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After a much shorter debate due to the General Election the HE Bill is now an act, leaving us all to wonder if a better outcome would have been possible with fuller discussion.

As ever WonkHE has a good guide and lots of background information.

It probably doesn't mean anything to those who didn't live through it, but WonkHE reminds us that's it is 25 years since the end to the university/polytechnic divide in the UK

I started my career in a polytechnic and have mixed feelings.  I think there were positive aspects to polytechnic education when it worked well.  It could have a positive focus on the vocational, which was popular with students but often misunderstood by the institution.  I was the programme director for the BTEC programmes in Business.  There was a tendency for everyone to assume that students did HND's because they couldn't get into a degree course, but in a couple of years when managers noticed that in clearing the entry requirements for the degree had fallen below that of the HND and wrote to students offering a switch they were surprised when the majority said no - but they never learnt.  The students had a more positive view of the courses, fortunately shared by the majority of the staff who taught on them.  But it was an interesting microcosm of the fundamental problem of parity of esteem of vocational education. While you can argue the existence of the divide continued that problem, I think the end of the divide did nothing to move us forward.

There was a specific form of teaching which we did well - related to Boyer's Scholarship of Application, although again the institution (or at least managers) didn't recognise it.  We taught student's how to apply academic knowledge.  As I say it wasn't recognised enough.  I inherited a couple of courses on Work Psychology and an introduction to psychology for accountancy, both were unexciting and irrelevant.  I managed to give them a focus on how to apply psychology in business/accountancy and the students got engaged.  It also gave me a different perspective on the academic subject.

For some time I have been looking for an on-line tool to create diagrams for a variety of tasks, and I have recently rediscovered which I am finding very useful for doing simple mindmaps  and venn diagrams (which I use in teaching as a basic logic tool).  For both of these functions there are specialist tools, but I am finding easier to use than most - and sufficient for what I want to do.

The programme will connect to a  range of cloud storage facilities so you can save to Google Drive, Idrive etc, and it automatically saves changes there.  You can then either publish links to your diagrams or embed them in web pages.  The embedded files do take a little while to load so my plan is to embed them while I am still developing them (they, then get automatically updated) but will replace them with static versions when I am finished.  There are a couple of examples on my website in the approaches section where I wanted to start with a mindmap rather than text.

An article in the Wonkhe news email this morning reminded me of a sign I saw yesterday outside of a school in South West London - Headline 'Top of the Class', with the strapline - 'Every child is important' - which highlights for me the ambiguity in education about fairness etc.

I have just published an old working paper on Researchgate (DOI: 10.13140/RG.2.2.15599.43686).

This paper describes part of a series of reflective research on the teaching of a Business School module 'Organisational Analysis and Design* (OAD). This element of the research looked at the experiences and difficulties faced by a group of students who take the module as a compulsory module in a science faculty degree. The study uses David Kolb's model of the experiential learning cycle to understand differences in teaching strategy and learning processes. In the context of modular degrees, it raises issues about the difficulties of moving from one academic discipline to another, and questions what information we should be providing to students about the teaching strategy of modules.

I would be interested in any comments.

Paper also available here.

A day workshop in February 2017, organised by Game Changers at the Disruptive Media Learning Lab at Coventry University.

The day was an interesting fun day with a broad range of speakers and activities, ranging from commercial computer games, to traditional games and games designed for learning, reflecting the development and interest in gamification and ‘serious games’.

One thing that struck me, in this mixture of things, was an interesting confusion about what we were talking about, certainly when I started playing with ideas about ontology.  At a superficial level, there was a lack of clarity about the nature of the activities, for example a reference to a flight simulator as a game, there are flight simulation games, but a flight simulation is very much not a game and one of the design features, in common with other simulations is how you reduce the game element (learning that accidents are fun and you can reset the machine and have another go is not a good thing for a pilot to learn).  More fundamentally, was the issue about the nature of play.  We switched from play as an aspect of games, as in children’s and theatre games, Bernie DeKoven, to discussion about whether Universities could be playful, to mention of playfulness as a personal characteristic or attribute.  I spent a lot of the day returning to the later, although it wasn’t a major element of the day, with thoughts about play and reflection, and experimentation (Kolb), immersion and the flow state and the psychological conditions for playfulness with thoughts about the psychoanalyst Winnicott.  It also perhaps relates to attachment theory – is it a sign of security that someone can engage fully in playful activity, temporarily losing themselves in the play?

The idea of play at University was a theme of the day, with lots of criticism of developments in education being a reduction of play and creativity.  I am not sure whether playfulness is a characteristic of University, or of education and although I know that one of my tutors who was involved in the setting up of Sussex University was very informed by Winnicott, but it was me rather than the University that was playful.  Thinking of my more recent of Higher Education I have come across pockets of organised playfulness, interestingly more in the sciences than humanities, but not many – learning is a serious business.

The relationship between games and play is an interesting one to consider, many computer games are serious business too, which is why I think I have never got into them in a significant way.  This goes back to the sense of independence and freedom in play.  Gamification in education, using competition and the structure of games to engage students is not about developing their independence and creativity.

So the question I am left with, as a psychologist and an educator is whether playfulness is an important aspect of development that needs to be more recognised, encouraged and included in our learning outcomes.

There was a lively twitter discussion during the day.


The eleventh annual Drapers’ Lecture was held on Wednesday 25th January at 6pm at Queen Mary University of London, recording of that and the conference during the day are available at