Angry Birds as metaphor for learning?

Or just an excuse for playing more Angry Birds?

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an entertaining piece about what Angry Birds “Can Teach Us About Universal Design for Instruction”.

In part, I think that Angry Birds is so fun to play because it helps develop our meta-cognitive skills. Throughout playing Angry Birds, one must pay attention to the strategies being employed, adjust one’s play as needed to achieve certain goals and objectives, and transfer what you have learned about a bird’s capabilities several levels ago to the current level.

In short, Angry Birds is a powerful metaphor for learning. As I was recently playing the game, I could not help but think: what if my classroom was more like this? Would students have a better learning experience?

Some of the suggested benefits:

  • Angry Birds involves practice without penalty.
  • It offers the opportunity for constant feedback.
  • Angry Birds has a built in mechanism for knowledge transfer.
  • The game rewards perseverance.

Some might question the real benefit of the rewards in the game but perseverance is clearly valuable in an educational context.

It’s an interesting analysis as long as you don’t take it too far. But I’m not sure the Higher Education Academy would give me a grant to investigate it further.

Banning key Twitter words for athletes

Vocabulary tightening for student athletes using Twitter

It seems that, according to The Chronicle of Higher Education, two universities are to bar athletes from using hundreds of words on Twitter. Monitoring social media postings by athletes is, apparently, quite normal but this goes even further:

The University of Louisville flags 406 words or slang expressions that have to do with drugs, sex, or alcohol. The University of Kentucky flags a similar number, of which 370 are sports agents’ names.

The words range from the seemingly innocuous “pony”—a euphemism for crack cocaine—and “panties,” to all manner of alcoholic drinks and sexual expressions.

Software used by the universities sends an e-mail alert to coaches whenever athletes use a word that could embarrass the student or the university, or tarnish their images.

Here are some of the words the universities block:




Cheat sheet











White power

You’d hope that most of these wouldn’t routinely appear in tweets. But this kind of targeted proscription just seems ludicrous. (Might be worth a go with some Premiership footballers though.)

More Dodgy College Rankings

Because you can never have too many rankings
It’s Newsweek and The Daily Beast rankings.

College Rankings from Newsweek and The Daily Beast give you everything you want to know about silly categories of colleges in the US.

  • Most and least affordable
  • Best party colleges
  • Most conservative, most liberal
  • Most beautiful, most stressful, happiest

Utter nonsense of course but mildly diverting. And we have nothing quite like this in the UK. Yet.

Just a bit of fun – it’s the table of tables

Table of Tables

Back in June Times Higher Education published its annual table of tables. Essentially it’s a bit of a cheat in that it simply uses the results of the three domestic league tables to derive a score (the Sunday Times table, which isn’t published until August or September, is ignored). As Peter Snow used to say when projecting general election results from one by-election, it’s just a bit of fun.

The University of Cambridge has secured the top spot ahead of the University of Oxford in Times Higher Education‘s fifth annual “Table of Tables”.

Based on the combined results of the UK’s university league tables, Cambridge kept its number one status after ousting its varsity rival from pole position for the first time last year.

Cambridge sealed its triumph over its old foe after it was judged the UK’s top university by The Complete University Guide and in rankings published by The Guardian. Oxford took first place in the Good University Guide, published by The Times.

Methodologically, it is exceptionally dubious. Averaging a bunch of already dodgy data combinations doesn’t eliminate their flaws. All good fun though, I’m sure you agree.

Rank 2012 Rank 2011 Institution Complete University Guide rank Guardian rank Times/ Good University Guide rank Total score
1 1 Cambridge 1 1 2 89
2 2 Oxford 3 2 1 87
3 3 London School of Economics 2 3 3 85
4 4 St Andrews =6 4 6 77
5 7 Durham 5 =7 5 76
6 8 Warwick =6 5 8 74
=7 =5 Imperial College London 4 13 4 72
=7 =5 University College London 8 6 7 72
=9 =10 Bath 10 9 9 65
=9 9 Lancaster 9 =7 12 65
11 =10 Exeter 13 10 10 60
12 16 Bristol 11 18 11 53
13 15 Loughborough 14 11 16 52
14 12 York 12 17 13 51
15 =13 Edinburgh 16 15 14 48
16 21 Glasgow 17 14 15 47
17 20 Southampton 15 =22 =18 38
18 19 Leicester 20 19 17 37
19 26 Surrey 22 12 26 33
20 17 Nottingham 19 26 20 28

Just a bit of fun.

Fake Plastic Degrees

Easy come, easy go for fake degrees

Previous posts have noted the problems with fake degrees and there have been some high profile politicians unaccountably caught up with fake degree scandals in recent times. My eye was caught recently by this piece on degrees issued by an institution which doesn’t exist, Westfield University:

Ann E. Lewis, leader of Pencader Charter School, in Newcastle, Delaware, says that she holds a Ph. D. degree from Westfield University.

The only problem is that Westfield University doesn’t seem to exist. There is a major crisis in the world of higher education: the large and growing number of fake universities and fake degrees.

There is a website called, and after completing a brief online application and paying a small fee, the site offers applicants a degree of their choice from any of several “universities.” One of those institutions is Westfield University, where Pencader High School leader Ann Lewis says she received her PhD.

The article also includes a few highlights from an interview with Ann Lewis about her qualifications. She doesn’t seem to have worked too hard for them:

“I got my MBA without my master’s thesis from Westfield University,” states Lewis.

A reporter states that a 25-year-old colleague applied to Westfield through, and was offered a Ph.D. in organizational leadership.

When Lewis is questioned about her own Ph.D., she states that she didn’t have time to finish it, but got the Ph.D. anyway: “I finished this as far as I needed to do.” Apparently that should be enough to qualify anyone to get a Ph.D.

It’s great that some institutions seem to encourage such flexibility. However, this all seems to have been a bit too much publicity for Westfield University and its website has now disappeared as noted in this follow up piece. Don’t worry though, there will be many more along soon.

The Times, Guardian and Complete University Guide League Tables 2012-13

The three most recent UK University League Tables

Given that searches for UK university league tables are among the most frequent reasons for visitors to the blog, particularly during Clearing, it seemed that another summary might come in useful. Three major league tables have been published during 2012 so far (Sunday Times is due next month) and all have previously been summarised here. As a handy reference guide, here they are:

The Complete University Guide 2013

The 2013 Guardian League Table

The Times 2013 University League Table

All your UK university league table needs in one location. Do handle with care though.

2012 Shanghai Jiao Tong World Rankings: Top 20 and UK placings

2012 Shanghai Jiao Tong World Rankings: Top 20 and UK placings

Keep calm. Top 20 follows:

1 Harvard University
2 Stanford University
3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)
4 University of California, Berkeley
5 University of Cambridge
6 California Institute of Technology
7 Princeton University
8 Columbia University
9 University of Chicago
10 University of Oxford
11 Yale University
12 University of California, Los Angeles
13 Cornell University
14 University of Pennsylvania
15 University of California, San Diego
16 University of Washington
17 The Johns Hopkins University
18 University of California, San Francisco
19 University of Wisconsin – Madison
20 The University of Tokyo

The rankings have been published and are or will shortly be available at the ARWU website

As last year though there are no surprises and absolutely no movement in the top 20 with Harvard retaining the number 1 spot for the sixth successive year and everyone else unchanged too. They are going to have to think about changing to doing this every five years instead of annually.

In terms of the UK placings, again very little change:

5 University of Cambridge United Kingdom 1
10 University of Oxford United Kingdom 2
21 University College London United Kingdom 3
24 The Imperial College of Science, Technology and Medicine United Kingdom 4
40 The University of Manchester United Kingdom 5
51 The University of Edinburgh United Kingdom 6
68 King’s College London United Kingdom 7
70 University of Bristol United Kingdom 8
86 University of Nottingham United Kingdom 9

Only change is that Sheffield slips out of the Top 100.

Let’s hope there will be more excitement with the Times Higher and QS tables.

Career Advice by ‘Virtual Inkblot Test’

A new approach to careers advice

The Chronicle has a short piece on a new approach to delivering careers advice. Essentially it is a contemporary take on the traditional inkblot test which has been updated to a set of images in an app:

Researchers at the company, Woofound Inc., have built an application for students that uses their reactions to a series of images to predict their personalities and to suggest careers tailored to their preferences. The creators also plan to have the application suggest what degrees they should pursue and what extracurricular activities they should join.

The project is part of a wave of technology applications that colleges are testing to help track students into fields that fit their interests.

While using the Woofound Career Module, students sift through 84 slides of images with words associated, such as a picture of a tent along with the word “camping,” or a picture of a man painting along with the phrase “creative expression.” Students click either “Me” or “Not Me” in response to each image.

There is, rightly, some scepticism about the approach. Whilst it is, of course, possible to distinguish broad preferences in this way surely this is one area in which students need a bit more than just an app in order to develop their career intentions? And there aren’t huge numbers of jobs for visionaries these days.

Austerity in the USA

Savings needed at US Universities

University World News. carries a piece by William Patrick Leonard, vice dean of SolBridge International School of Business in Daejeon, Republic of Korea, suggesting that US Higher education institutions need to rein in their costs. The traditional approaches to meeting financial shortfalls, raising tuition fees or increasing student numbers, are, it is suggested no longer justifiable:

The third internal budget balancing tool, cutting costs, has been the least favoured. It can negatively influence programmes and hence careers. I suggest that many institutions, large and small, have found it politically easier to increase revenue rather than control costs.

They have tended to resist seriously questioning the viability of ineffective or inefficient programmes and services. Simultaneously, many have increased their continuing cost burden by enhancing existing programmes and services as well as adding new ones.

This reflects perhaps the different structural set up and culture of US higher education but the contrasts with the position in the UK do seem rather stark. In particular, after several years of significant financial challenges in this country and in anticipation of many more to come, all institutions have had to make savings. Fees are capped and increasing enrolment is only realistically possible through growing international student recruitment which in itself is more challenging than ever because of visa regulations. So, in the UK we have been dealing with the need for reducing spend for some time.


Simplistically, institutional costs may be crudely subdivided into two categories – external and internal.

The external costs are composed of purchased goods and services. Unless the institution has the power to negotiate price, its utility, insurance, contracted services and consumable costs are largely beyond its control. External costs are strongly influenced by the internal costs that institutions should have more control over.

The place to start is internal costs. In American higher education internal costs are governed as much by unquestioned culture as by contractual obligations. Institutions have tended to regard the traditional mix of faculty, curriculum, calendar and infrastructure as immutable. This has been accompanied by an exaggerated sense of entitlement to external support.

The majority of US higher education institutions can no longer rely on the historic levels of government support or philanthropic largesse. Nor can they depend on the continued utility of tuition fees and enrolment increases to align revenue with their immutable culture-driven costs.

I suspect this is a reasonably accurate assessment of the position. Whilst we are now used to the challenges of savings needs in the UK (and indeed are not experiencing them for the first time), it will be a bit harder if there is no prior knowledge of how to respond. Having said that, after many years of growth there is likely to be significant scope for savings.

True Crime on Campus §22: Surprise, surprise

More true crime on campus: some surprising occurrences 

Surprising things can happen on campus. Fortunately, it’s hard to catch our ever-vigilant Security team unawares…

07:15 Security received a report of a delivery driver stuck in the car park barriers at EMCC. Security attended and resolved the matter.

0500 Patrol Security spoke to an Ambulance crew outside Derby Hall. They had been called to a Student who had injured themselves while sleeping. Officers were not able to obtain further details as to the injury the Warden is to be informed.

02:30 Security at Sutton Bonington reported that there was a small group of sheep that were on the loose along the road near Future Crops. Other staff members assisted with rounding the sheep together.

1115 Report of a male sleeping in a corridor of Cripps Hall. Security attended and spoke to the male who was a guest of a student in the Hall. The guest was taken back to his friend’s room.

1515 Report that a student had cut his lip while rehearsing for a play in the Portland Building. Security attended and advised the Student to attended A+E. The Building Attendant is to complete an Accident form.

1735 Report of people conducting a survey allegedly for the City Council in Newark Hall Security attended and spoke to those carrying out the survey. They were asked to leave. A copy of the information from these people has been e-mailed to managers with an interest in this type of activity.

2350 Patrol Security Officers discovered a very happy drunk in a wheelie bin at the rear of the Maths Building. The male was eventually found to be staying with his girlfriend in Derby Hall. The male was returned to his girlfriend who was relieved to see him safe and well apart from being very drunk.

0450 Report of a group of students drinking beer and playing loud music in the Hallward Library. University Security attended and spoke to the students. They were asked to turn the music off and stop drinking beer. Library Staff to be informed.

1520 Report that a vehicle had rolled into two other vehicles in the Main Visitors car park. Security attended details of those involved were taken and exchanged. The driver of the vehicle whose vehicle caused the damage will be reported to the Head of Security for failing to apply the handbrake.

1420 Report of a person seen climbing through a window at Derby Hall. Security attended the person concerned was spoken to by Security. The person was identified as a student resident in the Hall who had forgotten his room key he has been given advice.

2100 Patrol Security discovered a male in a toilet in the Sir Colin Campbell Building. The male had no connection to the University and he was told to leave the Campus.

0100 Report that damage had been done in a kitchen in Normanton House Sutton Bonington. The person concerned was dressed as a Tiger and after throwing food and smashing some plates left before they could be identified.

Agent power and international student recruitment

Are agents too powerful?

A recent Times Higher Education story on the use of agents by UK universities in international student recruitment noted:

UK universities recruited more than 50,000 international students through commission payments to overseas agents last year, spending close to £60 million on the practice in 2010-11.

Using data obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, THE found that 100 universities enrolled 51,027 students in 2011, or the nearest recorded period, via a process involving agents paid on a commission basis.

This is a lot of money but arguably a reasonable proportion of the income derived from international students and therefore could be seen as a sensible investment. However, the role of agents is not always entirely transparent and there is a danger that, given the high stakes here for UK universities and the money to be made by agents, things could become a bit murky.

My colleague Vincenzo Raimo, Director of the University of Nottingham’s International Office, has recently written a piece for the Professionals in International Education blog on the power of agents in the recruitment process. He has some concerns:

“In an ever more competitive international student recruitment market, UK universities are increasingly relying on the use of student recruitment agents to meet targets. Not only are universities failing to appreciate the full costs of international student recruitment but some are also in danger of failing to meet ethical standards in their work overseas.

Valuable visa

Despite the significant increase in international students coming to the UK in recent years I am concerned that as a result of increasing competition and the more difficult environment resulting from the UK government’s changes to visa requirements, recruitment agents have become too powerful and the balance of power between universities and agents has shifted increasingly towards agents.

One would have expected that with the volume increases our institutions have experienced the margin on international students would also have increased. I think the opposite is the case. One of the reasons for this is that in our competitive fervour we’ve let agents become too powerful.

So, agents really are a challenge. There are those who believe we should dispense with them altogether and there are a few universities in the UK and many in the US which refuse to have anything to do with agents. I do think that agents, provided that there are sufficient controls over their behaviour (and fees), can play a valuable role in international student recruitment. But they do require better management and, as Raimo says, we need to shift the balance of power back to the universities.

On the real bottom line

Transnational initiatives pay dividends far greater than a share of the overseas student market

Times Higher Education carries this piece (by me) on the real value of international activity:

The British Council has predicted that most universities in the West – with the exception of some in Australia – will recruit markedly fewer international students in the years ahead than they have done in the past decade.

Its recent report, The Shape of Things to Come, recommends that universities set up more overseas branch campuses and institutional partnerships rather than relying on attracting students to the UK.

The University of Nottingham has many years of experience in this area. We set up international campuses in Malaysia in 2000, and then in 2004 became the first institution to establish a Sino-foreign university in China.

In May, David Willetts, the universities and science minister, invited universities and banks to a round-table meeting to talk about establishing international branch campuses. This was seen, by some at least, to be a response to the impact of visa controls on international student recruitment to the UK. It was also suggested, rather cynically, that it was a good way for cash-strapped universities to make money in the wake of overseas student recruitment problems arising from the government’s immigration policy


The piece is linked to this year’s International Leadership Conference: Managing Global Universities taking place from 29 October – 1 November 2012 at the University of Nottingham Ningbo, China.

Campus at University of Nottingham Ningbo China

The conference, which takes place annually, has previously welcomed delegates from the UK, Denmark, China, Colombia, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the US and Belgium. The event is designed for senior leaders to discuss and share best practice on important topics around the internationalisation of higher education. Including the real value of international higher education activity. Do come – we would really like to see you there.

Fast Food Degrees

KFC launches finger lickin’ good honours degree

A previous post some 18 months ago noted that Morrisons was to fund 20 students a year to undertake a business and management degree it is sponsoring. Before that there were reports of Wal-mart partnering with a US university and Harrods joining forces with Anglia Ruskin.

Now there is the exciting news from People Management that the fast food chain KFC is to launch a degree:

Fast food chain KFC has launched a BA honours degree in business management for its staff, which the employer will part fund.

The business has invested £600,000 to fund half of a three-year degree course for 60 restaurant managers over the next five years, with the first cohort starting in 2013.

Students will attend sessions at De Montfort University, which has partnered with KFC to deliver the degree, in addition to using KFC in-house training, which will also count towards the final qualification.

Employees will have the flexibility to fit their coursework around a 45-hour working week, which will help them pay the remaining £4,500 course fees.

As yet it seems that the selection criteria aren’t entirely clear. However, it looks like there will be a very busy week for the students given that they will be working in restaurants for 45 hours. Shouldn’t be too many complaints about contact hours therefore.

The Guardian report adds:

Professor David Wilson, deputy vice-chancellor and dean of business and law at De Montfort University, added: “At De Montfort University, we pride ourselves on our ability to adapt our skills and services to match the needs of business. This is an important new contract for De Montfort University and we are delighted to have this opportunity of working with such a major player in the global restaurant market.”

No doubt the students will be demanding customers. There was much speculation that we would see lots of this kind of course post-Browne. However, it’s more of a trickle than a flood.