Engaging Research-Focused Staff in Higher Education in a Course in Teaching and Learning

There are some broad strategies that are already in place aimed at attracting research-focused staff to various formal and informal teaching and learning courses in many Higher Education institutions. For example, potential participants are exempted from a course module based on existing qualifications they possess; using a diploma course in teaching and learning as a prerequisite to a Master’s degree and/or linking the certification received by staff after completing a course in teaching and learning to professional status and a qualification such as fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

While these are pitched at the programme level and help to make the course attractive, the main strategy for keeping staff engaged in a course of study is to create a climate conducive to learning and their needs.

Firstly, creating a climate conducive to learning and participants’ needs involves a number of things. However, critical to this process is attending to the interests of the participants. As much as possible, gather information on past and present participants’ perceptions of the course and their research concerns and interests. This is important for a number of reasons. Engaging in this activity allows the teacher to

Get to know each participant and facilitate the building of relationship between teacher and participants.
Plan activities and utilise materials that are culturally and contextually relevant which makes it easier for participants to visualize learning transference in their respective contexts.
Present information on which there is some interest.
The insight participants will leave with from this data gathering exercises is that adults always appreciate being a part of their own development.

Secondly, creating a climate conducive to learning and the needs of the participant also includes finding out what they hope to gain by participating in each module and /or the entire course. This is best done during the first session of each module and via open discussion where appropriate questions could be asked. A variation on this approach is to ask them what they already know about the module or topic to be explored and what they would like to know.

Having gained their responses incorporate these in the lesson plans. During subsequent lessons prepare for, and discuss the areas or concerns raised by participants. What you will find is that ascertaining what participants’ would like to know and addressing these will allow them to become more attentive during the presentation. This is especially so, when their area of concern is being addressed. Also critical is involving them in developing and evaluating the curriculum by getting their feedback via feedback sheets given at the end of each module.

Finally, actively involve participants during lessons. This is very important because adult learners love to participate in the learning process (Jarvis, 1996). There are a variety of methods to be used such as: Reflection-on-practice and Reflective Journaling. These allow participants the opportunity to think critically and question their goals and values which guide their work, the context in which they teach, and assumptions they make about teaching (Zeichner and Liston, 1996). Action research. Participants could design and implement potential case studies/projects/research based on their teaching situation and publish the findings in relevant reputable journals. This contributes to the development of a scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL).

Problem base learning. Participants collaborate in the learning process using problem-based techniques to address issues/problems. Project based learning. Participants work in groups using multi-source information and creating authentic products or solutions. Professional Portfolio development. This allows participants to examine and articulate their personal instructional theory, and can be useful in accessing fellow status such as fellow of the Higher Education, Research Development Society of Australasia (FHERDSA) or fellow of the Higher Education Academy (FHEA).

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Academy Schools and Selective Admissions: The Background

A report released in the New Year by the Academies Commission has proposed that some of the new generation of academy schools maybe using de facto selection methods to affect their respective intakes to the favour of their results and performance. There is no doubt that there have been some great success stories amongst the raft of new schools that have converted to academy status in the last few years but is there a question over how these results have been obtained and whether they are a true reflection of performance? The first installment of this article recaps what academy schools are and when selective admissions are permitted.

What are Academy Schools?

Academy Schools were introduced as City Academies by the Labour government in 2000 with the aim of transforming the fortunes of failing city secondary schools in England by providing them with the freedoms of self governance together with the ability to team with partners from the public and private sectors who have experiences of delivering success in their respective fields. In July 2010, the current coalition government embraced and grew the academy project passing the Academies Act passed shortly after the start of its term. The act opened up and promoted the possibility for all schools to apply for academy status and as a result there are now 2,619 currently operating in England.

At the heart of their definition is the idea that academies are schools which continue to receive funding from central government – the same funding per head as a traditional state school would receive via the local education authority (LEA) – but they are free from the control of said local education authorities. Therefore, they have the freedom to determine how the school is run to a significant extent; namely, how those funds are allocated on school resources (including staff pay), the length of the school day and the dates of school terms, uniforms, how the school is structured and, most importantly, what and how they teach as they are not required to follow the national curriculum fully. However, despite being afforded many of the freedoms of privately run schools, academies are still defined as state schools due to their funding and as such are subject to Ofsted inspections and are prohibited from charging fees.

The Rules Concerning Selection

Schools that convert to academy status can continue to use selection processes such as the 11 plus if they did so before their conversion. Many Grammar schools for example that were previously run under the grant maintained scheme, which also gave them autonomy from local government control but access to central government funding, found a natural fit with the academy structure and so made the conversion. These schools exist on the principle of providing tailored education to the highest achievers irrespective of their social background and so relied on using the 11 plus to select these children and can continue to do so following their switch to academies.

State schools that convert to academy status and that do/did not implement any selection criteria as LEA controlled schools, cannot subsequently become selective in their admission however, because this would undermine one of their stated aims, to drive up academic standards throughout their local communities.

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Basic Cadet Training – United States Air Force Academy

The United States Air Force Academy is located on more than 18,400 beautifully maintained acres, on the East edge of the Rocky Mountains, in Colorado. Each year a new group of cadets are indoctrinated at the US Air Force Academy, at Colorado Springs, Colorado. Much of the more than 18,000 acres operates as other military bases, The Air Force Academy is both a university and military in station, in particular, the 10th Air Base Wing. The area that houses the superintendent, commandant, dean of faculty, and cadet wing resemble a civilian university.

The Superintendent is the Academy’s commanding officer, and is responsible for cadet military training, academic, athletic, and character development programs.

The Commandant monitors the more than 4,400 cadets, in addition to the 300 members of support staff.

More than 500 courses relating to 32 academic subject areas are controlled by the Dean of Commandants.

The 10th Air Base Wing (10th ABW)is comprised of more than 2,100 military, civilian, and contract personnel. The 10th ABW activities include law enforcement, civil engineering, communications, logistics, military and civilian personnel operations, and a clinic and hospital round out the services at the US Air Force Academy.

The Academy is considered as an ‘open’ base, and each year, thousands of people visit the Academy. The Academy’s Visitor Center has historical photos and educational information on display. An informative and educational film can be enjoyed by visitors in the comfortable theater. The Cadet Chapel is open to the public, and the massive sheets of glass that compose the construction of the chapel has been described as an architect wonder.

Visitors are also welcome to visit the Honor Court, Cadet Field House, Arnold Hall, Falcon Athletic Center, the Association of Graduates Building, and Falcon Stadium. Along the way, visitors can stop at several scenic overlooks that provide an unobstructed view of the spacious plains to the East, and the massive Rocky Mountains to the West.

The 306th Flying Training Group (FTG), located at the Academy, screens aviator candidates prior to entrance into the Undergraduate Flight Training program. The 306 FTG provides powered flight soaring and parachuting training to more than 2,500 cadets.

The Cadet dining facility, Mitchell Hall, is on of the largest dining facilities in the world, covering more than 1.7 acres. Three of the glass walls extend from the floor to the ceiling in this dining facility. Each year, more than 3 million meals are prepared and served, and 100,000 box lunches are prepared in support of Cadet Wing programs and activities.

Cadets march into Mitchell Hall, nine abreast. One waiter is in attendance to serve 10 tables. When the cadets take their seats, the meal is served family-style, and is finish the meal in 20 minutes. The entire operation is accomplished by more than 200 civil service employees.

Besides military leadership training and education, cadets are required to maintain a level of physical fitness. Daily fitness routines are incorporated into their busy schedules. Male cadets also have opportunities to be involved with the many sports offered at the Academy. Sports for men include, baseball, basketball, boxing, fencing, golf, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, rifle, soccer, field and track, water polo, wrestling, and football. Sports activities for women include, basketball, cross country, gymnastics, fencing, rifle, soccer, swimming, tennis, track and field, and volleyball.

Cadets have very little free time. Their day begins at 5:30 AM, and go to bed at 10:30 PM. Every evening, personal hygiene and relaxation times are provided. Studying, writing letters to families, and relaxing time is provided prior to the final taps of the day.

Adjustment problems can be expected. Professionally trained officers and upper class cadets are available to help to the new cadet conform to Academy expectations. But, the high educational, physical, and personal demands of cadet life is not for everyone.

Having lived and worked on the US Air Force Academy for more than 16 years, I can tell you that the Academy offers uncompromisable educational and lifestyle opportunities for future military leaders. Although many tears are shed as cadets say ‘good-bye’ to their families, the benefits awaiting them are rewarding. The cadet life requires many adjustments and commitments, and some people are unable to tolerate the demands. So, perhaps a visit to the Academy could be in your best interest before signing on that dotted line.

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