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With the disruption to delivery models, timetables, and staff and student expectations in the last 18 months some institutions are struggling to maintain their faculty’s motivation and commitment. Some are wrestling with changing notions of autonomy and accountability.

With the disruption of delivery models, timetables, and staff and student expectations in the last 18 months, some institutions are struggling to maintain their faculty’s motivation and commitment. Universities are struggling to balance the need to provide their academic staff with more autonomy while ensuring they remain accountable.

Some academic staff still hark after the glorious days of academic self-management. The danger is that it doesn't take much for that 'autonomy' to be abused; The elderly professor earning the salaries of three junior colleagues, applying fruitlessly for funds for arcane and irrelevant research, with no PhD supervision duties and no teaching, is not as rare as we like to imagine. Such individuals demonstrate to newer faculty that they can achieve career advancement by being selfish. This breeds a culture in which those with a relatively light workloads do their best to appear overburdened in order to defer requests from others to 'pitch-in'. Most of us can identify such individuals.

The balance between academic autonomy and accountability defines the character of an institution from a faculty perspective. Autonomy and accountability are reflected in large part by how an organisation articulates leadership and management, two concepts that are frequently conflated inappropriately.

Leadership is about enabling with vision, providing clarity of purpose, illuminating the path ahead. This means communicating a clearly defined future state; a vision. Leadership does not require seniority. We often look to colleagues that we know to be skilled and confer the mantel of leadership on them. You can develop leadership skills, but usually within a specific context. A leader in one organisation at one time does not always adapt well to a different context. Some prove adaptable, but not all. Leadership is about empowering others to be more autonomous.

Management is quite different. Management is about implementing, maintaining, and curating structural processes within a given context. Everyone self-manages by this definition (calendar management, time-booking, etc). Beyond self-management, most organisations create tiers of managers to maintain policies and practices, to fulfil something externally imposed whatever legislative regulations or quality standards. Management is ensuring accountability.

We require leaders to trust the people they have responsibility for. Leaders need to provide supportive autonomy. Managers do not have to trust their people because they have tools to track them. They have instruments for accountability. It has been said that leaders make sure that the right things are done, managers make sure that things are done in the right way. 

Autonomy and accountability are two sides of the same coin. While some institutions have released faculty to get their own courses onto the institutional virtual learning environment, others had more structured approaches. In both cases, many have been unprepared for what changing models of delivery mean for accountability. Student complaints have surprised some institutions, mostly about the inaccessibility of faculty in the digital context. Students expectations need careful management. This does not need more systems to monitor faculty-student interactions, or appointing more people to watch people, and people to watch the watchers. It requires that new social-digital contracts be negotiated among all the participants and stakeholders in the University ecosystem.

Universities face challenges with some students and faculty struggling to adjust to the demands of balancing workload and practices of supporting flexible online provision. Going 'back to normal' for some will simply not be possible. This is a time when leaders and managers need to work together.

Managers need to hold the freeloader Professor and the 'too busy' junior colleague to account. Leaders need to define the future state of Universities in a language that faculty and students can make sense of. Together, they need to define, negotiate, explore and define new concepts of accountability and autonomy.

 

 

 

 

Photo by kerry rawlinson on Unsplash

The FLANZ webinar ‘Is the Future of Education Inevitably Going to be Digital First?’, held 6th November 2020, was a conversation about how the world of higher education, in particular, has responded to the Covid-19 pandemic and whether the future looks different as a result.

Duncan O’Hara, FLANZ Vice-President, led contributors, Australian-based Professor Neil Selwyn of Monash University, and New Zealand-based Professor Giselle Byrnes of Massey University, and Dr Simon Paul Atkinson of the Open Polytechnic, through a series of questions.

All contributors agreed that the response of higher education institutions across the globe was nothing short of remarkable. A huge effort had been made, not least by technology-support and academic development units, alongside faculty, to serve students’ needs. There was a note of caution, however, that having moved so much learning online in haste, that management might perceive it as 'job done', a cheaper option or indeed a satisfactory learning experience for the majority of learners. The reality is that while some institutions have seized the opportunity to build-up from solid foundations and provided an enriched digital experience for their learners, others have supplied the bare minimal.

The panel largely agreed that there is no one-size-fits-all to learning. So, any decisions by institutions and policymakers need to be context-specific, putting the learner at the heart of any technology choice. 

A healthy debate was had around the issue of digital equity, ranging from access to devices, the appropriateness of those devices for the nature of the learning, network access and the disparity in digital literacy that has become emphasised in the Remote Emergency Teaching context resulting from Covid-19. The conversation turned to the Principles of the Design Justice Network (https://designjustice.org/) advocating that all too impacted on design decisions need to be enabled to share their voices. This is as true for the technology tools and platforms in use as it is for the curricula that we curate.

The struggle to ensure that the learner remains at the centre of institutional policy-making decisions was evident in the discourse. However, the openness of the dialogue, and the questions and comments shared by participants, show great promise for the Australasian region, with all of its heterogeneity, that positive solutions are at hand.

https://hail.to/flexiblelearningNZ/article/YVWxb5d

This webinar was part of the inaugural Australasian Online Distance Learning Week #AODLW2020 run by FLANZ in association with ODLAA and EDEN, it’s Australian and European equivalents.

I have been rather busy of late, so this is a rather delayed post from an interview done in June 2020 with SRCE, the Croatian National e-Learning Centre. The Interview appears under the title "Student je središte obrazovnoga procesa", which translates as 'The student is at the centre of the educational process'. Below is an English version of the extended interview.

Screenshot 2020-11-08 at 19.16.03.png

SK: How does one transfer face-to-face (f2f) courses to an online environment? 

Carefully! The difficulty is that the honest answer is "it depends". It depends on several factors. Whether your institution already has a robust infrastructure to support learning online, is there already a virtual learning environment in place, and how well is it being used and supported? What are the relative skill sets of the technologists, educational technologists and academics? Has the institution already predetermined a learning and teaching strategy that defines the nature of the blend of online and face-to-face provision, or has it just been left to develop organically as the technologies have become more and more widespread? 

There a strategic challenge for institutions, beyond the influence of most front line teachers. I think the challenge is that language, certainly in English, is very changeable and often misused. Managers mix up phrases like the 'flipped classroom' and 'blended', or they associate 'online' with 'remote' learning. I think it is worth investing some time at an institutional level to agree on what you mean by the terms you use. Otherwise, people can talk across each other and misunderstand both each other's context and meaning.

Institutionally, we need to think about the human element. Recognising that the skills to design learning and teaching online, whether to overcome the short-term lack of classroom contact or for longer-term distance learning purposes, are not the same skills required of face-to-face teachers. Most online distance and flexible learning organisations (ODFL) have created many specialisms within their workforce. Many traditional institutions still expect individuals to play a range of unique roles and so moving these online is increasingly challenging. We need to confront the fact that the change of environment means a dramatic change in roles, and that won't fit everyone's personal or career aspirations.

SK: And for an individual teacher's perspective, what should they be thinking about?

I would suggest that the first thing anyone should do when moving a course from face-to-face to online is to be honest with themselves. It's an opportunity to look for quality enhancement. In the short term you may be compelled to move existing presentation material online, the resources you might have delivered in a lecture, and wrap around that some discussion forum to substitute what you might have done in a seminar. Readings are less of an issue. But in the medium term, and in the long term, we need to recognise that designing learning for online delivery is an entirely different experience from face-to-face. So I think there is a perfect opportunity to dismantle your existing course, challenge your assumptions, and go right back to the basic design elements within your courses.

I think it is also important to avoid taking a deficit mindset around online, by which I mean to think that online or distance learning is 'worth' less than traditional face-to-face learning. The evidence suggests the opposite but what is true is that they are significantly different experiences from a student's perspective.

Most courses have been designed around course outcome statements. Ordinarily, these are written statements as to what the student will be able to 'do' once they've completed the course and these guide both assessment, learning activities and content. If your institution doesn't follow this approach, it's not too late to do it for yourself. Writing good learning outcomes provides a structure for both the learner and the tutor. If you've got learning outcomes already in place for your course, go right back to them and re-conceptualise your learning approach, knowing the context in which your students are now learning.

There is an assumption that when the student is on campus and sitting in the classroom, they are a captive audience, you can monopolise their time for the one or two hours that they are timetabled. In an ODFL context, students' time is out of your reach. That means the learning itself needs a degree of motivation and structure built into it. The consequence of this is that you design learning that requires the learner to build on their own experience, to situate their learning wherever they are, and seek out authentic learning opportunities. I believe as a result, ODFL can produce much better learning than many face-to-face instances where there is the danger that given the captive nature of the student, they can be subjected to content lead learning design. So my key message is to be as honest as you can be about the quality of the learning experience rather than being overly concerned with the quality of your content. Focus on the learner experience.

SK: So what practical steps can teachers do to achieve that?

First, I think the best teachers are reflective practitioners. They are continuously asking themselves whether they are serving the best interests of the learners from a learning perspective, not from a subject content perspective. The reality is the vast majority of factual knowledge delivered through our courseware is available to students free if they know how to find it. What we do as educators is we synthesise, organise and order this knowledge into meaningful experiences. Some of our colleagues may have been teaching for 30 years in a face-to-face environment and now teach online for the first time, some of them I know feel like they're teaching for the first time! The COVID-19 pandemic is a significant opportunity, despite unfortunate circumstances, to confront everything about what we do. Teachers need to be aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. So keep a journal, reflective notes, annotate your presentations, make quick observations after each teaching encounter. Get into the habit of challenging yourself as to what you could have done differently and what you plan to try differently next time. 

Second, teachers need to know that they are not expected to do everything by themselves. Indeed, I don't think anyone can do everything. There is a reason ODFL organisations have so many interwoven specialisms. I think it's important to recognise that learning design, course design, is neither a science nor is it a dark art. If it were a science, big organisations would've already found a way of making an engine where you put in your requirements and of course comes out the other end, but despite their best efforts that appears not to be on the horizon. Likewise, good course design and good teaching, with some very rare exceptions, are best done in broad daylight, and with peer review, rather than behind the closed doors of a dark lecture theatre. One of the positive effects of the expansion, or massification, of higher education in Europe and globally is that it has compelled greater transparency in learning and teaching practices. So teachers need to know enough about themselves, so they know when to ask for help.

Third, and it's a related point, is when there is no immediate support if your institution just doesn't have the staff to guide you in developing good online learning, reach out. Look for support from many international organisations that have provided resources to support you and your colleagues. I'm aware of resources that are shared by EDEN, ICDE, UNESCO and others. I think it's important that teachers know that they are not alone and that regardless of the discipline, whether its undergraduate dance or postgraduate chemistry, someone, somewhere will be trying to solve the same challenges you face. I, like many others, share resources openly on blogs and institutional websites. Use them.

SK: How can teachers ensure that an online course is not simply a repository of learning materials?

Good learning design would never result in a simple repository of learning materials. It just can't happen, that's a contradiction. It's the equivalent of a face-to-face teacher handing out a reading list for their and doing nothing else. Good learning design puts the learner experience at the heart of its design; resources complement the experience; they don't replace it. I think sometimes we associate with having students physically present in our classrooms means that they are engaged. We assume that they are listening and that they're paying attention. We may have designed in-class activities, and the students may be actively engaged with them, but a lot of our teaching is still very passive. Sometimes when teachers move recorded lectures, presentations, PowerPoints and notes online but are not being 'present' to facilitate any engagement with these resources, they are left wondering whether they have any value. They may wrap a discussion forum around resources and engage the student in a meaningful dialogue amongst themselves and with the tutor, but when this dialogue fails to happen that can be very frustrating. Some students engage some don't, and there is no immediate way of resolving that I'm afraid. We would have to explore questions of motivation, discipline-fit, literacies and a range of other things which I think is a bit beyond the scope of this conversation.

However, I will say that good learning design would suggest that rather than providing a resource and attempting to get the student to engage with it, it is better to envisage the learning experience and use resources only when it is appropriate. There is nothing wrong with students spending time reflecting, looking for other sources of information to validate what is being given to them or creating online resources collegially or individually. We need to get away from this myth that we, as teachers, are the source of all wisdom. Some students will experience poor learning during this COVID-19 emergency that we all face. But it's important to recognise that that is not implicit in the ODFL experience, it is likely to result from several assumptions and presumptions that have informed less than ideal practices. Moving courses online is challenging many personal assumptions that we have.  

SK: Let's talk a little more about assessment in an online environment. How it differs from f2f and how to do it? 

Gosh, that's a huge question. In some ways, the design approach shouldn't be any different. Every institution should have an assessment strategy, and arguably every programme and every course needs to have a refined version of that strategy written into it. Assessments, regardless of the mode in which they run, should be valid and reliable, but they should also be authentic, durable and situated. Just to explain my language here; valid in that they assess the outcomes and not content, reliable in that you could expect to repeat the assessment with future cohorts and get comparable results. Authentic because it is appropriate for discipline and level, durable because ideally, we wouldn't want to keep re-writing assessments each time we deliver a course, and situated in that the assessment allows the student to personalise their evidence.

If you start on that basis, and you look at whatever the learning outcomes are for your course, re-conceptualising assessment becomes less daunting. It should be less about how you adapt your existing assessments to deliver them online; rather, it should be to take an online approach to assess your outcomes. I recognise that for some colleagues, the conventions within their disciplines are incredibly rigid. They may feel uncomfortable about even suggesting that the sacred cow that is the 'final exam' may not even be necessary. I understand that. But, there is a strong argument to be made where assessing learning outcomes differently represents a quality enhancement opportunity.

SK: So, how does a teacher decide on the assessment method for online? 

I would say first that people need to be thinking about 'originating' not 'replicating'. Forget about trying to assess the same way online. The learning outcomes dictate the assessment method. Without them, I suspect it's just about what's realistic within your institution. If your outcomes require factual recall and memorisation, then the assessment method might be as straightforward as a multiple-choice questionnaire embedded inside the virtual learning environment. Any higher-order thinking skills, to discuss, to debate, to analyse, to evaluate or to critique, are likely to require long answer text forms. The question is how authentic that assessment can be. Many institutions still have a tendency to run exams, I think often just because they're configured to do so rather than because it is actually assessing any defined outcomes. Unless you're assessing someone in policy studies or journalism who is required to show an ability to write under pressure, exams risk assessing merely the ability to sit exams or memory rather than any higher cognitive functions. I think it's important to think about what it is the students actually providing evidence of.

One of my biggest professional frustrations has always been with teachers who say they want their students to be able to identify, research and critically evaluate a range of complex sources in order to synthesis or analyse a situation, and then they set a three-hour exam based around the content in the course. Assessment is undoubtedly one of the most challenging areas of learning design but incredibly satisfying when you get it right!

Clearly, outside of the social sciences, there are other assessment challenges. In the performing arts one may have inferred, but not written into an outcome, the ability to perform in front of an audience for example. In the long run, one may need to rethink the way those outcomes are written, but in the short term, it is entirely possible for students to provide recordings of performances in their own time, in their own space. Some might object to allowing students to perform something multiple times and submit their best effort. I don't see that as a problem unless the learning outcome suggests that the student only gets one high-pressure opportunity. Again, I think it depends on what it is you're assessing.

I think it's important that we try to avoid thinking about how to replicate what we do face-to-face online and go back to the fundamentals of our learning design. We can arguably make adjustments to most of our face-to-face intentions by adopting an ODFL mindset.

SK: In your view does online assessment provide an equally relevant assessment as that in f2f? 

Relevant is an interesting choice of word. I suspect what you are alluding to is the fear that many colleagues have about plagiarism or academic misconduct away from the exam context. You cannot just post a 'standard' exam online and not expect students to go into their social media groups and exchange information, download answers from the Internet, or even buy a response. The alternative might be running online proctored exams, but I'm not in favour of that. Unless writing within strict time limits like a journalist is an outcome, I think it's unnecessary. Instead, I think we are better to be thinking about the assessment from where the student is standing. We need to conceive of the learner, online and distant, living away from campus, and having access all the course content. They don't live on the moon! They are part of society, so we need to design learning, and assessment, that encourages them to personalise their own context.

I want to unpack the word relevance. Whether the assessment is valid and reliable is about whether the skills you want the students to provide evidence of is captured through your assessment design, and if you repeat the assessment, the results are likely to be equivalent. So designing valid assessment determines its relevance. I think it's important wherever possible to design assessment that is authentic and situated. Authentic means that the evidence the student is expecting to provide of their learning should be as close to real-world experiences as possible. It always surprises me that institutions go to substantial lengths to create scenarios and case studies when the real-world is just outside the students' windows! Situated means that the learner should be required wherever practicable, to draw on experiences and realities in their own context. This means they could be asked to create a case-study based on something within their social context. What could be more relevant?

As I've said, I think it is arguably easier to provide situated and authentic learning to students who are studying away from the campus and away from an existing cohort. If a student has to situate their learning, and therefore their assessment, it is often easier for teachers to become familiar with an individual's student's pattern of learning. Where a teacher is aware of their students' strengths and weaknesses, they will recognise evidence of academic misconduct more readily. Many institutions now teach at a scale that means individual teachers are not assessing their own students directly. I think if we design assessments to be authentic and situated; it is possible to design out plagiarism. I suspect that is the holy grail in assessment design. Ensuring that students can make the learning, and therefore also their assessment, as meaningful to their own lives as possible. Forcing students to provide context for their learning means cutting and pasting from the Internet becomes more of a chore than it is an advantage.

SK: What final words would you like to share with colleagues here in Croatia?

To say that I respect the commitment and tenacity of teachers, and I admire how they have coped under extreme pressure to do what's best for their students. To say that I think being reflective, understanding your strengths and weaknesses, asking for help when required. Thinking from the Online Distance Flexible Learning (ODFL) position back towards the campus, rather than the other way around, is the way to tackle the personal challenges ahead. Also, if I might add I have fond memories of my visits to Zagreb and hope to visit Croatia again.

This article is one in a series of reflections on strategic directions in higher, vocational and professional education. It is written with an audience of senior managers in learning organisations in mind. It is part one of eight. Each section has proposed actions for senior managers to consider.

The Challenge

Institutions operate in increasingly competitive environments. Funding is a challenge. Identifying and recruiting students, the right 'kind of students', is also a challenge. Even if you operate in an open educational context with barriers to access being largely absent you still need to ensure that students self-select the right programme of study, at the right time and that they are prepared, with whatever support required, to be successful.

The meta-view, including national agendas for widening participating, increasing transnational education and student mobility, as well as rapidly emerging disciplines and their associated unforeseen employment opportunities, all compound the challenge.

Who are your programmes designed for? This is not as straightforward a question as it first appears. The minimal 'market research' into new programmes carried out by many providers, whether by means of listening to international recruitment agents or industry leaders, risks producing ill-fitted programmes frequently in a rush to market. Sometimes running pilots, floating a balloon, tweaking an existing programme, even sometimes just changing the title on an existing programme, all can lead to the 'wrong' students embarking on your programmes. The number of programmes that are designed but never launch, or launch and under-recruit, is sizable.

Strategic Implications

The strategic implications of designing learning with learners in mind are profound. Not only is it important to ensure that the learning is designed to fit student needs and aspirations, but they must also reflect the nature of the institution, the professions they work with and prepare graduates to serve and to the societal service that any given institution claims to address.

A strategic approach to this student profiling;

  1. determines the 'fit' of the student to the programme ensures retention and progression
  2. predetermines learner support needs, and allows institutions to cost programmes accordingly
  3. acknowledges and develops unique cultures of learning, not least to account for governmental expectations
  4. aligns student participation with programme needs to fulfil institutional strategy, ethos and purpose.

At the heart of any learner's experience is their programme of study. Regardless of whether this is articulated as a curriculum, syllabus, programme, course or module outline, and whether it is strictly regulated and deemed formal or more loosely defined as non-formal education; the educational design is at the core of every learner's experience. Great marketing and recruitment processes attract learners and excellent support services work to retain students, but it is the relevance and efficacy of learners engagement with their programme is what matters most.

Profiling Students

There are two levels of profiling students. The first is the individual's epistemological framework (prior assumptions about the nature of knowledge) and the second is their, often unconscious, orientations to learning, their cultural, educational, circumstantial and dispositional influences. The first could be regarded as a higher, more abstract, perspective. The second more practical and easier to grasp. Both are important. The illustration at the top of this article, and reproduced again here,  represents an aide memoir for design groups and strategists to reflect on.

Strategic leaders need to pay attention to the orientation of the incoming students. The outer circle reflects the work that emerged from the POISE project (Atkinson 2014). The inner circle is an illustration of the work by Thomas and May (2010) in establishing the basis for developing inclusive learning approaches. Despite the fact that this work might originate from a desire to better integrate international students with domestic students and to recognise diversity and equality in teaching, it manifests itself as a very useful framework to allow tutors and students themselves to assess their own influences.

POISE Framework

The POISE Framework is an attempt to identify the epistemological assumptions of students, and their faculty, by exploring five facets of learning, the first letters of which stand for POISE: Pace, Ownership, Innateness, Simplicity and Exactness. In its most simplified form, it can be seen as the representation of five beliefs about knowledge represented as binary opposites.

This resulted in the following matrix.

Pneumonic Binary concept Belief statements (after (Schommer, 1990)) Scholarship roots
Pace Quick or not at all Learning is quick or not all (Quick Learning) (Schoenfeld, 1983)
Ownership Authority or Reason Knowledge is handed down by authority (Omniscient Authority) (Perry, 1968)
Innateness Innate or Acquired The ability to learn is innate rather than acquired (Innate Ability) (Dweck & Leggett, 1988)
Simplicity Simple or Complex Knowledge is simple rather than complex (Simple Knowledge) (Perry, 1968)
Exactness Certain or Tentative Knowledge is certain rather than tentative (Certain Knowledge) (Perry, 1968)

The notion of binaries presents an opportunity to engage in a ‘dialogue about beliefs’. It is appropriate to establish the beliefs about learning that underpin a student’s (or faculty member’s) approach to learning and teaching, rather than to identify a ‘problem’ and tackle it with an intervention in isolation.

For example, a challenge in many western universities is that students are not fully aware, or in tune with, the institution's guidance on plagiarism. It would be useful to introduce this dimension of academic practice by first exploring the question of whether knowledge is based on authority or reason. Without a fundamental understanding that the western academic tradition expects students to develop their own reasoning skills, and to acknowledge pre-existing authority in a particular way, one cannot effectively explore the detailed nature of academic referencing, citations and intellectual ownership.

The online POISE resource articulates this using five questions to explore each binary element. These could be woven into class tutorials, set as introductory work for debate or implemented in a learning support setting. Personally, I would prefer to see them integrated into students initial study as part of orientation work. Questioning one's assumptions is the basis for fresh learning.

Binary concept POISE Questions
Pace Quick or not at all Is hard work enough?
Ownership Authority or Reason Who has the answers?
Innateness Innate or Acquired Who is responsible for my learning?
Simplicity Simple or Complex Is there a simple answer?
Exactness Certain or Tentative Is there always a right answer?

Any airing of such deliberations at the beginning of any learning process, and revisiting them periodically, serves to properly orientate the learner.

ACTIONS: POISE

Review your policies for pre-enrolment engagement, recruitment and on-boarding of students. Consider sharing a contextualised version of the POISE questions with your students. Design a customised self-diagnostic tool that all incoming students complete that reflects back to them in the feedback how your institution values knowledge against each of these five questions. This will cause potential students to reflect on their expectations and relationship with the meaning-making process.

Once students have been enrolled you might review your pastoral and tutorial support. You may find it helpful to establish small-group seminars or one-to-one tutorials and work through each of the five questions in a non-judgemental context. In doing so teaching staff come to understand the degree of homogeneity within a cohort and also, in some cases, to contrast the approaches of their students to their own.

Framework for Inclusion

The second epistemological dimension of the student, before and after enrollment, that requires some attention falls under different names. It will appear in reference to an institution's equality and diversity agenda, widening participation or inclusion strategies. In some countries, these are mandated by funders, in others, they are less formally expressed but are usually present in any growth and recruitment strategy.

Much of tertiary education globally is seeing its student population becoming ever more diverse, and disparate with increasing part-time, distance provision growing.  We know that different groups of students have different rates of success, measured by retention, completion and attainment. It is critical institutions either declare their focus (where they are expressly exclusive: male only, Catholic only, etc)  or risk disadvantaging specific groups of students.

Working in a way that advocates equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) universally enhance the learning experience of all students. So we can use the matrix define by Taylor and May (2010) to not only value the contribution of students regardless of their backgrounds and appreciate, in an active sense, the contributions individuals bring from different value systems, enriching the experience of everyone, we can also use it to assess the 'fit' of students to programme.

ORIENTATIONS INFLUENCES
Dispositional Identity; self-esteem; confidence; motivation; aspirations; expectations; preferences; attitudes; assumptions; beliefs; emotional intelligence; maturity; learning styles; perspectives; interests; self-awareness; gender; sexuality.
Educational Level/type of entry qualifications; skills; ability; knowledge; previous educational experience; life and work experience; learning approaches.
Circumstantial Age; disability; paid/voluntary employment; caring responsibilities; geographical location; access to IT and transport services; flexibility; time available; entitlements; financial background and means; marital status.
Cultural Language; values; cultural capital; religion and belief; country of origin/residence; ethnicity/race; social background

All of these factors will express themselves in the values, attitudes and orientations to learning amongst your student population. Giving an early opportunity for individuals to express their views, without judgement, as to how meaning is made, how knowledge is acquired, curated and exchanged. A supportive dialogue about a student's relationship with knowledge allows the student to identify how they may need to adjust their own approaches to learning. Although I do not recognise the constructs referred to as 'learning styles', I do believe there are important orientations to learning that are contextually and culturally specific and are acquired as language is from infancy.

ACTIONS: INCLUSION

Faculty and learning support staff: the four things institutions can do are to make sure that all faculty and learning support staff are equipped with the skills to anticipate their diverse students' needs, to reflect on their own orientations, to encourage learning designers to build flexible approaches to learning to accommodate difference and to do so in collaboration with students themselves. This means valuing the professional development of your faculty and learning support staff.

Be Upfront: the strategic advantages of not delegating these concerns to the back-end student support service and bringing them right up front in your pre-enrolment and onboarding activities with students are that you are much more likely to create a community in which each individual brings their real self to the community and is valued for their unique contribution. Institutions may want to have anonymous discussion boards that allow prospective students to share their readiness to learn.

Reflect on Materials: Students will always connect more effectively with learning materials that are relevant to them. Materials can be alienating for learners. Cultural references or unfamiliar contexts can slow the learning process. You need to ensure your materials are easily ‘translatable’ from one cultural context to another. Instruct your materials design teams to adopt an inclusive matrix as a  quality enhancement mechanism.

How should institutions respond?

There are three possible strategic responses to this challenge.
Ignore it. We continue to design courses that fit into our educational structures and work harder at selling them to students in general.
Accommodate it. We attempt to incorporate some of the principles suggested here, perhaps implementing a version of POISE questions in our tutorial support structures, establishing an orientation questionnaire based on the four dimensions of the learner's context, and possibly implementing some diagnostic assessment at the beginning of each course or module.
Embrace it. Design orientation questionnaires and data capturing processes that inform the discussion between the student and their institution. Explore options for student-defined learning outcomes and assessment models, implement real-world, in-place, situated, flexible learning options, micro-credit accumulation frameworks leading to awards, and begin to redefine our institutions as enablers and validators of learning rather than curators of knowledge.

There is an old adage about a container ship leaving Tokyo and being just one degree out on its course heading to San Francisco and missing the United States completely. I have not checked the geography but the implications are clear. Pointing students in the right direction is our first strategic challenge.

Consultancy support is available institutions that feel they would benefit from an external review of their strategies, policies and practices. See Consultancy pages.

References

Atkinson, S. P. (2014) Rethinking personal tutoring systems: the need to build on a foundation of epistemological beliefs. BPP University Working Papers. London: BPP University.

Dweck, C. S., & Leggett, E. L. (1988). A social-cognitive approach to motivation and personality. Psychological Review95(2), 256–273.

Perry, W. G. (1968). Patterns of Development in Thought and Values of Students in a Liberal Arts College: A Validation of a Scheme. Final Report. Office of Education (DHEW), Washington, DC. Bureau of Research.

Schoenfeld, A. H. (1983). Beyond the Purely Cognitive: Belief Systems, Social Cognitions, and Metacognitions As Driving Forces in Intellectual Performance*. Cognitive Science7(4), 329–363.

Schommer, M. (1990). Effects of beliefs about the nature of knowledge on comprehension. Journal of Educational Psychology82(3), 498–504.

Thomas, L., & May, H. (2010). Inclusive learning and teaching in higher education (p. 72). York: Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from http://www.heacademy.ac.uk/system/files/inclusivelearningandteaching_finalreport.pdf

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The majority of academic staff in the United Kingdom will have come across the UKPSF in one form or another. It has been a benchmark for my academic development practice for fourteen years. The United Kingdom Professional Standards Framework is a set of statements, arguably objectives, for the 'complete' skill profile for an academic working in tertiary education. Divided into three areas, core knowledge, professional values and areas of activity, there is some potential overlap but it remains sufficiently broad to reflect the reality at the chalk-face (or PowerPoint screen). It has proved itself to be largely unopposed in the UK context  (certainly there are few rivals) and despite some tweaking of the original 2004 version in 2011, unchanged.

The stability and endurance of the framework is a tribute to its authors, with contributions drawn from across the tertiary sector. The homogeneous nature of the inputs does give us a framework that sometimes feels like a United Nations Security Council resolution, written in diplomatic English, designed not to offend and to be  'universal', in other words euro-centric. Therein lies the difficulty.

As the Aotearoa New Zealand academic community has struggled to adopt and adapt the UKPSF to their unique post-colonial context, they have faced a challenge. In Aotearoa, the Treaty of Waitangi is enshrined in much of public policy and practice. An acknowledgement of the values ascribed to indigenous Māori perspectives, the Treaty is a touchstone for any professional practice framework. For this reason, Ako Aotearoa (NZ's professional academic body equivalent to AdvanceHE, the inheritor of the HEA's remit) continues to consider its position with respect to the UKPSF. Incorporating a range of Māori cultural and philosophical perspectives, kaupapa māori, including philosophical doctrines, indigenous knowledge, skills, attitudes and values, is an ongoing challenge. So far, I am aware only of one iteration of an NZ revised PSF operated by Auckland University of Technology, AUT, under the name of Ako Aronui (http://cflat.aut.ac.nz/ako-aronui/). Having been denied the opportunity to modify the original UKPSF (to ensure recognition process remained intact), the team at AUT have appended a Māori perspective to each element in the framework (Buissink et al., 2017). At face value, this could appear to be a mere translation, but it is much more than that. It could be seen as a cultural reinterpretation of each concept or notion. It falls short of a reappraisal of the fundamental indigenous approaches to learning, but it appears respectful and well-considered.

Australian colleagues have taken a somewhat different approach, drafting a 'University Teaching Criteria and Standards Framework' that directly linking roles and promotional structures to values and attributes within their framework. Australian colleagues claimed only to have used the UKPSF as a reference source rather than as a template. In the absence of an embedded or enshrined single treaty arrangement with the heterogeneous Aboriginal peoples of Australia, there is significantly less widespread inter-cultural reverence for different perspectives on learning. (http://uniteachingcriteria.edu.au/)

As a diverse, and somewhat eclectic, sector, the Canadian tertiary sector does not have a single professional framework for educators to aspire to. This is a country in which quality assurance is largely the responsibility of the Provinces, and there is no central national oversight, so this it is hardly surprising. Nonetheless, there are positive moves towards a recognition of the inherent values embedded in indigenous customs and practice with regards to learning, in a document produced by Universities Canada in 2015, entitled "Principles on Indigenous education".

What the Aotearoa and Canadian examples share, and are absent from both the Australian and UK contexts, is an explicit desire not only to be inclusive and make liberal use of words such as access and equality (shared by all) but also to advocate for the indigenization, as well as the internationalization, of the learning experience. I would argue this is a serious omission from the UKPSF. It is absent from any derivation that does not, or is not permitted, to alter the original. There needs to be, I suggest, an acknowledgement of the unique cultural context in which any framework is drafted and explicit recognition of the philosophical and socio-cultural values that are embedded within it.

In the context of the UKPSF, this could be remedied by an additional statement in each category of elements; I'd make them top of the list, or number '0'.

Core Knowledge (K0) The cultural context in which knowledge is created and valued within their discipline.
Professional Values (P0) Recognise different epistemological frameworks and perspectives on learning and disciplinary knowledge.
Areas of Activity (A0) Embrace indigenous perspectives in all aspects of the educational practice.

That's what's missing. The challenge from an Anglo-European-American (post-enlightenment, Judeo-Christian, rationalist) perspective is to acknowledge that there is 'another' way of experiencing and learning-in and -about the world.

......................

Buissink, N., Diamond, P., Hallas, J., Swann, J., & Sciascia, A. D. (2017). Challenging a measured university from an indigenous perspective: placing ‘manaaki’ at the heart of our professional development programme. Higher Education Research & Development, 36(3), 569–582. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2017.1288706

I am in Mexico City this week sharing ideas around academic good practice with colleagues from the international network to which my institution belongs. Looking at the program it becomes apparent that there is a deep rich potential for faculty exchange, curriculum resource re-use, and cross institutional quality assurance. Already though it becomes clear that despite the commonalities in our institutions, each has a unique national and local interpretation of curriculum design. Not all strictly adhere to a constructive alignment protocol, not all identify intended learning outcomes and topic or session learning objectives. Without that kind of consistent approach to learning design none of the advantages of being part of an international network are immediately apparent. 

Looking at the learning content exchanged by partners, it seems not just about language differences (some partners are Spanish speaking, others English speaking),it is undoubtedly the case that one would have to you reduce the content and syllabus to such a high level of granularity as to render exchange and reuse largely meaningless. 

I can see a huge amount of work involved in moving just a single programme of university study into the modulur structure designed within the SOLE toolkit. Nonetheless the ability to exchange designs and content in a strictly adhered SOLE model structure seems to me to be worth the effort. I will be championing that intention this week with colleagues.

Newly uploaded, here is the final paper that was previewed in blog postings during December 2014.

Atkinson, S. P. (2014) Rethinking personal tutoring systems: the need to build on a foundation of epistemological beliefs. BPP University Working Papers. London: BPP University.

Image of the cover of Rethinking Personal Tutoring Systems
Rethinking Personal Tutoring Systems

My argument is that in order to tailor effective support for students we must understand better their fundamental beliefs about learning; that to have a conversation about 'our' values we need to understand how others experience their own.

This was the purpose of the POISE project, an HEA Change Initiative and this paper is a summary of its conclusions.

There is much work to be done to make these insights more accessible to rank and file tutors in higher education but the POISE website is a start. As always I am delighted to hear about any use made of the work and to enter into a dialogue with anyone working on similar initiatives.

The Higher Education Academy issues extensive guidance on supporting the  International Student Lifecycle. This is the result of The Teaching International Students project which  was a joint initiative between the HEA and the United Kingdom Council for International Student Affairs (UKCISA) with funding from the Prime Minister's Initiative 2 (PMI2).

"The project focuses on the ways that lecturers and other teaching staff can maintain and improve the quality of teaching and learning for international students. This is done through providing guidance and information about how to meet the diverse learning needs of international students."

This is an invaluable set of resources to guide practice. Access the resources here:

https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/node/10190

(extracts from a draft Working Paper)

Following a review of institutional websites in October 2014 it is clear that the vast majority of UK higher education institutions have explicit policy statements relating to the provision of personal tutoring (80%) with the remainder stating such support in more obtuse references or in delegated documents at faculty or departmental level. Whilst the overwhelming preference is to use the term 'personal tutors' other refinements such as 'personal academic tutors' are also used alongside aligned roles such as 'year tutor' and 'Dean of students'. Approximately 50% UK HEIs on their public webpages reference the use of personal development planning (PDP) alongside personal tutor support. At least 75% provide detailed web support for students defining the role of personal tutors alongside a range of other support services. It is noticeable that this is an active area of policy development with over 80% of policy statements having been updated in 2013 or 2014. The preference for over 90% of institutions is for a fairly traditional blend of personal guidance usually under the guise of:

  • Academic guidance
  • Academic support
  • Career planning
  • Pastoral support

This closely follows the benchmarking documents issued by Watts in 1999, when arguably there was more homogeneity in provision, who following an analysis of the role of personal advisers in post-compulsory education, stated the purpose of effective provision was:

  • Providing ongoing support in an established relationship;
  • Providing ongoing support in an established relationship;
  • Providing holistic guidance incorporating both academic and personal information advice and guidance;
  • Referrals to other support specialists;
  • Personal advocacy in the form of references and representation.

(Watts, 1999)

Higher Education Academy, in its work on widening participation, outlined a similar set of benchmarks with increasingly diverse communities in mind. The resulting recommendations suggest that personal tutoring comprises:

  • To provide of a stable point of contact within the University;
  • To provide guidance on higher education processes and procedures and expectations;
  • To provide academic feedback and development aimed at orientation of new students to academic demands;
  • personal welfare support;
  • To provide referral to sources of further information;
  • To build the institutional relationship and the sense of belonging.

(Thomas, 2006)

This ‘model’ of personal tutorial support was born at a time when institutions were largely ‘campus-based’ and many of them ‘residential campus-based’ with the vast majority of students living-in halls. It also originates in a highly selective environment when significantly less than the current target of 50% of school leavers attending further or higher education. The reality of plurality in provision surely require equally diverse responses. Ultimately institutions may need to relinquish ownership of its custodial relationship with the students and instead replace it with a system that empowers students to search for relevant support. The increasing diversity of the student body, drawn from all sections of society, regions, countries, nationality, and ages as well differing modes of study from online participation and distance study, to workplace and off-campus programs, surely questions the models of support but have stood scrutiny for so long. Given there is nearly universal agreement of the need for students to have access to ‘learning support’ this is the logical place to begin to assess provision.

Theoretical Models of Learning Support

The role of the personal tutor, under what name and guise, has been the subject of extensive writings although relatively little empirical research, with some subject or domain specific exceptions (Burk & Bender, 2005; Powell & Mason, 2013; Symonds, Lawson, & Robinson, 2007). Research focuses on cohort studies and deal primarily with subject skills specific support. There has been little research linking motivational and psychological factors with the operation of tutor support. Burke and Bender (2005) found that despite the formal support mechanisms in place students frequently relied on themselves and their informal peer networks. They also noted a gender difference with female students going outside the institution more frequently than their male counterparts. Studies addressing the needs of a particular demographic are frequently too generic to be of value in policy planning although some large international comparison studies to provide useful insights. Whilst the importance of student support services as a measure of institutional attractiveness alongside its academic, teaching and research profile is highlighted by studies (Kelo & Rogers, 2010) the actually uptake of services contradicts this assertion.

Studies relating to student support mechanisms have tended to focus on the question of retention and progress. One notable theoretical position by Vincent Tinto, described as Interactionalist Theory, is concerned with the early departure of students from colleges and universities. This work focuses primarily on the fear of failure by students and the failure of the institution to create a sense of community of belonging (Tinto, 1993). This work has been influential particularly in the US in influencing morals of student support but its emphasis has been on a traditional campus community despite that one empirical study could find only a single institution supported only 5 of Tinto’s original 13 propositions (Berger & Braxton, 1998).

More recent attempts by Ormond Simpson to develop theory of learner support in the context of distance learning is invaluable in basing its conclusion in the fields of learning and motivational psychology. Summoning Dweck's self theory and Anderson's advocacy for proactive support, Simpson suggests that there is a noticeable institutional benefit in the retention of students through development of alternative models of learning skills development and support. We should exercise caution however since Anderson suggests that remediation (intervention to support failing study skills) risk demotivating learners over time (Clifton & Anderson, 2002) and there is evidence that even learners who are made familiar with their personal learning style may not find any correlation with their motivation for learning (Jelfs, Richardson, & Price, 2009). There is broad agreement that study skills alone are insufficient and that motivation proves critical, with notable US research with school leavers identifying that students who receive self efficacy training have a higher retention rate than those receiving learning skills alone (Barrios, 1997).

Anderson and Clifton have advocated a "strengths approach" in researching the importance of self-esteem in the learning process. The premise is that individuals do best when they focus on their strengths rather than their weaknesses and therefore focusing on those weaknesses may not be a particularly effective way of improving success. Rather they suggest that the identification and support for existing strengths, and understanding the means to transfer those skills for effective study, proves long-term gains. Anderson and Clifton identify some 30 strengths which can be explored in a face-to-face programme of encounters over number will of weeks (Clifton & Anderson, 2002) however Boniwell has suggested a nine-point approach for the relevant member of staff to use with individual students. This 9 point approach follows:

  1. Emphasising positive dimensional is during initial contact.
  2. Focusing on existing strengths and competencies.
  3. Identifying past success and achievement.
  4. Encourage "positive affect", building on hope and aspiration.
  5. Identify underlying values, goals and motivations.
  6. Exploring personal stories, the rating one's own life story.
  7. Identifying resources and support.
  8. Validating effort rather than achievement.
  9. Finally: exploring uncertainties and lack of skills.

(Boniwell, 2003 cited in Simpson, 2008)

Whilst Boniwell suggest some means to facilitate these conversations between staff and students should be enabled by institutions, the reality is many faculty would find such empathic discussions difficult.

Work by Vansteenkiste resulting in a "self-determination theory" identified that students performed best when they felt autonomous in their study choices (Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006), whilst evidence from the Open University UK that students who have a choice of study material and participate three options have the maximum student retention (Tresman, 2002). Most programmes of study however have been designed with deadlines, fixed content and rigid assessment processes make such findings difficult to implement in most institutions. Other theoretical models that explore notions of students self-identity include "achievement goal theory” in which one of three goals identifies students self orientation namely 1) mastery goals - to reach genuine competence, 2) performance goals - to demonstrate competence to others, 3) performance avoidance goals - to ensure avoiding perception of inadequacies (Skaalvik, 1997). Other researchers have concluded that there are complex social motivational factors involved and that there are reasons to pursue strategies that support performance goals as well as mastery goals (Harackiewicz, Barron, Pintrich, Elliot, & Thrash, 2002).

Vansteenkiste and colleagues carried out empirical studies that have shown that intrinsic goal framing (relative to extrinsic goal framing and no-goal framing) produces deeper engagement in learning activities. These orientations also ensure better conceptual learning and higher persistence at learning activities (Vansteenkiste et al., 2006). Within certain highly competitive disciplines and understanding of student motivation within this theoretical construct might prove valuable. Similarly work by Pajares also argues that self-belief and self-comprehension are important determinates in study success but such conceptions are frequently faulty (Pajares, 1996). Empirical studies examined students awareness of their own relative competence or incompetence and identified that whilst 60% of students had a realistic expectation of their own competence 20% had excessively unrealistic of their competence and 20% a negatively soft judgement regarding their competence (Pajares, 2004 cited in Simpson, 2008).

Study skills have become associated with an add-on provision based on an historical assumption that students enter university already equipped with the appropriate skills in order to undertake higher learning (N. Bennett, Dunne, & Carre, 2000). In an environment in which study skills are framed as remedial provision for students who arrive without the assumed skills, notably international students and 'non-traditional' students, are immediately disadvantaged (Cottrell, 2001). Most UK universities provide, usually provided by specialist study support centres situated within learning and teaching centres or within library services, opportunities for students to undertake writing enhancement programmes and individual tuition. Ursula Wingate argues that separating study skills from subject content and the process of learning is ineffective and that study skills should be more fully integrated within modules and programmes (Wingate, 2006). There is an argument to suggest that a full range of literacies should be integrated into the learning experience so bad in the knowledge driven world universities can prepare individuals to be 'fully literate'.

"…literacy can be taken from a wealth of dimensions other than reading and writing ability or numeracy: media literacy, active citizenship empowerment, financial literacy, basic technological skills, social and values (ethical) literacy, intercultural dialogue aptitude, health literacy, to mention just some." (Carneiro & Gordon, 2013, p. 476)

Unless as institutions we opt to educate to the syllabus without ambition we must surely consider the ways in which plural literacies in our disciplines should be framed. I have elsewhere argued that effectively designed learning outcomes using a full range of educational objective taxonomies should enable all the full range of higher education skills, a full range of literacies, to be acquired within modules and programmes if appropriately designed (Atkinson, 2013).

Bibliography

 

Atkinson, S. P. (2013). Taxonomy Circles: Visualizing the possibilities of intended learning outcomes. London: BPP University College.

Barrios, A. A. (1997). The Magic of the Mind (MOM) Program for Decreasing School Dropout. Retrieved from http://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED405436

Bennett, N., Dunne, E., & Carre, C. (Eds.). (2000). Skills Development in Higher Education and Employment. Buckingham England ; Philadelphia, PA: Open University Press.

Berger, J. B., & Braxton, J. M. (1998). Revising Tinto’s Interactionalist Theory of Student Departure through Theory Elaboration: Examining the Role of Organizational Attributes in the Persistence Process. Research in Higher Education, 39(2), 103–119.

Boniwell, I. (2003). Student retention and positive psychology. Presented at the Open University Student Retention Conference.

Burk, D. T., & Bender, D. J. (2005). Use and Perceived Effectiveness of Student Support Services in a First-Year Dental Student Population. Journal of Dental Education, 69(10), 1148–1160.

Carneiro, R., & Gordon, J. (2013). Warranting our Future: literacy and literacies. European Journal of Education, 48(4), 476–497. doi:10.1111/ejed.12055

Clifton, D. O., & Anderson, E. “Chip.” (2002). StrengthsQuest: Discover and Develop Your Strengths in Academics, Career, and Beyond (First Printing edition.). Washington, D.C.: The Gallup Organization.

Cottrell, D. S. (2001). Teaching Study Skills and Supporting Learning (First edition. Paperback edition.). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Harackiewicz, J. M., Barron, K. E., Pintrich, P. R., Elliot, A. J., & Thrash, T. M. (2002). Revision of achievement goal theory: Necessary and illuminating. Journal of Educational Psychology, 94(3), 638–645. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.94.3.638

Jelfs, A., Richardson, J. T. E., & Price, L. (2009). Student and tutor perceptions of effective tutoring in distance education. Distance Education, 30(3), 419–441. doi:10.1080/01587910903236551

Kelo, M., & Rogers, T. (2010). International student support in European higher education needs, solutions and challenges. Bonn: Lemmens.

Pajares, F. (1996). Self-Efficacy Beliefs in Academic Settings. Review of Educational Research, 66(4), 543–578. doi:10.3102/00346543066004543

Pajares, F. (2004). Self-efficacy theory: Implications and applications for classroom practice. Presented at the International Conference on Motivation “Cognition, Motivation and Effect,” Lisbon, Portugal.

Powell, C. B., & Mason, D. S. (2013). Effectiveness of Podcasts Delivered on Mobile Devices as a Support for Student Learning During General Chemistry Laboratories. Journal of Science Education and Technology, 22(2), 148–170. doi:10.1007/s10956-012-9383-y

Simpson, O. (2008). Motivating learners in open and distance learning: do we need a new theory of learner support? Open Learning: The Journal of Open, Distance and E-Learning, 23(3), 159–170. doi:10.1080/02680510802419979

Skaalvik, E. M. (1997). Self-enhancing and self-defeating ego orientation: Relations with task and avoidance orientation, achievement, self-perceptions, and anxiety. Journal of Educational Psychology, 89(1), 71–81. doi:10.1037/0022-0663.89.1.71

Symonds, R. J., Lawson, D. A., & Robinson, C. L. (2007). The effectiveness of support for students with non-traditional mathematics backgrounds. Teaching Mathematics and Its Applications, 26(3), 134–144. doi:10.1093/teamat/hrm009

Thomas, L. (2006). Widening participation and the increased need for personal tutoring. In L. Thomas & P. Hixenbaugh (Eds.), Personal tutoring in Higher Education (pp. 21–31). Trentham books. Retrieved from http://repository.edgehill.ac.uk/62/

Tinto, V. (1993). Leaving college: rethinking the causes and cures of student attrition (2nd ed.). Chicago ; London: University of Chicago Press.

Tresman, S. (2002). Towards a Strategy for Improved Student Retention in Programmes of Open, Distance Education: A Case Study From the Open University UK. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 3(1). Retrieved from http://www.irrodl.org/index.php/irrodl/article/view/75

Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Deci, E. L. (2006). Intrinsic Versus Extrinsic Goal Contents in Self-Determination Theory: Another Look at the Quality of Academic Motivation. Educational Psychologist, 41(1), 19–31. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4101_4

Watts, A. G. (1999). Watts, A.G.: “The Economic and Social Benefits of Career Guidance”. , No. 63, 1999. Educational and Vocational Guidance Bulletin, 63, 12–19.

Wingate, U. (2006). Doing away with “study skills.” Teaching in Higher Education, 11(4), 457–469. doi:10.1080/13562510600874268

 

(Extracted from a draft working paper)

One might expect this diversity in provision in Higher Education to be reflected in the personal tutoring support provided however there is remarkably little difference in the way in which support for students is organised and delivered. It suggest that there is value in unshackling support systems from existing language and historical practices.

There are variations in the terminology used according to country, nature of the institution, and indeed discipline. Mentoring and ‘pastoral care’ appears to be the preferred term in nursing and medicine where is academic ‘tutor’ takes preference in humanities disciplines. Much of the UK literature insists on contrasting institutional tutoring systems against the benchmark of the 'Oxbridge model'. Since the concept of a personal tutor was introduced into higher education clearly students are less homogeneous body than they might once had deemed to be.

Recent figures from the Santander group suggest that more than 22% of students choose to remain living in the family home with 66% citing cost as the main reason (Marsh, 2014). Another recent survey of 1000 students by Education Phase puts the figure of those at home at 23%, and suggests that on average students travelled 91 miles between home and University to attend studies (Arnett, 2014). This suggests that the idea of the non-residential commuter institution is becoming more common with a consequence of increased ‘blended-learning’ delivery.

An NUS report in October 2013 also suggested that 2% of students had sought counselling services in the previous year but 20% of students consider themselves to have a mental health issue with 13% having had suicidal thoughts. 92% of respondents in the NUS survey suggested they had experienced 'mental distress' with the main causes cited as coursework related (65%), exams (54%) and financial difficulties (47%). Over 25% of those surveyed had not shared their concerns with anyone and only 10% accessing the services provided by their institution (Froio, 2013).

Another significant emerging trends is for students to be working as an increased proportion of their time alongside study. A survey of 2128 students found 45% having a part-time job and 13% in full-time employment, much of which continues during term time as well as vacations. Most cite the need to earn money although it is interesting that 53% suggest that students identify their future employment prospects as a prime motivation (Gil, 2014). Universities typically suggest a limit between 10 and 15 hours of part-time work a week during term time some institutions attempt to prohibit students from working at all. Other restrictions on work face the increasing proportion of international students (UKCISA, 2013).

In 2012 – 13 the gender split of the HEI student population was 56.2% female and 43.8% male. But even a glance at the data begins to suggest the need for different models of support. The gender balance for part-time students were 60.5% female and 39.5% male, for full-time and sandwich students the split was 54.5% female and 45.5% male. We might expect there to be significant differences in the support provided for part-time students and that this might also address gender differences. For non-EU domiciled students, often referred to as 'international' students, the overall gender gap is less significant 49.2% female and 50.8% male. However if we look at other undergraduate study (other than towards achievement of a degree) there are interesting variations, female students make up 65.3% of those studying part-time as opposed to 34.7 of male students. Even before we explore the differences in age and domestic circumstance it is clear that there will be differences in the needs of students at different levels. Add to that complexity we might also include the 598,000 students who are studying wholly overseas but either registered at UK HEI or working towards an award given by a UK HEI in 2012-13 (www.hesa.ac.uk).

Clearly our HEIs represent incredibly diverse communities of learning and existing mechanisms for socialization and support are challenged by this heterogeneous student body. The ‘ideal’ of the Oxbridge College Tutor has persisted and much effort and resource is committed to try and replicate it regardless of contextual realities. What are the alternative approaches

Bibliography

Arnett, G. (2014, August 18). Students travel an average of 91 miles from home to attend university. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2014/aug/18/students-travel-average-91-miles-home-university

Froio, N. (2013, October 10). Number of university students seeking counselling rises 33%. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/news/datablog/2013/oct/10/university-students-seeking-counselling-mental-health-uk

Gil, N. (2014, August 11). One in seven students work full-time while they study. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/aug/11/students-work-part-time-employability

Marsh, S. (2014, August 26). Rise of the live-at-home student commuter. The Guardian. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/aug/26/rise-live-at-home-student-commuter

UKCISA. (2013, August 23). UKCISA - Working during your studies. Retrieved October 26, 2014, from http://www.ukcisa.org.uk/International-Students/Study-work--more/Working-during-your-studies/

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