Universities as utopias

#Becomingeducational It’s still hotter than hot here in the UK…

But we thought that you would like this post on problematising the messy business of teaching – and the increasingly messy business of the peer observation of teaching.

What we do is messy. If we dare to be experimental with our practice – we may not always succeed; we may not always get the outcomes that we desire.

And yet there is a constant pressure to be perfect.

And yet, as engaged professionals, we want to experiemnt, develop, improve, change… and thus we will get things wrong from time to time.

This is a passionate and timely reminder.

Best wishes,
Sandra & Tom

The Slow Academic

My presentation at the recent HERDSA conference was entitled Peer review of teaching: A showcase of messy practice. My co-author Rod Lane and I are redeveloping this presentation as a book chapter, in which we will share our learning about the risks and complexities of ‘insider research’ or researching practices within our own institution. Presenting about an imperfect and unfinished project, rather than a retrospective narrative of excellence, was a conscious choice. It seemed well received by the audience:

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Near and Far Enemies in LD Practice

#Becomingeducational You’d think we’d let you relax…

Now that summer’s here – and oh so hot!!! – you might think that we at #becomingeducational might leave you alone – let you rest and recoup, regroup…

But no! We’ve just spotted this excellent blog post from Helen Webster (@scholastic_rat) on the ‘near and far’ enemies of Learning Development.

‘Far enemies’ are a Buddhist concept – and indicates those qualities that prevent us from living an harmonious life. Far enemies are easy to spot – with hatred very obviously far from charity or love.

Helen points out that ‘near enemies’ are worse – for they can be so so close to the quality that we want to develop: contempt is obviously an enemy of empathy – but ‘pity’? Hmmmmmm

Through an examination of near enemies Helen holds up a very clear and troubling lens to LD practice.

See what you think.

All the best,
Sandra & Tom

rattus scholasticus

Buddhism (unexpected opening, bear with me!) discusses four states or virtues known as the Brahma-viharas, the Four Immeasurables, cultivated through meditation: Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Empathetic Joy and Equanimity. Each of these has an antithesis, of course – a ‘far enemy‘. The far enemy of loving-kindness is hatred; that of compassion is cruelty.  Empathetic joy – joy in the joy of others – is opposed to jealousy, and equanimity is the inverse of craving. These are easy to spot. However, each of the Four Immeasurables also has a ‘near enemy’– something that looks so much like the quality we strive for, but really, really isn’t it. The near enemy of loving-kindness would be a possessive affection, that of compassion would be condescending pity. Empathetic joy’s near enemy is perhaps a conditional, sentimental pride, and indifference can be mistaken for true equanimity.

It’s a useful idea in the…

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why​ is writing a literature review such hard work? part two

#Becomingeducational Yes – it’s the summer – but…

We found this post on the difficulties of the Literature Review really helpful in the very practical way it helps PhD students unpack examiner comments and re-shape a Literature Review.

We especially like – her answers when examiners ask doctoral researchers to change their literature review to show how they are “located” in the text.

Specifically referring to:
What key concepts and interpretations you have taken from the literature to inform the design of the study.

What key concepts and interpretations from the literatures you will use to analyse your data.

What general approach to the topic that you have taken and where your work sits within the field.

One to share with all our PhD students.

Sandra & Tom


Yes, some examiners do ask doctoral researchers to change their literature review to show how they are “located” in the text.

OK, let’s pretend this is you. What do those pesky examiners mean exactly?

At one level this is a simple task. You are being asked to say

What key concepts and interpretations you have taken from the literature to inform the design of the study. Because no one does a project entirely from scratch – we all use other people’s work as building blocks – we have to specify exactly what wehaveborrowed. And you are also being asked to show how you have used concepts, approaches and/or interpretations. (This may well mean for instance that you have to refer back to the literatures when the methods are being explained. For instance, surveys almost always use literatures that have been introduced and explained earlier.)

What key concepts…

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