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University Challenged

Started by Alberon, March 16, 2020, 10:17:12 PM

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Not sure how related to Covid it is, but we've had direction from above to completely redesign all our courses towards a more blended online/on-campus delivery. The numbers and timeline that they've put in place are ludicrously tight and there's a proper sense of 'you lot should just deal with it' about communications.

So, in the last four years

*rewrite course and all modules from 10/20 credits per module to 15/30
*adjust that to get both courses accredited
*rewrite entire course for covid-affected online delivery
*rewrite all modules - again - for blended delivery

greencalx

Is that for next year?

I have a feeling some managers think that hybrid is a long-term model that will allow them to take in fees without having to shell out for expensive lecture theatres and the like. I'm not aware of our management making similar noises (though big classes look unlikely to return to in-person any time soon). There seems to be a consensus, even among the upper echelons, that hybrid is not as good except, possibly, for those students who actively want it.

The conversations I've been in have been more along the lines of "here's some good things that we didn't expect / have the gumption to do before that we'd like to keep doing if we can". Completely online submission of work and marking is one those - might seem odd to those used to essay-based courses, but in subjects like maths and physics this is nontrivial but we've worked out how to do it now. This year I had way more students handing in work than last. This may have been because they had nothing else to do, but I also wonder whether not having to drag your arse into the department to hand it in had something to do with it. Will be interesting to see if it holds up next year.

QuoteIs that for next year?

In theory, yes. In practice, there's no chance. We're in the middle of rolling out the structure change, so our 3rd year modules will only be running for 1 more year in their current form. I am not having staff change them for only 1 year.

I also just don't know how we're going to do it yet. We have lab hours mandated by the accrediting body. Those can't be touched. Every module needs to change, really, so we introduce a totally different culture of how we teach. To staff and students.

Difficult.

So yeah, I don't see the benefit, I don't see how we make it happen and I don't see how we make it work starting in September. Happy times.

QuoteI have a feeling some managers think that hybrid is a long-term model that will allow them to take in fees without having to shell out for expensive lecture theatres and the like. I'm not aware of our management making similar noises (though big classes look unlikely to return to in-person any time soon). There seems to be a consensus, even among the upper echelons, that hybrid is not as good except, possibly, for those students who actively want it.

This was on the radar for some time - backed with large investment in the IT facilities etc.

QuoteThe conversations I've been in have been more along the lines of "here's some good things that we didn't expect / have the gumption to do before that we'd like to keep doing if we can". Completely online submission of work and marking is one those - might seem odd to those used to essay-based courses, but in subjects like maths and physics this is nontrivial but we've worked out how to do it now. This year I had way more students handing in work than last. This may have been because they had nothing else to do, but I also wonder whether not having to drag your arse into the department to hand it in had something to do with it. Will be interesting to see if it holds up next year.

Similar here. One big one was 'prelabs' - short bits of work, together with the necessary COSHH forms, that try to get the students to engage with practicals before attending. These moving online save us 30 minutes + at the start of the session as the students queue up to get in. One or two brighter staff have semi-automated the marking. Streamlined.

Second aspect is better use of tools within the lectures - learner response, videos, animations. Everyone has had a crack at including something. We've all bought drawpads so can write direct on powerpoints as we deliver, which is very useful. We plan to have videos of all our practicals ready for next year, so students can go back after the session to see any missed steps/harder aspects.

Certain meetings have been massively streamlined online - exam moderation for example, where we all peer-review the other papers within the department.

greencalx

Ah right! There were rumblings our way when this all started of taking the opportunity to move to a radically new / modern / (whispers) cheaper delivery medium, but I think the students have been firm enough about how much they prefer it the old-fashioned way that it seems that common sense has prevailed. Although, there is a curriculum revamp upcoming, so the road ahead remains rocky.

And kind of annoying to have such things thrust upon you when, as you've also described, it's not like we're being stick-in-the-muds. Digitising the more "admin-ny" part of the lab so you can make more use of the bench time seems very sensible, and the kind of thing that those of us who actually have to do this stuff can get our teeth stuck into and some degree of satisfaction from. Repackaging the existing curriculum to fit into new boxes created by people who don't encounter students very often, not so much.

Meetings are a bit of a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the electronic forum can improve their operation somewhat - the main thing is that the text chat makes it easier to contribute a small observation without disturbing the flow of the main meeting, and people giving the 'thumbs up' to suggestions means that more good ideas with support get exposed than in the conventional format. On the other hand, it's become too easy for people to schedule meetings - particularly those whose entire job function seems to be attending meetings.

oddly, and perhaps more so given I've a solid departmental role, I have not had the Great Meeting Wave that colleagues have experienced and that you just described.

Ferris

Got a place on my MA for September, found out this morning [nb]relieved more than pleased/excited because I'd be in the shit otherwise (or at best, making do with something I wasn't really interested in and trying to do a sidestep at some point)[/nb]

First term (September-december) looks like it's going to be optional virtual/in-person. Does that seem very conservative to anyone else? I live about 10 minutes walk away from university so I'll be there (unless I feel lazy and fancy staying in my pyjamas and dialling in). Wondering if that's the norm from anyone else's experience?

Also my acceptance/offer letter says I'm "recommended by [school & department] to be accepted onto XYZ program starting September 2021" pending acceptance by the faculty of graduate studies. What does that mean? It sounds like the school/department has accepted me but has to run it by the university first - is that normal? Am I in or what? I suspect I am (you don't start letters with congratulations and matriculation info if you're going to reject someone) but I'm really unfamiliar with the hierarchy. Maybe it changes from university to university...

greencalx

Re the second point, best to confirm with the department that this is a formality. I expect it is. Universities are stuffed full of committees that do nothing other than rubber stamp decisions other people have already made and weirdly take several hours over it. It may be that the "faculty" needs to formally approve your entry qualifications or some such.

Regarding the first point, it's very much up in the air. Universities don't get a heads up from the government about what they plan to do next in terms of easing restrictions so everyone is making it up as they go along. Some are keen to get bums back onto seats ASAP, others are being more cautious. I was in a meeting last week with people from neighbouring universities and it became clear that we were working to very different planning assumptions. If there's likely to be a sizeable cohort of international students on your programme, that could push towards a hybrid model as there may be students who physically can't get into the country when it starts.

Ferris

Hadn't thought of the international students element - the course is geared towards domestic Canadian politics and civil service careers (which require you to be a citizen) so suspect there's not a huge amount of international uptake because it is niche both on topic and usefulness for non-Canadians.

Interesting to hear that there doesn't seem to be a consensus on in person stuff, I assumed all the big wigs and head boffins would have got together and agreed one way or the other.

dr beat

Quote from: greencalx on May 17, 2021, 09:11:30 PM
Re the second point, best to confirm with the department that this is a formality. I expect it is. Universities are stuffed full of committees that do nothing other than rubber stamp decisions other people have already made and weirdly take several hours over it. It may be that the "faculty" needs to formally approve your entry qualifications or some such.


I very much second this.  Only thing to add Ferris is that you could perhaps enquire when you might expect to hear the decision.  The relevant committee may not have met yet.

Regarding teaching planning for next year, it seems that the messages coming from on high at our place currently changes from day to day.  I'm trying to ignore it and just cross those bridges when we get there in October.

Ferris

Quote from: dr beat on May 18, 2021, 11:27:21 AM
I very much second this.  Only thing to add Ferris is that you could perhaps enquire when you might expect to hear the decision.  The relevant committee may not have met yet.

Regarding teaching planning for next year, it seems that the messages coming from on high at our place currently changes from day to day.  I'm trying to ignore it and just cross those bridges when we get there in October.

I re-read the letter - they're mandating teaching is remote actually, but there will be in-person events for people who live downtown. Another few months in pyjamas for your boy Ferris!

Cheers yeah I'm assuming it's a formality (but obviously no one on their side can admit it's a formality otherwise the con's been rumbled!) so I'll just hang on, appreciate the responses though. I emailed the department after greencalx suggested it, they reckon I'll have a "final" decision inside a week so that's gotta be a rubber stamp job. A quick search on reddit suggests the same for people who have already gone through the process, but it's not great for my anxiety. Why not just wait the extra few days and tell me when it's final?!

I've been working towards this degree for quite a few years at this point - I decided to do it in 2016 (I remember discussing it with my wife on our honeymoon), started explicitly saving for it 2 years ago, resigned from my job, moved cities, enrolled as a non-degree undergrad student to do prep courses with no guarantee of anything etc etc. It's been a very long road and being so close... but not quite there yet... ugh. Hopefully not long now.

Sorry, I know this isn't the "ooh ferris is going to school!" thread, I'm just venting. Ignore.

Ferris

For the lols though, I'm doing a degree that wikipedia reckons can make me head of HS Art


greencalx

Quote from: FerriswheelBueller on May 18, 2021, 11:42:27 AM
Cheers yeah I'm assuming it's a formality (but obviously no one on their side can admit it's a formality otherwise the con's been rumbled!) so I'll just hang on, appreciate the responses though. I emailed the department after greencalx suggested it, they reckon I'll have a "final" decision inside a week so that's gotta be a rubber stamp job. A quick search on reddit suggests the same for people who have already gone through the process, but it's not great for my anxiety. Why not just wait the extra few days and tell me when it's final?!

Yeah, universities are really shit for this. Mostly a decision is made by someone close to the action, but then needs to be referred up a hierarchy of committees for rubber stamping. It's not always clear what this achieves. For example, after a PhD viva the two examiners basically determine the outcome there and then, but reports have to be written, signed off, passed to the relevant PG committee for authorisation of the award, although the award isn't then formally made until approved by senate which happens at the next graduation, which is months down the line, and comprises those members of senate in the graduation procession saying "aye", so really worth delaying. In practice, the letter that comes a few days after the exam is the point of no return but it's very frustrating for people who need Dr in front of their name in order to take up a job (or, in some cases, get paid properly). In your case I do wonder why they can't just wait a few more days, as you say. I know it's tough but I really wouldn't worry about it - I've never heard of any committee ever block a recommendation from someone at the coal face. I once examined a PhD in Germany. There, they tear a certificate off a roll, sign it and hand it to the candidate straight after the exam.

The academic promotion cycle takes nine months to complete.

Ferris

Blimey - and I thought my old firm was bad. It was at least largely functional (sort of).

The uni models themselves after Edinburgh (no idea why, think it was founded by a graduate or something) so I'm happy to blame them for all this.

(Again - sorry to derail the thread.)

Quote from: FerriswheelBueller on May 17, 2021, 09:40:17 PM
Interesting to hear that there doesn't seem to be a consensus on in person stuff, I assumed all the big wigs and head boffins would have got together and agreed one way or the other.

I went to a Head of Departments' meeting with my subject's professional accrediting body earlier in  the year.

Practically every department had interpreted the government instructions on what constituted practicals with specialist equipment (which were allowed on-campus from Jan. to March) differently. Norn Iron unis had basically run a full set of all practicals to all years.

In terms of research projects, some departments had not planned for off-campus research and were still hoping to get students back in the labs. We were the only department in the subject area to plan to deliver off-campus research projects from the off.

tldr: yeah, no consensus and some almighty bollox dropped.

QuoteThe academic promotion cycle takes nine months to complete.

Yes.

And the last time I went through it, the results were decided 2 months in.

That said, last years promotions were lolz. "In light of the uncertain times, they won't get the payrise for a year".

greencalx

Quote from: FerriswheelBueller on May 18, 2021, 12:47:42 PM
The uni models themselves after Edinburgh (no idea why, think it was founded by a graduate or something) so I'm happy to blame them for all this.

Ha! Dare I say it, but judging by the general chitchat with colleagues from other universities (including on here), Edinburgh is by no means the worst offender for this sort of thing. Although one does get the sense that some of the practices date back to the 16th century.

Quote
(Again - sorry to derail the thread.)

Not at all - nice to see some chat here again.

Quote from: A Hat Like That on May 18, 2021, 02:06:39 PM
That said, last years promotions were lolz. "In light of the uncertain times, they won't get the payrise for a year".

Same here - no promotions last year. Don't recall if increments happened or not - I think they might have done because not having them would have involved contract renegotiations which the Union was geared up to defend against. Also it seems that the financial impact has been less severe than feared, I think because student numbers have so far held up better than expected.

Spine points happened in the Spring, annual increase (i.e. when they move to a new years' pay scale) didn't in the Summer.

But yes, we cut tightly a year ago and have spent the last month or so getting emails saying "if you have equipment you wish to purchase"


Ferris

Quote from: A Hat Like That on May 18, 2021, 02:06:39 PM
Yes.

And the last time I went through it, the results were decided 2 months in.

That said, last years promotions were lolz. "In light of the uncertain times, they won't get the payrise for a year".

https://comb.io/rzq3aj

greencalx

Ah yes, the end-of-year spendouts. Those are always a lot of fun!

Attila

[deleted depressing nonsense from my stressful situation, thought better of it -- nothing to see here]
Whee!

greencalx

Oh dear, sorry to hear (infer from the edit) that things haven't improved where you are.

Ferris

Just because I'm sure everyone was on tenterhooks - the department just emailed and said I was accepted by the faculty of graduate studies on Thursday, but there might be a delay in them formally notifying me "because Monday is a holiday" (?)

I wanted a roll of thick sepia parchment with a wax seal to arrive in the mail that said "CONGRATULATIONS" but I will take an email from the fairly curt admin person I suppose.

greencalx

Well done, but to be fair, we would generally hold off with congratulations until you've handed something in...

Attila

Quote from: greencalx on May 21, 2021, 10:12:55 AM
Oh dear, sorry to hear (infer from the edit) that things haven't improved where you are.

That is, sadly, understatement of the year :)

Meanwhile -- congrats, Ferris!

Ferris

Quote from: greencalx on May 21, 2021, 02:03:28 PM
Well done, but to be fair, we would generally hold off with congratulations until you've handed something in...

I'm looking forward to it, my undergrad prep courses went really well and I'm alright with being a "professional" student doing all the reading and stuff. My writing is fairly good (honest!) so I think it'll go well. Hope so anyway!

Quote from: Attila on May 21, 2021, 03:22:50 PM
That is, sadly, understatement of the year :)

Sorry to hear this, hope you're alright.

Sorry to everyone else reading the thread - I know this isn't the "Ferris talks about his non-problems and graduate studies" thread[nb]that's over in HS Art[/nb] and thank you for humouring me!

bgmnts


greencalx

Great for Unis - fees for masters are immense.

Not sure it's a great move for the students, though, particularly if they're already drowning in debt.

bgmnts

Quote from: greencalx on July 04, 2021, 06:35:59 PM
Great for Unis - fees for masters are immense.

Not sure it's a great move for the students, though, particularly if they're already drowning in debt.

Makes sense. Is an influx of panicking, half arsed masters students who probably don't particularly want to be there a good thing for the teachers?

greencalx

Who cares about them?

Double-edged sword. On the one hand it makes it harder for institutions to argue that they're broke and sack everyone. On the other hand, it means more work when really it would be nice to have a bit of slack having really pushed the boat out the last 15 months. (I have finally managed to take my first full week of leave, barring Christmas, since March 2020). I'm personally not a huge fan of Masters because of the need to run projects over the summer months, which makes taking any time off at all almost impossible. Maybe in other disciplines you can say "go read this book and write a big essay about it whilst I lie on the beach in Spain" but not ours.