19 October 2006

On teachers' and learners' perspectives

Aishah Azmi has lost her case (on three counts out of four) for discrimination in her dismissal form her post as a teaching assistant, for wearing the veil (or niqab).

I am not commenting on the case as such, you will be relieved to know. But according to what I think I heard on a news report a few minutes ago, she said, "I am perfectly capable of teaching with the veil; it has never presented a problem."

  • It's not about that! All she is saying here is that she is thinking about her performance as a teacher; but effective teachers are not concerned with that. They are concerned with the pupils'/students' experience as learners.
  • I really did not want to get into this, butóleaving aside all the reasonsóshe is on the inside of her self-presentation. Would she see it as not a problem if her pupils were wearing the veil?
  • This is a current (but rare) issue in colleges and universities; lecturers are concerned that fully-veiled students give little feedback about their understanding in large lectures. In smaller sessions, of course, they may contribute verbally. Frankly, although I would find it disconcerting to be "faced" by a classroom full of veiled students, there is less of an issue here than there is of teaching on-line, or even doing a tutorial on the 'phone. It is a matter of adjustment. But....
  • Teaching at a distance, by phone or online, I readily accept that we both have to find ways round the limited channels of communication. But face to not-face, as it were?
  • If I were being taught by David Blunkett (sorry! he's in the news again and the highest-profile blind man in the country--and a former teacher in further education) I would accept my responsibility as a student to adapt to his impairment. I would not, for example, put my hand up in class and expect to be called upon to speak. He the teacher cannot change his capabilities, so I have to. Put crudely, "he can't help it". OK.
  • But when someone "can help it", and--for whatever reason--decides unilaterally to close down a channel of communication, then that person must be responsible for the consequences. They, and of course other "stakeholders", may ultimately decide that it was all worthwhile. Fine. That is another debate.
And, of course, we have no valid evidence that it (wearing the niqab veil) was or was not a problem. Primary school children have wonderful views of the world, but they tend to accept hierarchies and the oddities of adults as "just the way things are". One of the first things they learn in school is that they do not know enough to have valid opinions on anything.

However, if, as we might reconstruct, Ms Azmi was unveiled as long as there were no adult males in the room... What was she "teaching" when she veiled in the presence of a man?

I do not wish to engage with the substance of this debate. That is a different issue. I am asking about the learners' experience and perspective, because that is what matters.

16 October 2006

On "write-only" documents

I can't reference this, but I know thousands of people who can (994,000 according to Google)! I think I picked up the idea (even the "meme", dodgy though that concept is) from either;
  • Pratchett T (2006) Thud! London; Corgi Books, or
  • Pratchett T, Stewart I and Cohen J (2003) The Science of Discworld II; the Globe London; Ebury Press
I did think of reading them both again in order to track down the reference, which would have been fun, but a little self-indulgent; I decided to leave it to you to find it! The search will be great and illuminating fun. Go on--read Pratchett, and blame me!

Substantively, you are familiar with "read-only" documents, such as Acrobat files. This brilliant idea is that there is a class of documents which "need" to be written, but which will never be read.

I am currently engaged in the stupefying exercise of "mapping" some standards onto something else. The content does not matter, because the result will be a "write-only" document. Some bureaucrat somewhere will check whether the document exists, tick a box, and move on to the next item. S/he will certainly not read the document.

I know that is the case--I may have blogged this before, but it's worth a repeat! A couple of years ago, a module with the following "learning outcome" went through our entire quality assurance procedure unchallenged;
  • On completion of this module, students will: Be able to discourse animatedly on the positions of several educational thinkers so as to bore the pants off acquaintances at parties.
Nowhere in the documentation is it specified what criteria determine what constitutes "bor(ing) the pants off acquaintances" That is clearly unacceptable, but no-one raised the matter.

So--it is just possible that several thousand pounds were spent on the production of "write-only" documents, whose sheer existence counts for much more than their content.

Draw your own conclusions.