Graduate employability: a growing concern

During the research for a recently-submitted paper, I decided to investigate the rising importance of graduate employability as a concern for universities (and the wider society). As an indicator of this trend I searched Google Scholar for articles with “graduate” and “employability” in the title – the results are shown in the chart below.

A survey of Google Scholar looking at the number of articles published over past thirty years with "graduate" and "employability" in the title

The increase in papers on graduate employability is striking, but probably not a surprise. Having done this research, however, I elected not to include the data in the paper. Why? My main concern was uncertainty about appropriate controls for the fact that there has been a general increase in information (specifically academic literature) during the same period. I was therefore uncomfortable about the dangers of over-interpretation.

Should I have worried? Is it a valid observation? What could serve as a legitimate control?  Any thoughts gratefully received.

The best and worst of the OU

I have been a long-time admirer of the Open University; my mother completed a degree with them when I was a child and another of my relatives was one of the first ever cohorts of OU students. At a recent conference a presentation on the OU’s new “Science Investigations” module* was truly inspiring – the notion of involving novice scientists dispersed across the planet in collaborative experiments shows real vision.

The ERA allows for legal use of TV and radio programmes

At the same time, however, there is something about the OU that I have found increasingly frustrating. As a frequent user of multimedia clips in my teaching, I take advantage of the Educational Recording Agency (ERA) licensing scheme that permits educators to hold copies of TV and radio programmes specifically for teaching purposes and provided that they adhere to a number of straightforward rules regarding both the storage and use of the material (I have written about the merits of the ERA licensing scheme).

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For some reason, however, programmes that are produced by the OU fall outside the ERA scheme. To hold and to show OU broadcasts you need a different licence. I imagine the source of this anomaly may be historical – the OU may have set up their arrangement with other institutions before the ERA scheme was developed (I speculate, I don’t have any data on this). Unlike the ERA scheme, there is an annual fee (of about £30) to hold a copy of an OU programme and if you decide you no longer want to use the programme then you need to physically return your copy to them. For a number of reasons, which I will outline below, it strikes me that this arrangement is increasingly anachronistic.

The OU run their own off-air scheme, distinct from the ERA

What brings this issue into sharp focus for me is the increasing number of programmes that are branded as OU/BBC co-productions. If these fell within the ERA scheme I would happily use clips of all of the following co-productions within my teaching:

Bang Goes the Theory
The Cell (3-part series)
The Gene Code (2-part series)
Mental: A History of the Madhouse and Sectioned
Justice: A Citizen’s Guide to the 21st Century (and associated Justice lectures)
Can Gerry Robinson Fix the NHS?
Charles Darwin and the Tree of Life
Inside the Ethics Committee (Radio 4)
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For the most part I would be looking to use a clip of perhaps 2 or 3 minutes in each case, rather than showing a full episode (though there may be an exception here for Adam Rutherford’s excellent series The Cell and The Gene Code).
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The popular series Coast, and Jim Al-Khalili’s current series Shock and Awe: the story of electricity  are also OU/BBC co-productions but don’t really fit with my teaching which focuses on bioethics and/or molecular biology. Continue reading

Anonymous data and educational research

Comparing 'before' and 'after' data needs some identification

When undertaking educational research you often want to know how an intervention has affected a cohort, and ideally to be able to drill down into the data to see the impact on individuals. In order to match pre-and post- activity surveys, some kind of identifier is required. You could ask the students to put their names on the forms, but they may have concerns that this will have ramifications for their coursework. What else you could do?

There are a range of semi-anonymised labels you could use. At various times in my own work I’ve used formal candidate number, email username and date of birth (the latter often throws up more than one student with the same date, but handwriting can then distinguish). In each of these cases, however, it remains a relatively trivial step for someone with access to the right databases to decode the label and convert it into a name. Of course there is generally no reason why a researcher would want to do this, and students trust that you are not going to waste your precious time doing so.

What else might you do? You could ask the students to pick a bogus name or their favourite superhero, but these run several risks – including having surveys completed multiple “lady gaga”s or “dr [insert your name here]”. The students might also forget the random name they picked between the first and the second test. Continue reading