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Alan Machin: Tourism As Education
Home page: blogs, introductions, links to main pages
Berlin: Editing a Townscape
... and reading a city that has had many rebuilders
Making Sense of The Travel Learning Experience- 1
1 Information Streams
Making Sense of the Travel Learning Experience - 2
Some basic theories
Back to Basics: Presentation given at the Cuba EduTourism Conference
The CETA Conference in Havana, Cuba, 8/9 November 2010
About the author
Comments - CV - photos
At the heart of the tourist experience
Learning through Landscapes
Exploring Oxfordshire (and a bit of Gloucestershire!)
The Environment As Data: Building New Theories For Tourism
How tourists relate to places
Sail Gives Way to Steam
A return visit discovers just how much has been achieved in this iconic restoration
Richard III and the Battle of Bosworth Reenactment
Visits to Leicester and the battlefield event, 2013
Along The Way
Recollections and Reflections of 60+ Years' Learning about the World and its Ways
On the Edge of the New World
Shaping New England
Exploring Holderness in East Yorkshire; October 2012
Past Historic
Graf Zepplin, Spain 1968, OS History, Much Wenlock Olympics, Chatham Dockyard, Hawes Tourism, Colonial Williamsburg,
A Summer of Travelling / Matthew Starr
Three months' backpacking in Africa, Asia and Australia
East Anglia
The Broads, Pensthorpe natural history, Radar Museum, Caister Lifeboat Service and more!
A Richer Earth
Discoveries in the landscape and attractions of Shropshire
Blog Index Page
Blog pages from 2009 listed
From Strip Map to Sat Nav
'Finding the way' aids to exploration
Showcasing the World
How the Tourist Microcosm took centre stage
Doing A Dissertation
Notes to help students preparing their proposals
The Japanese Tsunami Destruction at First Hand
Sarah and Tom Wadsworth saw for themselves
Showcases: Examples
The range and variety of tourism's focal points examined
Jigsaw: Frameworks of Knowledge
The tourist jigsaw puzzle of - knowledge
Books and other works useful in studying tourism as education
Tourism's Educational Origins: Part 2
The development of tourism as education, 1845 -
Tourism's Educational Origins: Part 1
Tourism's educational origins and management
Impressions of Tourism in Cuba
Thoughts on having seen some of the country myself
Captain James Cook: North Yorkshire Days
Tracing the early life of Britain's greatest maritime explorer
Hunting the Hound of the Baskervilles
Tracking down places that inspired the famous detective story and moulded Dartmoor's image
Exploring the Idea of Dark Tourism
What is it? Is it a useful idea?
Talking to Tourists
Visitor interpretation - guide books, visitor centres and other media
Shades of Light and Dark in the Garden of England
An exploration in East Sussex and Kent, June/July 2010
Hunting the Gladiator and the Gecko
A thirteen-year search for a wartime adventure
Steam Up For A Famous Film's Birthday Party
The Railway Children weekend on the Worth Valley line raises questions about heritage presentations
Anne-Marie Rhodes: Making a Difference in South East Asia
Leeds Met graduate of '07 describes her activities
Discoveries in Northumberland, April 2010
Alnwick Gardens; Winter's Gibbet; Holy Island, Cragside, Wallington Hall
Discoveries in the Midlands, March 2010
Bletchley Park National Codes and Cipher Centre; and the Rollright Stones
Alan Machin's Blog - April 2010
The development of tourism as education continued
Jigsaw Puzzle!
The Adventure of the Timely Tourist
Leaders Into The Field
People who inspired everyone to explore
Alan Machin's blogs - February and March 2010
Postings on the history tourism as education - redirection
Alan Machin's Blog - January 2010
Tourist photography and souvenirs
Earlier front-page blog postings - January 2010 onwards
Archived after being on the Home Page
News from higher education and - beyond
The Development of Educational Tourism
Key dates in the development of educational tourism
Alan Machin's Blog - December 2009
Christmas Quiz and other postings
Analysing Heritage Tourism
Ideas and perspectives on a hugely important sector
Alan Machin's Blog - November 2009
Visitors' Views of Stonehenge, West Sussex - and other Postings
Are Universities Losing Their Way?
Reflections having retired
Teaching Tourism At Leeds Met
Remembering the Best
Alan Machin's Blog - October 2009
Thoughts about university life and discovery by travel
Alan Machin's Blog - September 2009
Further postings about a trip last month to the USA, and about higher education
Alan Machin's Blog - August 2009
Postings about a trip this month to the USA
Alan Machin's Blog - July 2009
The Story So Far reaches the summer
Alan Machin's Blog - June 2009
The Story So Far looks back on seventeen years at Leeds Met
Alan Machin's Blog - May 2009
Another month of The Story So Far
Alan Machin's blog - April 2009
Yet more of the Story So Far
Alan Machin's blog - March 2009
More of The Story So Far
Alan Machin's Blog - February 2009
The Story So Far - pioneers, people and places
Alan Machin's Blog: January 2009
The Story So Far .... first postings of '09
Alan Machin's Blog: December 2008
The Story So Far .... latest postings
Alan Machin's Blog - November '08
The Story So Far.... continued
Alan Machin's Blog: October 2008
The Story So Far....
No Place Like Rome
The eternal city with the eternal tourists
Charleston, South Carolina
A photo essay about a fine historic city
Idealog - December 2007
Ideas, notes and comments
Idealog - November 2007
Ideas, notes and comments
The Educational Origins of Tourism
Discussion paper
Idealog - October 2007
Coton Military Cemetery; Education and Tourism; Chatham Maritime; Dickens World; Quiz Answers; Tourist Guides; Mediation In Tourism
Idealog - September 2007
Plane Paradox;Tour Guiding; Where in the World?; Do Tourism Students Know Where They Are?; Leeds Met's Wow!; Sea Harrier; Scarborough and Tourism As Education; Doing A Dissertation; Types of Tourist; A Media Lens; Cost of Travelling Alone; Risk of Bias?
Idealog - August 2007
A People Industry; Heritage Interpretation; Lud's Church; Tourists Go Home!; Stone Gappe YHA; Insight Guides; Eyewitness Guides; Bramhope Tunnel; Elizabethan Progress; Information Quality Matrix
Idealog - July 2007
Hidden Heroes, Health Tourism, Holme Fen Posts; Harrogate (again); Whitby Abbey; Dramatic Interpretation; Harrogate Interpretation, Attractions and Royal Hall
Idealog - June 2007
Christian Pilgrimage; Cincinnati Museums Centre; The Coming of the Guide Book; Talking to Tourists - Media, Stages of the Visit, The Service Journey; Tourism's Missing Link; The Final Call; SATuration level; Halifax's Edwardian Window on the World
Idealog - May 2007
Martin and Osa Johnson, Wensleydale Creamery, Malham Tarn, Thomas Cook, Northern Ireland's Tourism Rebuild, Jamestown Festival Park, Cite des Sciences
Idealog - April 2007
The Promenade Plantee, The Jardin des Plantes, Environmental Data, Victorian Beauty Spot Rediscovered, Jamestown, The Anglers' Country Park, Children's Museums, Fairburn Ings
Idealog - March 2007
A Sense of the Past- The 'Amsterdam', The Outdoor Classroom, Film-Induced Tourism, Making Tracks for the Coast and Country, Pictures, Context and Meaning, Classics-on-Sea, Hi Hi Everyone!, Dark Side of the Dream, Holodyne - The Action Cycle
Idealog - February 2007
Don't Go There!, Space Tourism, The Crystal Cathedral, New Books on Tourism, Dark Tourism - Undercliffe Cemetery, Showcase - The Louvre, A Class Act, First Impressions Count, Postal Pleasures, Canaletto in Venice, Serpent Mound, Capsule Culture etc
Idealog - January 2007
Capsule Culture,Seaside Style, Poble Espanyol, Mallorca, Edgar Dale, Children's Holiday Homes, Representations of Reality, Outdoor Education in Germany, Baedeker Guides, Geography Textbooks, Environmental Data Theory etc
Idealog - December 2006
Writers on Landscape, Story Books, The Deep, Flour Power and the Archers,Showcases: Grand Tour, Halifax Piece Hall, Books of Concern about Tourism, Tourist Traces, Tourist Typologies, The Growth of Educational Tourism, The Field Studies Council, etc
Idealog - November 2006
A blog of ideas, comments and notes
Travel To Understand: Belfast
Telling the stories of troubled times
World Quiz 2010
Geography with a tourism angle
The Monterey Bay Aquarium
An outstanding educational facility in California
Chicago: Tourism Re-Imaging
A closer view of an iconic city
Colonial Williamsburg
A Virginia history showcase
A Social Club Outing By Train, 1935
How to do Scotland in 30 hours flat
Going Dutch
Presenting the past in the Netherlands
Keukenhof: Business is Blooming
Using tourism to promote an industry
A View of Italy for the City
Trentham Gardens Revived
A Case Study in Heritage Management
A curious tale of misleading publicity
Old Rice Farm
The story of the house in the 'holler'
Perfection in Paradise: The Eden Project
New page being added: The Eden Project's design for success
Escaping From Slavery: Facing Our Past
The US National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Prague Tourist Shows
Outstanding showcase attractions in the city
Retracing the Steps: Tourism as Education
ATLAS Conference paper given in Finland, 2000
Tourism and Historic Towns: The Cultural Key
A background paper for a Council of Europe Conference
The Social Helix
Visitor Interpretation as a Tool for Social Development, 1989
Malta Residential, 14-21 Feb 2006 - Page 1
Reports and Pictures
Malta Residential, 14-21 Feb 2006 - Page 2
Photos and reports of Friday 17 Feb onwards
Malta Residential, 14-21 February 2006 - Page 3
Reports and pictures from Sunday, 19 February onwards
Tourism Alumni Reunion, 8 March 2003
Leeds tourism students reunion 2003
World Geography Quiz 1
A test of your knowledge
The Adventure of the Timely Tourist
The answers
Tall Ships Race 2010 Converged on Hartlepool
A major event-based boost for tourism in the town
Plymouth: From the Tamar to the Sea
Starting point for explorations round the globe
Plimoth Plantation
A reconstruction of the Mayflower settlers' village of the 1620s on the north east coast of North America
World Geography Quiz 2010 - Answers
Geography with a tourism angle
World Geography Quiz - Answers
Christmas Quiz 2009 - Answers
A day in the city including the Botanic Garden
Tourist Showcases
Examples from around the world

Alan Machin's Blog - December 2009

Blog page header - December 2009

Click here for the Answers to the Quiz


Quiz - destination

One More Day To Christmas Quiz


This is the last question: name the hill shown in the red circle.

Map image is from a relevant city web site.

Answers will be given on 1 January.

Quiz - locations

Two Days To Christmas Quiz


Straightforward again ... name the features and locations shown in the photos.

Quiz answers on 1 January.


Quiz - set 3

Three Days To Christmas Quiz


Getting close! Here's today's puzzling posting.

Quiz questions - connections

Four Days To Christmas Quiz


The closer we get to the last set, the shorter the questions get.

Quiz - conservation

Five Days To Christmas Quiz


There's the question - name the National Parks. Easy Peasy .... ? Tomorrow: an interesting little puzzle about connections.

Quiz - films

Six Days To Christmas Quiz


Just passed half way in the sets of quiz questions. Films have a heavy influence on tourism. Just how moved were you?

Quiz - transport

Seven Days To Christmas Quiz


All connected with tourism. No transport, no tourism.

Quiz page - Pioneers

Eight Days To Christmas Quiz


These people all made contributions which, directly or indirectly, helped tourism to grow. What was it? A few, like Thomas Cook, produced several relevant innovations. Others, like Sir Tim Berners-Lee, revolutionised the operation of tourism. Tomorrow - transport.

Quiz panel - countries

Nine Days To Christmas Quiz


Name the countries suggested by these images. Eight more questions to follow: tomorrow, Pioneers. Answers on 1 January.

Events question

Ten Days To Christmas Quiz


Straightforward ones here, and only 10 to work out. Answers on 1 January.

Tourism-connected logos

Eleven Days To Christmas Quiz


Eleven logos belonging to organisations with some sort of tourism connection (watch out for those flags!). In some cases names of been removed.

Name the organisations ..... answers will be posted on 1 January.

2009 Quiz

Twelve Days To Christmas Tourism Quiz


Over the next twelve days sets of quiz questions will appear. The answers will be posted on 1 January 2010.

Today's posting is based on the number 12 - tomorrow's will be 11.

Name the countries or provinces numbered in the maps. Ignore the yellow squares but they mark capital cities.

Shop display - chairs

Heritage on Show


Who wants to look at rows of anything in glass cases? That is one of the problems faced by curators showing collections of objects – historical artefacts. OK, enthusiasts will delight in lots of examples of their passion on show – model locomotives, teddy bears, Welsh love spoons – but for most punters sterile shelves of objects don’t create much excitement. That was one of the problems with old-style museums. Was it Oscar Wilde who quipped “the trouble with most museums is that they should be in museums”?

Museum purists will still tend to get upset if someone points out how close department stores and museums are. Actually, not so many of them will nowadays since the old die-hards witnessed to rise of different ways of displaying things, mainly in the twentieth century but starting a little earlier. Natural history museums arranged some displays thematically, creating a miniature scene using stuffed animals, preserved plants, rocks and gravel against painted backgrounds using strong senses of perspective. Perhaps the public, being used to seeing zoo animals in sort-of natural settings were more easily attracted to this kind of diorama, as the style of display was termed. Chicago’s Field Museum became famous for them. In the area of technological history the Deutsches Museum built a full scale reproduction of a Bavarian coalmine workface towards the end of the nineteenth century. It was the Swedish Folk Museum in Stockholm called Skansen that assembled general history scenes – in the open air – comprising buildings with authentic surroundings, contents and sometimes people in appropriate costumes. This was in 1891. Yet the origins of this kind of exhibit lay in international exhibitions like the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Paris expo of 1867. In turn, these influenced retailing. In Britain, William Whiteley set expanded his Bayswater shop into a department store, grouping related consumer goods together.

So even though most open air museums grew to international prominence in the late twentieth century, their origins and pioneering styles were earlier. But the critics of the so-called heritage industry in the 1980s who complained of the parallels between commercial retailing and museum displays seemed ignorant of the fact. They appeared to think museum visitors were being “sold” history as part of a commercial transaction by the kind of display techniques used. If they had thought it through they may have concluded, rightly, that both shops and museums have to help people see their objects in two ways: first, comparatively, like the clocks or chairs shown here, and second contextually, with examples placed in suitable settings amongst other objects according to the utilitarian relationships people impose on them.

Walk round IKEA and then round the Ironbridge Museums and you’ll see what I mean.

Museum display - clocks


University shields

Bickering and Careswell: Inevitable Results?


It was only on the first of this month that I reported plans by my two favourite universities for residential visits this academic year. Yes, they’re actually fictitious but with a lot to teach us.

Careswell is running a residential in West Africa. It’s properly planned, full of visits and course teaching, and having been run well before it has a reputation building. So even though it costs over 500 it has attracted the biggest number of students yet. On the other hand, Bickering announced a four-day trip to an Eastern European capital at around 400 and another to learn skiing at well over 600. Neither has attracted enough students and they are being quietly dropped. Sadly, it doesn’t look good for Bickering as these were organised by the marketing people who managed to get the pricing wrong, the content wrong – and to undercut themselves by offering mutually competitive products. No wonder Bickering’s reputation is sinking fast. It’s a pity they and Careswell can’t work together.

Jacquard loom composite

Hi-Tech History


There are lots of reasons for being fascinated by history. Old-style teaching was once about kings, queens and ‘national heroes’ and new-style is often about the Horrible Histories approach, neither of which are appealing to me. The first is, at least for recent monarchs, just public relations for remote royalty. The latter is for teenagers who like squirmy stories.

My kind is the stuff I can relate to followed up by the bits that help me make sense of the first lot. So being from a textile family background, for example, and at the same time a frequent user of computers, the machinery in the Armley Mills Industrial Museum in Leeds strikes a chord. In 1801 a French inventor, Joseph Marie Jacquard, devised a weaving machine – a loom – which could produce complex designs. Punched cards were used to control how the warp and weft threads appeared in a cloth. This enabled the different colours of the front-to-back and the left-to-right threads to show in different combinations. Jacquard’s invention helped expand both the textile industry and the associated fashion trade. A hundred years later the firm which became IBM was able to speed up the United States’ census analysis by using punched cards – not for control but to represent different results which could then be sorted mechanically. Punched cards were later used in computers to feed instructions and data in to processing units – controlling the process. My first job after university was in a computer centre where thousands of such cards were used for engineering and other tasks.

So history, the story of human activity since the year dot, covers lots of interesting subjects. That is why millions of tourists enjoy, at one level or another, historic places. And for the tourism manager anxious to understand how this huge sector of the industry works, finding a path into the treasure house of history is the way to succeed.

Variations of historic location in Paris

Variations in Historic Location: Paris


It should be straightforward to say that the view along the Seine towards Notre Dame is one of a historic location. The cathedral, bridge and other buildings are all old: some very old. The same goes for the gallery in the Louvre Museum with its glass cases – clearly a historic room with historic artefacts. Anyone visiting the Louvre or Notre Dame has some kind of interest in things historic. What about the sculptures of men holding clocks in front of their faces? Modern art. Not historic – not yet. The building, however, was the Louvre and we have just described it as attracting visitors because it is historic. Are the modern art figures? The stumbling block here is the definition of ‘historic’. At one time that would usually mean from the time of the Romans or earlier. In the 1950s it often meant pre-Victorian, although serious historians would talk about the much more recent past using that term. On the other hand, buildings requiring protection from redevelopment were generally more than a century old at the time. As interest and knowledge grew about history – heritage, preservation and conservation – during the sixties, so did the desire to save ever more recent buildings – St Pancras Station (1868), the De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill-on-Sea (1935), Centre Point, London (1966), for example. So here is a question: when does ‘history’ come into play as opposed to the idea of ‘the present’? Yesterday? A minute ago? Ten years ago? That photo of the clock-carrying figures was taken in 2007, so surely it is historic?

The same consideration must be given of the Pompidou Centre (1977) in the left-hand photo. It was, and still is, decidedly modern. But it is over thirty years old..... so – historic?

Now look at the cafe in the Left Bank area of Paris. A modern cafe in architecture and decor, though part of a much older building. Nowhere special, perhaps? Try telling that to the owner.... and since my wife and I breakfasted there every day for almost a week in 2007 it is pretty special to us. It’s part of our personal history. Does a place, building or artefact have to be outstanding, famous, to be described as historic? No ... except, of course, to the owner or to us it is outstanding and famous – it’s a matter of relationship to people. Like beauty, history is in the eye of the beholder.

What about a field of pumpkins? Growing in 2007, objects of the present in that year. Not historic. Except that they were growing in the restored ‘Hameau de la Reine’ at Versailles, the playscape village built for Queen Marie Antoinette. There she could pretend to be a countrywoman, milking cows, harvesting pumpkins, while safely sealed off from the reality of rural poverty in mid-eighteenth century France. So those pumpkins in the picture are part of something – historic.

Tourism trends by century

History As Trend Analysis


Having seen (in the previous posting) how popular in the market history is – or at least, let’s say, heritage tourism – it’s obvious that anyone in tourism marketing and development needs to know something about history. However, you could say that people like visiting historic places because those places have a different ‘flavour’ and they find that interesting, but communicating the history can be left to the guides at the particular place. There is a lot of truth in that – if you are an amateur manager.

A professional in this job would have several reasons for wanting to know the history themselves and not leave it to someone else. They would want to know just what it was about the history that was attracting people. Was it the sense of place and time to be found in the surroundings? – the kind of buildings and environment, such as would be found in a medieval town or an industrial community, for example. They would demand to know how well the guides and other forms of interpretation were performing in communicating the historic story. They would want to be a step ahead of the visitors in knowing what period of history was gaining in popularity, possibly because of the influence of the latest novels, film or TV series. Alongside that, what kind of history was catching the public imagination? Once upon a time it was about kings and queens and national heroes. Today it is often the story of ordinary people, their ways of life and events in those lives. Any marketing director or development officer who does not keep up with this kind of knowledge is risking being taken for a ride – and I don’t mean a quality coach tour but a brief hurtle through a theme park concoction of the past.

There is another important reason for having an interest in what has gone and that is because the marketing manager needs to think about the future. Confusing? The reason for looking back in order to plan for the future is to see what the trends have been. In a broader sense it is a matter of finding out how we got to where we are in the tourism industry today. What were the reasons, the causes of change and the influences on the choices that people have been making? We talk of Push and Pull Factors, of innovations and failures. How we make sense of the airline industry and the changes it is going through depends on looking back over aviation activity since the late 1940s – at least. What will be the outcome of the present situation for the major airlines including the ‘flag carriers’ like BA, Lufthansa, Qantas or Aeroflot? Many factors come in to play, not the least of these the growth of low-cost or ‘no frills’ airlines. To understand why these have been successful at the expense of the big companies it’s necessary to read up on the likes of Southwest Airlines, Freddie Laker’s Skytrain, easyJet and Ryanair. In doing so you’re studying history.

That exercise would be looking at relatively short-span history. Important, broad, lessons come from longer spans such as the three centuries in the graphic above. It’s a great simplification of course, to relate the Grand Tour to the eighteenth century, countryside touring to the nineteenth and overseas beach resort tourism to the twentieth. But the point being made is that the changing face of tourism can only be properly seen by examining causes and effects. So the Grand Tour largely educated the sons of wealthy landowners who travelled by horse-drawn carriages around to destinations such as Rome. In the nineteenth century railways became available with cheap transport to take people out of the new industrial cities with their dirt and disease to places like the Lake District. In the twentieth century aircraft became dominant for the longer journeys that the up-market customer was demanding, again with elements of escapism from a mainly urban lifestyle that was often stressful. Yes, it was much more complex than that, but this pattern, crude though it might be, is a starting point for comprehending not only where tourism seems to be going, and why, but what exactly it is all about.

And discovering the detail is what makes the study of history such fun.

History Tourism examples

Historic Levels of Attractiveness


Students who study tourism management are unlikely to have much knowledge of history, at least on average. As it happens many of them have a remarkably poor sense of geography, which is even more worrying. The point about historical knowledge, however, is important also but for rather subtle reasons which are worth exploring in a few postings. We can state the obvious one first, that visiting museums, historic houses and places is enormously important in terms of visitor numbers, and then look at some of the subtleties.

In the period July 2005 – October 2006 the Department of Media, Culture and Sport ran a survey which obtained detailed results from over 28,000 interviews with people over the age of 16. This showed that 70% of the respondents had deliberately chosen to visit a historic environment in the year previous to them being questioned. 42% had visited a museum or gallery. Under the heading ‘historic environment’ came, in order of importance, historic towns (52%), historic parks or gardens (38%), monuments such as castles or ruins (37%), historic buildings open to the public (approx 36%), historical places of worship (27%), places connected with industrial history (19%), archaeological sites (16%) and places connected with sports history (4%).

Meanwhile, the National Trust reports, in its 2009 Annual Report, that it has some 3.6 million members. The 2009 English Heritage report says its membership scheme has 687,000 people enrolled (there are also large numbers of corporate members but it is the individuals who are important here). Historic attractions can have very high visitor numbers. The Guardian newspaper stated that in 2008 the British Museum had almost 6 million visitors, Tate Modern 4.8 million, the Tower of London 2.1 million and St Paul’s Cathedral 1.6 million. Not all had shown increases – the Victoria and Albert Museum declined by 15% after higher numbers to popular exhibitions in the previous year. And, of course, small ‘heritage’ attractions – local museums, historic houses, churches etc – garnered much smaller numbers: Holy Trinity Church, York, took in 38,000 – but even this was 10% up on the previous year – and the Martyr’s School, Glasgow, only 2,484 – even so, 50% more than in 2007.

Historic places represent big business and very popular appeal.

Click here for the DCMS survey report

Click here for the Guardian report


University shields

Taking Care


I suspect that all universities take more care of their students today than they did when I was an undergrad. That’s not to say that in the ‘sixties tutors didn’t care. They did, but contact was more formal and distant than today. There wasn’t the same kind of personal tutor system. There’s wasn’t the same culture of popping your head round a friendly tutor’s door for a quick word. We said ‘good morning’ to them and they called us Mister or Miss – and married students were rare.

Careswell has personal tutors chosen for being approachable and understanding. There are student support staff that are known for their skills and experience, although they are often overworked by the large numbers of students attending the university. Tutors often meet student groups for coffee. Socials are organised in a bar or cafe area (bars can automatically mean Muslim and sometimes other students do not wish to take part). The best occasions for getting to know each other are the socials that are part of residential visits, away from the time constraints of the working environment. It’s another reason why Careswell makes sure that all students take part in residential rather than just a few on elite visits. Many students say that they only really got to know their fellow students and their tutors on residential weeks in their second or even third year. Thankfully Careswell takes the trouble to plan strategically – there are such social occasions organised by people who know how to set them up and relate well to their students.

Bickering makes all the obvious mistakes. Socials largely disappeared years ago when staff were asked to run them who had no knowledge of how to do it. The result was a couple of sad evenings in a bar with half a dozen students outnumbered by tutors. They gave up and blamed the students for apathy. After a year or two with no socials at all it was decided to run one for final-year people who were complaining most about stress and poor management. As Bickering rules meant that course budgets could not be used to buy anything alcoholic the staff had a whip-round to lay on wine and beer. But worse has been the move to make all students book appointments to see any tutor. Knocking on a teacher’s door is banned. Having a quick chat in the corridor is the only way of getting a speedy, informal result. It’s another damaging result of high student numbers against insufficient teaching staff. Tutors are told to refer anything other than a simple academic problem to the already overworked support advisers trying to deal with the whole university intake. The tutor-advantage of knowing the students and being able to link problem diagnosis to academic outcomes is lost. Already, Bickering has lost a complete specialist teaching and research unit to Careswell: the staff involved would not put up with such bureaucratic decisions.

University shields

Gloss Finishes


I was looking at Bickering University’s web site yesterday. It reinforced the notion that public relations work is everything. The superficial presentation of every university has been effectively forced by government policies for the last two decades at least. Marketing counts far higher in higher education than academic standards, often to the extent that the gloss finish painted over every web site covers up the real quality of the institutions. The pretence that everything is exciting and challenging and fun and innovative and the very best in the best of all teaching worlds is immensely damaging. After a while those who experience the reality – the staff, students, and professionals who deal with these places begin to realise the gap between the pretence and the true position. I had been reading a personality piece about a senior figure written by some paid hack. The subject of it was presented as some paragon of educational virtue full of energetic visions for the future. Most of this person’s colleagues would consider what achievements had been made were obtained despite this senior manager.

As usual, Careswell University shows far better. Good, solid achievements are to be found there. The staff aren’t all geniuses plucking glittering prizes from the tree of knowledge. They’re human, hard working, caring for their work and their students. There are plenty of successful initiatives. Students of all shapes and sizes, backgrounds and abilities benefit from their teaching. Those students cherish their time on the courses and afterwards look back with a proper appreciation of what their university did for them, never perfect but always as best it could.

I’m not sure which is the more damaging: the politicians who mean well but fail to provide good strategies, or the post-holders who take advantage of the new situations for their own benefit.

University shields

Travelling to Understand?


We have been receiving further news from those two entirely imaginary universities, Bickering and Careswell (see previous postings). Each has a firm policy of taking students off-campus to discover for themselves what the world is like. Their strategies, however, are based on quite different principles and between them illustrate well the kind of forces driving higher education.

Careswell is running two residential visits as well as a number of one-day trips and all are tailored to the modules being taught. The first is an off-the-peg, four-day expedition to an eastern European capital put together by one of the many companies offering student visits. It is advertised at just under 400. The second is tailor-made by Careswell’s own tutors working in conjunction with community workers in a west African country and is listed at just over 550, though vaccinations may be required, adding to the cost. Bickering is running a winter sports trip when its students can learn to ski and snow board. Some lectures are built in (these are integral parts of Careswell’s offerings) though it’s the sport that occupies the daytimes and attracts the students. The cost is higher than Careswell’s trips at approaching 700.

Careswell’s teachers make the core of their trips the full academic activity that is needed to support their modules. They know that if they dangled the carrot of a skiing trip (or ‘skiing holiday’ in the eyes of most of their students) it would, in marketing terms, undercut the take-up of places on their academic visits. Yet even they have compromised. At one time Careswell used to operate a full residential and a part residential, low-cost alternative with the rule that every student had to attend either one or the other. The low-cost version stayed in the UK, an advantage for the students – probably few in number, but still to be looked after – who did not like flying. The need for prestigious trips in a market-economy educational context has meant that more glamorous products have to be offered. But Careswell is reviewing this policy.

Bickering also used to run residential courses that all students used to attend – one or other of a high and a low cost alternative. Their problem was that some staff pushed for trips that they wanted for their own interests’ sake. Management failed to ensure that it was educational needs that drove the choice and there was a lack of leadership in setting, and keeping to, the fulfilment of those needs. What had been considered one of the strongest features of the Bickering courses disappeared, but nobody seemed to care.

What should be the principles of good field trip planning? Integration with the course in terms of content, focus and assessments; the main focus to be studying the subject rather than relegating that to an incidental activity; a content balancing teaching (‘didactics’) and discovery (‘heuristics’); a blend of visits, talks, workshops and individual projects; an entertaining approach to activities that draws students in, and allows the development of social skills, but not a placing of entertainment uppermost; input from local people as well as course tutors; a choice between high cost and low cost options and between near-to-home and more distant options; an avoidance of situations where only a minority take part with nothing for the majority; and a requirement that some form of meaningful assessment be built in so that both the students and the educational value of the visits are being assessed.

That will do for starters.

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