Scale and recognition

This article from Times Higher threw me a little at first. It’s about a report from the QAA on the state of UK universities’ overseas provision and the difficulties faced in getting such courses officially recognised. But what caught my eye were the numbers involved:

Around 285,000 students are currently registered on the BSc in Applied Accounting offered via distance learning at Oxford Brookes University – almost half of the nearly 571,000 students studying for a UK degree overseas, according to the latest figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

285,000 students on one course, at one university? So it would seem.

The course is run in partnership with the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants, with students automatically enrolled with Oxford Brookes when signing up for Acca’s professional qualification. Students must pass nine “fundamentals” papers and a self-assessed professional ethics module to receive the Acca qualification, but must produce in addition a 6,500-word research project to receive the BSc qualification.

Administering distance-learning courses can be difficult enough, and adding in an overseas dimension makes it more so, but I can’t begin to imagine what an impact those numbers would make on their admin processes, cash cow notwithstanding.

Their VC is very proud of the scheme though.

Man after my own heart?

Gus O'DonnellIt’s been suggested I have a listen to Gus O’Donnell’s Radio 4 thing, In Defence of Bureaucracy. It sounds great — “Former cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell argues that bureaucracy is an essential part of a functioning democracy” — if you like that kind of thing. Which I do.

I was hoping The Google might tell me a little more about this but the links it provided were decidedly unhelpful.

One from FT.com looked promising:

There is no shame in being a bureaucrat
Bureaucracy brings fairness in a way more discretionary systems cannot, says Gus O’Donnell. Calling someone a bureaucrat should not be a …

but the article’s behind a paywall.

And another, from The Daily Mail, was heading off down a path I didn’t care to follow

Unsung heroes? No, pen-pushers like Gormless Gus are the bane of modern life!
We should be proud of our millions of bureaucrats, said nasal Gus, or Baron O’ Donnell of Clapham, as he has become following his seamless …

Let’s leave that there, shall we? I’ll just have to make up my own mind.

Stay on holiday

There must be a million blog posts out there about how to deal with e-mail. Here’s another. Rory Vaden has given us 7 tips for getting your inbox to zero to add to the mix. They all sound very familiar sensible but I especially liked number 3:

3. Extended Out of Office: When you go out of town for vacation or a work conference, turn your “out of office responder” for one day longer than you’re actually gone. I’ve found that having an out of office responder on all the time telling people how busy we are just annoys them–and doesn’t stop them from sending us emails. But turning on OOR once in a while really does have a positive effect in causing people to think before firing off an email to you knowing that you’re gone. The magic–which I discovered by accident–is in adding one extra day to it so that you legitimately have a catch-up day to get your feet back under you when you return.

I had a few days off last week and had my out-of-office on, but turned it off as soon as I got back. I might give this a go next time though, as I often find most of the first day back after any time off is spent dealing with the missed e-mail whilst trying to fend off the new that’s coming in, often about the same topic. (Do I start from the bottom and work up, or from the top and work down?…)

Other useful tips appear in the comments, too. Someone there admits to not reading any CC-mail. I might give that a go. Often putting someone’s name in the CC box is there for the benefit of the sender only, as a way of showing to the sendee (real word?) that other eyes are potentially on them. If it’s important, tell me about it. If it’s not, then don’t.

I also tend to avoid reading l o n g e-mails too. If it starts to feel like someone’s just venting or ranting, that the cue to stop reading and pick up the phone. Or better still, meet up and sort out whatever the issue is that’s prompted them to write at such length.

Will we ever crack e-mail, I wonder?

iMeh

Some context:

For large parts of my working day I’m sitting at my PC reading and writing e-mails, Word things, database things. I also sit and read/write in the canteen with a cup of something. And at various points throughout the week I go to meetings where I also do the sit/read/write/drink-tea thing.

Sheets of A4 are involved quite heavily in all that, and I was asked if the paperless theme I’m so keen on when discuss the department’s systems and processes could be extended to my own ways of working. So I borrowed an iPad.

I’ve had it for over a week now and feel decidedly meh about it (if that’s not a contradiction).

Overall? Interface; nice. Access to the Word files I need; a faff, Dropbox notwithstanding. Ability to take notes and scribbles; still not as good/quick/free as a pen and paper.

I’ve found that I’m more likely to keep on top of my e-mails with it (which I’m guessing is a good thing?) and it’s very handy to have a fuller web with me when out and about, but if I was just looking at it as a way of cutting down the paper when I’m away from my desk, I think I’ll pass.

What would help more would be a netbook, I think. Something I can access my stuff on more easily. Something read/write. I’ve no doubt that there are many app(lication!)s out there that can help with that, but I’m just not sold enough on the notion to invest time and energy in searching them all out.

And that VMware View app(lication!) I had a go with. I was really excited about that and loved being able to connect to my desktop to get at my shared folders and files (hang on a minute, you mean- just like a laptop?). I could run Word and Excel, and even Access on it (like a laptop?), and being able to log in to our student records system (like you can do on a laptop?) has come in handy a couple of times. But, dear me, what a pain without a proper keyboard. Or a proper mouse. Just little things like the tab key, or F5 and F6 can make a big difference to your experience of something if they’re not there. Very frustrating, like trying to type wearing mittens. I’d imagine.

PS: My initial unease with this iPad, from an interface design point of view, has become clearer thanks to this BBC news story about Jonathan Ive and Blue Peter. Apparently there’s a word for it, skeuomorph:

It has been widely speculated that Sir Jonathan might now shift the Apple’s software away from its reliance on “skeuomorphic” textures and effects – in other words stop trying to make its apps look like their real-world equivalents. [Link]

Not before time.

 

The shape of stories

This week’s coaching and mentoring study day was all about stories and how they are used in coaching sessions to illustrate, elucidate, explain, hide and identify what may or may not be going on in our lives, behind the scenes or upfront, in our histories or our aspirations.

We briefly touched on the theory that there are only eight real stories but countless variations, and I was reminded of that Kurt Vonnegut clip I found on Brain Pickings, where he’s explaining his theory around the shape of stories. It may not have much to say about how narratives can help coaches and mentors, but it’s wonderfully astute and elegant. That Brain Pickings article carries on where this clip ends, if you want more.