Saturday 6 April 2013

Option choices

On Monday our students will be choosing their options. We’re using a new electronic system – they’ll be doing it for the first time on-line. Fingers crossed it all works well. I’m away from my desk for about three hours on Monday. The rest of the time I’ll be watching my email very closely, ready to trouble-shoot.
Higher Education has been hit by cut-backs, particularly in the humanities. Fees have had to go up to cover costs because of the lack of grants and because other channels of funding have also been cut. From a student point of view it may look as if we are offering less and charging more.
There may be some material sense in which that is true – fewer books in the library, fewer support staff, and maybe the fabric of buildings deteriorates. Yet the lecturers remain, teaching the same material – even if we’ve had to call it something different. Last year we planned a massive upheaval, to be implemented this academic year. This is something we have to do regularly every few years. As per our institution’s regulations, courses that could not guarantee thirty students had to be cut. But for the most part, we’re still going to be teaching in groups of between fifteen and twenty. For creative practice courses, received wisdom says that groups shouldn’t be larger than fifteen.  A group with twenty on the register will generally have about fifteen attending – and not always exactly the same fifteen – on a weekly basis. As we have different lecturers teaching each group, we can offer specialist sessions according to the expertise of the lecturer.
Higher Education works differently from other levels of education. Even at undergraduate level students very much learn what their lecturers research. For instance, I teach about writing prose fiction, in particular for children and young adults and also about children’s literature.  I also teach about “being a writer”. I find out more about that myself every year. So I have new information to pass on to my students.  It will overlap with some information form other institutions but some of it will be unique. There is no national curriculum at this level. Year on year, however, we’re disseminating what we’ve learnt and increasing the knowledge database.
I’m responsible for three creative programmes. The biggest looks as if it offers a lot of choice. The other two have more core modules. Yet in fact the choice is roughly the same. The core modules offer much choice within their schemes of work. The “option” modules are more linear.
I’ll be glad when Monday’s over. There’s bound to be a lot of questions. But we’re not capping any modules so everyone should get their choices – unless some modules don’t recruit enough and have to be closed. I’m hoping that won’t happen. I hope my module will run and that it recruits two groups not three. Fingers crossed.      


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