Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Higher Education Academy - Annual conference

Day 1 at the de Havilland campus of the University of Hertfordshire. The opening keynote was delivered by the VC of Hull, Calie Pretorius, and in keeping with the standard set of talks new VCs seem to be provided with in their leadership training his theme was 'innovate or die'. He did deliver smoothly with anecdotes, analogies and occasional jokes but with little real content of any substance, despite the promising abstract. His slides were well done from a PowerPoint-of-view but curiously had a string of book covers to make his point - all of which were the sort of management trash you pick up at airports, you know the kind of thing 'Think Big not Small - how to outsmart your competitors before they outsmart you'. Clearly he does a lot of travelling. They weren't being used in any sort of ironic sense, sadly. Main message is that universities need to innovate, innovation means not just having ideas but delivering them (in fact in his presentation he extolled the virtue of stealing ideas from others and exploiting them - something that the concurrent conference on Plagiarism shouldn't hear about!), and we need to continually change, continually adapt, faster and faster (analogy of zebra on motorbike keeping ahead of a lion got a laugh from some of the audience and an inner scream from others). Anyway, his slides were quickly popped online by the Academy, but you had to be there...

The conference then broke into parallel sessions and when you see it fork into up to 13 simultaneous presentations, then you realise there has to be a better way. Many of the talks were related to one another but in direct competition for an audience. I know the numbers of participants are large, but it would be nice if perhaps talks could be shorter, clustered under a theme and then given scope for discussion. It might mean stricter selection or perhaps a more innovative (see I did learn) approach might be to showcase lots of the interesting practical work people are doing in something like a Pecha Kucha (20x20) session followed by panel discussion?

Anyway, the speaker for the session I (and a relatively big crowd of others) picked didn't turn up, despite being from Hertfordshire itself. No show, no explanation, so we all slowly filtered away.

The afternoon sessions I attended were very good. One by Elisabeth Dunne of Exeter University talking about some great work she has done with students as change agents in teaching and learning (really impressive scale of activity). After that Paul Kleiman spoke about some intensive discussion/focus group type analysis of HE from student perspectives centred around an awayday session. It was good, in both cases, to hear of student active engagement and indeed a real desire for such. We also heard that students really resent being treated as (and in some cases labelled as) 'customers'. (So if you want to cheese off not just your academic staff, but also your students, keep mentioning 'customer.')

The dinner was preceded by awards to students from the various subject centres and the dinner itself was the setting for national volunteering awards.

That's it. I could say more, but probably shouldn't. Hopefully an update tomorrow provided internet access available wherever I'll be en route to the Journal of Education Policy 25th anniversary meeting.

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