I have been making more screencasts to help students understand tasks. The latest is for L101 and can be found at https://vimeo.com/384246808
The film "Three Identical Strangers" was shown on the television a few days ago. It has been in my thoughts ever since, mainly because it was a moving film in its own right but also partly as an example of dubious ethical behaviour in terms of research.
The film is a documentary about triplets who had been separated as babies and adopted by three families. The families did not know that they were triplets. One of the triplets found out about one of the others by going to College and encountering many people who thought they knew him because one of his brothers had been to the same College the year before. They got in touch and this made the news and the third brother recognised that they looked like him and contacted his brothers so they found each other.
At first, all seemed to be "happily ever after". The brothers seemed to get on well, appeared on television programmes and opened a restaurant. However, there then became tensions between them as it was apparent that they might look very similar but were actually different in key wells. They also met their birth mother and there were some hints of something worrying as one of them reported that like many young men they could handle a lot of alcohol but their mother could keep up with them in etrms of "holding her drink".
Then, the flm turned even darker as it became clear that they had been separated for the purposes of research. They had each been placed with a well off, middle class and relatively poor family and were monitored to see the effects of this background. The families who adopted them were not told that this was happening and so did not give consent.
The story gets even murkier ethically. There were other twins who were being separated and monitored and it seems that they all had birth mothers with mental illness so this seemed to be another focus of the resarch. The word "seemed" is used because the aims of the research were not clarified and even some of the staff working on the research project did not know what the research was aiming to find out. One of the triplets committed suicide and it is not clear if there is a link between his life circumstances and him taking his own life.
The remaining brothers tried to find out about their records but these were confidential. After a long struggle they have got access to redacted records but it is still difficult for them to find all the details about what the data means.
There are a variety of ways in which this research was unethical. These include:
- flouting the principle of doing no harm. Children were exploited and there was perhaps an expectation that there might be a genetic link to poor mental health
- they were separated into social categories rather than being placed with families that were best for their interests. At least one of the parents stated that they would have adopted all three of the brothers given the opportunity
- they did not give informed consent
- they did not have access to their records.
We had an online meeting of L101 tutors last night and the Module Chair said that our course had received criticism in The Sun. I looked up the article https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/10371755/university-students-study-emojis/ It does not explicitly refer to our course although it refers to others.
It generally seems like a good endorsement of the course. Any course that provokes such an ill informed article is probably doing something right.
I try to avoid politics on this blog and in some ways, what I write in this posting is not party political. It seems very strange that when the government is making such consequential decisions, it is so desperate to avoid scrutiny from MPs or the public.
Scrutiny from "critical friends" and perhaps even critiques from people who are not so friendly can help develop better ideas and avoid mistakes. I have, for example, written materials and been given feedback on these. This feedback has often pushed me to develop better work as well as simply pointing out mistakes, mistypings etc. Similarly group discussions can ideally lead to exploratory talk where ideas and solutions are produced that are better than any one person can produce.
MPs are not being given time to read the Bill in detail and this is simply bad practice for effective decision making. This coincides with a period when many students are writing their first assignments of the academic year (if they are on J presentations). I and many other tutors are advising them to make sure that they read carefully and consider what they are reading from different angles and in a critical way.
The tool below allows enables people to compare today's Queen's Speech with previous ones.
This is a simple form of DIY concordancing but on first glance it can be very interesting. For example, I clicked on "departure" and find that it only seems to have been used once before in the speeches since 1911. I suppose it is not usual to discuss departures in a government's programmes.
I have recently finished teaching on a pre-sessional course and I was intrigued by some of the ways some students were using sources.
One aspect I noticed was that many students tended to put a full stop before references that should have been at the end of sentences. I notice that this is also common with students on online courses. This seems to suggest a mindset that regards the reference as being separate from the rest of the sentence (and perhaps the text).
This is perhaps reinforced by the way that some students inserted references after they had drafted quite extensively. This is something that I do not really see in my teaching of online students as I tend to only read the final products (the TMAs) although LB170 allows for some reading of drafts. Again, this seems to suggest a lack of integration with the text.
I wonder if the problem is that there is too much emphasis on the mechanics of referencing rather than the purposes and opportunities. Referring to sources allows a writer to be able to show that they are aware of how what they write relates to what others have written and that academic texts are often dialogues with the ideas of previous writers.
I mentioned some of the points in a twitter thread that begins at https://twitter.com/patrickelt/status/1174635019555487744
I am currently doing some teaching on a presessional course at the
University of Warwick. My work involves teaching "text based classes"
(i.e. developing reading and writing skills in an integrated way) to
students about to start on a Masters in Supply Chain Management.
They seem to be able to follow my classes so I was surprised when they struggled with a plenary lecture on quality in business. I thought that the topic was reasonably familiar and the lecture seemed clear to me. However, the lecturer did not use much visual support (my classes have the support of texts that students are reading as well as the tasks I set that aim to scaffold them). It makes me think that they find listening very challenging unless they have scaffolding in terms of:
- visual support
- content that is very specific to their speciality
- a clear lead in.
We recently visited Nice and were struck by many signs written in the local dialect. As someone who understands French quite well, I was struck how different it was from standard French. For example, the badge of the football team has “Despi 1904”, which I assume is the equivalent of “depuis 1904”. The picture below shows a bilingual sign with French at the top and the dialect underneath.
I have been listening to a very interesting radio programme on polyglots at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w3csz4pt
There are interesting points about the ways that knowledge of languages brings power (reference is made to Mandela learning Afrikaans, which was seen as the language of his oppressors but that it was much more useful for him to know it than not know it). This seems to have resonance with the need for English speakers to know other languages.
A speaker explains how the knowledge of several languages helps her to gain respect. It also helps her to break down stereotypes.
This tweet received wide attention recently and it seemed to relate to issues on some of the courses I teach:
Some key points that seem to emerge are:
- the interactional function is key here. It is not clear what the baby is expressing and if he understands what his father is saying (it is doubtful that he understands much of the informational content) but there seems to be a strong communication of fellow feeling, companionship here
- the communication is multimodal as the two of them use gestures to accomapany what they say
- they often mirror the gestures
This interview is interesting and relevant for several of the courses on language at the Open University.
I find this quotation most interesting "What is Chinese English for me? Chinese English is not somebody learning English from China and getting it wrong.
No, it's somebody learning English from China who is now developing a good command of English but using it to express Chinese concepts and Chinese culture in a way that I would not necessarily understand, because I don't understand Chinese culture, coming from outside it."
Presumably this would include political concepts like "the four modernisations", food terms and educational terms like "gao kao" (the National College Entrance Examinations) as well as historical terms related to Confucianism and Daoism.
I recently registered for a MOOC on learning Korean.
I was rather shocked by how little scaffolding there is in terms of basics when it is supposed to be for beginners. The first input is a video and the transcript is in Korean script. There had earlier been a list of Korean characters with very vague advice on their sounds but no practice of these sounds.
I find this very different from the careful scaffolding that is given for most Open University courses.
This article on multi-ethnic London English (MLE) https://www.theguardian.com/education/2019/mar/29/ching-wap-ox-slang-interpreters-decipher-texts-for-court-evidence links to several courses I teach.
It shows how language and sub cultures interrelate and how groups might want to include and exclude certain kinds of people (there is a reference to "a “cryptolect” – a language meant to hide things". A link is made near the end of the article with Polari, which is studied in Exploring Languages and Cultures (L161).
The comment by a young "drill producer" that "If it was a young person like me translating it would be more accurate. You want to understand the context" could almost be the motto for understanding language and language use and context is certainly key.
It also seems that the variety is influential outside London and is even known in East Yorkshire so the language seems to be connected to a culture that transcends geographical boundaries.
It was also interesting to read the origin of words (mainly Caribbean but with some Arabic and Polish) and this presumably reflects some of the origins of some users.
There have been many depressing reports of a decrease in the number of people studying languages. This is reflected in this article
An interesting point is that "more than half (58%) of UK adults wish they hadn’t let the language skills they learned at school slip, 77% agree that language skills increase employability and just over half (53%) regret not having made the most of studying languages when they had the chance."
It is to be hoped that Brexit does not happen but it seems that the lack of encouragement to learn languages and to understand other cultures may have been a factor in causing the referendum result.
I have come across this dialect quiz.
Interestingly, when I tried it, the answer came as the Midlands (I lived in Coventry for the first 11 years of my life) and the north west of England - I did live there for about 5 years but I spent longer in Cambridgeshire, including my secondary school education.
There seems to be a very useful EAP initiative at the OU where students are referred for one to one help and I am hoping to be involved in this. I have had some referrals already but one student withdrew before making contact and another two have not yet replied.
This kind of support seems to be very useful and seems similar to the way pupils are supported with linguistic needs by teachers at school rather than taking separate English lessons.
I spent yesterday at the tutor briefing for the new course "Introducing English Language Studies" (L101). It looks like a very interesting course to be working on with a wide range of materials and topic.
I like the variety of genres for assessment - tutor group forum postings for TMA 1, presentation slides and script for TMA 2, a commentary for TMA 3 and an essay for TMA 4. This should help to raise awareness of the wide range of different uses and style of language even if they are all in an "academic context".
There now seems to be widespread agreement that the appointment of Peter Horrocks as Vice Chancellor was a very big mistake and thankfully the Open University now seems to be led by a VC who is committed to the students and staff.
It is interesting reading the latest edition of the London Review of Books to see how many of the characteristics of the management of the BBC and especially the World Service presaged the management style he carried on to the OU
I think most of the staff and students now feel much more confident about the university than we did one year ago.
I have just seen a fascinating tweet from Michael Rosen:
"My mother was a ‘suppressed ‘ bilingual. We discovered on a trip to Germany in 1957 her first language was Yiddish which from about 15 she suppressed and repressed. I’m still figuring out the personal, social and political reasons why she did and what we all lost as a result."
I wonder if he will ever be able to completely figure "out the personal, social
and political reasons why she did" it.
I have been spending the day at the Associate Lecturer Assembly.
There was a brief talk by Mary Keller, the Acting Vice Chancellor, followed by a more extended discussion. She was persuasive and quite inspiring in some ways. She seems very committed to the vision of the Open University making a difference to students’ lives. She also seems flexible about ways of working, including the continuance of face to face as well as online tuition. I certainly feel more optimistic about the OU’s future than under the previous VC.
We were also updated on the prospect of an AL contract. There has been discussion of the for nearly two decades but it now looks more likely than at any previous time. This should make the position of tutors more secure.
In the afternoon, there was an interesting talk by Cath Brown, President of the Open University Students Association. We discussed the issue of whether we thought we should encourage students to use microphones rather than text chat in online tutorials. I tend to think it should depend on context but the widespread use of text chat in online tutorials can be useful but is very tiring for the tutor if they need to speak and monitor and in these cases, tutorials should be kept to one hour in length.
A video has been produced to discuss the benefits of attending tutorials. The speaker was one of my students last year and showed great levels of initiative and drive by travelling for several hours to attend my tutorials. The video can be found at:
Over the past few years, I have taught several students in prison. The OU's support of students seems to be very laudable as it can help in rehabilitation and I have often found students in prison hard working and serious about their students. Most have made very good progress.
There are, however, quite serious challenges and my experience today illustrates one of the main ones which is the way that students are often moved. I have spent several weeks trying to arrange a tutorial with a student and the Education Officer told me yesterday that it might have to be cancelled. This morning, the cancellation was confirmed as he has moved prison so my work in arranging the meeting has been a waste of time.
As most of my OU courses only run from October to June, I need to do other work to "keep the wolf from the door".
This year I did two. One was at Reading and involved working with teachers of EAP from Chinese universities. I have done this several times before and it is always interesting and enjoyable although the teachers are from such diverse institutions and backgrounds that it is difficult to know how much impact there is.
The second course was a pre-sessional at Warwick. I have done many pre-sessionals in the past (at Manchester and Bristol) but this was my first one for more than five years. It was similar to previous ones in that it was largely based around a small scale study project.
It was, however, quite different to previous pre-sessionals in that it was very specific. All of the students will be studying for a Masters degree in Supply Chain Management. We were given relatively light teaching loads so that we could design quite specific materials and I quite enjoyed working with content on the topic and helping to scaffold students to cope with articles using content that was relevant.
My teaching was "Text based studies" (ie reading and writing). We worked with three articles and there was variation in the style and formatting. One made much more use of diagrams than the other two and one of the others described the research methods in more depth. If I did the course in the future, I would also like to make more use of student writing such as responses to the kinds of assignments students would write.
Working towards a Study Project seemed quite focused and authentic but the final week of the course consisted of tests that seemed less valuable. Some students on the course (this were mainly from other groups rather than the one I taught) seemed to be very disappointed with their results and I wonder how much of a blow this would have been to their morale as they are about to enter their courses.
I have needed to do various kinds of training on aspects like the GDPR legislation, Health and Safety and Prevent for my work at the Open University and other universities. Although these aspects are important and it is vital that I know some of the content (the OU could face a very heavy fine if its staff, including myself, make serious mistakes in terms of the protection of data), I am struck by how trivial some of the assessment is. For example, I did a GDPR module at another university today (I am working on a presessional course) and one of the questions was about the organisation responsible's name and I needed to get this correct to pass the test where in the real world, I would need to know more than the name but how to contact them if there was really a problem.
These kinds of multiple choice questions are often very inappropriate for such areas of knowledge where the real issues are exercising good judgement in complex issues. Universities need to decide whether they really want to train and assess their employees' skills or whether their aim is just to put the responsibility on the employees if anything goes wrong.
I have been teaching some EAP classes recently (presessional) and have been encouraging students to use mobile phones at times in class (eg searching for articles using search engines like Google Scholar). I think this is often appropriate and most students use the phones appropriately.
Today, I saw a large lecture where the lecturer made use of Answer Garden (https://answergarden.ch/) to make a lecture more interactive than it would have been. Students could type short responses to questions that are then displayed on a screen as a kind of word cloud. I think this has potential to make lectures more interactive than they would otherwise be.
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