What’s wrong a compliment?

In autumn 2017, we were reminded that sexual harassment not only occurs in front of the camera, but also behind the scenes. The way the #metoo movement swept the world, including Sweden, showed that sexual harassment happens in a variety of sectors and contexts. A similar hashtag, #akademiuppropet, also emerged in academia, which has led to a number of initiatives aimed at both preventing and dealing with cases of sexual harassment in a better way.

The #metoo movement raised numerous questions about what sexual harassment actually is and how it should be interpreted. There had been research into the area, but this had become somewhat forgotten in many instances.

Sexual harassment is a manifestation of inequality, similar to many other manifestations of inequality, such as salary differences and a lack of influence. An image of a stairway has been used to illustrate what sexual harassment can entail. More indirect and verbal manifestations are represented on the first step and more physical and violent manifestations are shown higher up the stairs.

Can an inappropriate comment about someone’s appearance or a sexual joke really be compared with sexual assault and rape? Yes. According to research, it is important to see how these different types of incidents go together when it comes to power relationships and the normalisation of male dominance in the culture of an organisation.

In a certain context, a compliment can signal belittling or objectifying while at the same time, demonstrate a pecking order where women are accorded less value. That a woman’s appearance is commented on in a professional context, rather than her performance or professional role, also legitimises this behaviour for other people in the room. In a research context, this is usually described as the male once-over being given legitimacy, which affects everyone present, but in different ways.

Sexual harassment also occurs in academia, unfortunately. To address this, KTH together with the Karolinska Institute and Malmö University, have developed a joint programme to combat sexual harassment and gender-based vulnerability. As part of this, a comprehensive questionnaire survey covering the entire university sector will be performed in 2020 to chart incidents of sexual harassment. Both students and employees will be asked to complete the questionnaire, which will give us better data for change work and to improve the way these types of cases are handled.

Quality goes together with development

How can a university continuously improve? How do we raise the quality of what we do?  If we want to be an internationally competitive university, we need to continuously work at this, to develop our education and research, maintain this high quality and at the same time, undergo regular renewal.

Those of us in research are used to being constantly scrutinised; ahead of every publication of research results, at every career step, when we apply for research project financing etc. So what’s the added-value of being audited at university level? It’s about building a dynamic quality structure. By casting the spotlight on larger areas that include many researchers and discussing what drives quality, we can achieve better supporting data when it comes to prioritising, investing in infrastructure and areas in need of renewal.

At KTH, we have a quality assurance system that consists of two main parts: a continuous annual review and a regular collegiate audit every six years divided into education and research. The continuous review is discussed in the annual quality dialogues chaired by the Dean. Like many other universities in Sweden, we have modified our system to harmonise it with the national quality assurance system.

This year, it is time for the regular collegiate audit. This means we have invited over 80 external experts to come and assess KTH’s quality development work within research in what we call RAE 2020 (Research Assessment Exercise). The aim of this RAE, the third we will have done at KTH, is to formulate visions and strategies that can lead to both increased quality and research at KTH having a greater impact. The overall goal is to describe, develop and enhance the quality of all research and its impact.

Even though we are a single faculty university, the different departments have different starting points and differ in the way high quality can be seen within different areas. As such, it is difficult to find a common approach to measuring quality. The departments therefore produce a self-assessment based on the knowledge and starting points for the research areas involved. These self-assessments should explain how each department contributes to achieving the KTH goals  and how this work can be improved. The external auditors should reflect on the content of the self-assessments that have been produced and provide feedback. They will also visit us in the last week of August for more detailed discussions and analysis.

The KTH departments are grouped into nine research panels to make it easier to identify synergies and common challenges. There will also be inter-departmental panels that will specifically focus on how cooperation, infrastructure and sustainable development contribute to identifying KTH’s common strengths and challenges.

Constructive feedback from top international researchers and experts outside KTH is expected to provide input for all departments in the development of their quality work. This should also give the University Board and University Management at all levels information to help the strategic development of future research at KTH.

This is a comprehensive task that will involve most researchers at KTH. If we are to become even better, it is vital that everyone is fully committed and that quality work is pursued at all levels.

Lifelong learning to be a good teacher

What does a university teacher need to learn? Is it enough to train to become a researcher, know your subject and been exposed to teachers through your entire education, to develop into a good teacher yourself?

Most people would probably say no, just as you obviously will not become a good surgeon after having undergone surgery yourself. It can be a good experience, however, but not enough by a long chalk. Nor is it enough to start operating at the sharp end without any kind of previous training, maybe even without any kind of guidance, cut a bit there, saw here, and then let’s see what happens… It’s just as obvious that surgeons need training for their profession as university teachers need it.

Teachers should both teach and research, it says in our development plan and that I blogged about last time. Such is a teacher’s profession as both a teacher and researcher. The profession of researcher is reached after a long education that concludes with third cycle education and then a few years afterwards to become a docent. The close connection between research and teaching helps you become a member of the teaching profession, not purely by developing a depth and breadth of knowledge in your subject, but also by viewing teaching as a research process with continuous development opportunities.

But like a surgeon that has studied anatomy but not surgery, that does not take you all the way. Teachers also need to study university pedagogics, the first 15 mandatory university credits and then via continuous professional development, ideally participating in education conferences and perhaps by offering contributions of your own to colleagues. View this as lifelong learning within the teaching profession.

 Tip of the week: Go to Teaching and Learning in Higher Education and Academic Teaching at KTH and look at everything KTH has to offer in this area. Also check out conferences for utbildningsutveckling (if you browse down you will find plenty to read here).

Digitalization means more quality time with students

The role as a university teacher has been subject to a big efficiency drive and a great deal of rationalisation. We are expected to graduate many more students in a shorter time. This has affected the quality time you have with each student and reduced time for critical thinking and scientific discussion. Can digitalisation perhaps be the way to improve this?

Having said that, we university lecturers are often set in our ways and keen to maintain the traditional form of lectures. A high proportion of teacher time is also spent on exams, that rarely embrace teaching and rather than being stimulating, tend to be monotonous and contribute little to development. It would be better if we were to change the way we teach to enable us to safeguard precious discussion time with students.

In an opinion piece in the fifth edition of the publication Universitetsläraren, Peter Svensson of Lund University questions the digitalisation of universities and in particular the focus on efficiency and less student contact that he feels this risks leading to. But that’s not the purpose of digitalisation.

Digitalisation aims to promote a new view of teaching and how you can allocate time for students in the most efficient way and with the highest possible quality. Bloom’s taxonomy, a set of hierarchical models for different levels of learning, has classified learning into six different levels;

  1. Memorising facts and concepts.
  2. Understanding and explaining ideas and concepts.
  3. Applying knowledge in new situations.
  4. Analysing associations and seeing patterns.
  5. Making evaluations and assessments in order to be able to take decisions and base opinions on.
  6. Innovation.

Traditional lectures focus on the first two levels and in the best instance, provide inspiration and motivation to complement traditional course literature. The students are then left to acquire knowledge at higher levels. Facts and comprehension can be managed with one-way communication via lectures, while higher levels require a social context, cooperation with students, hopefully with greater senior mentor support.

Would it not therefore be of benefit to reduce teaching time for facts and comprehension in favour of more time for campus learning related to analysis, evaluation and innovation that requires seminars, project teamwork and complex problem formulation and solving? Even so, this tends to get sacrificed at a time when demands are rising at a faster rate than the resources available to implement this.

This is exactly where digitalisation can come to the rescue. Digital lectures, with a different structure to traditional lectures, can be rethought as time, place and recording speed are all flexible. Digital lectures can reach a far bigger audience, of all ages and situations in life. Digital forms of examination enable machine marking and immediate feedback on student teaching. Large data volumes can be used to steer education initiatives towards that which students find difficult and time consuming, rather than spending time on less complex areas.

If today’s students are to feel that a study programme is relevant and something for them, digitalisation of education is necessary. The digitalisation of universities is a key to meeting the demands and expectations of the future.

KTH sets new climate targets

Just before Christmas, KTH resolved on new climate targets. KTH aims to be a leading technical university when it comes to climate reset.

The climate challenge demands changes in all sectors of society. Universities and colleges have a key role in this work. We have an important duty to contribute to the climate reset via our teaching, research and partnerships, but we also need to reduce the climate impact of our own organisation. In 2019, Chalmers and KTH launched a joint initiative to develop a Climate Framework together with most other universities and colleges in Sweden. In signing up to the Climate Framework, all these universities undertake to:

  • via education, research and cooperation, contribute to enabling society to reach targets set.
  • reduce their own climate impact in line with societal undertakings that are delineated in national and international agreements.
  • set far-reaching goals for climate work and also allocate resources to enable us to reach these goals and monitor progress.
  • clearly communicate about our climate work to inspire and spread knowledge to other organisations and citizens in the community.

The resolution we have now agree concerning general targets and measures can be seen as our first step in fulfilling these commitments. The targets we have set concern education, research, cooperation, business travel, energy usage, new build construction and extension work on existing buildings, food, waste management, procurement and investments. There are both short-term and long-term targets. By working within these areas, we wish to contribute to helping Sweden and the world achieve the climate targets that have been set.

If we are to achieve our climate targets, most parts of the KTH organisation must be involved. This applies to teachers, researchers and other personnel. The journey we face is not self-evidently going to be easy. The sustainability work we have implemented over the past ten years has been successful in many respects.

We received a good assessment from UKÄ with regard to the work we are doing on sustainable development in education from the Swedish Environment Protection Agency for our environment management system, and we are a top ten university in the THE world rankings of Impact based on the global sustainability goals. However, when it comes to achieving our own climate targets, one problem is business travel related emissions. We are aware that we need to develop new ways of working and processes within these areas. One step in this direction is our new Climate Kitty that can be used for measures to reduce emissions.

Tip of the week: Watch the TV series Rapport from 2050, that features a number of KTH researchers.

Quality nurtures talent

Perhaps the most common question I am asked, as Vice President for Global Relations, is: Why should we recruit international students? The answer expected is that it generates substantial revenues, last year over SEK 110 million. That is not to be sneezed at, but it is absolutely not the only nor the deciding reason.

Two weeks ago, I was at a lunch seminar arranged by the IVA (Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences) enterprise sector council. The theme was attracting talents to Swedish enterprise and the question was asked whether Sweden was a departure hall or an arrivals hall.

Initially, this brought to life many of the familiar old expectations about Sweden as a safe and functioning welfare system, with non-hierarchical organisations, good schools, a clean environment and that Swedes are good at English. Issues that are naturally of the utmost relevance if you are thinking of moving to Sweden, but are these issues that relevant for talents?

An interesting input from the Swedish Association of Graduate Engineers was how skilful ABB in Ludvika is in recruiting highly qualified engineers, and being a world-leading high technology company, despite a less advantageous geographical location.

It just so happened that I had been invited to ABB Power Grids in Ludvika the previous week to present what KTH is doing in its Division of Electric Power and Energy Systems. The lecture hall was full of PhDs, MScs and civil engineers from KTH (and Chalmers), many of whom had come to Sweden as international students. Clearly a study programme at KTH is an incredibly effective way of recruiting talented engineers, something that was also confirmed at the IVA meeting by the CEO of a medium sized clinical engineering company.

However, to attract the best students, KTH has to have a high ranking, which is also important for attracting the best researchers that are also attracted by close cooperation with Swedish industry that will go on to employ our students. A highly efficient cycle that attracts talents to Sweden and creates the right conditions for both established and start-up companies. It’s no harder than that. But where do we see this kind of thinking within Swedish education policy?