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Associate Lecturer Assembly

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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.

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Video on the benefits of tutorials

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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:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ttdUMDBEN4&feature=youtu.be

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The frustrations (as well as the value) of teaching students in prison

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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.

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Summer work

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 20 Sep 2018, 12:40

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.


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Online training courses for staff

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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.

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Mobile phone use in HE classes

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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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Feedback from students

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Final results for many of the courses I teach have just been released.  Some students have given feedback on the courses, which I think is useful for me and the designers of the courses as it indicates what students think has been particularly pertinent for their needs.

The comments are probably quite altruistic but I think they can improve the effectiveness of my future support for students on future courses.

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Quoting and paraphrasing

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 17 Jul 2018, 23:12

I have been marking quite a large number of TMAs for L185 (EAP Online) and LB170 (Communication Skills for Business and Management) and notice that many students only reference when they quote something from a source.  I suppose this is a common misconception that references are only needed when the exact words are used.  Perhaps this is compounded by the way that sometimes students are asked to write from a limited number of sources that they know I, as the marker, has read.  They also have to use a great deal of material from these sources and it can perhaps seem unclear where the reference would go - at the end of each sentence, at the end of a paragraph, at the end of several paragraphs?  Considering how to be more effective in raising awareness will be an important aspect of teaching on these courses next year.



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Podcast to support students doing an EMA

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 17 May 2018, 17:29

I recently went to London to make a podcast with two other tutors on E304.  The aim was to give advice for students on doing their EMA.  The edited version of the first part of the discussion can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OrD9XnZGDVw&feature=youtu.be - I think the second part will be available soon.

I think/hope that hearing tutors discuss what they are hoping for in an EMA can be useful for students when they are writing their own work.  I think it might help to demystify the project and make it seem manageable.  It might also help the students that tutors are consistent and clear about what kinds of aspects they are looking for.

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Russian as the language of space travel

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It is interesting to listen to Helen Sharman at about 58 minutes of this programme describing how the first few months of her training to go into space were devoted to learning Russian and physcal fitness.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09y1xkr

She seemed very matter of fact about the need to learn it.

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A new record for commitment

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I am impressed by the dedication and commitment of many students and I was struck by one particular example yesterday.  I had a tutorial yesterday evening and all the students who attended were very engaged and this is impressive in itself as they have busy lives and online tutorials are useful but not always easy ways for students to study as they require a great deal of concentration.  One student joined the tutorial from China and he said it was 3 am there and he had especially set his alarm to wake up for it.  He only used the textbox function rather than the microphone as his wife was sleeping in the next room (his choice seemed reasonable in the circumstances).  He made a very useful contribution despite having only just woken up.

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Screencasts

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I am experimenting with the use of screencasts to support students with study skills and content on analysing English grammar.  So far, I have made the following:

On aspects of theme https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFehbwDXbm

Lexical cohesion https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFnrb4o9kt

Passives https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFVlbloloz

Using sources in assignments https://screencast-o-matic.com/watch/cFVX6oo6C5


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Pronunciation site - articulation

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 1 Mar 2018, 11:48

I have just come across this intriguing site.  It enables the viewer to not only hear the sounds but includes a video of how the sound is made.  It seems useful for learners but I wonder how easy or otherwise it is for the to transfer the video to their own production in practice.

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Adobe connect session

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Friday, 6 Apr 2018, 17:19

Last night's session for E304 (Exploring English Grammar) was interesting.  The students coped well with what are quite complex concepts, related to mode.

It was noticeable that many of the students did not have working microphones and this poses some challenges for the teacher.  It makes getting feedback particularly slow.  Students can write in text boxes and I can see that a student is in the process or writing, it is hard to predict when they are going to finish writing and what they are likely to say.

I quite enjoy online tutorials but they are often very intense for the tutor as they need to think about what they are going to say as well as monitoring chat boxes, remembering who can be called on to speak (as they do have working microphones) and manipulating slides and working the whiteboard at the same time.

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Language and identity

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 3 Jan 2018, 16:58

This article about an increasing interest in Luxembourgish is quite intriguing and relates to some of the issues discussed on some OU courses, especially L161, "Exploring Languages and Cultures"

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/dec/28/luxembourgish-grand-duchys-native-language-enjoys-renaissance

One key theme of the article is the ability to have a private language.  As one person says "it expands your view and your children cannot talk in a secret language that you do not understand.”

I have also been reading "Flight" by the Polish writer, Olga Tokarczuk and she writes pityingly of those who only speak English as follows:

"There are countries where people speak English .  But not like us - we have our own languages in our carry on luggage.... only ever using English when we travel, and then only in foreign countries.  It's hard to imagine but English is their real language.  They don't have anything to fall back on or turn to in moments of doubt.

"How lost they must feel in the world, where all instructions, all the lyrics of the stupidest possible songs, all the menus, all the excrutiating pamphlets and brochures - even the buttons in the lift - are in their private language. They may be understood by anyone at any moment....." (Tokarczuk 2007/2017: 183).


Tokarczuk O (2007 translated 2017) Flight London: Fitzcarraldo.

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The reality of online tutorials

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I had a tutorial yesterday that I thought was interesting for partly positive and partly negative reasons.

There were two students.  One said she was a "stay at home mum" and had a one year old at home and no microphone and the other said he needed to disappear at times to do answer some questions about his work. 

There were times when one or the other disappeared (they told me when this was happening) and I sometimes had to check that at least one of them was there; otherwise, I would have been speaking to myself. 

However, despite the unexpected nature of the set up, it seemed like a successful tutorial - one student said he understood some key content of the course at last (in an email sent later) and the other student seemed happy with it.  Of course, this might just be politeness but she asked many questions so seemed very engaged.

I suppose this shows how flexible we often have to be when teaching distance students as there are many things they are trying to juggle in their lives.  However, the unpredictability does not preclude opportunities for learning.


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"Brexit" - a taboo word in OU management discussions?

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Wednesday, 22 Nov 2017, 17:10

There is a great deal of activity in the management of the Open University at the moment and there is a very complex array of "workstreams" working on "transforming" and "redesigning" the way the university works and as a tutor, I hear about them through messages and meetings such as the AL Assembly last weekend.  However, the issue of Brexit and its effects on the university does not seem to be mentioned often enough.

I would think Brexit will have a very significant effect on the Open University (and probably all other British universities as well).  A first effect will be on the many EU staff in the university and their morale and retention in a hostile environment.  A second will be on the recruitment of students.  A colleague commented on how she has fewer students than before from Eastern and Central Europe.  The atmosphere around Brexit and hostility towards EU citizens might have led to a less positive attitude towards the UK in general and UK universities in particular.  A third effect is the reduction in EU research funding.

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Speaking and listening skills for distance learners

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Monday, 26 Mar 2018, 21:04

My contribution to the BBC "Go the Distance" course is now available at http://www.bbc.co.uk/guides/zqfdrwx

An expanded (and probably more useful) version is available at Open Learn at

http://www.open.edu/openlearn/education-development/education/patrick-andrews-on-academic-talk

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BBC course to support Distance Learners

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Tuesday, 24 Oct 2017, 15:39

The BBC now has a course on being a distance learner and it provides perspectives from distance learners and tutors.  It can be found at

http://www.bbc.co.uk/learningenglish/english/gothedistance/about

I think I will be appearing in week 3.
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Dialect map for the UK

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Thursday, 28 Sep 2017, 09:16

I have just come across the following website, which has useful information about dialects in the UK - MacKenzie, Laurel, George Bailey & Danielle Turton. 2016. Our Dialects: Mapping variation in English in the UK [Website]. http://tiny.cc/OurDialects. I found it at http://projects.alc.manchester.ac.uk/ukdialectmaps/

I was interested to see that "batch" is used for a bread roll not only in my birthplace of Coventry but also Liverpool.  It seems surprising that two cities that are quite separate should use the same word but I suppose there must have been some common origin.

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An interesting, sceptical article about EMI

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I have just come across the following article:

http://digital.elgazette.com/august-september-2017/emi-special-staff-get-really-worried-and-fear-being-mocked-by-their-students.html

This seems to resonate with my experience of working wth teachers from China.  As the article says, the lecturers are often brilliant in their fields but feel insecure about their English.  I think and hope the course helped the teachers build their confidence and realise that they can communicate in English but, of course, they still have room for development and they will still be anxious.

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Course on EMI

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As this is a relatively quiet part of the year with my OU teaching, I am working for the University of Reading with some university lecturers from China who are intending to teach through the medium of English from next year.  Their home institution specialises in architecture and most teach courses in related areas like engineering, urban planning and materials science.

The first day was spent finding out more about their needs and current levels of English.  Unsurprisingly, their levels of English (and confidence) vary quite markedly.  However, when I said I realised that many of them might feel they are stronger at reading and writing, their relief was palpable.  I also tried to reassure the group that many of them will feel much more confident at the end of the course.

I am looking forward to finding out more about the group and how we can help them to feel confident about what will be quite a daunting change to their practices.

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MOOC on EMI 2

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Edited by Patrick Andrews, Sunday, 23 Jul 2017, 14:20

I have taken several MOOCs as a student as well as being a moderator on one.  The most recent has been the MOOC on EMI.  I quite enjoyed this but there were also some aspects that I feel less keen on.

The course was relatively small and it was possible to engage with other students and many of these were engaged and had different and interesting perspectives. We were able to make use of "collective intelligence".

It was just moderated by the two lead educators.  They were very responsive and I was surprised that they were able to reply to so many comments.  I assume that they must have been given time to do this.  There are other courses where the moderators are much less visible.

I do not really like the "mark as complete" button at the end of each activity.  This seems to imply the learning has finished but in fact, it is often important to go back to the activity (eg to respond to comments on what I had posted).

I also find the quiz items either trivial or the answers could be unreliable - I suppose this is inevitable with "objective testing" and this is the only way to cope with the size of the course.

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MOOC on EMI

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I have started studying a MOOC on English as a Medium of Instruction for Academics (https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/emi-academics/1/todo/8341)  The first week has been interesting in seeing the variety of concerns that practitioners have.

It is also good to see that the course makes heavy use of input from Kristina Hultgren, who works for the OU.  This shows how this university is doing important work in the field of Applied Linguistics.


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MOOC on English for Academic Purposes

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An OU MOOC on English for Academic Purposes will be offered next month:

https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/learning-english-academic-purposes-first-steps?utm_source=newsletter_broadcast&utm_medium=futurelearn_organic_email&utm_campaign=fl_june_2017&utm_term=05_06_2017_first_name_there_s_a_course_for_you_starting_today

There are also due to be some SPOC (Short Private Online Courses) to follow for more specific academic needs.

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