Archive for May, 2007|Monthly archive page

Reflection on the semester

It rarely happens nowadays, but I feel pretty on top of things work-wise.  I’ve spoken about my marking, course reports are pretty well done, the viva season is over, and my diary actually has some blank pages in it for the next couple of weeks.

It’s time to reflect on the semester.  Because of ‘stuff’ going on I can’t crystal ball gaze too much for the future, but I can certainly reflect on what’s happened since Christmas.

What went well?

I think the teaching I’ve delivered this semester has generally gone well.  Students have engaged (mostly), have turned up (mostly), and the results I’m passing to the exam boards are strong (mostly).

On the pastoral side, I think I’ve helped students too – by being supportive to International students who start mid-year without the advantage of the big induction process,  by the placement visits which have gone well and which students have done well in, and through the assignment feedback sessions for postgraduate students, who have appreciated the comprehensive feedback.

What went less well?

Marking!  The load has been very high this semester, taking time, and frustrating me when the work has been poor.  Those students who try to ‘deceive’ is also a moral blow – be this by plagiarism, collusion or by changing an exam question into one they can answer – I ask about PRINCE2 so they talk about Belbin roles, in the hope that I wouldn’t notice the difference!

I’m also unhappy about doing JITT – Just In Time Teaching which happened on one module, and I will review those course materials before next presentation as I think they could be of a higher quality, and more coherent.

What will I do different next time?

In the area of project supervision, I will schedule the meetings with the student at fixed times for all students, not have a ‘drip drip’ of different students at different stages and times of the day.  I’ll also ensure that all of them buy this book by Philip Weaver, and use it as the basis for my supervisions.

I’ll also try and say ‘no’ to more people, and focus on my ‘core’ activities.  This may mean less research collaboration, but it comes down to balance.  I can’t take on more duties in one area, without losing them from another.

I’ll save my personal ‘action plan’ for the next year until later, this post was ‘looking back’ – I’ll ‘look forward’ another time.

Student appointments – the other side of the coin

When I blogged late (for me) last night, I had forgotten that I’d arranged for ten back-to-back student appointments in ten minute slots this morning, starting at 10:00 – 11:40.

I’ll close my eyes whilst you guess how many turned up.

I’m back.

In fact, nine of the ten students turned up, and the other sent apologies.  If you thought ‘wow!’, then that was my response too.  I’m still reflecting on why the turnout was so good.  I think there are three factors – I just need to work out how to apply these to other tutorial situations.

  • Plenty of notice.  I gave these appointment times out last Wednesday, giving students a week to add the date to their diary/phone/PDA/back of hand.
  • Provided the times in writing.  In writing I don’t mean email.  I provided a list of times to students, and said that they could swap times around, but they had to let me know.  This worked well, and apart from one student taking longer than anticipated I kept to the time.  For my project students I provide a slip of paper with the next tutorial date/time on – this doesn’t always work though as they have a tendency to lose/forget them – does anyone have any ideas for alternatives?
  • Specific issues.  This was an assignment review, prior to submission on Friday.  It was in their interests to attend as I gave them informal feedback on the work completed so far.

So whilst intense, it’s been a useful morning.

And that was also the end of my formal teaching for this semester.  11 Assignments to mark (another late one for my professional development course, and these 10 assignments) and I’m done.

Student appointments

I’ve written before about students missing appointments, and the frustration it can cause. I had a new spin on this today.

I had the last bit of marking to finish today, and planned to work from home to complete it, but I had a scheduled appointment with an MSc student and his supervisor (I’m second supervisor). So I headed in after marking a couple at home, and prepared for the meeting – reading the work the student had sent, making a couple of pages worth of comments.

I then note that the supervisor wasn’t in the office. I emailed her to check, and apparently the student had rearranged the appointment with her, but no one had bothered to tell me. Very frustrating, and I’ve emailed everyone involved so that it’s pretty clear what I think about the situation.

I have to maintain an electronic diary, juggling two jobs, a social life, family and ‘me’ time isn’t always easy. I guess I assume that other people are just as efficient, and am disappointed when they fail.

Combine this with the fact that an exam board has been rearranged three times, I feel I’m spending more time in Outlook calendar than I do in email – a scary situation.

Amongst all this though, I’ve managed to start working on my presentation for ICEL 2007. The fourth slide in my presentation has the picture below (thanks to Les Jones archive for the image). Intruiged?

Car in river

OU Moderation

The Open University has a very rigorous moderation process for assignments – a sample of scripts are passed to a moderator, who then comments on your comments, and the moderation level is then adjusted accordingly. The marks are fed back to the staff tutor, and in turn back to the tutor. It can take a while, but the process is transparent, and generally useful.

Only a couple of times have I had comments which have been less than supportive. These have generally been for students who gain very high assignment marks, and it’s really difficult to write extended comments about where marks were lost when very few marks were lost.

Here’s the comments from my staff tutor on the first set of moderated assignments for my current OU course, T324.

Always a real pleasure to look at your work and the clear, helpful comments you put on students’ scripts.

Thanks for all the hard work. I hope you’re enjoying tutoring this new course.

The comments of the moderator were generally as strong, with a couple of suggestions about advising students on how to see my embedded comments, which is a fair point – and will be taken on board for next time.

Module reports

Something which I need to do at the end of semester is write a module report for each module which I’ve taught on. Usually I’ve taught with others, so it’s a collaborative experience, but as I’ve taught many modules on my own this time round it’s been a solo effort.

There’s a standard layout, but the content of the report is up to the individual. A lot of my MA research looked at making these reports more reflective, but this time round I’ve gone for the KISS approach, and as Dragnet said (long before I was born I would add) – ‘Just give me the facts’.

Participation rates, pass rates, classification of marks etc. are all easy to provide, and make for a suitably emotionless report.  I’ve added a section ‘reflection on teaching’ which discusses teaching techniques etc.

Apart from this, the last couple of days at work have been filled with teaching (almost there, one more session and I’m done), marking (twenty assignments to go and I’m done), and viva examinations (all done now, just the paperwork).

Another week, two at the outset and I should be in a much better position work-wise, and able to do some proper reflection on the semeseter.

Meanwhile, it’s Bank Holiday weekend, which means terrible weather.

Working from home – honest!

After my teaching session this morning I came home to finish off my exam marking.  It’s been a nice day, so I marked outside.

I was so absorbed with the quality of answers (or not!), and the fact that I wasn’t disturbed by the neighbors kids from hell,  meant that I didn’t realise that how long I’d been out.  Four hours later I had finished marking, I noticed that my arms were a little red and sore.

I’m now typing this with an ice pack on my arm… Ouch!

I hope they believe me at work that I’ve been marking.  The pile of 89 exam scripts may provide evidence!

Viva las UCE!

It’s the viva season for our final year undergraduate projects.  I’m keeping fit, as I’ve forgotten the code to the lift in the main building, so am running up and down flights of stairs to meet the next student.  The guy who’s scheduled them has done his best, but it’s not been an easy day, especially as it started with a four hour invigilation session.

“Basically, what happens, basically is right, you know, I had a look at, kind of”…. is how most student’s responses start.  After they’ve stopped being nervous (we try to put them at their ease, but sometimes we have to ask tricky questions), they do start to warm to the process.

Why do we hold vivas?  Well, that’s been a sore point this year, but I see there are three main aims (and I’m going to try bullet points again below – they’ve not always worked in wordpress before).

  • To confirm that the work is that of the student.  Now that we appear to have a closer supervisory relationship with students this seems less of a problem.  A couple of years ago it would not be uncommon for the first time we met the student to be at the viva.  The new supervision regime appears to have eliminated this.
  • To seek  clarification in any area which doesn’t appear to have come across well in the report.  For example, a student may have reviewed hundreds of web sites, but in the battle against the word limit, this may get reduced to a short paragraph.  This is a chance for the student to talk about how much effort they have put into a piece of work.
  • To give the student a chance to ‘sell’ the project.  To be honest, this is difficult for many students, but a provisional mark can increase by a mark or two if the student can provide a good justification for a particular approach.  An answer “I used Dreamweaver because it’s easy” is unlikely to gain extra marks, “I used Dreamweaver as it’s an industry standard used for professional web site development and learning the package has enhanced my employability skills” may just may us smile… maybe… a little.

One more to go, then after another m*****g session I go and pick up my own dissertation feedback from the Faculty of Education.

We have normality,

I repeat we have normality – anything you can’t cope with is therefore your own problem.

Award yourself one mark if you spotted that the quote above was from The Hitch-hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Award yourself another mark if you knew it was said by Trillian, and a final mark if you knew that it was stated when the Heart of Gold comes out of a jump using the Infinite Improbability Drive.

As mentioned before, I’m not out of the woods marking wise, not by a long stretch, but things are looking up – and there’s a chance that I’ll get it all done by the end of next week, including as much moderation as I can as well.

My thoughts are turning to two other things which are looming, the ICEL conference, for which I’ve not yet written my presentation, and my PRINCE2 re-qualification, which must be done by the end of November, but I want to do as early as I can in the summer break, so that the work I’ve been doing is still fresh in my mind.

The first should be relatively easy – I just need a day to sit down and hammer it out, ensuring it’s not over-long, suitable for an international audience, and that the main points of the research documented are carried out.  I’m thinking of using props of two hats, as the research has two very different views of blogging – but this may just be a little over the top.  Jury is still out on this, it could simply be a graphic of different hats on the slides (boring, but easier).

The second… well it’s been agreed that I can take time out to study for the qualification, and I’ve got all the resource.  It’s an online exam, so I just need peace, quiet and a reliable internet connection.  Maybe between ICEL and my main summer break would be a better time to try and do this.

And of course there’s work to be done on ‘that which I can’t yet talk about’, though hopefully I’ll be able to talk about it more soon.

Exam invigilation  tomorrow and vivas – a chance to do some marking and review some MSc work that was handed to me on Friday.

Breaking the back…

There is a light at the end of the tunnel.. Today I’ve provided feedback on the assignments I’ve been working on for the last week – all 87 of them.

Some stats to prove that the feedback isn’t just a few ticks and a mark.  Total feedback file size = 18,396 words, about 211 words per student.

I was keen to get this to students as soon as possible, so that they could go into the exam next week knowing what their coursework mark is.  I had warned them that it was going to be difficult to meet this target, but I’m glad I did.

OK, I’ll have the exam marking to do after next Monday, but apart from that, and about 25 other assignments, I’m sorted!

Priorities after this, and the teaching for the next couple of weeks is getting my presentation ready for the ICEL conference.   Despite my best intentions I’ve not started on the presentation yet – I know I’ve got time, but would like to have the chance to go through several revisions.. and make it an ‘intersting’ 20 minute talk.

Finishing off the OU marking, and now I think I’ve deserved a bit of a chill. – cheers (hic!).

MA Education

I got confirmation yesterday that I had gained my MA Education from UCE.  I’m relieved more than pleased that this hurdle has been jumped… it’s good to (finally) get a postgraduate qualification.

I still think I can do more… when the current uncertainty is resolved I will be looking in more depth, and an EdD would seem to be of more relevance than a ‘simple’ PhD.   Most courses start in October/November, so I have plenty of time to sort this out, including where to go and also importantly how to pay.

Still, I’ve been able to send my new Business card order off, so no more scrawling my email address on sticky notes.

Admin and student meetings for the rest of the day.