboxes are never big enough. No matter where you work you will undoubtedly have, at some point in your career, reached a point where your inbox is full. This can block other emails from getting to you. As such it is best to encourage less use of email – as well as proper management of your inbox (which I must confess I don’t always do).

5. Lack of tone or inflection.

Part of the difficulty in replying to email is the lack of tone or inflection that is possible. In effect this means that we can spend significantly more time drafting an email in order to fully explain what it is we are trying to say than would be possible verbally. There is also the risk that students who write emails, potentially in the heat of the moment, send something which does not entirely reflect their particular concern(s). This can lead to an answer that does not entirely address their concerns – and so lead to follow-up questions and further email exchanges.

6. Email as a weapon.

There is also a sense that some people may use email in order to receive a written response with the intent that this can be used as “evidence” later. This places even greater onus on us to carefully craft emails. The excessive use of email in this way is also an indication of a lack of trust which should be resisted at every opportunity.

7. Computer security

Recently my personal email account was hacked. All my contacts were sent an email, seemingly from me, with a link which (I assume) was linked to a virus. This highlighted for me the inherent insecure nature of email compared with verbal communication. Social media is not immune to such attacks either and so again verbal communication can be preferable.

8. Casual formality

Emails have the immediacy of a tweet or a text but retain an inherent degree of formality more akin to letters. This makes it difficult to judge what is an appropriate tone. The immediacy of email also contributes to assumptions that all emails will receive a response – and an almost immediate response. In this sense social media can be easier to use as these platforms do not tend to have the pretense of formality that is often associated with email and responses are limited to (in the case of Twitter) 140 characters.

9. Antisocial

There is no substitute for face-to-face contact. At the same time there isn’t enough time in the day to meet with all students separately and so some ‘distance’ support is important. But in my view email is, among all alternatives, one of the worst forms of communication method. Again the closed and impersonal nature of email makes it, in my view, a deeply flawed communication method. In comparison many social media tools, such as Twitter, are open to all and so can stimulate a wider discussion and debate. In that sense I think the use of Twitter is actually better than email. It is also important for lecturers to have regular open office hours where students can simply pop in without having to set up a meeting (something which again usually requires email).

10. The idea that email equals support

Some academics may feel that being available (virtually) to all students 24/7 demonstrates a commitment to student support. But the impersonal and distant nature of email, combined by the lack of inflection or tone, can mean that important context can be missed. It may be that what the student is asking about is a symptom of a greater problem which would be raised through a face-to-face discussion. It is also important to stress on students the importance of attendance and that email correspondence combined with engagement with the Virtual Learning Environment does not represent a substitute for face-to-face contact. Finally it is important, in my view, to encourage students to be independent learners who have the confidence and aptitude to find information for themselves.

Final thoughts

Now all of the above is also qualified by the fact that when an emergency arises which cannot wait until the next class then of course students still can use email. It should not however be the default option for any and all queries. It is important that lecturers provide clear and full (and up-to-date) information to students via module handbooks and Virtual Learning Environments. These sources should help to eliminate the need for students to revert to email communications. Lecturers should also be available at the start and end of classes to address any ongoing concerns and to have regular office hours where students can ‘pop-in’. In my view the use of email is no substitute for these methods of support.

So if you are an undergraduate in one of my classes please note that you will find all relevant information about the module and assignment via the Virtual Learning Environment. Important information will be reinforced in classes. There will also be an opportunity at the start of every class to ask any questions you may have. But unless for an emergency please do not email me.

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Graduation 2012

Last week I had the privilege of going to the QMU graduation ceremony. This is always a highlight of the year for me but this year was quite unique due to the presence of Susan Boyle who received an honorary degree.

Susan Boyle receives honorary degree from Queen Margaret University Edinburgh

This was publicised across the world (see The Jamaica Observer and The Washington Post) and generated a lot of interest in the graduation. What was particularly interesting was seeing paparazzi upon rubbish bins struggling to get a photograph of Susan. Most unusual!

Paparazzi taking photos of Susan Boyle at graduation

After receiving her honorary degree Susan graciously left to attend other prior engagements. This enabled the focus for the rest of the day to be firmly on the graduating undergraduate and postgraduate students of 2012.

I find it particularly special to see students whom I have taught or supervised successfully complete their studies. Among those graduating were the following MBA students.

L-R, Gwenmarie Ewing; Ian Elliott; Giovana Polla

L-R, Ian Elliott; Ros Standish

Among the topics researched from a public services perspective were the following:

Ros Standish, MBA (Healthcare Management), with distinction:

“Change management in acute care: perspectives from therapists’ in non-management roles.”

Abstract:

Previous research into the continuing professional development (CPD) of allied health staff professionals (AHP’s) in Scotland identified change management as a topic which AHP disciplines sought to learn more about. The knowledge and understanding of change management by therapists in non-management roles has not been widely researched, with many former studies focussed on allied health staff in management roles. This research dissertation aimed to investigate the thoughts and knowledge of physiotherapists and occupational therapists on the topic of change management, to understand how they perceive change management relates to their current roles and to identify any future training needs. Using a phenomenological approach, 13 individual semi-structured interviews were conducted and a selection of job descriptions of posts in acute care were reviewed. Two understandings of change management were reported by participants and similarities in change management training needs were noted between clinicians who had similar roles, across different bandings.    

 Amanda Forte, Executive Masters in Public Services Management:

“Organisational change management in a Middle Eastern Culture”

Abstract:

The purpose of this dissertation is to examine how the perceptions of ‘change agents’ in a Middle Eastern organisation impact on the implementation of organizational changes.  The research undertaken consisted of interviews with ‘change agents’ in one particular organisation which had been the subject of various changes since its establishment.  Interviews were conducted at a time when a new change initiative was being initiated with a defined purpose and goal. 

Interviews examined how the main ‘change agents’ perceived the need for change and how they managed this within their own areas.  The research also examined whether there were specific issues which were experienced, within the context of the Middle East, by ‘change agents’ applying western concepts of the management of change.

The research concluded that, the perceptions of the ‘change agents’ did have a significant impact on the management and implementation of change strategies.  The research shows that ‘change agents’ agreement to the need for change is important, but the articulation of the scope and depth of the change to be led by individuals is of equal importance.  Similarly the authority of those leading change must be clearly defined and understood as any ambiguity in the perception of subordinates will impact on their willingness to initiate or implement any changes across the organisation.

New public services programme

An increasing number of students from the public services area are showing an interest in issues of leading and managing change. This is hardly surprising as ‘change’ is increasingly being perceived by politicians as a panacea. Yet the implementation of change is incredibly difficult due to the  human side of ‘transformation’; the nature of organisational culture; and the nature of public services.

It is with this in mind that we have amended our programmes so that our new undergraduate suite has a module on leading change and our postgraduate public services governance course has a module on leading change in the public services.

This September we will be enrolling students onto our new public services governance course and our new MBA suite. These new programmes have taken a considerable amount of effort from all staff and have included feedback from former students and employers. To find out more about the new programmes click here.

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