Monthly Archives: March 2006

Gender and Status as Barriers to Professional Development

This observation maybe entirely culture-specific for the Austrian HE sector. In recent ramblings I talked about my analysis of staff development offerings and how I hope to improve their acceptance. After my first coaching experiences over the past fortnight or so, where I personally and individually talked to staff about their challenges and needs for e-learning, three interesting and significant findings emerged:

1. Gender
Mainly female colleagues took advantage of the coaching opportunities at a ratio of roughly 7:1. My conclusion, therefore, is that this type of approach is less attractive to men. The hypothesis is that this is a role issue. Men may be less forward in asking for help as this could signal ignorance. My guess is that men will react better to self-study offerings.

2. Rank
Professors took no advantage of the coaching offer so far. One reason maybe that most of them are men (see above). Another is age, and it may also be exacerbated by the status a professorship at university comes with, i.e. being an expert – where ignorance is a sign of weakness.

3. Faculty
Most of the staff knocking on my door came from the Arts and Humanities. A few others where from the Business Studies Faculty, no-one came from the Computing Sciences or Technical Faculty. Again, is it shyness to admit not to know (what is widely perceived to be) a technical area by attending a consultancy session? Is it lack of interest in usage or pedagogy? Or are they really that advanced they don’t need any help?

Interesting findings which will influence future SD strategies for e-Learning.

Staff Development

In HEIs staff development has been notoriously voluntary. Not only is participation in professional development courses non-obligatory, in some cases the offer too is rather random and surprisingly non-strategic in terms of the aims and needs of the institution. Nowhere is this insufficiency more obvious than in the use of learning technology.

As a logical consequence, this leaves universities vulnerable in terms of common standards across the institution as well as in competition with others. For my own institution I am experimenting with a new SD environment, that is still based on voluntarity, but hopes to attract more folk into participating.

At present, SD courses are perceived by academic staff as too long, too technical, too generic, and at the wrong times. With low participation rates they are also too expensive for the institution in cost-benefit terms. Talks with staff reveiled that there was a wish for more personal and flexible support. The SD environment I devised in response consists of three strands:

formal courses: these are a mostly for show-off by the institution, “prospectus propaganda”, to demonstrate that SD is an institutional concern. Improvement on the previous offer I hope to come from shorter independent lunchtime sessions.

coaching structure: individual and flexible support (on demand, or at pre-booked times). Scalibility is an issue, but I try to get round it by developing subject clusters.

self-study opportunities: relevant downloads, screen-movies, community fora.

It has also long been a thorn in my eye that we usually train staff in a technology rather than a technique! According to staff opinion this is perceived as not relevant. What we hear is “no more tools”. I believe it to be more attractive and relevant to replace “Introduction to Moodle” with “Introduction to Online Teaching and Learning”, and “How to use the discussion forum” with “e-moderating online discussions”. It has the added advantage that although the institutional platform may be implicit, there is room for flexibility that allows transferability to other tools.

Earning a penny online

Hooray, I’ve earned my first US cent last week with work I did for Mechanical Turk! This new scheme from Amazon may give students the opportunity to supplement their earnings from working night shifts at MacDonalds. All they need to do is to support artificial intelligence.

The idea is taken from mediaeval Europe where an ingenious inventor presented a mechanical humanoid that was actually not mechanical but had a man inside to move it. Amazon’s analogy is that artificial intelligence need not be genuine, but can be artificial, artificial intelligence. Humans, thus, can complete computer tasks and earn money. Well, once the students earnings from Mechanical Turk exceed my salary, I’m prepared to shift jobs!

Presentation Portfolios vs Creativity

In contrast to progress files and PDPs, presentation portfolios are not directly related to the pedagogic processes, but rather aim to demonstrate acquired knowledge, skills and competences. Presentation portfolios can contain evidence of student work (such as graphics, essays, concept maps, etc.) to show skills the learner has acquired during their course. A well familiar concept in, e.g. Architecture or Graphic Design and the Fine Arts. Education-related experiences can also form part of these portfolios, e.g. from work placements, archaeological digs, year abroad, and so on.

Presentation portfolios equip students with a tool to collect evidence of their learning and skills and to present themselves to an audience of their choosing, e.g. potential employers, … on the Web. Better known platforms to facilitate this are ELGG, OSPI, and Academici. But what are they: personal profiling tools, some would say.

In my opinion, though, there is no room for creativity or personality in this method of presentation. Tools that allow you to present yourself by filling in a form can only provide a means to an end for people who lack other presentation skills, in this case Web design skills. Granted, they may proove useful to people who are not gifted in the creative skills or in the technical know-how to translate these into Webpages, and who still want to bring a point across. But – how will they be read…?

If you ever went through a pile of job applications, which ones caught your eye? The A4 white copy paper Times-New-Roman CV form, or the creative different application that stood out of the pile?