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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Take5 #10: What makes an excellent lecturer or teacher?

#Becomingeducational As the summer looms …

Some people are able to actually take vacations; some rejoice in time for research projects large or small; others will be marking – sorting out re-sits – working in Clearing – delivering parts of two-year accelerated degrees…

Whatever your situation, we thought that you might be refreshed by this re-blog of the #Take5 post on ‘What makes an Excellent Lecturer.

This piece of research was undertaken at the LSE by a LondonMet Alumnus, Sebastian Boo.

Care and kindness top the scale of what really matters.

No surprise there!

So – let’s have a bit of space and time and wriggle room so that we can show care and be kind?

Wouldn’t that be a nice way to start 2018/19?

All the best,
Sandra & Tom

Take 5

Sebastian Boo, a former LondonMet student, shares his current LSE-based research into student views of excellent teachers. Yes – they mention clarity, voice, passion and performance… BUT there is also great emphasis on CARE and KINDNESS… Have a read.

Students’ views of excellent teachers
Who were your best teachers or professors? I remember my primary school teacher, Mr Johnson, for his captivating storytelling, my secondary school biology teacher, Dr Higby, for his knowledge and enthusiasm; and my physiology professor John Stevens’ ready wit and humour.

Research indicates that teaching quality is the single most significant factor in determining student achievement (Mincu 2015; Biggs 2011; Looney 2011 & Goe 2007). Helping teachers excel is therefore important.

There is no shortage of advice educators can turn to for tips on how to develop and hone their craft. Nonetheless, most teachers do not achieve excellence. According to a survey of 219 university students…

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Defence against the Dark Arts of LD

#Becomingeducational This one’s for our Academic Mentors!!

We at LondonMet were very lucky recently to have the wonderful Dr Webster run an ALDinHE Regional Event at ours – on one-to-ones.

It was an inspiring day – full of deep thinking and practical ideas. So, we are really happy to re-blog Helen’s thoughts on the dark arts – with a special focus on the FivePs of learning development.

thank you Helen for that great event – and thank you again for this thoughtful follow up.

Sandra & Tom

rattus scholasticus

I wrote previously about the 5 Ps of LD model I developed as part of the training on one to one work: Presenting Problem, Pertinent Factors, Perception of Task, Process and Product. In discussions with participants on those training days, it became clear that there’s a number of ways in which that model could be understood, not all of which are in keeping with the student-centred, ethical ethos we LDers promote.

The roots of the 5 Ps model lie in the practices of psychologists and counsellors. The original 5 Ps come from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and encompass the Presenting Problem, with the Predisposing, Precipitating,  Protective and Perpetuating factors, which, when explored with the client, build a multifacted mutual understanding of the problem.

The approach they belong to is called formulation, and it was developed to address the problems inherent in a diagnostic model when it is applied…

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Reading theses to write a thesis

#Becomingeducational Nearing the end of the academic year…

… and what if your thoughts are turning to:

a) Writing your own thesis

b) Helping your students polish off their theses/dissertations?

Some simple tips and tricks from ‘Doctoral Writing’, May 2018

DoctoralWriting SIG

By Cally Guerin

One of the major challenges of writing a doctoral thesis is that the document submitted for examination doesn’t usually look much like the texts that PhD candidates read. For many students, the first six months or so is spent reading masses of articles, chapters and books, and the focus is on the content of those texts. Then they turn their attention to writing a markedly different genre. Even for those writing a thesis by publication, the document submitted for examination includes sections that do not resemble much of what they have been reading during candidature.

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#Becomingeducational Creativity and Innovation Week

#creativeHE #ImaginEd #BritishLibrary #FreeEvent #22ndApril
The Library of Ideas: Creative Use of The British Library
Discover how the British Library can help you create and develop your own artistic projects. #Becomingeducational is passing on this invitation…
Are you an early-career artist or student looking for inspiration?
Undercurrent Theatre is hosting this chance to meet curators, get up close to some of the collections and discover how you can use the Library to develop your own artistic projects.
The British Library holds a wealth of materials which are increasingly being used as inspiration for artists and creatives alike. Use this opportunity to find out more about the Library, how to access the Library’s collections, how to research and develop your own artistic projects using the collections as sites of inspiration and to begin an exchange of ideas.
The afternoon will be hosted by Undercurrent Theatre, the first Associate Theatre Company of the British Library, funded by Arts Council England.
In 2016 Undercurrent partnered with the British Library for their sell-out theatre production Calculating Kindness which was inspired by material from the Library’s contemporary scientific archives.
The event is FREE however advance booking is required: https://www.bl.uk/events/the-library-of-ideas-creative-use-of-the-british-library
As you may know, the British Library has a collection of over 150 million items ranging from manuscripts and magazines to a sound archive and drawings.
All of this is available to the public however accessing the library is not easy… This event is designed to break down barriers and give early-career artists the tools and confidence to access the materials in the British Library.
The British Library would be very grateful for any support *you* could give in helping to get the word out; could you include this event on a newsletter, or post on your intranet, or simply share this event with people you know?
The link to book free tickets is: https://www.bl.uk/events/the-library-of-ideas-creative-use-of-the-british-library – and also here is the link to our facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/584601111890173/
POSTSCRIPT: It is still not too late to join in with #creativeHE’s thoughtful challenges – this week led by Gillian Judson and Norman Jackson – join here: