You are awful but I like you


‘You are awful but I like you’ was a catch phrase of British comedian Dick Emery

It seems to capture a philosophical position that pervades education whereby no matter how badly behaved a pupil or student is they are to be ‘understood’ with a high dose of liberal empathy and an attempt at getting them to ‘re-frame’ their attitudes is encouraged. 

This of course assumes that the perpetrator is also liberally minded, self aware and socially intelligent and therefore interested in and capable of self reflection about the impact of their behaviour on themselves and others. There are ‘hard cases’ who don’t give a sh@#’. For them the educational setting is irrelevant (Schiller 1912, Grice 1957, Sperber and Wilson 1995, Clark 2013).

This article Sparing the rod…discusses how pupils learn there are no credible sanctions (social or otherwise) to mark the line that has been crossed when the ‘orders of interaction’ (cf Goffman 1959) that can be reasonably expected in a learning context have been transgressed.

The unexpected side effect (cf Anthony Giddens) of this laudable philosophy is an imbalance of responsibility taking. The pupil/student simply abdicates any responsibility for their behaviour. This is exacerbated by a facile grasp of the notion of customer centricity that preaches that pupils and students are customers. 

Let me be clear. Students are both customers and students, not just customers. They are customers of the institution and deserve excellent administrative and facilities service. The moment they are in the class, seminar or lecture they are students engaged in a transformative rite of passage. 

Their guide on this journey is typically a more mature, experienced and qualified person. If as a pupil/student they do not comply with orders of interaction typical of a learning environment they should expect to be rebuked and their misbehaviour treated as just that, rather than an opportunity  for a 1:1 counselling session.

If all the lessons from the commercial world are to be applied to education then dealing emphatically and decisively with inappropriate behaviour in the class room might be high on the list. 

Ask yourself what would happen to the unruly individual (colleague or customer) in a commercial work setting? Oh…so students aren’t customers after all!

I just love marketing jargon 

This caught eye today today so I’d thought I’d run it up the flagpole.

Think I might ask my boss for a ‘salary uptick’.

Why are universities still here?

I have a curated newspaper on MOOCs (see left panel of this blog). 

This evening I read an interesting post that appeared in MOOC Digest Daily titled Why is the university still here from a  Techcrunch article.

It mentioned that Silicon Valley has been on a mission to disrupt the conventional university for years and MOOCs are an aspect of that attempt.

I found one stat’ very interesting. That was the high right of non completion of courses. 

I’m sort of surprised that this seems, well, like a surprise. Well it probably does if you see higher education as merely the absorbtion of subject knowledge; it probably does if you think that higher education can be achieved merely through technical interfaces and it probably does if you see higher education as a consumer service rather than a rite of passage.

What might the low completion rates signify?  Possibly that people fall in love with the idea of knowing stuff but dislike the experience of effortfully studying it. 

It might also indicate that as a taster of  a subject the topic might initially appeal and the substance after all does not. In which case the MOOC has done its job. 

I would also suggest that it’s slightly mistaken to think that because the university has been around for a while its past its sell buy date and it’s time to get rid of it. This assumes that universities are as fusty and unchanging as Gormengast. Not really the case even though there are some quirky traditions.,

Wonder if a better question might be ‘why are MOOCs still here’?

The phenomenon of unintended side effects and the student experience 

Caring about the student experience is a good thing. Being transparent is a good thing. When such principles loose their dimension of common sense and are used to justify bureaucratic obsession with protocols and micro-data there are adverse consequences as this Guardian article discusses.

Pressure to bump grades and academic workload

I am not here to satisfy you: the NSS and our institutional knickers

Paul Johnston:

A fascinating post.

Originally posted on Julie Cupples:

The neoliberal endeavour to convert university students into consumers is underpinned by a survey culture that is constantly attempting to measure a thing called ‘student satisfaction’. It’s part of the way universities compete with one another and manufacture what is termed the ‘student experience’. In the neoliberal academy, students, faculty and staff are constantly surveyed, a phenomenon that a New Zealand academic has recently described as a tyranny that may “degrade student achievement” and “harm staff” (Heinemann 2015). If you borrow an interloan, ask IT to fix a software issue on your computer, or order sandwiches for a meeting from the preferred corporate supplier, you’re then likely to be sent a survey to assess the level of customer satisfaction with the service. It’s tedious but fortunately most of them can be quickly ignored and deleted. But the survey that seems to produce a bizarre level of managerial emphasis and…

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Seeing Students As Customers De-Values Their Rite Of Passage 

I want to suggest that there are some genuine downsides to the crude idea that students should be seen ‘as if ‘ they are customers.

My suggestion is based on the assumption that a student’s higher education experience is more than the mere consumption of a service and  constitutes a transformational rite of passage.

Through this journey the student leaves their old self behind and becomes someone different and new.

Thomas Armstrong wrote an informative article in the American Institute for Learning and Development titled Marking our passage from one life stage to the next that discusses this theme.

Central to the idea of rite of passage (see the work of Van Gennep 1873-1957) is the notion that a person crosses a threshold (a concern with liminality) from the familiar safe and comforting into the unfamiliar risky and uncomfortable.

Making this transition into the unknown is often an unpleasant but necessary experience.

It seems to me that the idea whereby students are treated as customers cherry picks some ideas from the commercial world and grafts them onto the educational world.

This grafting airbrushes out of the picture some important things. Students  will judge the satisfaction of their experience from within the limitations of their current understanding. Thus of course many things in their transformative journey such as ambiguity, intellectual demands, uncertainty will be unpleasant. The value of the transformation is yet to be understood .

The instinctive human reaction is to therefore ‘avoid’ this unpleasantness, demand clarity, structure and instruction as to what to do and how to do it.

Now as a customer if these things are not provided then the service is deemed to be poor. Whereas as a student going through a rite of passage these things are essential for the transformation to have value.

The old self believes studying for a degree is simply the aquistion of subject knowledge, whereas  the new self realises (only afterwards) it is the aquisition of a new sense of identity, a deeper wisdom and a humility about the certainty of knowledge.

Treat the student as a customer and you will of course increase temporary satisfaction but you eliminate transformative value. It could be argued that say a £9k course fee means you should be treated as a customer, a retail ‘shopper’ however what this really results in is a terrible return on investment when viewed in the context personal growth over the course of a lifetime.

When is a customer not a customer?

The banner unfurled by Hull City fans proclaiming they are ‘Supporters not customers‘ says something very important about one of marketing management’s most cherished metaphors. The customer.

Ever since Kotler (1999) suggested that marketing principles apply in each and every aspect of organisational life; commercial, public and third sectors, we have been told that we are all customers now .(cf (Hackley ‘We Are All Customers Now…’ Rhetorical Strategy and Ideological Control in Marketing Management Texts. Journal of Management Studies 40:5 July 2003)

Casting people as customers and participating in the discourse of customer centricity has real world consequences however. Call supporters ‘customers’ and your next step is to create a ‘customer base’. The next step is to appropriate/extract value from that customer base. The customer is a resource to be exploited despite the relational and appreciative rhetoric that companies so often use.

As Gummesson (2008 ) in Customer centricity: reality or a wild goose chase?, European Business Review, Vol. 20 No. 4,p. 315-30. points out though. Privileging the interests of one stake holder group (the soccer club in this example) is increasingly mistaken.

So perhaps we may all soon be called passengers, patients and students again and be treated accordingly rather than as mere customers.


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