SEDA/SHED Spring Teaching Learning and Assessment Conference 2020

Rethinking the Remit of the University in Uncertain Times

02 April 2020 - 03 April 2020

Location: Radisson Blu Glasgow

Price: See booking form

Context and themes 

In an age of supercomplexity, a new epistemology for the university awaits, one that is open, bold, engaging, accessible, and conscious of its own insecurity. It is an epistemology for living amid uncertainty. (Barnett, 2000: 420) (1)

This quotation, by Ron Barnett at the turn of the century, is an important one to revisit twenty years on. It is an appropriate starting point for this conference which will explore how we have been able to ‘live amid uncertainty’, if indeed we have. We need to examine whether/how we have been ‘bold, engaging, accessible’ as well as probing ongoing questions of academic identities as we are increasingly held accountable by media and society. Quality, freedom of speech, wellbeing and metrics dominate headlines but how much do these headlines really shape the ‘business’ of ‘being’ in a university?   

Many of these headlines from the media – both social and broadcast – adopt a critical or negative stance. A sample of recent UK media reports illustrates some of the issues which this conference can address:

  • the quality and focus of undergraduate degrees, challenging the Education Secretary’s evaluation of “’low-value low quality degrees’” (2) and the continuing characterisations of ‘Mickey Mouse degrees’. (3).
  • freedom of speech on university campuses, with obvious implications for the development of students’ critical skills. Complaints of online abuse have fueled suggestions that “critical thinking is becoming an unwanted skill.” (4)
  • ‘spiraling grade inflation’ (5, 9), following the OfS reporting a “significant unexplained increase in first-class degree awards” (6).
  • increasing debates about student well-being and mental health (7) alongside accounts of “the crippling stress university lecturers face” (8).
This conference will enable delegates to demonstrate through research and innovation how we (Institutions and individuals) can rise to these challenges and respond to them. 

Some challenges may be especially important. For example, the rising diversity of students across the board is a very positive challenge to have. This has implications for offering flexible learner pathways, supporting students from a variety of backgrounds, and demands a more acute awareness of student transitions. And we cannot ignore the ways in which technology is disrupting many taken-for-granted approaches to research and teaching as well as providing opportunities for more flexible approaches to teaching and learning. 

Perhaps the most fundamental question is how we define and/or measure the value of undergraduate and postgraduate degrees. For example, recent changes to the TEF metrics place increased emphasis on career and employment outcomes as opposed to other outcomes/values of university education.

And so this conference will focus on what a university education could/should achieve and what we need to do to confront and resolve these questions. 

Thanks to the collaboration between SEDA and SHED (Scottish Higher Education Developers), this conference provides a unique opportunity to compare policies and practice across the UK and learn from others’ experience.

The conference will be useful for all staff involved in some level of academic development at higher education, whether as individual academic, course/programme leader, learning developer, learning technologist, library professional and/or member of an educational development unit or service.  

Proposals are invited

Within the general theme and more specific issues identified above, we welcome proposals from HE (and HE in FE) which analyse/demonstrate/explain how we can best meet current and likely future challenges. Proposals should focus on innovation/developments and/or evaluation/research in one or more of the following areas:

  • Programme design
  • Module and learning design
  • Course/programme assessment and feedback strategies/initiatives
  • Professional development for staff
  • Learning and mobile technologies
  • Digital capability and institutional support
  • Curriculum leadership and staff roles
  • Initiatives relating to student and staff 'wellbeing'
  • Effective pedagogy/support for students with Specific Learning Difficulties
  • Apprenticeships
  • Development of students' critical abilities and capacities
  • Changing student perceptions about the nature and value of university education
  • Transnational/online education
  • Learning analytics
  • Staff/student partnerships
  • Widening participation

References

1. Barnett, R. Higher Education (2000) 40: 409. 

https://doi.org/10.1023/A:1004159513741

2. Quoted in iNews, 23/5/2019.

https://inews.co.uk/news/education/damian-hinds-low-value-low-quality-universities/

3. For example, see the article in iNews, 12/8/2019.

https://inews.co.uk/news/education/a-levels-2019-science-grades-subjects/

4. See article in THE, 2410, 30 May- 5 June 2019, p.24

https://www.timeshighereducation.com/opinion/are-these-dying-days-genuine-liberal-arts-education

5. Reported on BBC News, 11/7/2019

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-48951653

6. Report available from Office for Students

https://www.officeforstudents.org.uk/news-blog-and-events/press-and-media/universities-must-get-to-grips-with-spiralling-grade-inflation/

7. See recent work by Jisc which both summarises problems and offers potential solutions

https://www.jisc.ac.uk/news/can-we-tackle-the-student-mental-health-challenge-using-data-analytics-13-mar-2019

8. Quoted by Wales Online, 18/11/2018

https://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/overworked-undervalued-crippling-stress-university-15422303

9. See article in New Statesman, 21/8/2019

https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/education/2019/08/great-university-con-how-british-degree-lost-its-value







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