Why it’s time for @vonprond to go

Oh dear. I had to wipe up some porridge this morning as I read this week’s article in the Irish Times from DCU’s former president. The “PowerPoint or Not” story has made it to the top, it is his article of the week. The article, which is essentially based on a 2009 Chronicle of Higher Education piece, and a press release for Southern Methodist University, discusses some personal anecdotes and some general hand-waving towards removing PowerPoint in lectures, and just, you know, teaching naked. Yes, I said the Irish Times.

I’m sure DCU’s Learning Innovation Unit must be collectively weeping this morning. Their website is full of resources for different teaching methods and information about seminars, which I’m sure FvP was informed about, and probably used in extolling the virtues of teaching innovation at DCU during various speeches as President. He chose to ignore all that, and preferred to, you know, just teach guys! I’ve found my Higginbotham – I was right about the unusual name. I’m not going down the senseless PowerPoint or not debate, except to say that it doesn’t matter what type of football boots a Newcastle player wears, whether he is a good player or not boils down to a certain amount of innate talent, and a lot of practice based on best training principles.

The bigger issue for me though is that this is still what passes for considered comment in the discourse on academic teaching quality at third level. Here we have someone, who hasn’t taught for at least ten years, advising others in his profession how to teach. He’s not basing this on any research, any evidence – just because it feels good, and, you know, he was a great lecturer. And while I would never usually say no to an article on teaching making the Irish Times, given the week Higher Education has had, (it even got another President blogging again), I would have thought something on the workload of academics would be more timely.

I was surprised when Prof von Prondzynski’s column in the Irish Times returned in the autumn. While having someone in the job of University President gave interesting insight to some of his columns, now that he has finished that position, I don’t understand the decision to keep him. Perhaps they thought he was a good bet for the Maynooth job? His column today really emphasises the fact that he has not much to offer, like a retired Taoiseach no longer knows what goes on at Cabinet. He should take the other Drumcondra man’s lead, and bow out of Irish media gracefully. I wish him the best in his new position. And for God’s sake will someone call Tom Collins and see if he can do a column for next Tuesday.

4 thoughts on “Why it’s time for @vonprond to go

  1. Old generals fight old battles, and death by PowerPoint and its ilk addressed a low point in its use as a tool for communication and, consequently teaching. I suppose the question moving forward, is: are people using the modern LMS in the same way? I’ve seen more than my fair share of unreadable Blackboard or moodle screen shots with the lecturer rattling on, blithely unaware that most of the class cant read a thing on the screen.

  2. Michael, just to look at this more seriously for a moment, what are you actually saying? That teaching tools don’t matter? That they do matter, but uniquely Powerpoint doesn’t? That everyone is actually using Powerpoint really really well? That some are not using it well, but that it doesn’t matter?

    Leaving aside your desire to have a go at me (which is fair enough), I can’t actually see the substance of your post… In fact, aren’t you doing exactly what you accuse me of doing, i.e. coming forward with a lot of sounds-funny-doesn’t-it points but no actual argument based on anything of substance?

    1. Hi

      Thanks very much for replying. With regard to the academic workload, yes – I am sorry – you did include some information on your article about that academic pay. MS Word tells me you had 70 words on the academic workload in a 949 word article, and just under double this word count on the workload of university presidents. My suggestion about what could have been covered in this week’s article really arose out of the public accounts committee meeting last Thursday, with what has been termed a FAS moment for universities hitting the media.

      The substantive points of my post were focussed on two areas. The first is that you have an incredibly privileged position to be able to speak about issues around Higher Education, good and bad, weekly in the Irish Times – I think I am right in saying one of the very few outlets nationally for this topic. I have no issue around why you held this position – as a university president you had incredible insight to behind the scenes and have been generous in sharing it, but I do wonder about Madam’s decision to continue this arrangement given you are moving to a new country with its own set of HE peculiarities. Perhaps unfairly to you, I don’t count your blog in this – but you have the data to estimate whether the weekly readership of that matches that of the Irish Times. Therefore, what I am considering is the content of the articles in the paper. With this privilege, comes a great responsibility in my opinion. And in a week when HE took a hard hit, I would have thought that something on the topics discussed before the committee, or the challenges facing HE in general based on your experience and in the context of the PAC, would have been appropriate.

      However, that aside, I was delighted to see that there was an article on HE teaching, which seems to be almost a taboo topic it is discussed so little. You wished to perhaps explain how teaching at third level has changed in your thirty years, which is of interest and importance. I suppose that I feel that in general, discussions about teaching at third level centre around whether PowerPoint is used. For me this is a non-issue. It’s so irrelevant that it just annoys me when people talk about it. I know of good teachers and poor teachers who both do and don’t use PowerPoint. When I consider a good teacher, for me it is someone who considers their practice in light of a given situation, and crucially what the evidence is in extolling any given method. So I couldn’t say whether to use PowerPoint or not, because for an advanced topic to masters group, “naked” lecturing may well be appropriate, but for a class of 450 first year students, it would probably be disastrous.

      You can tell more than me, but you must have observed massive changes and challenges to good-quality teaching over thirty years, in terms of the massification of higher education. Coupled with this is the incredible pressures on academic researchers to produce output. There is a chasm here, which is bridged only by either poor practice (I remember as a post-doc I gave a final year course in DCU with one day’s notice from an academic under huge pressure from research duties), or people making a sacrifice in terms of their personal lives. So there needs to be a rethink about how teaching is conducted at third level in the context of 70% + participation rates, and the role of high-profile researchers in the modern context. My perennial soap-box is that it just baffles me in a profession all about professionalism, no training is provided to people for the job they are hired to do. My own institution is, I think, the sole exception.

      Finally, regarding the point about similarity in my style of post to yours. If it is, all I can say that my post goes onto a website that at best my mother and neighbour’s cat probably look at, yours went into a national newspaper. I felt that in this case, that was a post that should have stayed on the blog. The substance, I hope I have explained again, was that a voice for higher education, in a media setting obsessed with stars and Tsars of various kinds, should be a clear and insightful one.

      I’m sorry it took me a little while to respond. It’s week two of teaching here, so it is busy. I did endeavour to approve your comment as soon as possible though, as I thought it was only fair to give right of reply.

      All the best, and thanks again for commenting.

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