Logo: TAE logo

Idealog - September 2007

Image: Frequent amendments notice

Image: Title strip Sept 07

Image: Plane Paradox

Plane Paradox

30.09.07

The 'global jigsaw' graphic used in the previous posting suggests neatly how we put together a picture of our world from many pieces. These might come from the media, education or travel, and yesterday's posting argued that travelling presents the golden opportunity to see for ourselves what the world is like. Everything else is mediated by journalists and editors, authors and teachers. Of course travel is open to many influences as well as destination managers, operators and tour guides try to persuade customers to see carefully selected places for their own particular reasons, but the actual encounter with any location is direct and engages all five senses.

So for reasons of understanding the world and its peoples with their aspirations and problems it is of benefit to travel. On the other hand, Greenpeace point out the polluting nature of travel by air in their graphic shown above to the right. Leaving aside the questions of alternative forms of transport and the relatively low contribution to atmospheric pollution and global warming by air transport, it remains true that blasting out jets of burnt aviation fuel at 30,000 feet adds to those two problems.

So should we move around the globe only by rail and re-introduced shipping? The idea of a return to ocean liners is attractive but is less practical: slow travel has its own qualities but is also expensive in terms of time and actual cost. It would close off intercontinental travel to many who have been able to take part in recents decades by pricing them out. Should only the rich be the globetrotters? Rail is also slow, though infinitely better for viewing the world and sharing experiences with other travellers. It works well on short to medium distances, but longer hauls become complete holidays themselves and push prices much higher for food and accommodation, and of course they don't cross oceans.

The paradox is that to prevent whole continents becoming once again isolationist and parochial in a regional way air travel has to flourish, even increase, which raises the spectre of destroying the very world we are trying to understand and improve. Reduced intercontinental travel threatens a return to the narrow-minded attitudes and xenophobia of the nineteenth century empires. Even television and the world wide web cannot substitute for the democracy offered by global travel. The questions to be resolved turn on issues of frequency, modal mix and separating out travelling for pleasure from travelling to understand. The world can't afford to ignore either outcome, one which is needed and the other which is feared.
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Image: Encounters - India

Seeing For Yourself

29.09.07

There have been many special TV, radio, magazine and newspaper articles about India, Pakistan and Bangladesh on the occasion of their fiftieth anniversary of achieving independence. 21st century TV is capable of giving an excellent full-colour, sharp focus, widescreen view of distant lands along with well-informed and perceptive commentary. These contrast with the programmes - yes, programmes, not shows - of earlier generations when the British Empire was still a fond memory in the minds of those who served in the second world war. Some modern shows - yes, shows, not programmes - have been written and presented by South Asians and remarkably fresh and incisive as a result.

For Britons, the sixties were the years when younger people began to travel to India in the wake of the Beatles discovering Indian music and philosophy. As a percentage of the population the number must have been tiny, and yet it opened up, by its importance to the media, all kinds of new views of the sub-continent which still persist. Add to this the economic growth of India in particular and the cultural colony of South Asians newly arrived, or born in, Britain, and the perspective has changed. Many gap-year travellers follow the route east, often going further, into south east Asia and on to Australia and New Zealand. They might spend little and eat and drink much, but a lot of them work amongst the local population, some making good efforts to improve environments or to teach local children English. There has been debate this summer about just how useful they are in any respect, but the opposite, if they were not to travel and stay at home, would likely be to leave them narrower-minded and lacking in world awareness. Television is good, education may be far-sighted, but neither can supply the impact and immensely detailed direct experience of going to see for yourself.

[Pix: Focal Multimedia]
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Image: Tour Guiding

Enriching The Experience: Tour Guiding

27.09.07

John Pastorelli's book is one of a growing number of excellent works on tourism to come out of Australia, where so much good work is done. It is also one of the best on its subject. Pastorelli takes an interpretive approach, thereby also setting the guiding of visitors into the context of visitor interpretation: his strapline "An Interpretive Approach To Tour Guiding" takes the leading of tourists around a location into the much wider and important field of communications. The book is structured on a series of chapters covering the guide, the audience and the messages on the one hand and the location visited, its multilayered interests and the touring practicalities on the other. Pastorelli introduces useful theoretical principles such as those of communication and of 'perception layers', the idea that places have many different stories to tell. Others include learning models like VAK (known to educationists in the longer VARK form), CROW and 4mat - all of which are well explained in the book! The text is also strengthened by additional 'focuses' by a couple of dozen other authors. One personal dislike: why do so many books written by practitioners in interpretation have twee little cartoons and drawings to illustrate them?

Pastorelli, John (2003) Enriching Experience: An Interpretive Approach To Tour Guiding, Frenchs Forest NSW, Hospitality Press
245x190mm
296pp
ISBN 1 86250 522 5
25.22
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Image: Europe Quiz maps

Do You Know Europe?

22.09.07

Lots of questions here but Europe is important. Map 1 is countries to be named, except for 1 and 5 which are islands (note: 3 is a tiny country between France and Spain). Map 2 is about natural features: 11, 12, 15, 17 sea areas; 13 coastal feature which attracts tourists; 14, 20 mountain ranges; 16 island; 18 volcano; 19 river. Map 3 are all cities - if the marker seems to cover more than one, choose the most important/biggest. Answers - 14 October '07.
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Image: UK Map Quiz

Capitals And Rivals

21.09.07

Another quiz problem for you. Tourism Management students should, of course, find this a doddle. They don't always - and of course many of our people have joined us from places on the other side of the globe. So if you're British you ought to know, if you're not it gives a chance to get to know by looking them up. Good quality pocket atlases can be bought new for a fiver from all those well known good book shops.

Name the cities: some are capitals of UK countries, others might wish they were. The scale is small so if there is more than one city in the area of the square then choose the biggest. Answers - 14 October '07.
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Image: World Map Quiz

A World Map Quiz

20.09.07

This third posting about locational knowledge is a quick quiz. Can you name all twelve of these world features? Arrow points are on the locations queried.

A:US State. B:Canal. C:Country. D:Island. E:Ocean. F:Country. G:Country. H:Water area. I:Island. J: Country. K:Mountain range. L:Country

The answers will be posted on 14 October. Easy-peasy?
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Image: Where in the World 1

Where In The World? - 1

19.09.07

Following yesterday's posting about poor geographical knowledge, here's a quiz question. What is the name of the island shown in the photos above? It's one of a group belonging to a country rather a long way away to the north. 1.5 million visitors arrive every year, mainly to the mass tourism resorts at the southern tip. Inland is spectacular scenery with mountains up to 1,949 metres. Roque Nublo has a basalt spike on top reaching 1,700 metres and would look at home in America's Monument Valley. A popular local dish is Conejo al salmorejo - stewed rabbit and tomato.

The answer will be posted on 14 October.
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Image: World map - distorted

Do Tourism Students Know Where They Are?

18.09.07

A meeting of lecturers from regional colleges and universities yesterday identified weak geographical knowledge as one of the serious problems faced by many tourism management students. The problem of geocentric awareness based on the student's home country has always existed. They will know their own town, country and continent - in that declining order - better than those further round the globe. Asian students might be hazy about Europe while knowing their own areas well. Americans know their continent but less about others. Some will know distant lands better if they receive images and information through the media - Europe probably knows the USA better than Americans know their trans-Atlantic cousins.

What worried the lecturers was that many students score far worse today than their counterparts did in the past. British students often cannot identify the locations of the UK capital cities, mountain ranges and coastal resorts, important though these are for their own tourism studies and future travel. Asked to locate world cities, major tourist destinations, war zones and less developed nations on a world map nearly all students score badly.

Tutors are faced with what is effectively remedial teaching for first year students in order to help them understand their chosen subjects.

The slow disappearance of systematic geographical teaching in favour of fragmented project work or topics was blamed for the production of a generation of globally unaware young citizens. I recall with delight that in primary school in the early 1950s my interest in world geography was stimulated by being in a small group who studied a Malayan rubber plantation and had to find out everything we could about the country and about rubber production and usage. It was one of a number of influences that took me into the tourism industry and then teaching about it. But the knowledge of that far-distant rubber plantation, its people and its relationship to Britain and the world only made sense because I had the beginnings of a worldwide framework of knowledge which was added to over the years.

How can a younger generation come to grips with exploring the globe and meeting its challenges if they don't know where they fit in to it?
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Image: Leeds Met building work

Leeds Met's Wow!

16.09.07

Alumni and future students alike will be excited to see how Leeds Met is growing fast. As students numbers increase with the popularity of courses and projects, so are the physical resources being improved to match. Go to the University web site to see just how vibrant the strategy is. Several new buildings in the city centre have been brought in to University use, from Cloth Hall Court to the Electric Press Building on Millennium Square and Hepworth Point, the former Ventura offices behind Queens Square Buildings. New facilities have been added to a refurbished Queens Square complex. The former BBC premises opposite H Building are now part of Civic Quarter grouping, with former studios demolished and ground work in hand for new build. Brunswick is no longer in use by the University. Behind the Civic Hall the former car park is the site of the future Rose Bowl venue in the centre of what will be the new Business School (right hand pic). The old A Building has now gone and a level area awaits further development - the photos show it being cleared. This corner of the main campus will gain an iconic building giving a striking first impression to anyone approaching from Millennium Square.

Click here for the latest news on Leeds Met

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Image: Raggalds Harrier

Funny What You Find - Sea Harrier

14.09.07

Now I'm not well up on these things, but I do know that if you're driving on the moors just out of Bradford you don't see many of these.

Anecdotal evidence (ie somebody told me and I don't have a reference in Harvard style) is that it was one of the Royal Navy's five Sea Harriers that fought in the Falklands. These were the famous vertical take off and landing aircraft developed from the Flying Bedstead of the 1950s (oh, go on, you'll have to ask your parents).

This plane was bought by an ex-RAF aircraft fitter and restored - at least the fuselage, wings etc as all the high-tech bits will have gone before the shell was sold off. For a short while it said "On eBay" on the nose. Apparently the gent who owns it tested the market online, looking for 25,000, but didn't get it offered - at least that's the story - so he withdrew it. The plane stands in a field on the Queensbury to Denholm road at the Raggalds, but is easy to miss driving past. If you want to find it, look for the Raggalds Inn and its across the road. Makes a sort of tourist attraction, like the remains of the Lightning jet fighter down the A1 in the East Midlands, if it hasn't fallen apart yet; or those fibreglass, lifesize planes perched at the gates of RAF stations.

PS In terms of their life history, the Falklands War Harrier jump-jets are prehistory to most current degree students. Prehistoric. Same label as applies to the pteradactyl.
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Click here for the latest posting on "Doing A Dissertation"

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Image: Scarborough residential scenes

Scarborough And Tourism As Education

12.09.07

It might have been the first seaside resort in the UK, a centre for health tourism and a great place for a donkey ride, but Scarborough is a destination with a lot to offer educationally. OK, its museums are smaller and you can only measure the height of the waves in the winter a few times before running out of reasons for doing it, but it's still a classroom par excellence. It has variety. It has space. It has lots of resources and is surrounded by natural history, human history, real life mystery and enought colour to inspire a whole palette of artists.

The Leeds Met Tourism Management course is returning after a break of a few years to visit the resort and introduce another hundred or so students to the demanding art, craft and controversies of the industry. The photos above from c1995 show a group on Oliver's Mount being given a bird's eye view of the Borough; a small group roping in a bit of esprit de corps and getting to know each other playing a beach game (all hold the rope and tie a knot in it without letting go); hearing a talk in nearby Danby Forest about green tourism; and another at the sealife centre about the friendliness of sharks. This particular residential was five days long, but long ago, when group numbers were smaller. Several lectures, many visits, group work in the evenings and the chance to get to know each other and the tutors made up the schedule. This year's visit will be but one day: but Scarborough will still show that it has a lot to offer for tourism as education. __________________________________________________________________________________________________

Image: Dissertations - Topic

All research begins with some kind of question. Someone wants to find out what, why, when, how or who? – in connection with a topic. Some examples were given in the previous posting. They weren’t the kind that would form the basis of a dissertation, but they could be close. Start with your interests because you need to do a research project that you are interested in – you have to work on it continuously for several months! And here’s another tip – think of two or three because the first you think of may not work and there are important practical considerations to keep in mind – more about them later.

If you asked me for my interests I might say the geography of tourism, tourism planning or visitor interpretation. Those are the key subjects that I teach. How would I turn the geography of tourism into a research topic, though? One interesting and important question that everyone working in tourism management needs to know is: what are the changing world patterns in tourism? That leads to thinking about what the new destinations are, such as China and India, as well as the new tourism-generating countries that will supply tomorrow’s visitors, such as China (again) and the countries of eastern Europe. But this is a huge subject and could take you much more than 22 weeks to do – and in any case, you can get a pretty good idea just by looking at a specialist travel atlas.

So here are two key things to consider – can you carry out the research in the time you have got and have you chosen a topic that can be answered just by reading the right book? If the answers to those questions are respectively no and yes then you won’t get a successful dissertation completed.

What about choosing something like the nature of tourism planning in China? After all, we have just noted that China is going to be one of the big destinations – so are they planning tourism well?

First of all, China is a vast country and one of the most populous in the world, so again the question as it stands is far too big. OK, let’s cut it down to size and be very specific. Take one particular attraction that is high on visitors’ must-see lists – the Terracotta Warriors (an exhibition of which is opening in London shortly). These are over 8,000 life-size clay figures of soldiers and servants, individually designed, which were buried over two thousand years ago to accompany a Chinese emperor on his journey into the after-life. They stand in in columns like an army on parade. Around two million people visit the museum which now houses them annually.

Our question could be – how good is the tourism planning? The problem with this interesting question is that you would need to go to China to work out an answer. Can you afford the cost. Just as important, can you afford the time during the packed final year of your course? You might be able to get some useful answers from secondary research by reading management reports about the Terracotta Warriors site. You could also ask people who have been about their impressions, and work out a checklist of things like customer facilities and exhibition information in order to question whether they felt it was planned well. This leaves to one side a number of planning issues such as the effects of the site on the local community and the marketing strategy related to the Chinese planning of the attraction’s development, but there is a bigger question. How will you find enough people who have been in order to carry out a survey which represents a variety of opinions?

Here’s another issue (sorry there are so many, but that’s the first problem in any research). You might want to know whether the planning for the London Olympics in 2012 is good. Apart from it again being a big subject, we won’t really know until after the event, which is no good for your needs this year.

And another! You could whether the tourism associated with the redevelopment of London Docklands has produced benefits for the community, as a recent student did. She got a good result found it very difficult at times getting local opinions from the all-important public sector (people not available, tricky knowing who to ask etc). There was also the ‘hidden’ question underlying what she was trying to decide – were the benefits that were produced outweighed by the problems as older communities were subjected to unstoppable pressures aimed at changing them and their ways of life radically?

So here are some handy rules:

Choose a topic which can be studied within a few weeks without having to travel too far. It is possible to do a dissertation based on an overseas destination – I supervised one about tourism in South Africa for which the student travelled out there for a week – but it isn’t easy. And think how well you would need to plan the scheduling alongside the group TCV work and everything else, besides getting permissions, setting up interviews and planning what you want to observe, measure or ask. And what happens if you get home and realise you needed some more information you didn’t collect during the visit. Can you go back again?

Choose something that is, as we say, ‘well focused’, meaning that it is fairly simple to do and very specific by nature. Examples could be – do the residents of North Staffordshire think that Alton Towers is a benefit or a problem for them? It’s relatively easy to ask them and get a range of opinion by knocking on doors and talking to leaders of the community, local reporters and so on.

Is the information you need easily available? Some might exist in published reports, more might come from talking to the right people or observing activities, visitor behaviour and so on. What you need to think about is that sensitive information (about marketing strategies and levels of success, or about human resource management strategies and problems) might not be forthcoming. Some might be too commercially sensitive. Opinions about, for example, conditions of service and the way people are treated could, if published, cause individuals serious embarrassment so they aren’t likely to give you meaningful answers. Remember that to a greater or lesser extent all managers have to be very carefully about what they say for quite proper reasons (and you are going to be in the same situation in your professional lives). Remember also – it’s difficult judging the success of something if it hasn’t happened yet – like to London Olympics.

By now you will be thinking that choosing the right topic that is ‘do-able’ as well as interesting is a real headache. Of course it is. Degrees aren’t given away lightly, and that’s what you are being trained to do.

Which raises a much more positive note: going through the process of solving problems like this is what is earning you marks AS YOU GO. Get the right topic and you might already have earned 10% of the final mark – even more as it leads on to the right research approach.
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Image: New Tourist Types

More Types of Tourist

10.09.07

Well established tourist typologies talk about drifters, allocentrics and charter tourists (Cohen 1972, Plog 1977, Smith 1989 respectively) amongst others. I have added my own view of travellers as explorers, conquerors, business travellers and tourists (Machin 17.12.06 on these pages). People have always travelled for a myriad reasons, but in recent years some not-really-new varities seem to be coming to prominence.

Today a lady on BBC radio 4 talked about travelling fifty miles to be in the village where the McCann family, whose daughter Madelaine is missing, live. She claimed that she wanted to show support for the parents at a time when they have been declared suspects in relation to the problem of the missing child by the Portuguese police. Now, motivations can be quite complex and deeply-based and it isn't the role of a posting like this to make some kind of judgement. But whether the reasons this lady had for making the journey are prurient or sound, the excursion is quite different in its motives from most forms of travel. It isn't unique. It might only have been an excursion, but there are plenty of visits which fall under the heading of 'dark tourism' in one form or another. In psychological terms it seems that it could be described - and it is a generic description - as emotional tourism. Other examples might be journeys made for deeply nostalgic reasons, such as a return to a homeland or a journey to discover family history of the kind made by the subjects of the BBC TV series 'Who Do You Think You Are?'.

A different travel motivation prominent in recent times - but one which has also been around for a long time - is that with aimes of working for the benefit of some distant community. It might be considered more to do with working than tourism but the characteristics of tourism still exist - travel, accommodation, meeting people in new places. As recounted on the Alumni News pages of this web site a number of ex-Leeds Met students have taken working weeksa and months in Central and South America, Africa and South East Asia, teaching or carrying out community work. Some of them now work for organisations who arrange such periods abroad. One undergraduate spent a summer in Sri Lanka after the Asian tsunami which did so much damage. They make some kind of contribution to the communities they visit and certainly learn a lot themselves - often undergoing a degree of changed attitude in the process. It's contribution tourism.

Then there is the political tourist. Whenever the G7 nations meet to discuss the global economy, a whole set of activists turn up for several days to exert political pressure against globalisation or the capitalist system. Other political tourists camp out to block what they see as environmental damage caused by airport extensions, road building or major housing development -often of the kind which sees poorer people's homes bulldozed to create space for commercial properties.

Three more types of tourist, reminding us that travel is about many more activities than lying on a beach or drinking cheap booze all day.
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Image: Dissertations - Intro

This will be the first of a series of postings aimed mainly at Leeds Met final year students, but hopefully also of use to anyone who will at some point be doing a dissertation.

The postings will be added to a special page in ‘oldest first’ order so that they read logically from the top. Other postings on these Idealog pages will be useful, too, such as “Through A Media Lens – Darkly” that was added yesterday.

You should use a good text book on dissertation research and some of those available will be listed later. These pages will try to explain the research processes required in dissertation research in straight forward language. Even some academic tutors have trouble with some of the vocabulary that pops up in research books! Just try saying ‘phenomenological’ quickly three times….

The need for being able to handle research:

Research is used by everyone, all the time, though not necessarily of an academic kind. What will the weather be like tomorrow? – ask a weather researcher. What clothing styles will be in fashion next year? – ask a fashions researcher. What jobs will be available in tourism when I complete my course? – ask a careers adviser (they research as well).

In our tourism courses, like any other course that includes what is called an individual, sustained piece of academic study (and those are not just dissertations, but that’s another story), the dissertation does three things:

a) It teaches you how to do research
b) It shows off how much you have learned and understood about a variety of skills
c) It allows you time to do some in-depth study in an area of knowledge that interests you

It isn’t easy to do really well, and all the time you have to remember that it is quality, not quantity, that counts. Tutors hear many students disappointed with their final mark say “I worked really hard and expected a better mark”. But what is important is good work, not just lots of work that isn’t relevant or which fails to deliver high quality results.

A dissertation will test you to the full. Remember that you are already in the top level of your age group for knowledge and skills and that the final year of your course is designed to find out just where your limits are – at the point when you complete your course. In later years you will be even better as you experience and practice grows. What we are interested in is how good you are going to be at the end of the dissertation work. You will reach your limit, whatever it is. It’s a bit like going over a military commando course: you have to find out just how good you are, and whether you worked hard enough earlier in the course.

So the first rule in order to do some hard training for the task ahead is – read, read, and read well the books recommended. Talk to tutors. Get advice. Make notes. Read the important bits of the books again – and again!

Now think about this question: what subject or topic in tourism interests you most? What interests you next most? Tourism operations? – marketing? – IT? – HRM? – attractions? – planning? – achieving sustainability? Is it something related to the kind of job you want when you graduate?
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Image: Thumbs Down Attractions

Through A Media Lens - Darkly

08.09.07

A newspaper report last month about disappointing tourist attractions highlighted some interesting facts. The UK's Guardian featured a story about a panel of 1,267 people, who were supposedly asked to choose which landmarks proved to be a let-down. The report said they named the Eiffel Tower, the Mona Lisa, Times Square, the Ramblas in Barcelona and the Statue of Liberty in an overseas group. In the UK the most disappointing were said to be Stonehenge, the Angel of the North, Blackpool Tower, Land's End in Cornwall and the Princess Diana Memorial Fountain.

The survey was for Virgin Travel Insurance and, the Guardian report continued, people had been asked to choose from 24 possibilities in the UK and 25 overseas. This, of course, would raise the question of who chose the list in the first place and on what grounds. It also brought up the old problem that given a list and asked to tick choices against some criterion people are likely to tick a number of them in order to look knowledgeable and co-operative. In other words the survey technique was likely to produce negative responses. Would people have named the same ones if they had been just given a blank piece of paper and asked to come up with their choice of what was bad?

A look at the Virgin Insurance web site gives some more detail and quite a bit more concern about this kind of 'study'. There is little detail about the nature and procedure followed in the survey but quite a bit more editorialising. It doesn't explain how the survey questions were posed, though it does name the research company who carried it out for Virgin Insurance as Ciao, "an independent research group". Interestingly it does not mention any choice made from a short list. Perhaps the Guardian got that from an interview with Felice Hardy who Virgin used to "explain" the results, and who is listed on the web site as available for interviews. Hardy is then quoted as to "suggested reasons why Brits gave certain landmarks the thumbs down".

"She claimed Brits might be turned off by the worst offender the Eiffel Tower because it was 'frustratingly overcrowded and overpriced". Dammit, Eiffel Tower, its your own fault for being so popular! Er - wait a minute - the survey conclusion is that it is top of the unpopularity charts. Hasn't the word got round yet? Overpriced? Then bring the price down so more people can queue for longer to go up it....

Now, having been to Paris a few times I have still to go up the Tower as the queues are a problem, but that does not mean the Tower itself is a disappointment. That magnificent and elegant shape is a delight when seen from so many parts of Paris, day and night. It's a success just for that reason alone. Were the survey respondents asked why they found it disappointing? Or is Virgin indulging in a spot of propaganda? After all, that is Richard Branson's style.

The web site story goes on to list "Virgin's Travel Insurance's Top Ten Must-See Sights", including The Grand Canal in Venice and the reconsruction of Shakespeare's Globe Theatre in London. So who chose that list? Felice Hardy's comments in favour of each are given but are open to criticism on similar lines to her descriptions of the list of baddies. The Grand Canal is crowded, the city often expensive. Shakespeare's Globe has poor accessibility for the disabled and the standing audeince is a distraction from the stage (but no-one in their right mind would do much about either, Shakespeare's Globe being Shakespeare's Globe).

Methinks this looks like a piece of company propaganda designed for the slow-news month, not very well reported by the dear old Guardian.

Click here for the Virgin Insurance report

Click here to see how the Guardian reported it

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The Cost of Travelling Alone

07.09.07

The UK consumer group magazine 'Holiday Which?" says that single travellers often have to pay half as much again as someone travelling with a partner. The magazine points out that a third of Britons are single, divorced, widowed or separated, yet according to researcher organisation Mintel only 6% of holidaymakers are solo travellers. The implication is that cost is putting them off.

The Which? report focuses on hotels, where rooms are usually designed for couples with possible space for up to two young children. Many modern hotels only have this size of room and prices are pitched accordingly. Letting a room to a single person at the level charged to individuals would mean losing revenue, so often a compromise price is fixed. Even trickier for singles, motel rooms are often fixed-price per room, which means a single occupant pays as much as a couple. Having rooms designed only for singles - they can be found in hotels - is a disadvantage for the hotel as they are not available when demand is high from couples. The Holiday Which? report claims hotels also say that singles spend less in bars and restaurants.

When I acted as a leader of special interest weekends for Embassy's 'Leisure Learning' programme, there was no supplement for singles. Rooms were booked internally within the Embassy chain at low rates in which I believe the room was counted as being free and the costs covered the full board meals. Often this arrangement existed because weekends with lower average demand were chosen. On high-occupancy, back-to-back booking schedules this often is not possible.

Holiday Which? also claims that many travel operators and airlines are failing customers with disabilities by poor service or even refusing to carry them. Some web sites cannot be switched to display larger type sizes; some airlines charge extra for guide dogs. Monarch is said to have refused travel to schizophrenic passengers altogether. Some airlines charge for carrying wheelcahirs while others will transport them free.

[Source: The Guardian 07.09.07]
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Image: Teaching old and new

Does Knowing a Student Risk Bias?

03.09.07

A debate at an educational session raised an interesting point. Universities have been based on the idea that a wide-ranging community of teachers and learners are brought together face-to-face in order to learn. Meetings and encounters can be in large or small groups or one-to-one discussions.

Modern aspirations to widen the range of participation - in Britain it is pushing towards 40 or 50% of the UK population - have been linked with the availability of the internet to attract 'distance learners'. Often these can be overseas and the competition to recruit is sometimes fierce.

John Naughton, of the Observer newspaper and a writer on developments in IT, has reservations about some of the innovations being siezed upon by IT enthusiasts: yes, he would say, embrace new techniques so long as they serve their purpose well. Gilly Salmon of the University of Nottingham has driven many innovations using IT in education. Asked a question about face to face education versus distance learning she made what might be thought a controversial point. A tutor who knows a student's age, gender, culture and attitude can be biased infairly against that student and might be less helpful or even award lower marks for assessments. Many traditional universities have introduced anonymous marking of exam scripts and course work as a result. Distance learning can remove knowledge of such bias-creating attributes and therefore be more objective.

This is an interesting point, but one which seems to me to have several flaws. The first is that good education, like all good communications, requires the participants to get to know each other and to 'tune in' to each other's styles and needs. There is a strong argument that students, whoever they are, should not be treated equally because their needs are individual and different. Instead, they must all be given equality of opportunity and the educational interaction with them tailored according to individual needs. A student of 40 with a mature experience and attitude requires a different approach from an eighteen-year old whol is bent on spending more time in the bar than the library and still has to learn many of the necessary disciplines of life. That teenager, if from a western country, will require a different approach from that of, say, a south-east Asian student who is struggling to do well in a culture demanding argument and debate in a very different language. Being critical of the one can be direct and challenging, but a tutor doing that of the other can destroy confidence and place barriers in the way of progress.

There is another issue. Good distance-learning systems using the internet often build-in the socialisation element quite deliberately so that the personalities of the participants is open to view. Photographs of the tutor and student are posted on shared pages and webcams used alongside audio links. Whole lecture-room group sessions are organised and linked with distant group meetings in order to replicate face-to-face interaction. Body language is important. Students with hearing impairment need to see facial movements and expressions. Unfair and inappropriate treatment of some student is very possible (and demands proper corrective attention) but is the logical conclusion to 'teach' some numbered student as if they were parts of an educational sausage factory?
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