April 11, 2011 in News by M.A. EYS Team

Dear Parstudipants,

You may all have been relaxing in the past month, after your two months of strenuous effort, but we have been grasping and gasping (though hopefully not guessing!) our way through another marathon, the star event in the contemporary World Assessment Olympics – the marking of the M.A. EYS Short Course portfolios. All twenty-three of them. We were both delighted and really proud when we saw how many of you had managed the completion of all your portfolio tasks and submitted your portfolio in time. After all, research tells us that drop-out rates in e-learning courses are even higher than they are in many of the university systems in which we teach.

Long, long ago, in those far-gone heady days when the M.A. EYS Short Course was but a twinkle in our over-ambitious visions of a brave new educational world, we had great plans for double and triple blind marking of each portfolio – a sort of nine-headed hydra combining all the most onerous regulations of every university in Europe (on the basis of a reasonable level of western European rationality, we decided not to look even further afield). Luckily, the extremely onerous experience of bringing long course ambition into short course proportion saved us from the worst scenarios. We decided instead to go for a division of labour and a random double marking – all virtually orchestrated by Andreas (in fact completely orchestrated virtually!), giggling and grimacing in front of his screen in Berlin as he determines which of us – that is Lynne, Helena and Howard, and Kiki as a ‘blind’ moderator – would get which portfolios. We waited with some trepidation, hoping we would get an exciting and not a burdensome collection. We now know that Andreas is even kinder and fairer than we thought he was before: he gave each of us a gift package that had lots of nice surprises and a few constructive challenges – almost everything we had to read was interesting, some of it made us laugh in the best possible way, and some of it was very moving.

We are people who, as you know, are committed to what we do – not only for the M.A. EYS – and we try to do it as well as we can manage. This is not always easy, nor an undiluted pleasure. The effort and energy expended on the M.A. EYS is largely on top of everything else we do. Just as it was for you during your engagement with the Short Course. There are a lot of demands and pressures. We get frustrated, sometimes angry. Especially when we are working at full speed, non-stop, into the night (just like many, if not all of you) – this can make one impatient, and with the passing years that affect us more than you, one gets tired to the marrow – believe us, and we are sure you will, it is relentlessly so.

What does it mean to have to assess 23 Short Course portfolios? For starters, it means at least three hours (and sometimes more than four) of individual total concentration for each and every one of you. This is almost two grindingly solid person weeks. The sun may be shining, your family might be complaining, you might be faced with a dozen other things that needed to be done yesterday – but the portfolios are impatiently waiting for you on the VLE (albeit with each element superbly signposted by AKA). And the same AKA is waiting for your package to be completed within about a week, because on 6th April you must send him your grades and your comments, so he can combine everything into a magic table that we will then all see – for the first time, we will know which of us marked which portfolios and, for the sample from the three ‘first’ markers sent to Kiki for ‘blind’ marking, we will see if our assessments match. And if they do not… well, then we have to designate the dark of the night to discuss and weigh up and come to a consensus. And then, at the end of all of this, each of you receives a missive that tells you what we think, to the best of our combined experience and judgement. There is no other way to do this, and we have come to know the gravity of the moment as an old, weary companion who will not be turned from the door.

We think you should know this. This is not about enlisting sympathy but ensuring understanding. We have learned and can see what it has meant to you to produce your portfolio, and we want you to know what it means to conclude the process – to carry the responsibility of forming a judgement about its value.

We know all this takes place in such a tiny, tiny space in this world that calls itself higher education, academia, a miraculous and wicked, terrifying space in which people can grow magnificently beyond themselves but which is no less a gladiator’s arena in which they can sink wounded into the bloody dust, to be dragged away in indignity to the butcher’s shop. Who, indeed, are the champions?

You, each of you, are the champions and your portfolios, in all their astonishingly wonderful variety, are our flag bearers. We would like to tell you how you and your work are different from what we see in our everyday working lives, as these small examples show:

  • 300 students are registered for a lecture course, but only 1 in 10 actually comes to the sessions. A third comes to the written examination at the end and only a tenth produce good quality work. At the other end, courses that demand a lot of reading and writing attract few students – the ones that come produce really good work.
  • For the most part, students are so weighed down having to work, study and look after a family at the same time, that they just cannot do anything as well as they would like. How can we estimate potential that does not materialise, even though the reasons are eminently understandable?
  • There are, unfortunately, students who routinely miss deadlines, using all the tricks in the book to plead for a second, third, fourth, infinite chance. Imagine someone writing to ask if there is still time to do a class presentation … after the course has finished!
  • Many students expect their professors to be available for anything and everything at the drop of a hat, in the middle of the night, at weekends and on their family holidays, too – just imagine getting an Email asking for comments on the latest 100 pages (in the Email attachment) by the following day.
  • Some students assume that faculty are their personal living library – so Emails request a list of references for their essays and theses… sometimes such requests appear ‘out if the blue’ from persons who are registered for a degree somewhere else in the universe…

The vast majority of you, we suspect sometimes almost against the odds, have delivered the goods, often to a very high standard. For our part, we have tried to provide you with a response within the same kind of pressure-cooker time scales that we imposed on you.

And now all we want to say is that together, we believe we have had, as one parstudipant put it, an inspirational experience from which we can learn, draw exemplary illustrations and build our aspiration for a fully-fledged course in the field of youth studies, to which all of us share a profound commitment.

Lynne Chisholm, Helena Helve, Kiki Deliyanni and Howard Williamson

On behalf of the entire M.A. EYS Short Course Team

Photo credit: garryknight