Canada Research Chair in Innovative Learning and Technology & Associate Professor at Royal Roads University

US vs UK: academic differences

Posted on October 26th, by George Veletsianos in work. 2 comments

If you follow this blog, or know me personally, you know that two months ago to this day I moved from the US to the UK. I knew that there were differences between the two educational systems, but I didn’t know too many details. Below is a list of differences. I am sure there are more but as I start internalizing the differences, I am assuming that it will become harder and harder to verbalize them. I don’t know if these apply to all fields, but this is how it goes in the education departments that i’ve experienced:

  • At the end of your master’s degree, if you are in the US you write a thesis and if you are in the UK you write a dissertation. If you are doing a phd, it’s called a disseration in the US and a thesis in the UK.
  • Master’s levels papers are judged by a committee in the US and you receive a pass/fail (usually a pass).  In the UK, your paper is graded by your advisor (called a tutor in the UK). Graded means being given an actual mark (0-100). A second person independently grades your paper too. Then, the two come together to discuss the individuals grades. If they disagree the paper goes to an external evaluator who grades it. The external evaluator also looks at all papers that are receive a “fail” mark and also looks at a representative sample from all dissertations/thesis.
  • In the UK, blind marking is the norm. I have never blind marked a paper in the US (and I don’t see how bling marking will work since I already know what my student’s final project will be about)
  • My students are supposed to turn in their papers to an administrator by the due date. I then receive those papers. I always received the papers in the US.
  • My students can ask for a deadline extension from the University (which is usually granted, i believe). In the US I had complete control over deadline extensions and I could negotiate it on an individual or collective basis.
  • UK grants are budgeted at “100% Full Economic Cost.” FEC means that all costs should be accounted for in a grant. “All costs” means all costs related to a project (yes, this includes items such as my time working on the project, but also things like electricity use, computer depreciation, and so on). US grants are not budgeted like this.
  • Committee work is minimal in the UK (for a lecturer at least). My US colleagues have to do quite a bit of committee work.
  • US institutions make an offer to the academics they intend to hire. The academics then make a counter-offer and negotiate their salary and benefits. In the UK, (to a large extent) there is no negotiation. I learned this one pretty quickly :).
  • The UK has a national academic pay scale. The US does not.
  • US academics get a pay rise when they move to a new university. In the UK, your salary goes up every year until you reach the top scale of your position. Moving to a new institution does not necessarily mean a raise (see point above).
  • In the US the academics are called assistant professors, associate professors, (full) professors. In the UK we are called lecturers, senior lecturers, readers, and professors.
  • In the US, you are on a tenure-track position. In the UK you are on a permanent position (usually with a probationary period of 4 years).
  • If you do not have a UK teaching certificate and this is the first time you are teaching in the UK, you have to go through a New Academics Programme where you will be taught some fundamentals of the system, university, and teaching. If you change institutions, you do not have to go through the programme again. There is no such formal process in the US.
  • In the US, I could use my grades as an incentive to encourage people to do better/more work. Specifically, i could give bonus marks for going over and beyond some task, or if students chose to engage with a particularly difficult (optional) task I had assigned. Apparently, the practice of “bonus points” is “unorthodox” in the UK and discouraged (banned, may be a more appropriate word) [added on Nov 18].

That’s all I can remember right now. Below is a list of relatively funny differences:

  • “Pissed” means drunk (UK) or mad (US).
  • Color is colour.
  • WebCT Vista (UK) is Blackboard (UK). This is more weird than funny. For those of you who don’t know the background. Blackboard and WebCT were two learning management systems companies. Blackboard bought webct. WebCT Vista is the Learning Management’s System name (US). In the UK it’s simply called Blackboard because, I was told, people kept confusing Vista with the Vista operating system. Understandable. But, this begs the question: Don’t US academics have the same problem? Why is it still Vista over there?
  • Cell phones = mobile phones.

And the obvious similarities (and pieces of advice):

  • Be friends with the tech people – they are invaluable. Enough said. Actually be friends with everyone :)
  • Powerpoint is still evil :))

I would like to see an IRRODL conversation on connectivism

Posted on October 23rd, by George Veletsianos in open, work. 2 comments

My inbox brought a present today. In the latest issue of The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (Vol 9, No 3, 2008), Rita Kop and Adrian Hill discuss whether Connectivism represents a theory of learning. They reach the conclusion that while not necessarily a theory, Connectivism represents an important development in the contemporary learning and teaching landscape, “A paradigm shift, indeed, may be occurring in educational theory, and a new epistemology may be emerging, but it does not seem that connectivism’s contributions to the new paradigm warrant it being treated as a separate learning theory in and of its own right.  Connectivism, however, continues to play an important role in the development and emergence of new pedagogies, where control is shifting from the tutor to an increasingly more autonomous learner.”

While I enjoyed reading this paper, I would like to see a conversation around connectivism and this paper situated within one location, such as an IRRODL special issue. While I am sure that Siemens and Downes will respond in one way or another to this paper (after all, there is a blog post dedicated to the issues and arguments against connectivism on the Connectivism & Connective Knowledge online course and from Rita’s blog it seems that George and Stephen already have Rita’s paper), discovering this information can be rather difficult. On the other hand, dedicating a special issue of an open access journal to dicsussing connectivism and its ctitique may be worthwhile.

Academic Multiculturalism

Posted on October 19th, by George Veletsianos in work. No Comments

Friday and Saturday nights in cities that boast large universities aren’t the best nights to go out if you are looking for some peace and tranquility. Yet, last night, I thought i’d venture out and find a relatively quiet pub to get together with a couple of friends. Although, unlike google’s suggestion, the pub we went to wasn’t as quiet, I found myself lost in our conversations and blocking off other distractions. I’ve written about learners conversing with pedagogical agents finding themselves blocking outside distractions (in a paper that comes out in November at the British Journal of Educational Technology), but last night it was clear (to me at least) that the conversation, topic, AND the context in which this takes place make a difference. While our conversation was interesting, the context in which it was occuring was also very interesting. Parts of the conversation were contextualized in our experiences working and living abroad and it was fascinating! What else would you expect when you bring a Japanese, an Irish, and a Cypriot together at a pub in Engand? Especially when the Japanese and Cypriot guys drink Guiness and the Irishman refuses to touch it because outside of Ireland it just isn’t Guiness anymore :)

So, going back to the title of this posting, all three of us are academics. The Irish friend is working on his PhD studying a very interesting and popular wiki (no, it’s not wikipedia, but it’s similar). The Japanese friend, is teaching Japanese as a foreign language and has written papers on technology-enhanced learning. I am teaching and doing research on electronic learning environments and emerging technologies/practices. The multicultural societies we live(d) in and work(ed) in have defined our work and outlook of work and life. And for this, being able to get together with a group of people from diverse cultures and life experiences, I am thankful to be at the University of Manchester – wait till you hear about my class of 16 students from 10 different countries :)

Looking for a Research Assistant

Posted on October 11th, by George Veletsianos in Ideas. No Comments

I am looking for a Research Assistant (RA) to assist me with a project. If you know anyone that you think fits the profile of the person I am looking for and may be interested in a short-term position as described below, would you be kind enough to encourage them to send me an email at veletsianos \AT\ gmail.com? The only limitation to this is that the person needs to be based in the UK and have a national insurance number (but not necessarily be based in Manchester)

The project

To investigate the feasibility of adventure learning projects as vehicles for peace, intercultural understanding, and conflict resolution by conducting research on (a) adventure learning, and (b) technology for peace.

Adventure Learning is an approach for the design and delivery of online and hybrid learning that provides individuals with opportunities to explore real-world issues through authentic learning experiences and collaborative learning environments. Adventure Learning was developed by Dr. Doering and refined by Drs. Doering, Veletsianos, and Miller at the University of Minnesota. An example of Adventure Learning can be seen at http://www.polarhusky.com

Expected project outcomes

Two co-authored manuscripts to be submitted for peer-review and publication.

Desired Research Assistant qualities

Ideally, I am looking for someone who:

  • Can work collaboratively and independently
  • Has good writing skills and enjoys writing
  • Is creative
  • Has experience with academic writing
  • Has conducted academic research in the past
  • Enjoys academic research
  • Is comfortable with using online databases for research purposes

Compensation

In monetary terms: £2,058 GBP (paid as £14/hour x 7hrs/week x 21 weeks)
In value terms: The two publications which will open future doors : )

Pedagogical agent bashing

Posted on October 11th, by George Veletsianos in Ideas. No Comments

Lots of my work has to do with “pedagogical agents.” These are virtual characters employed in electronic learning environments for instructional purposes. But what lies behind the lingo? These are images of beings (humans or inanimate objects) that appear in learning modules or tutorials and “do something”. Some of them can hold a conversation with a learner (conversational pedagogical agents) while others present information, decorate the learning environment, or represent some sort of a persona. The second type of agents I call passive or non-conversational pedagogical agents. This is the type that gets employed the most in pedagogical agent research and this is the type of agent that I am going to bash in this post! :)

Pedagogical agents represent one of those technologies that have been presented as greatly beneficial to teaching and learning. Yet, the difference hasn’t been made explicit. Conversational agents, for reasons that I won’t explore here may be beneficial. Passive pedagogical agents however will not have any lasting impact on learning or any lasting impression on students. This is because:

* Pedagogical agents who merely present information to students are boring. Boring is bad. Let me say that again because educational technology researchers/designers might not have got it the first time around: Boring is bad.

* Pedagogical agents who don’t allow from deviation from the given task are “oppressive”. To be clear, “oppression” here is compatible to (or derived from) Freire’s description of classroom oppression and democracy.

While I do believe (and have empirical evidence) that the pedagogical agent’s representation influences how people interact with them, passivity isn’t the way forward.

Apologies for the negative post – but to move forward we need to talk about these things too :)