THE (Thinking Higher Education).

Well, if you’ve survived the MIKE post and the SWEDE post, you’ve probably guessed that I like acronyms. However, TMASTB (Too Many Acronyms Spoil The Broth), so I’ll present one more and go back to discussing other issues. However, these three acronyms together will drive a lot of what I talk about and, with any luck, I’ll have strangers around the world muttering “MIKE THE SWEDE” at each other.

I’m not holding my breath.

There are so many different ways to educate, some many different environments, students and teachers, choosing an approach that will work can sometimes appear to be an overwhelmingly difficult problem. How do I cater for everyone? How do I deal with large ranges in ability? How can I be fair to all the groups I deal with and, at the same, fair to myself and my own family, giving myself enough time to work and live.

This is where “THE” comes in. I’m not trying to solve every educational problem, I’m thinking about higher education. The students that I deal with have already shown that they can handle education to some extent, whether traditional classroom-based study, collaborative group learning in more experimental frameworks or home-schooling. They have passed sufficient entry requirements to attend classes at my institution. They can read. They can write. They are fundamentally numerate. They may have pre-requisite subject requirements to meet on top of this. For example, all of my students have at least one course of mathematics to the matriculation level. As an educator, I have so much to be grateful for in that a lot of the hard work has already been done by the educators before me, who excited these students about learning, who gave them the basis upon which they could develop to the point that they made it to me. For the families who supported them, or the groups that supported the students or the families when they families couldn’t do it by themselves.

I looked into publishing a book once, on computerising wineries (previous career), and I attended a really interesting workshop on pitching books to publishers. One of the most important pieces of advice was that no book was ever really suitable for ‘all ages from 8 to 80’, so don’t claim it. Work out who your book is for, write it for that group and then advertise it correctly. Who should my courses be suitable for? What do they come in with? What do I want them to leave with? How do I tell people that they will benefit from this course so come and try it?

Thinking Higher Education means thinking about students who have already demonstrated an ability to work within our systems, who have already stuck at education for 12+ years and who most likely perfectly capable of passing our courses, if we keep them engaged, do our jobs properly and their own lives don’t get in the way. Yes, there will be ranges of ability and dedication, but these tend to be smaller than are seen in the early primary or early secondary years. The kids who caused lots of trouble in class probably aren’t here anymore although, with any luck, they’ll sort themselves out in a while and we’ll welcome them back as mature-aged students with open arms. Yes, you’ll have mature-aged students sitting next to 17 year olds and you’ll need to think about that but if they’re sitting in your course then they need (and sometimes even want) you to teach them. Or to give them the right environment in which they can teach themselves. But they all need the same thing and, theoretically, they are on a much tighter track in their quest for degree completion than trying to match the diverse requirements of a group of 15 year olds sitting in an English class.

It’s not impossible. It’s certainly not easy and it doesn’t downgrade the role of a University educator but, despite having students from all over the world, the country, the age groups, the demographic spectrum – we can manage this problem and share our knowledge.

So THE is a positive thing, a reminder that our job is manageable, an appreciation of the work that has been carried out before by our colleagues in schools, a mark of respect to their successes and an awareness that students come to us with a great deal of potential and previous experience, both of which will shape their future.

Putting it together – Measurement, Environmental Awareness and Managing Scale, you get MIKE THE SWEDE.

Happy muttering!

(No more new acronyms for at least a few days, I promise!)



2 Comments on “THE (Thinking Higher Education).”

  1. Alex H says:

    “They can read. They can write. They are fundamentally numerate.” I am envious.

    I suspect you’re actually seeing the same sorts of students I am, it’s just that your perceptions of them are more positive. How do you do it?


    • nickfalkner says:

      Well, some days are better than others in that regard but, fundamentally, I believe in the transformational power of education. I’ve far more inclined to believe that most of the negative behaviours I can see in my students are the result of poor teaching or behavioural reinforcement than immutable characteristics that were set in stone at birth.

      Basically, I’ve seen too many students who became excellent when they were educated properly, and too many formerly good or competent students start to falter because they were educated poorly, to believe anything else.

      You’ll see me rail a lot about this in upcoming posts: training students is not just about knowledge transfer, it’s about developing those self-regulatory skills that they are often lacking, because no-one has taken the time to develop them. For example, if someone hands something in late, how does “hand it on time next time” actually provide them with anything concrete that they can learn from?

      (Check out Dan Pink’s TED talk on Motivation to see some interesting things on intrinsic/extrinsic motivation factors and cognitive tasks.)



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