Since last week, I am a British passport holder. After a long time and spending a lot of money, I now hold this valuable travel document. It’s an EU edition, thank you very much – if you don’t have one, I suggest you get one while they’re still available. I am now a dual citizen, that class of people who are by identitarians often suspiciously regarded as somehow disloyal. Indeed, how can you hold more than one national identity and be loyal to both? Or was that more than one thought maybe?
‘Membership has its privileges’
The answer is simple really: my European identity contains both my German and British identities nicely. In fact, now that I think about it, as idiotic as Brexit is a venture (don’t believe me – believe one of David Davis’ Spads, who has now broken ranks), it has helped me define myself more clearly: I am (and will always remain) an EU citizen. I am a German Anglophile by birth and upbringing, respectively. I am a proudly pro-European British citizen now. With all of those come privileges, responsibilities, and rights.
It was the assault on my rights as an EU citizen that brought me to the decision to end the continuous uncertainty I had been subjected to – against all leave campaign promises regarding our status, which turned out to be porkies of an especially cynical kind, affecting Brits abroad and EU citizens (both mostly deprived of a vote) here alike. Now that I am a Brit, and hold the membership credentials that entails, I reflect back on the journey through the valley of insecurity this took.
Are you applying while European?
One of the biggest insecurities that affect EU citizens in the UK now is the spectre of discrimination. EU online support forums are full of fearful stories of unfairly priced motor insurance quotes and mortgage offers being withdrawn. Some are misunderstandings due to heightened sensitivity, but some turn out to be true. The ones that really stuck with me are the ones I pick within my professional area.
I have had reports of internships, contracts and work offers being retracted due to the EU citizenship of the candidates – normally around funding or just lack of clarity what will happen next. Nothing in writing of course – but enough to make my Spidey senses tingle.
But this is against current law, non?
Let’s imagine you’re applying while European. A central question asked as part of every recruitment process is a version of ‘do you have the right to work in the UK?’. At the moment, sure, an EU citizen does have this right. But that is – thanks to HMGov – now that’s conditional until a final agreement has been reached.
An EU citizen has the right now, but the legal status after March 2019 remains stubbornly unclear. Does that mean you can only sign a contract until the date of Brexit in March 2019? With all the best will in the world, even with a permanent residency card in hand, no EU citizen can currently honestly make that claim beyond March 2019. I recognise it is highly likely that it will be clear at some point, but is it a right and can it be guaranteed by the individual at the time of application? No one knows – and what will a nervous hiring manager do with your application now, just in case they need to go through additional hoops after Brexit or pay a migrants skills charge?
‘Please apply again’
‘Nothing will change for you’, was the Brexiter’s standard answer to my concerns – but everything has changed. My advice is of course for EU applicants (and all others) to fill in their anti-discrimination forms (adding the option ‘EU citizen’ has become a bit of batch of pride among activists), so that the actual effect of this becomes clear at least retrospectively.
Now I know that non-EU citizens have been subjected to this type of gauntlet for years of anti-immigration rhetoric. But two wrongs don’t make a right, and just as I bemoaned the withdrawal of post study work visas for international students, which helped the UK attract and retain non-EU talent (and brought in shedloads of money), I bemoan this further erosion of the UK as a country ‘open for business’ (not to even mention ‘open to ideas’).
Looking back at achieving citizenship and passport, my European identity, and my sense of history imbued by my German upbringing with parents who remembered WW2, I spend every day hoping for a better turn of events, for myself, my EU immigrant cat (pet passport and all), those I love – and those I don’t. Brexit is kobayashi maru, the unwinnable scenario – no amount of optimism is going to change its doomed course. My speck of hope is that I now have a vote – and I hope that many others with permanent residency will come to the conclusion that they should get one too.
Should I e.g. be subjected by redundancy in the future (higher education is one the industries most affected by Brexit), I now can claim that I have the permanent right work in the UK, 2019 and beyond. But as many qualified EU workers in the UK (and their international employers) now recognise, they do not have the obligation to stay. International mobility is an asset, especially when paired with the transferable workplace skills and the languages to facilitate a smooth transition. Maybe some of us may end being able to have our cake and eat it after all.
I would like to know if you have experienced the issues I’m writing about – or can give me assurances that I’m overly worried. Have you experienced or heard of any EU citizens struggling with this? Share in the comments and let’s talk about it.
Have times changed. Early in my career, I used to be sceptical about student input into services and learning. Turns out I learnt this from my elders. My education was – with noble exemptions – fairly top down: school, university, peers – the established order knew better, and students could not be trusted to make decisions about their own learning. Everywhere else, including in universities, it became all about self-regulation, but students were somehow different – assumed to be self-indulged and opportunistic. In earlier blog posts, I have held up the values of a hard education and how it has built the resilience I nowadays benefit from. And that wasn’t wrong, but I used to overlook the part where students can be much more than clients or consumers – they can, and should become true partners. And most want to be challenged, not spoon fed.
A slow learning process
This is something I’ve learnt over roughly the last year. It began with a consultancy project: we asked a group of students to help us reach out more successfully to their peers using social media. The results were nothing but eye-opening. Our Facebook reach (the recommended channel to reach out to our current students) jumped from single-digits to regularly to over a thousand. And since we’ve learnt to not just inform them about what we do, but provide valuable content they can work with, their online engagement has risen even more. What this means is for another post, but the lesson here was that the students were ready to engage, which often eluded us in what we often think of the ‘real world’. In truth, it was us our insistence on them answering our emails (haha) and showing up when we wanted them to do so who stood in the way of success. Lesson learnt: listen to your students and go where they are.
Build it and they will come … or maybe they will stay home and watch cat pictures
Build a bed and I will sleep on it
It’s interesting that the above approach now is being used by employers, who use online (and social media) channels to engage the students where they are, increasingly offering them options they actually find attractive. For that, we have to understand that with the incoming student generation, online is just as valid as offline – and it is time that universities learn that about them. I recently sat in a development session with alumni and student entrepreneurs – we are jointly working on improving our start-up offer – and it was amazing to behold the differences in the way ‘we’ (education professionals) looked for solutions to simple questions about learning how to run a business and how ‘they’ (students and alumni) addressed actually addressed them. It was an educating experience. My learning is that whenever we think we know what is best for the students, it’s time to make sure we have them in the room to lead us towards what they actually need. We should neither consult them and then railroad them into what ‘we know is best for them’, nor just do all the things a random sample of students will tell us on the day. It’s a long process of mutual listening, but hey, as educators, using our qualitative research skills doesn’t hurt a bit. Let’s build services that reflect this approach.
A community of learners
The central truth that I have learnt by working closely with students and alumni over the past year, has been to observe how they build communities – and that almost completely managed and driven online. A space without community means nothing to them – build it, and they probably will chat online about how they want a different space. Build a bespoke online space, and they will use a different channel to – you get the (cat) picture. Don’t only ask them, join them in their places – whether online or in person (that difference matters less and less). It is in valuing and treating them as equals and partners where true student engagement happens. Do I always get this right? Absolutely not, but I have students and alumni whose judgement I trust and who will help me understand them and their needs.
Now that I think about that, they have taught me something – they have engaged me in a learning community where ideas are shared and concepts are worked out together. What a great student experience I had!
This week I have gone part time. Instead of a nine to five, five day work week, I’m now working four days a week at reduced hours. I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, and I think the time is right. This is also giving me the opportunity to develop new skills. So, what will I do?
The three areas in which I think I should develop my skills are: I would like to improve my French language knowledge because I think I should work on my language skills at this specific point of British history. The only positive effect of the Brexit referendum result has been for me that I’m an even more staunch European than before.
Secondly, I want to learn more about technology. I think that technology is becoming ever more important in the workplace and that does not exempt universities. So, I want to learn more about coding, programming, web development, and data analytics. The workplace is depending increasingly on these skills and people in universities need to adapt to that just as much because these are the skills that we will have to imbue in our students – what better time than to learn them now? Also, my service is ever more focusing on analysing our student data to improve the student experience, and I think evidence and data-driven employability services are the future.
And thirdly, I want to develop my professional networks further. I am keen to find out how my contacts are working so I will spend some time meeting people and learning a little bit about how they do their work in the field of employability and beyond. I’ve always done this when travelling to a new place, meeting up with people I only knew online – now I’d like to intensify this approach.
So, that’s my plan. Is there anything else you think I should learn? Send me a comment on Twitter, give me ideas on LinkedIn, let’s meet and talk – let’s see what happens. I will be happy to hear from you.
Some time ago, my team went through an exercise in self-reflection – or as those things often go, we tried, did some of it and then got distracted by doing the ‘real job’. One of the ideas we were pursuing was to understand everyone’s relationship with their jobs.
We agreed on a format, where we would answer a number of simple questions, such as ‘What do I do?’, ‘What does it mean to me?’, and ‘Where do I want to take this?’. The aim was that we would tell each other in one of our weekly start the week meetings.
It never actually happened as planned, but I’ve got a little memento – as I wasn’t going to be there on the day, I recorded a short video message. Upon reflection, I actually like it quite a bit – it’s some form of mini-manifesto on how I think I do my job. Have a look, and see if it resonates with you.
So why was I close to giving this qualification up? My first motivation for the qualification was to ‘unstick’ my career. I saw that securing knowledge (especially in the ‘dark arts’ of quality assurance) would help me break the ‘careers/placements guy’ label that I have acquired over the years. For this, I thought, I needed some UK qualification letters behind my name. People in higher education love letters behind their names – I have worked with colleagues who almost needed a second line on their business cards. I did find out that this could be more trouble than it is worth: seeking professional development, signing up for what is essentially an academic qualification was probably the wrong step.And it shows so far in my performance: the more I try to conform
And it shows so far in my performance: the more I try to conform with the requirements of ‘level seven-ness’ (yes, someone actually used that term at a residential — for those who don’t live in the world of academic jargon, the terms is supposed to denote master’s level thinking), the less I achieve. That does remind me a bit of school, if I’m honest – and I really didn’t like school. I wrote three assignments, the first one rightly criticised for a lack of critical thinking but passing; the second one failing on this criterion – so I secured myself some extra tutoring and especially focused on that very point – only to fail the third assignment, for mostly the same reason (which was quite frustrating). Also, I was told, I showed a lack of knowledge in the subject area – which is again a fair criticism, as I focused so much on ‘how’ to answer than ‘what’ to answer.
In essence – I am struggling to fulfil what the course wants me to do, and the more I try to conform, the more uninterested I am becoming – and the less I perform. That’s not a good dynamic – and it does indeed remind me of every structured learning experience I’ve joined in before – did I mention I didn’t like school? I succeeded in university because I ditched the prescribed pathway and self-taught myself the required knowledge – I guess this would count as self-directed study, but it also shows that I’m not necessarily built for being a good (in the sense of compliant) student.
About the usefulness of the course to my career as a manager – let’s be clear: decision making in complex organisations often requires very little critical thinking in the academic sense. It’s not the better argument that wins, it’s the politically more savvy one that does. Currently, it feels like investing into repairing my struggling academic performance wouldn’t be worth it – and that’s why I almost pulled out. I already have a higher qualification than this, and the value I can gain from that perspective is limited – it was worth finding out, but not worth putting ever more effort into, to conform to a standard that is professionally only of limited relevance. I have learnt a lot from this experience so far, but may soon reach the limits of what I would want to get out of it, any more effort might become be a waste of time. I discussed this with the programme manager, and have to say that that was a very constructive discussion. I have decided to continue, as the repair job should be manageable, and I can progress to what might the more interesting part (no essays, but personal development planning and a portfolio). So for the time being, I’m sticking with it.
In the meantime, my career has developed rather nicely without the PGCert – I am now an elected staff trustee on the board of my university. Here I see, and help with decisions that affect a multi-million pound organisation. I gain insight into institutional strategy, management and politics, as well as gain knowledge in areas other than my own. I feel that spending time on this makes more sense than trying to conform with academic learning outcomes so that I get better grades – which is what the PGCert currently feels like. Maybe I will be able to change my perspective, as my journey as a student further develops.
Which leads me to the next point: The third thing that I wanted to experience on the programme was ‘the student experience’ in the post-1992 UK degree system. Now that, I do, and it is a mixed one: being a fairly self-motivated worker, putting in the required time is not a big problem. But whenever I interact with the programme itself, I feel frustrated: the virtual learning environment is usable, but dated (to be fair, they are addressing this). I still succeeded so far in studying pretty much on electronic devices, using no paper – but the use of technology is behind the standards set by other online learning experiences I’ve engaged with. A MOOC would probably have serve me better in that regard. The two presence days were problematic though – getting online at the chosen venue was a struggle every time which is really bad when you are working in the cloud as I do. When organising the annual PlaceNet conference, we secure free online access for all delegates in advance. Teaching materials (paper, and lots of it), and presentation styles tend to be quite old school – true, this represents working practises in higher education, but I don’t need to pursue a degree in order to learn that. To be fair, I am not a friend of outcomes based learning approaches since I think they lead towards performance trending towards the lowest common denominator – which was palpable when questions and instructions at the days moved towards how to get the best grades. This, I clearly disconnected from, given that my grades got worse the longer I’ve been working on this.
So, what have I learnt? A lot, in fact. From a work perspective, I have learnt about how higher education administration thinks about itself, and how it affects organisations so far. I am getting my student experience – a frustrating one – not uncommon for any struggling student. I can’t blame the course – it’s me who’s not performing to the required standards – but I am more aware of its limitations and usefulness to my career. So, as mid-term reports go, this is mine. Let’s see if the second half will be more – or any for that matter – fun.
After starting my PGCert recently, I’ve thrown myself into learning how to learn. I know it sounds a bit out there, but it seems like the Open University requires a particular mindset, and that’s something I’ve never learned.
Let me explain: I have a good understanding about how I think and process information. I am one of the annoying kids who always needs to switch between tasks and revisits half-formulated thoughts as I go along. In the end, the results seem to satisfy – at least my employers and before that my university tutors. However, I struggled in school – and I think that had to do with being pushed to learn in a particular way – to predetermined outcomes. I rebelled against that – so much that I almost didn’t finish school at one point. University gave me the freedom to structure my own learning experience, and I enjoyed that as much as I had hated school.
Since then (post Bologna) and with moving to the UK, the world has changed, and university has become a lot more like school. Defined learning outcomes – especially on Master’s level – give me the creeps, but at least I understand where the problem lies for me. Any reader of my blog will know my views on outcomes based learning. Now here’s the thing – I consciously signed up for a course that follows this type of rulebook. It may seem masochistic to subject myself to what I struggled with so much in my youth, but as you may recall I’m doing it for professional reasons … and because I wanted to take that challenge.
I’m not a thrill-seeker (given the topic of my course, I guess that was clear), but I always had an impulse to improve on things that I’m not good at. I find that challenging and entertaining, but it makes many pursuits in life more of a marathon than a sprint (the latter of which has always come easy to me). That may be a recipe for being so-so at many things rather than excelling a few – and never really ‘winning’ anything – I’m basically all about delayed gratification. This is no different – and my work rhythm on the PGCert has been one of one hour or so per day, working towards incremental improvements. I’ve even got a plan with tick boxes.
To be fair, that’s what the Open University seems to expect from me – I’ve gone through their tutorials and have focused on such interesting topics as critical thinking, personal development planning, and essay writing strategies. It’s all the stuff we expect our students to do – and I want to make sure that I understand what they’re up against. Someone said that only a minority of our institutional leaders in higher education have engaged with a post-1992 university environment – I’m doing it now, and I find it hard work. I am starting to apply a number of techniques to improve my professional skills, as usual using technological solutions – e.g., running pretty much every piece of writing through Grammarly helps me sharpen my writing skills; retaining and annotating every piece of reading with Evernote and Skitch makes me look at texts in completely different way. This is currently exciting – and I hope it lasts.
Last week I had the privilege to spend a whole day learning about MOOCs. Proversity had invited a number of heavyweights in the field – and little old moi – to discuss their proposition of using MOOC style delivery to support corporate onboarding (and recruitment) processes. They had secured the lively and quirky Google Campus, and set up a day of presentations and breakout sessions. Here’s the stuff I picked up (broken up in bite-sized chunks):
Laura Overton (@towardsmaturity) started with a great overview on her research of MOOC usage in the corporate learning world. The general usage of technology by learning & development providers is often failing many learners – and what sets the successful organisations apart is not the technology itself, but their attitude towards learning in their businesses. Corporate learners react well to that by changing behaviours more quickly and more consistently. Overton postulated that a new learning agenda is needed, that allows corporates to react faster – driven by learners and their learning styles rather than an organisational agenda.
MOOCs in the meantime are transforming higher education [take note, HE sector!] – not necessarily a sector known for reacting quickly to student learning styles … or anything for that matter, really. Low completion rates (c.10%) are the norm for MOOCs – I would personally think that this is just a matter of time until someone finds a way to increase that enough for the model to become more stable; at which point universities will their industry-wide interruptive moment on their hands. Again – what do learners say (the question for HE in my view)? 88% want to learn at their own pace – not something that finds its way into academic calendars. However Overton thinks that the academic world can really support the corporate world through MOOCs. Let’s hope we collectively wake up in time.
Her final point was that there is an overlap of good MOOC design with corporate learning. Most MOOC learners are engaging from the workplace, and thus the curriculum needs to reflect the demands of the workplace. Overton’s key lessons included:
Create a framework: 75% learners are happy to engage online, but 1/3 don’t find what they need – good design needs a good flow with clear instructions [take note, VLE designers]
Design great learning: 45% of learners complain about uninspiring content – so the recommendation is to use multiple media, not just the lecturer. Also, the length of the programme is often a problem; shorter programmes have higher completion rates [do you see where this is going?].
Support peer cooperation: staff willing to use technology like sharing what they are learning online – good MOOC design requires sharing tools, albeit this is often not encouraged enough in corporate learning and development.
Assess effectively: staff want recognition for their online learning – only one in five L&D departments consider this.
Scale up: MOOCs remove barriers, using cloud learning management systems.
Overton closed with the comment that the MOOC is not a new hype – its concepts and names may change, but good learning practice will prevail. Read up on her work at www.towardsmaturity.org/in-focus/MOOC2014
This week, I am adding a new permutation to the patch-work of identities that make up my post-modern personality (yeah, that’s a long story for a different time). So, a bit less vague: I’m a student again. I’ve often missed a true intellectual challenge at work since breaking off my PhD 12 years ago. Not that work isn’t challenging, but having spent all my twenties being trained for an academic role that never materialised, I’ve missed the rigour and cognitive challenge of academia. Not that I envy my academic colleagues – the way higher education is now structured, I get away with doing a lot less administrative work than they do. It sounds crazy, but that’s where we are.
So why become a student now? Over the last few years, it has become clear to me that
a) I’m stuck in middle-management in my institution until I widen my portfolio and move away from just being cornered as the careers/employability guy;
b) practical experience gained in a range of HE management functions counts for little in HE when trying to make a case for a wider managerial remit than just the one you’ve been cornered into (see above);
c) I lack formal knowledge in some of these areas, even though I may have gained a lot of practical experience;
d) Like many of our institutional leaders in the sector, I’ve never studied in the post 92 UK system, and my pre-Bologna (and partically pre-WWW) German academic training won’t help me in the modern HE environment. It also gives me a chance to experience what our students experience.
As part of my last performance review I discussed with my manager what I would need to do to unblock my career – and brought forward the option of formal qualification. Having studied on PhD level years ago and in a completely different system didn’t equip me for the brave new word of defined learning outcomes, assessment strategies and master’s level indicators. So the key lesson was that I have to re-learn how to study. So it’s not only that the rules of academic study have changed a bit, it’s really a completely different environment.
So I’ve now signed up for an AUA Postgraduate Certificate in Professional Practice validated by the Open University, and delivered by the Association of Academic Administrators. I secured 75% funding from my employer, so it’s also payable. This arrangement leaves me to complete this mostly as work based learning, alongside my day job. It enables me to learn in my own time (and I’ve marked those two daily hours on the train), and gives me a chance to slowly engage with this new world of learning.
And here is where my curiousity really sparked: I constantly write about how technology changes the world of work, and I enjoy how it affects my personal life. I was aware of the way it affects and enables the modern learner, but I never engaged with it in that way. I know a bit of learning technology but not really very much about it. And this is what I’m almost most curious about, and the question I’m asking myself now the most is: how will my learning experience (as opposed to my student experience – that’s going to be something else) be different from the first time I gained my degree? There’s only one way to find out – and I’ll keep you updated.
A few days ago, I blinked. Actually just a bit, but for anyone knowing me – or if someone would have been around – they would have seen that I was moved. Not to tears, but with just a bit of emotion. And get this – it was over an award (well, a very very little one): I was promoted to another stripe on my Brazilian jiu-jitsu belt. That makes two white stripes on a white belt – barely visible to the naked eye.
Yet it got to me. I’ve been practising martial arts for almost 30 years, and I never really cared about belts – and I certainly don’t compete. I’m also what my significant other would call a bit of miserable git (she might use stronger verbiage) – not thrilled by what would make most people happy: awards, medals, prizes – or just winning something. I even wrote a blog post about how much I don’t connect to stuff like that.
But, in the spirit of this blog – I’ve learnt something about myself: some things, even some awards, get through my Prussian protestant upbringing (of work for its own sake); and I’m happy to admit it (well, this just this once). I was moved by getting that second stripe. Having thought about it, what made it so touching, was that it felt quite incidental. I didn’t have to pursue it – I wasn’t expecting it, and I wouldn’t have been disappointed for not getting it; just happy for those others who were called up.
One principle that guides me personally, as well as professionally, can be summarised along these lines: ‘If you compete with others, it will make you bitter. If you compete with yourself, it will make you better.’ Martial arts training is in my view one of the best ways to live that motto. It’s all about looking out for each other – while trying to perfect oneself. That is often a very lonely pursuit, as it can exclude others on the journey.
But on occasion, it is nice that the effort has been noticed. I don’t think I got my stripe for my excellence in this new discipline – I think I got it basically for not giving up. I had a lot of pauses in the last few months – and this little gesture did a thing I wouldn’t have expected: it motivated me. So there you have read it: I am human after all.
Cool kids like me get @guardianclasses on data visualisation for Christmas – from their significant others no less. So last night we traipsed through the very much gentrified (in comparison to when I lived there a decade ago) King’s Cross to the swanky Guardian HQ to join 150 other pinko-liberals and learn about creating a story from data. For those of you who haven’t snoozed off by now, let me explain why this excites me: data is what drives our economy, it surrounds us – just like the Force, but better; because it can be interpreted and packed into lovely infographics.
Why is this exciting? Because visualising data helps tell a story, facilitates understanding, and may protect us from the dark side… you get my drift: it is more and more data and information driven models power pretty much our world – and we have learn not only to deal with that, but to help shape it. This is complex, and data visualisation can help us both understand and communicate our ever more complex environment. In an earlier life I used to build databases – assuming that a good report would always make us see the light. I have learnt over time though, that the way information is shared is probably just as important as to which information is shared. Too often it’s not the better idea that wins, it’s the one that’s been better explained.
And here is where data visualisation comes in – visual beings that we are, our attention can be drawn to where it should be. And also, understanding data visualisation will help us understand if someone tries to shift our attention from where it should be to where they want it to be – just check out Iain Duncan Smith’s impressive work on that front. In my review of 2013, I made the prediction that I will need to learn about interpreting and understanding data – and this masterclass was a first step. While I am happy to geek out about data, there is a specific professional pursuit behind this: I feel that a lot within the world of careers and employability is ‘best practice’ driven, and that for many an intervention, there is only scant evidence.
So at work, I am embarking on a project to interpret and understand the various data that we hold on our clients/students, and their journey through their course of study. This is to better understand their needs – so we can better address them. For this, a lot of work will be necessary to analyse all this data, and come to conclusions – but also to explain them. And this is where I’m betting on visualisation. That’s a learning curve, and a steep one – but I find the challenge both motivating, and using the more academically inclined part of my brain rewarding. So I’m closing with a great video, which exemplifies the above points in my humble opinion most impressively.