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Messages - Des

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General Discussion / Re: I support those students in London
« on: November 13, 2010, 01:09:07 PM »
I agree that students need to be supported.  Student tuition fees need to be reduced, not increased.

However, it's precisely because going to university is now perceived as a right and as 'education for all', that we have this problem.  It would be far more affordable for the state if less students were going to university, not more.  And the ones that do go should the brighest and best from our schools.

Unlike you, I don't have a problem with the concept of 'education for all.' Nevertheless, I agree that there are some students at university who should probably not be there, primarily because they don't have the right motivations (yet). For them, waiting a few years before deciding whether to go to university is the best course of action.

So, what about the students who are NOT the brightest and best in your school, but are still motivated? Some points:

1)  Some students with so-so A-level performances flourish academically and personally at university. There reasons for this can be varied, and include increased maturity, different approaches to learning, teaching and assessment etc.

2) For those students who are not the 'brightest and best' at school, even obtaining a lower second or third can be a major achievement, and will enable them to go on and do things that would not otherwise be possible.

3) You cannot wind the clock back. Having a degree does not provide the status it once did, primarily because so many graduates are out there. It seems a little bit late to be closing the barn door now and trying to go back to the 1960s... I think the UK will end up like the USA, where a college degree is more of a baseline qualification and graduates will have to differentiate themselves by taking masters degress.

4) It is not true that everyone who wants to go to university can go. There were over 100,000 people without places at the start of this year, and there will be more next year. Most universities are busily increasing entry requirements in order to manage demand.

General Discussion / Re: I support those students in London
« on: November 12, 2010, 12:50:22 PM »
I couldn't agree more. It's just a shame that the tiny minority involved in the violence distracted attention from the issue.

Whilst the new system for university funding may ensure that courses are free at the point of delivery, many people will be put off by the prospect of accumulating huge debts. Still, recent research suggests that a significant chunk of this debt will never be repaid, and instead will fall on future taxpayers.

General Discussion / Re: End of Geography as we know it....?
« on: October 27, 2010, 09:06:40 AM »
Yes, Tris, the loss of Band C funding would hit Geography hard. It currently gets more funding than subjects such as History, because of the extra costs associated with laboratory provision, IT and fieldwork. If Band C funding goes, and universities decide to charge a flat rate of ~£7K for most subjects, then Geography departments will end up worse off than now (as will, for that matter, the students...).

On a more positive note, there remains a possibility that Geography will be recognised as a part-'STEM' subject, and be funded accordingly. For example, as part of the so-called universities modernisation fund, HEFCE included physical geography in their list of STEM subjects. If this happens, I would not see physical geographers rushing to join up with their earth science colleagues in other departments.

General Discussion / Re: guerrilla geographies this summer
« on: June 21, 2010, 09:15:12 AM »
What a bizarre thread this has turned into, one that seems to be driven more by past exchanges than anything else. It is a shame that all this resulted from one contributor (Jon Fairburn) trying to be helpful by sharing information that came through to him via an academic mailing list. His posting of this material on SLN does not constitute cross-posting, and is in anycase outside the control of the Geography Collective. As for the latter, I know little about them, but from what I've read they are not in it to make money but rather to promote the discipline in a sustainable manner.

General Discussion / Re: guerrilla geographies this summer
« on: June 19, 2010, 06:53:32 PM »
Thanks, Evlinda, but I have nothing to do with this initiative; see the full posting by Jon Fairburn above.

General Discussion / Re: guerrilla geographies this summer
« on: June 19, 2010, 12:46:40 PM »
Ian: It's not that the venues themselves are geographically 'unexpected or unusual.' Rather, it's the (organised) 'doing and learning through geography' in such places that is unusual/unexpected. (As someone whose interests lie in mountain glaciation, I've not followed the links through...)


General Discussion / Re: The House-An art project
« on: April 07, 2010, 11:14:55 AM »

"So is this art? If the function of art is to make people think, then I have succeeded..."

I'm not sure whether art has to make people think, but I'm willing to accept the above 'definition' subject to the following qualifications:
i) The learning and teaching activities I design are intended to 'make people think', but I wouldn't describe them as art (yes, I'm just being modest...). So art must be more than just getting people to think.
ii) I could put on display my pile of dirty washing (say) in a local art gallery. I suspect, at best, it would be controversial, and there would be many who would dispute its artistic merits. I could turn around to these cynics and tell them that it must be art because it has got them thinking. So my second point is that getting people to think is a worthy aspiration, but that this thinking needs to be more than just querying its validity as art.

So, is The House art? I'm still not convinced, although I could easily be persuaded that the 'performances' within it (e.g. the Last Supper) constitute art. Still, as I mentioned in another thread, this is not my area.

Good luck with the project, Kane.

General Discussion / Re: Switzerland Help!
« on: March 23, 2010, 09:05:51 PM »
Yep, a standard mainland Europe adapter is all that is required.

Have a good field trip!

General Discussion / Re: Geography as Art, Art as Geography.
« on: March 06, 2010, 03:42:08 PM »
My practice is driven by a belief that art experience is an end in itself. I try to avoid making art that is a deliberate means to something else, not only because it tends to get unravelled by logic and destroyed, but because trust in a universal subjectivity is futile. I therefore believe in 'art as art' -that is- I do not intend to convey things, since my work is not about things, it is only derived from things, it is becoming, it is not yet. I wish to occupy the space with an arrangement of a number of found or crafted images/objects.

Written by number one son doing Fine Art. It takes years of training to be able to come up with stuff like this.

Perhaps has some relevance to the man and the cliff top house??


Perhaps it does have some relevance, although it's hard to say for sure. Am I right in interpreting the first two sentences as meaning that your number one son doesn't buy into what Cunningham has done? I'm struggling a bit more with the rest (I'm sure it's very perceptive).


General Discussion / Re: geography at university
« on: March 01, 2010, 10:18:47 AM »
Best? Well, it depends...

If you take a look at the UCAS website and use the course finder, you'll quickly find the programmes with the highest UCAS Tariff Point requirements (I'm guessing Oxford, Cambridge, Durham etc.). Whether these are the best courses for your students is another matter altogether... 

The bottom line is that there is considerable variation in course content and approaches to learning, teaching and assessment. Should some of your students be going to universities where class sizes are relatively small, which enables more contact time and practical work? Or do they thrive better in lecture and exam situations? Is their favourite subject (glaciers, hopefully  ;) ) taught as a specialist third year module? This variety is rarely communicated in detail in the publicity gloss (website, prospectus etc.), so you'll need to do your homework.

And what about UCAS Tariffs? They are important, but it does not follow that the university that is asking 40 additional points is the better one. They are increasingly used as marketing tools; raising and lowering them can be used to generate/restrict demand, as required. At the university I work at, I've been on a mission to increase entry requirements; this has been successful in generating additional interest, and now we are full. The courses are good, I believe, but there is no getting away from the fact that many applicants have started considering us simply because we raised our entry requirements.

Finally, we are entering interesting times in HE. The government will levy fines on universities that over-recruit. The students most likely to lose out here are those who aimed high but didn't quite make it; not only will they find that their first first choice institutions are full, but so are all the other ones.

I hope this helps.

General Discussion / Re: Geography as Art, Art as Geography.
« on: February 28, 2010, 10:36:25 AM »
In response to Dan...

No, I don't get it at all (but I am a physical geographer...). I can clearly see that the photography/videography element is artistic. However, I'm struggling to understand how the house suddenly becomes an 'installation' (and therefore 'something artistic') just because of intention (i.e. the artist was interested in it and has purchased it).

"If he had built the house for a Hollywood film to intentionally fall off a cliff would that make it more artistic for you?" Yes, I think it would. He would have designed and built the house, and he'd have thought about the way in which it would collapse into the sea for maximum effect.

Just because I'm struggling with the concept here doesn't mean that I reject the views of Dan, Alan and Stephen. However, if you go down the road 'art is in the eye of the beholder' - which seems reasonable - then anything could be art to anyone. For example, that pile of papers in the corner of my study... Is something art just because we say it is?

I've no qualifications in this area so I'll refrain from commenting further.  ;)

General Discussion / Re: Climate change is not happening - ideas needed
« on: February 26, 2010, 09:46:06 AM »
It's good telly, but I wouldn't use the Great Global Warming Swindle unless you have a good grasp of the science, and know which graphs in the programme have been falsified...

Climate Science has been hitting the headlines a lot recently, but for all the wrong reasons (e.g. 'ClimateGate', IPCC errors). It is therefore not surprising that people have become more sceptical about humans being behind climate change. And, of course, the recent cold weather here hasn't helped either.... (yes, people confuse weather and climate, and yes, not everyone knows about the unusually warm weather that has occurred in other parts of the northern hemisphere this winter).

I teach a first year university module on the science and politics of climate change. This time last year I was thinking that the science on climate change was becoming increasingly accepted, and that the emphasis on the module should be more on the politics. Well, what a difference a year makes. Out of forty-ish students on the module, just two subscribe more or less fully to the IPCC consensus statement on climate change science. The rest believe, to a greater or lesser extent, that natural climate variability is playing a role. This is significant; if you believe that some of the observed changes are due to natural variability, the case for so-called green taxes becomes less compelling. (This is not my own view, I hasten to add)

[For those of you in the Worcester area, I would be happy to do a talk on the science and polictics of climate change. Send me an email, and we'll see if we can sort something out.]

Yes, there are (at least) two consequences that result from a decrease in snow and ice cover (by 'ice caps', I presume you mean ice sheets and sea ice?).

1. Decreased snow and ice cover result in a reduced albedo. In other words, less of the incoming solar radiation is bounced back out into space (which means that a greater proportion is used for warming the surface). There is a potentially interesting positive feedback here (reduced albedo >> greater warming >> more melt >> reduced albedo), but there are limits to do this (e.g. warming sea surface and air temperature would be expected to result in greater evaporation and, presumably, cloud cover. This could cut the amount of incoming solar radiation. But then, cloud cover at night has a warming influence...).

2) Meltwater reduces the salinity of ocean water and makes it less dense. This is significant because North Atlantic Deep Water formation (part of the global thermohaline current) is associated with the sinking of cold and salty water in the far north of the Atlantic. So, yes, it is possible that warming could result in a significant influx of fresh water into the Atlantic, which in turn could result in the temporary cessation of North Atlantic Deepwater Formation - and regional cooling. This has happened in the past; the last time was 12,900 - 11,500 years ago, and witnessed the return of glacial and (significant) periglacial conditions to the British Isles for the last time before the onset of the present interglacial. There is no suggestion that the same thing would happen under present conditions (the conditions are quite different today), although that didn't stop the makers of 'The Day After Tomorrow', a film loosely based on this scenario...

Sorry, that's probably more information than you really needed.

General Discussion / Re: Minibuses?
« on: December 06, 2009, 02:32:15 PM »
Having researched this extensively in the past for my university, and spoken to both the DVLA (who were reluctant to offer specific guidance) and the person working in the Department of Transport who oversees minibus regulation, I can confirm that teachers and lecturers who drive minibuses as part of their job (whether or not it appears in their job descriptions) are NOT volunteer drivers. An example of a volunteer driver is someone who drives for a local community transport initiative and receives no more than out of pocket expenses. As a teacher, uou cannot argue that you are a volunteer driver because no one forced you to drive the minibus! That would not hold up in a court of law.

The bottom line is that anyone who drives a minibus (8 - 16 passenger seats) requires a D1 entitlement. For those who obtained this entitlement automatically when they passed their car test (D1, not for hire or reward) should note that this is not recognised overseas. Giving out D1 (not for hire and reward) entitlements to car drivers was a peculiarly British thing, and out of line with the rest of Europe.

And then there is a the whole 'not for hire or reward.' What exactly does that mean? If passengers have to pay to have the right to be carried (e.g. through payment of tuition fees, fieldwork costs), then that constitutes 'hire and reward.' So, that technically means that those people who automatically received D1 on their licences when they passed their first test should not be driving minibuses...unless they are displaying a Section 19 permit [this is certainly the case for universities].

The reality is that there is sufficient confusion and just enough grey area here that you can probably continue to drive minibuses illegally and you will never be found out...unless you are involved in an accident,of course. And then it will be down to you. You won't be able to hide behidn the school; as the driver, it is ultimately your responsibility.

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, driving a minibus is a tremendous responsibility, where an error of judgement can have fatal consequences. And if the worst did happen, could you be accused of not being professional in your approach to driving (e.g. by not undertaking regular training and development; by driving when tired due to your other commitments as a teacher)?

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