Today I can announce that I have taken voluntary redundancy from my long term employer, Regent’s University London. I feel sad but also proud of the accomplishments achieved together, and I am excited about the future. I will be leaving Regent’s shortly, so it’s time to look back.
Matthias is leaving Regent’s? Impossible!
12 years ago I returned to Regent’s into the job I had wanted since I came to the UK in 2002. I was offered it after the untimely death of my predecessor Simon Hamm. Simon’s shoes were very big shoes to fill, and I always felt a very personal obligation to him. He had given me my first job in the UK when no one in my native Germany did. I am reasonable confident that Simon would have approved of my work at Regent’s. I used to check with him on occasion visiting his tree on campus when I was still working on location. Regent’s has the beautiful tradition of planting trees with memorial plaques when staff members die and Simon’s tree has always been an anchor to me.
We’ll meet again
I will miss my colleagues and friends, and the truly inspirational entrepreneurs in the Regent’s Hive. But I’m also excited by the next chapter which I am about to open up in my life. I will post about this soon, so keep following my blog. I am deeply thankful for the countless moments of joy I felt when working together for a common purpose.
2020 has been a hard year for all of us. Of course, Regent’s went through its trials and tribulations as well. But I have seen the most amazing accomplishments among my students and alumni, my colleagues, my team, the wider university, its executive, and the board. We changed business model in a very short time. We found ways to help students and colleagues succeed, and not lose hope during a global pandemic. And that we were able to rescue the university in its most perilous time has been nothing but extraordinary. My sadness is truly balanced by pride in our accomplishments.
Let’s see what’s out there!
My life is taking me down a different path now. I will watch from afar the amazing feats Regent’s will achieve as part of the Galileo group. This partnership was the right step for the university to take. For me it’s time to bow out and be on my way to pursue another path. I will always remember the Regent’s family fondly, and how much they made me who I am today.
From the bottom of my heart – thank you!
PS: Stay tuned, because I’ll have more to tell about what I’ll do next.
The lock down period has been transformative in many ways. Let’s make sure we focus on keeping what is good about it.
A disclaimer on privilege
I am aware that I am writing this from a position of privilege: my job wasn’t furloughed, my role could easily be done remotely, and I have a safe and enjoyable home which gives my significant other, the cat, and me enough space to work (not in case of the cat) comfortably. This piece is written in acknowledgement that others will have struggled more – but I am trying to focus on what I’ve learnt recently I want to retain.
Taking back control
Working from home has been an empowering experience for me, and I hope for my team, too. Commuting to work in London is never a great spend of time, and I have gained back 2.5h per day just by not doing it. That’s half a day per week with less exhaustion, and in the summer, just overheating. My commute wasn’t bad, but it still constrained what I could do with this time. My team has demonstrated how effective you can be running the type of client service we offer, and so have so many of us – it’s time that our employers embrace working from home as a true alternative that can help lead to less crowded cities and a more thoughtful spend of resources. The current negative headlines pushed in the (mostly) conservative media make no sense here.
Resist the urge to improve performance
Did I write that book, perfect my sourdough, or create an amazing product that will make the world a better place? No, and I wasn’t going to do that under any circumstance – the lockdown added a burden on our collective mental health which will probably take years to unpack, so there is no need to expect us to become super-performers while so many of the certainties around us were falling apart. Recognising this is key – we’re still just people coping with uncertainty, and that is hard. I would wish for us to remember that for that nebulous ‘new normal’. Here, I see a specific role for educators; for too long (and in the UK probably for longer if one can believe the sounds coming from the department for education) education has been reduced to a zero sum game of supply-demand economics, overlooking the option that investing (often into things that don’t immediately create a return) will create new knowledge and opportunities for growth.
This is what I would like to make sure we communicate to our (young) learners – that they are not the problem. They’ve been fed this li(n)e for far too long, and if we want to repair the damage caused by the crisis, we need to start listening to them. I have often written in defense of ‘young people’ as a collective noun, and in my many years in education I have become ever more amazed by their resourcefulness in dealing with the issues our and our parents’ generation created. In some cases, the damage was done much earlier and may need to be dealt with by knocking metaphorical (or physical) statues of their plinths.
I spoke at a panel for LinkedIn Learning on helping students and graduates in the early stages of the lock down, and what struck me most was that while focusing on solving the problems we face, the one thing we need to make sure we don’t forget to transmit is – hope. Hope that they can shape the world in their image. Hope that they can counter the intertwined toxic onslaught of populism, division, and intersectional discrimination they so clearly abhor. They’re out marching now – let’s make sure they remember their educators as not defending an indefensible status quo, but giving them hope. Let’s not just work from home – let’s #WorkFromHope.
Hamlet, our university cat, showing me what to do now some time ago … nothing.
The first two weeks were easy. Almost too easy. I was busying myself with helping everyone around me cope with a crisis situation. The third week turned out to be much harder – for me. I am not sure what happened; whether looking after others slowly started moving into the background, or whether slowly but surely, the anxiety that a crisis like Covid-19 creates got to me. I started feeling more anxious and stressed out by the smallest things, feeling like I wouldn’t be able to deal with the work and social obligation load that I started experiencing.
Let’s unpack this – or maybe not?
I always think of myself as pretty resilient, but I know that my combination of stepping back, thinking things through, compartmentalising away the things I cannot deal with, and then step by step working towards a solution has its problems. The main problem is that sometimes the boxes that I compartmentalise away into keep stacking up and I’m not always able to unpack them in a way that is good for myself and others around me. Imagine the last scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark; that giant warehouse in which all those buried secrets sit in boxes labelled ‘top secret’, filed, and then just put away forever. They may never be retrieved, and that can become a problem.
But I do what I always do when I’m dealing with a problem…
I do all the things that I think are best in the situation: I keep a routine, I train slightly more even than I would normally do, I eat well, I socialise – admittedly a lot of it is online now and I am more of a people person, but everyone has been really really trying to make this all work. So what was it? Even as I write this – I feel as if I’m already too late for some grand project that I’m supposed to have completed last week.
A video this week helped me, as it reminded me that this actually a perfectly normal reaction: it is normal to react with stress to a stressful situation, for example when we are all surrounded by a dangerous virus, a threat we cannot and that isolates us from most of the people we know and love. We might even miss those we don’t a little bit. IT. IS. NORMAL. It helped me understand on a cognitive level that my reaction wasn’t something I was supposed to fight, but to accept, and then find ways to deal with it without overcompensating.
Now that is the hard part, because I think I am one of life’s great over-compensators. Just like I compartmentalise things I cannot deal with, I over-analyse things I think I can deal with, play through a variety of scenarios, work on general strategies on manage each of them, and then wait for them to unfold. You see where I made my mistake? The mistake is that the challenge in this situation is to do nothing.
I am Major Kira!
I remember a deep space nine episode where a religious leader tells one of the main protagonists who has, for her own safety, been brought to a monastery where she can sit back, recover, relax and be safe from the forces that will threaten her. She tells him that she feels useless. The wise – and reasonably hot – priest tells her to change her perspective:
Major Kira: I’m useless here. Vedek Bareil: So? Major Kira: So? I… I need to feel useful. Vedek Bareil: It might be interesting to explore ‘useless’ for a while – see how it feels.
Deep Space Nine, The Circle
I’m very much like Major Kira in this exchange.
Doing nothing as an option
Reflecting on last week’s blog where I describe my Prussian Lutheran upbringing, I recognise there is no space for embracing inaction and uselessness within the belief system that I grew up in. I am not religious anymore, but my upbringing has taught me valuable lessons and I think this one is being tested now. Sitting and letting things happen is neither in my nature nor a part of my socialisation.
And this is, I think the challenge, for week four, and all the upcoming weeks thereafter: to remind myself that feeling anxious is the right thing to do in a stressful situation. I need accept that I’m anxious and that will make me slightly less productive. I will not write that novel I never wanted to write anyway. I will not master two new crafts. I will not finally break that anxiety I have about the social expectation that I am supposed to love sitting down and reading books. It is not the time to challenge my anxieties, but to learn to live with them. They are part of the natural reaction of what is going on around us. What I can do is share this experience and I think the lesson is to just embrace being useless for a while.
PS: I recognise that my anxiety is still really mild in comparison to what others may feel. If this affects you more than you think you can manage, please check out the NHS guidance on what to do. A lot of employers (like mine) also offer employee assistance programmes which may be able to help you, too. Remember, it’s OK not to be OK – seek the help you need.
I am writing this from my ‘annual leave’. The university asked us to stick to our booked annual leave, and rightly so, since we couldn’t restart the show on campus if everyone took a month off at the end of social distancing.
I was supposed to visit my ageing mother and play some RPGs in Germany this weekend, but since Lufthansa rightly cancelled my flight, and I wouldn’t want to be a hazard to my mother, I am, of course, spending it at home. I have the privilege to have a garden and so I am sowing and weeding, and weeing into the compost (look it up, it’s a natural compost accelerator) – and I am trying not to do the same things I do during the work week. It also gives me time to reflect on the reasonable adjustments I’ve made since starting to work from home.
First of all, my workplace is not a workplace – it’s a dining room table, and I’m sitting on a dining room chair. Unlike my Significant Other (henceforth to be referred to as the SO), I normally don’t work from home, so I’ve been adapting the place I work at now into a workplace. At first, a confession: after telling my team to start taking their equipment home every night, I – clearly on autopilot – locked mine up, together with my work phone on the last day before starting to work remotely. And there they sit in my locker at work, slowly and lonely draining their batteries. My team, on the other hand, listened to my advice, and are working away on their university devices. Go team!
But, as my mother always says ‘you are allowed to be stupid, as long as you can help yourself’ – I’ve set up my Chromebook and connected it to a cheapish screen I have knocking about for some online role-playing (Star Trek and D&D, if you must know), and started working on Monday morning, two weeks ago. I am pretty fit and have good posture, but knew after a few days I would start feeling my lower back, so I started making adjustments before this inevitability: The biggest improvement was – an empty Amazon box, propping up my external screen to sit above my Chromebook screen. I can touch-type without looking at my keyboard, and now my line of sight aligns with the top of the screen and I don’t have to tilt.
But then, I knew, I would have to invest some money to adapt more.
I invested into a wedge cushion and a lumbar support cushion – together about £35 on Amazon. I use the former to tilt my hips into a more stable position and enable my legs and feet into 90 degree angles; the latter supports my lumbar spine and keeps my lower back at its natural angle.
By mid-week of week one, I noticed that my voice was strained after sometimes pretty much non-stop MS Teams video calls. I admit it – I suffer from YUMPSV, short for Your Uncle’s Mobile Phone Shouting Voice – my SO confirmed this by coming downstairs to tell me to shout less. As there is only so much chamomile tea I can drink in a day to soothe my voice, I knew I had to address this.
I concluded that if I heard my own voice in my ear – or at least all others in the meeting, I would start speaking more naturally, and not end up sounding like Tom Waits by the end of the workday. The principle was sound, but here is where I made my first mis-investment: I bought a fancy-ish gaming headset with mic monitoring – it projects your own voice into your headset, so you don’t shout along like Rambo when playing Call of Duty at 3am (or whatever online gamers do). Turns out that this tech doesn’t really play with a Chromebook. Oh, if I had only listened to myself and brought the lovely Microsoft Surface laptop home with me – I’m sure it would have worked. However, the headset does help, and I’m shouting less – but I will not be able to have technology do the job of disciplining myself.
Having been raised in the Prussian Lutheran tradition – my father would only ever shower cold, except for Saturdays – I have been raised to believe in open windows and scoff at warm clothing; and that shivering could ever be acceptable from anger that it isn’t colder. I am so much less tough than my father was in this regard, but I have stood under a waterfall in the Japanese mountains chanting Buddhist chants. That’s short and shocking, but I was not prepared for the slow creep of the cold while sitting for days in the coolest room of the house. It’ll be great in spring and summer, but it sucked working like this. The SO and I had a discussion – and since I’m responsible for crawling into the roof space on cold morning to check the heating pressure, I qualify as the house’s heating engineer – I could convince both her and the cat that moving the main thermostat on to the ground floor would not freeze the rest of the house.
I keep’em. Almost ‘nuff said – since most of the university works still to UK office hours, most meetings are organised around them. However, since our highly international students are now working from a variety of time zones, my team and I are adapting: we will have to offer synchronous one-to-one appointments at a wider variety of times during the day, with some early and late offers to catch the outliers; and we are recording our group and webinar sessions, so they are available asynchronously. I think though, there will be further thought about this, since a personalised learning experience should not be exclusively coming out of a can.
How about you?
What adaptations have you made? Share your tips in the comments or on social media. The cheaper and weirder, the better.
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.
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