Saturday, May 22, 2010

Starting a rocket stove thermal mass heater

Its getting cold in Canberra. The fire place in our house is smokey and cold. The gas heating is too easy and expensive. Its time we learned how to build a rocket fire!

I discovered rocket fires last year when Permaculture Keith blogged about them. That lead to a couple of Youtube videos, which lead to meeting Erica and Ernie in Portland Oregon to see one in action.

Since that visit, Sunshine and I have been busy selling our house in NZ, moving to Australia, and having a baby. Now in a rental, its difficult to commit to a full build, but I've found a bit of time to study the method.

Basically, a rocket stove thermal mass heater is a super efficient wood fuel heater that can be built by just about anyone, using waste and/or easily collectible materials. To give you an idea, in Dunedin we used an efficient and certified wood burner that used about 4-6 cubic metres of wood per year. Erica and Ernie told us they use about 1-2 cubic metres in their rocket heater, and their house was less insulated than ours!

If you want to get a sense of what a full rocket stove thermal mass heater is, this is a great introductory video:

Here's the book that the video refers to.

And here's a really good illustration by Erica, of the critical design of the rocket stove. At that link are a series of photos documenting a full build, including the thermal mass heater.

Here's another photo documented installation with some adaptations to the standard design, by Michael Blaha.

And I started the Wikipedia article to see where it might go.

My attempts so far
So begins my attempts to study and learn this technique for heating. After the usual terrible time trying to source materials in Canberra, here's a series of videos of my first mock up.

That same playlist is also on my Youtube channel.

Canberra is an incredibly difficult place to find anything online. The websites are crappy and the search results are worse. As a result, sourcing materials is frustrating. All we needed was some short lengths of steal pipe at varying diameters, a few steal drums of varying sizes, about 10 fire bricks, and 10 normal bricks. So I baled the family into the car and drove around looking for word of mouth. The main waste recycle facility was useless. We found private waste recycle yards that looked promising, but were all locked up with no one around. Everyone we spoke to directed us out to Fyshwick, the industrial hub of Canberra. There we found some materials, but all set at exorbitant prices :( It seems what useful materials is recycled, is pretty well stitched up by business. But we did manage to scrape together a few bricks and some guttering just to get this first mock up made.

The hunt for better materials continues... and the dream it to connect up a boiler and Green Steam Engine.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Building you a prison

Illich and Vern's booklet, Imprisoned in the Global Classroom is a difficult read. Its paragraphs point out in all directions, but not with much recognisable accuracy.. perhaps too much has passed between now and 1976. It makes an impression of a vague sense, but using exact and urgent language. I imagine many would dismiss it out of frustration, but reading passages over and over, and reflecting on its meaning takes time, and the thoughts and ideas it gives me feel worth the time.

This paragraph appears on page 12, and should give all of us in the edtech game reason to pause. It talks about life long learning, and its sinister appropriation by education agents using it to justifying themselves (ring any bells?). While I'm half certain I sit on the right side of the fence on this one, I'm cautious not to appropriate the statement as an endorsement of my work either - because I just might be guilty of exactly what Illich and Verne point to here.

Is my work in opening up an educational institution, its processes and resources, and then to situate its teachers and research in the popular arena, in fact just further entrapment of independent social existence, and bringing it under the dominance of Education? On may levels it is, I can see that. To build awareness of learning as it happens in social networks and its media, and then to nurture ideas in the educational institution on how they might measure, recognise and reward that learning, seeks to further legitimise the dominance of the Education paradigm, impacting further on individual and community self determination and sufficiency. Its just as bad as what marketing agents are doing, government agents, even the medical institutions. There lacks a genuine sense of altruism from these institutions.

Is my work the lessor of a greater evil though? Or is it actually better that institutionalised education exist as it does behind its own walls, restricting access to the opportunities (or illusion there of), and making itself irrelevant to more and more people? Perhaps Education, and Academic Capitalism will actually help societies more by perpetuating this exclusion, thereby reducing its dominance over more people's real lives, leaving their communities little choice but to devise other ways of learning and individual growth?... Perhaps the large scale economic model of education today ensures that it ignores small scale community learning projects precisely because they are small scale, leaving the participants to their own ends, unmolested by education's corruption.

Its an interesting notion to throw around a bit. I see a reason to wait longer now, either for the space for genuine altruism in our institutions to develop (rather than being forced by a few radicals), or for the spread of community learning initiatives in response to the institutions weakening. Of course there's no guarantee that either will happen within a present lifetime, in fact there's plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Unfortunately the Amazon scan I'm using to photograph paragraphs from this book, finishes at page 12! I'm looking for another scan so I can continue noting thoughts from this dense little book.

There really is a relentless source of criticism in this book, to the globalisation of education. Chapter 3 titled Political Inversion is written by Illich alone, and I find it a more familiar writing style. This chapter revisits the importance of conviviality and self determination, set against the dominance of institutions that can be shown to take away conviviality - starting with prisons, but moving right through all our institutions. Many of my colleagues would argue that education prepares people for conviviality, but I'd be interested to know if their belief survives a reading of Illich, where he brings the hidden into plain view and exposes education as the separation of things into specialties, in a political context of short term, and an economic cycle of escalating consumption and collapse.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Imprisoned by the Global Classroom

In 1976, Ivan Illich collaborated with Etienne Verne to write the booklet: Imprisoned in the Global Classroom.

(Note: We need to find English information on Verne, and start a Wikipedia entry).

Following are what I think are significant excerpts, relating mostly to my interest in a critique of education today.

The 56 pages begin with:

I'm not sure if evidence is needed to make such a claim today (I would certainly want to make it!), or how I would go about gathering evidence for it? It seems to me however, that this opening paragraph relates to Susan Awbrey's paper on academic capitalism, were she makes the reference to the problem of mental models not matching action:
Research has shown that the theories, or mental models, people use in practice are, for the most part, tacit. Few people are consciously aware of them. It is these unquestioned theories-in-use that often guide our actions and strategies not our espoused theories. (Argyris and Schon, 1974, Argyris, 1980, Argyris, 1987, and cited in Smith, 2001) Thus, quite often the world-view and values we espouse are not the world-view and values implied by our behavior. This is not just a difference between what we say and what we do (between theory and action) but between two different theories of action—-one we profess and one we actually use.
So far this point should be obvious to most, we all have used rhetoric for the importance of "critical thinking" and "diversity in opinion" and how valuing that somehow leads to counter measures against group think and closed mindedness, but how many of us have witnessed our own inability to accommodate those values in practice, let alone the groups we participate in? When I consider my interactions with various management and policy initiatives, I'd have to say the clear majority don't know how to effectively accommodate criticism and diversity, especially considering a perhaps more emboldened class, gaining strength and confidence through online social media and networks. Of course the reverse is also true, where the new critic lacks the cultural capital to effectively engage the groups in power.

Either way, this problem of closed mindedness leads to significant problems in that we are not able to hear or properly consider the feedback to our strategies and actions. Obviously this is a problem not just for education, but the depth of the problem becomes even more alarming if we also consider Cass Sunstein's recent book Infotopia, where he outlines many examples of the causes and consequences of group think and an organisation's inability to question the consequences and values of its own actions.

And its at this point where the opening paragraph hits the truth of the matter. Action is not possible because over time the agencies to which the proposals are made, have developed defence mechanisms such as departments and procedures, that both intentionally and non intentionally inoculate them from the intrusion, and so the realisation of a need to take action or review mental models.

In other words, the likely criticisms are absorbed by the institution, and the diversity is lost in the group identity and its unique power dynamics.

But this blockage is not true for all change proposals of course, some very significant proposals do get through: academic capitalism, investment in 'eLearning', adoption of IT, but these three especially have been silent revolutions, where critical discourse seems to have been a long way from those who decide on the actions.

So how do proposals get through while others don't? There's an elephant in the room isn't there?...

The "they" here are the deschooling reformers that Illich and Verne call out as the unsuccessful change agents. They were too focused on the action - consequence loop, and not reflecting enough on the underlying values. Again, Susan's investigation relates here, where she points to Kurt Lewin's work around the notion of unfreezing, which it just so happens - relates to action research.
‘Unfreezing’ (Lewin, 1951) is an organizational term that has come to mean many things. First, it means that for change to take place members of the organization must see not only a need for change but also an urgent reason to change. Slaughter and Leslie have made the case for urgency by showing us that, out of financial necessity, higher education is already undergoing a quiet revolution that is having some unintended consequences. Second, Lewin’s concept of unfreezing warns us that attempts to change without addressing an organization’s cultures and values will fail in the long run.
The important thing to highlight in this quote is the warning of that if we don't engage in discussion around cultures and values, changes will be unsuccessful in the long term.. I need to find out what long term means here, and find an answer to my concerns about action paralysis if we gaze over that abyss of values too much..

How would attention to a "hidden curriculum and social ethos" arouse a need for action? Perhaps it would by making explicit the unacknowledged truth of the matter - that our rhetoric does not match our actions. That our actions and the processes that enable them are more fundamentally corrupted. Such attention takes decades on social scale, years in small groups, and months for individuals (in my experience) - which must be why we experience change in networks so much faster than in groups... note to revisit The Wealth of Networks for any mention of this idea.

Depressing indeed! A conscious "latent" conspiracy?..

What I think is meant by this is that the notion of "life long learning", and its unfortunate appropriation by education institutes, dilutes the possibility of focused change by spreading the load and institutionalised corruption across a wider social gathering. Illich and Verne argue that notions of life long learning are sinister in relation to the latent corruption of the groups who appropriate responsibility for it.

And all that out of only 10 pages! I'll leave it there because the day is almost over here.. but I'll post again on the next 10 pages tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The search for Illich

A few weeks ago, I decided to visit the University of Canberra's library, to see what works they had in their collection by or about Illich. I'm sorry to report that they have less than 20 items, (Sorry, no URL to the result) compared to the 151 on Amazon, and "hundreds" listed freely on a key Illich fan page.
I've so far, of the 3 I'm interested in, 1 of them, Celebration of Awareness, has been lost. Of the two I have, (Gender and Imprisoned in the Global Classroom), Gender is in very poor shape with its cover falling away from its contents. Gender was last borrowed in 2008, Imprisoned in 2002. Deschooling was last borrowed in 2007, and UC has no copy of Medical Nemesis.

Why is this important?

Illich's critique on the consequences of institutionalisation, his questioning of the underlying values, and his proposed solutions to the problems he describes, are important because (from what I can tell) they remain unchallenged. Does this mean his critique is accepted? Are we then doing little to meet his challenges? Or is the lake of response and awareness simply further evidence of our loss of consciousness for his work?

Illich is (or was for UC) a pretty important author whose work is mostly available in print only. His intense criticism of many areas of UC subjects like Health, Education, Science and Government should be included in those Faculty's library collections at-least, I won't comment on the content of their courses. The small collection, the condition that its in, and the frequency of its use could well be a reflection of the relevance his work holds in today's understanding of knowledge in those subjects. I intend to ask unit conveners if Illich is included in their content or reading lists - it could just as well be that most people refer to the slim pickings of his work online. Going by my attempts to converse around Illich in the education sector generally, I suspect his work is no longer included, and that most people are ignorant of his contribution and his perspective, that our knowledge of him is near lost.

This situation, and the questions it raises about the breadth and depth of study going on at UC, relates to my earlier post reviewing a paper on academic capitalism. That paper argued for the need to constantly be aware of the consequences of our actions, and use those to question the values underpinning those actions. Illich effectively highlighted many unforeseen consequences of institutionalised education and health, and questioned the underlying values of those 'services'. Is the absence of Illich from our reading lists and resources, evidence that we are ignoring a critical voice for those consequences? Are we neglecting a full and honest look at ourselves? Or could it be that we've all just been there, done that, and Illich's critiques are not relevant? If so, where's the published rebuttals? I seem to have come a generation too late, so need to see the arguments again.. if there are any, because Illich to me is a beacon in the fog.. his work is important to us today, perhaps more so than it was in the late 20th Century.

The search continues...

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Academic capitalism

Jon Awbrey left a comment on my post, The role of marketing in educational development, pointing to an excellent paper by Susan Awbrey titled Making the Invisible Hand Visible. The Case for Dialogue About Academic Capitalism.

Susan's paper has introduced a term that I have not heard around Australian universities yet - academic capitalism. Interesting how a name can suddenly bring to light a whole raft of issues you've been thinking about for a few years. While Susan writes mainly from a US perspective, she refers to research carried out in Australia, UK, Canada and the US.
Academic capitalism is defined as “institutional and professorial market or market-like efforts to secure external moneys” (Slaughter and Leslie, 1997, p. 8). In the 1980s and 1990s academic capitalism flourished as government support for education declined, corporate interest in new products and processes coincided with the university’s search for increased funding, and as the government sought to enhance national competitiveness by linking postsecondary education to business innovation... Public higher education institutions became dependent on sources beyond the government and that process is already changing the roles, rewards, and structures within academic institutions.
I can't help quoting this paper at some length, as I know many of my colleagues will put off reading a PDF, but they might take a few minutes to read some notes here. I've copied Susan's spot-on observations of some of the consequences of academic capitalism.
At the university level
Academic capitalism is sweeping higher education. Although some institutions have been partially insulated by unique missions or large endowments, it is a growing phenomenon. At the institutional level rewards now flow to academic units that build external funding. There is an expansion of sales and service functions from branding and promoting logoemblazoned products to marketing web-based services. Campuses now resemble malls with recognizable private food and book vendors. Admissions functions have become enrollment management as the pressure increases to compete for new students. More and more administrative responsibilities are pushed out to the academic units. There is a decline in collegial governance with more important decisions being made at the central level to respond quickly to external constituents. There is growing tension between academics and central administration.

At the department level
There is an increase of hyper-competition between academic units for scarce resources. (This competition has exaggerated already present disciplinary biases.) Fields “close to the market,” such as business and engineering, continue to gain power while those less close, such as the liberal arts, are losing influence. The salary differentials between faculty members in fields that can access external dollars and those fields that cannot continue to grow. Fields further from the market are also experiencing increased teaching loads. There is an increase in the numbers of part-time faculty. Less and less importance is being placed on the quality of undergraduate and graduate instruction as reward systems shift and the maintenance of external partnerships absorbs increasing amounts of faculty time.

With faculty
Faculty members are under pressure to pursue external funding. There is a shift away from community-minded attitudes toward attitudes of personal gain. Faculty members have less time to devote to instruction. Faculty, especially untenured junior faculty, are experiencing high levels of stress due to an increasing number of faculty roles. Maintaining external relationships demands larger and larger amounts of faculty time, and less time is available for other roles. Faculty members are becoming resistant to committee and university service as demands on their time increase. There is a decline in collegiality and campus community. There is less allegiance to the institution as faculty increasingly view themselves more and more as independent entrepreneurs.

On research
Overall there is less government funding available for research. There is less basic, or curiosity-driven research, and more specialized and applied research. External constituents are setting more and more of the university’s research agenda. Faculty members engaged in research have less allegiance to the university as centers and institutes become increasingly funded by external, non-governmental sources.

With students
Students are experiencing steady tuition increases. More and more students are seeking means/end education for career advancement. There is a growing resistance to broad educational experience as per course costs increase. Students are developing a shopping mall, consumer viewpoint of knowledge as a commodity. There is greater competition among students for spots in prestigious institutions. Broad access to higher education is being threatened as tuition spirals upward.

I've been a change agent in education for quite some time now.. one thing that has troubled me for almost all that time is that the rhetoric and the actions of education don't fit together. Susan picks this up also:
Research has shown that the theories, or mental models, people use in practice are, for the most part, tacit. Few people are consciously aware of them. It is these unquestioned theories-in-use that often guide our actions and strategies not our espoused theories. (Argyris and Schon, 1974, Argyris, 1980, Argyris, 1987, and cited in Smith, 2001) Thus, quite often the world-view and values we espouse are not the world-view and values implied by our behavior. This is not just a difference between what we say and what we do (between theory and action) but between two different theories of action—-one we profess and one we actually use.
Bingo!. I have a lead to a body of knowledge that investigates this phenomenon. Many thanks! Susan goes on to use a great example to illustrate this point. Airport security measures! Nice one :) where their actions are clearly having consequences on many of the other values that inform their practice, but clearly know one has an eye on the relationships between values, practice and consequences. Susan gives a simple method for ensuring this happens:
Once you implement [change] strategies you may ask: “What did we expect to happen?” “What were the results?” and “How might we alter our strategy next time?” These questions are all asked from within the mental model you hold of the situation. If we also ask questions such as: “Why did we select this strategy?” “What made us think it will work?” “What have been the unintended consequences on each of our guiding values?” we are asking questions about our mental model and challenging our theory-in-use.

The trouble with this I think, and especially in the academic sector where truth is largely relative, and people's depth of understanding is non sequential and a-synchronous, such a review of consequences might lead to a paralysis. I've certainly come to such a point in many areas of my work, particularly when looking more deeply at the values of 'learning', the practice of 'education', and the consequences that practice has on 'learning'! aka Illich. Our practices are so deeply embedded, and the critique is so fundamentally challenging, that many people become simply paralysed and end up either ignoring the critique and 'getting on with it anyway', or dropping out of the structure all together. As a result, it is very difficult to find people in the sector who are willing and able to discuss the critique.

Perhaps though, this is simply a result of not having enough people in the room to discuss the problem and devise actions that move us on somewhat.
‘Unfreezing’ (Lewin, 1951) is an organizational term that has come to mean many things. First, it means that for change to take place members of the organization must see not only a need for change but also an urgent reason to change. Slaughter and Leslie have made the case for urgency by showing us that, out of financial necessity, higher education is already undergoing a quiet revolution that is having some unintended consequences. Second, Lewin’s concept of unfreezing warns us that attempts to change without addressing an organization’s cultures and values will fail in the long run.
It has been a bit of an a-ha moment for me this simple little paper. Its references enlightening fields of research I would not have come across in my present reading lists. Academic capitalism is a very appropriate term for obvious reasons. The seeming oxymoron in the two words coming together is not an invitation to adopt an anti-capitalistic stance necessarily, but it sure does give me pause to reflect on my actions and proposals that are ultimately responding to this large changing force in the sector.
The erosion of public funding that has led to academic capitalism implies a shift not merely in funding sources but also in the deeper values that underlie education’s role in society... The use of a strategy such as academic capitalism needs to be consciously undertaken and widely discussed with broad awareness of and input regarding intended and unintended consequences not only on the financial health of the institution but also on the university’s mission and guiding values.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Reviewing steps towards a change proposal

As the months and events pass by, a lot can happen in the context in which I am attempting to make change proposals at UC. Inevitably, I neglect to keep someone in the picture, or someone is added to the conversation who is fresh and does not comprehend the history and full scope of what I am proposing. Over that time, some elements of what I am proposing fall out of the conversation, causing an inevitable gap in the proposal for some people.This problem can be gleaned from some of the comments and discussions I am finding myself in. "But how does this benefit learning?" is a question I was confronted with recently.. I've taken it for granted that the benefits are a given and don't need making explicit, forgetting that for many open, networked learning and the educational services that might surround that are an entirely new discussion thread.

This is in part why I document things on this blog. A small part of me hopes that some of those people will wade back through it and get a bigger picture, but more realistically, its a resource from which I can grab a few links and respond to emails that contain such questions.

Recently I learned that I had been leaving someone quite critical out of the loop. Luckily that person contacted me about it, leaving enough space for me to respond with a quick overview containing such links. Here's how I think my proposal is panning out linearly:
  1. The beginning was a presentation I made to Health, where I laid out the sort of educational development work I have done elsewhere, and that I intend to do here. many of the points in that general plan require engagement on all fronts of UC policy and management.
  2. Not long after that presentation, I attempted to engage in the review of UC's IP Policy. This policy is quite central to the work I am trying to do with Sport and the wider UC context in which Sport operates. It links to eventual work I hope to be involved in with Research Policy and the Performance Review process, where we might use the notion of "Community Engagement" to reward academic use of the popular internet and social media in teaching and research. Without addressing the IP Policies and the systems of recognition and reward at UC, it will be arguably too difficult to get staff engaged in using the popular internet in their work.
  3. More recently I have prepared a list of things in the UC computing infrastructure that are frustrating staff going early in their attempts to engage popular Internet. There are many things on the UC network that just don't work - and they should. There are other things that are more subtle barriers to engaging. This list resulted in a meeting with ICTS reps, in which we attempted to discuss ways of addressing all concerns. The Chief Information Officer, David Formica suggested I write a "vision" document that aligns with the Strategic Plan, and that it come to him through the Associate Deans of Education. He also advised that he is about to release a "5 Year Road Map" for staff review, and has money to fund projects that are in consultation to that document. To my knowledge, David has not announced that process - but he knows I am wanting to engage in that as well.
  4. At the same time James and I have been attempting to engage the Teaching and Learning Centre on the proposal of 'Open Academia'. We have so far run 2 workshops for TLC, but the response from TLC has been small. It seems they are bound to remaining within the scope of existing Service Level Agreements with Faculties, leaving the development of new approaches to Faculty and their ADEs.
  5. Just last week, I asked key people in Marketing to hear my proposals and indicate where their concerns might be. All supported the idea in principle, and said they would need direction on it from the Deputy Vice Chancellor. They seemed happy to wait for the "Vision" document that would also come to the DVC through my ADE. My post on Marketing's Role in Educational Development comes from that meeting.
  6. So, now I am preparing my mind for that "Vision" document. I want it to properly understand the spirit of the Strategic Plan - in particular Step 40. I want to anticipate any concerns that the relevant people might have regarding its key points, so that it is an effective and persuasive document. The use of Marketing in Educational Development is one of about 3 key areas in the vision. Others being open academic practices and policies, and recognised and rewarded work in popularising and making accessible and reusable our academic and educational work.
  7. All of this action is feeding into my PhD, which is looking at both formal and informal change in an Australian University. Those steps above are almost exactly the same steps I took in an ad-hoc way with Otago Polytechnic, so if they yield results - I might be able to say it is a model for proposing and perhaps implementing a complex and fundamentally challenging change in tertiary education. I am pretty sure however that a more processed approach for this proposal would be more effective at changing the proposal, than actually creating the space for a real change proposal. Live and learn...