Thursday, October 28, 2010

A crisis for institutions, opportunities for teachers

Richard Hall has posted another cracking post, looking for the opportunities in the fog of war that is the UK's latest review of their university education system. If Australian policy remains true to tradition, it too will face a similar fate.

The UK's review also prompted Inside Higher Ed to publish another excellent post by James Vernon from the University of California, basically summing up the downward spiral of the English speaking institutions of education since the 1980s. Quite rightly, James doesn't limit his criticism at the politicians either, squaring off the complacency of the people in the institutions as well:
Before rushing to join the denunciations of our short-sighted and philistine politicians we have to accept that no-one within the English university sector emerges from this process with much dignity. Administrators have grown fat, plumping up their personnel, enlarging their office and buildings, as well as inflating their salaries. Most damagingly they meekly accepted the economistic logics that drove the auditing of productivity and were naive enough to believe that the introduction of fees would supplement, not replace, state funding. They have turned away from the public they are supposed to serve in the quest for new ‘markets’: professional schools, overseas students, and creation of empires with institutions that franchise their degrees.
So its with complete agreement to that, that I look at Richard Hall's post - the first to respond to the cuts with a relative positive attitude - seeing the destruction of coercive academic capitalism as an opportunity for new and progressive practices.
In particular we might now revisit the critical work on the neoliberal university, the student as consumer and the marketisation of HE, in order to critique and negate the path that we are pushed towards. This work identifies the types of controlled, economically-driven, anti-humanist organisations that will possibly emerge, and the ways in which oppositional, alternative, meaningful social change might be realised.
Richard stops short of describing alternative approaches, pointing instead to a few worthy projects like School of Everything instead.

This is where I might cut in.

I've been trying to think inside out from the institution for 4 or 5 years now. How might those who presently work inside the institutions, work in such a way that makes ready, or feeds opportunities that are developing outside the institutions? I reckon HE teachers ought to beat the policy makers and bosses at their own game, and start setting up for independent, contract work. This means taking full ownership of the units you teach, and start running then independently from the institution, contracted back into the institutions, while they remain.

  1. Start with your unit outline. 
  2. Copy it to Wikiversity and chuck out all that guff, make it fun, engaging, and readable. Link to the guffy version if legal requires it. If your Institution has draconian IP policy, work to change it, or change the unit outline enough to qualify as original work.
  3. Start networking online around the subjects of your units, update the wiki as new resources and ideas come your way. 
  4. Refine your Wikiversity entry and start editing all related Wikipedia articles so that links are prevalent from there to your Wikiversity course.
  5. Set up a blog/website for your units, or create a page on your existing blog/website for the units you are developing to teach and assess. 
  6. Ditch the learning management system and any other platform the institution prescribes (such as email or lecture recording facilities), get it all out in the open, on commonly available and tried and true services, and use the links, RSS and embed codes to quickly populate an LMS if you must. 
  7. Set up a Google docs spreadsheet with all the data the institution needs for auditing, such as attendance, contact details, demographics, participation and completion rates, feedback, etc.
  8. Work out how much it costs your target universities to run the unit, then work out how you can teach and assess that unit for less. 
  9. Find other teachers going independent, try to build a network who together might be able to offer units for the better half of a degree, using this approach.
  10. Offer all the universities in the world your service, outlining the cost benefit analysis you've done for them (like Google Docs did).  All you need from them is assurance they will give your graduates the rubber stamp on your assessed and moderated say so.
  11. Negotiate a 3-4 year contract with each university, to make sure you have time to refine and develop, and so that degree hunting students have consistency in you. 
  12. Run your unit open access, inviting non enrolled students to participate, offering them post study assessment (Recognition of Prior Learning) should they ever be wealthy enough to pay for the paper.
  13. Author a textbook for the unit on Wikibooks, and desktop publish it to, charge a small royalty for the printed version.
  14. Create quirky merchandise for your unit, again charging small royalties.
  15. Set up a donation widget on your unit website to take donations from anyone who shows their love.
  16. Make sure your running costs include time for research and development. I reckon 5-10 hours for every hour of teaching and assessment as a rough guide.
  17. Get smart with your work, think about ways to use community projects like Wikipedia's Featured Article initiative and other ideas, or consider pay it forward assignments, to help with assessment and other workload challenges.

None of this necessarily preserves the work of teaching subjects that are in low demand unfortunately. In this regard, I would look to associations and other outside bodies to subsidise the running costs of your units with sponsorship. Whack a heritage order on ancient Greek studies etc. Try to find sustainable online markets for your niche service.

If this idea is too brief for you, you can look back at my previous posts outlining this idea.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Gov 2.0 will simply amplify Australia's political lethagy

Last night I was unsurprised yet very annoyed at the status so far of the official political debate about Australia's combat operations in Afghanistan.

This morning, Eve woke at 530am as usual, wanting to play with toys in the lounge room. Eventually she found the TV remote, and on came the crud that is Australian morning television. People in the US dressing their pets in Halloween costumes, record numbers at the Zombie Walk, massive shark suspected in the North, Australian and Singaporean stock exchange to merge (WTF?), Beach Boys lip syncing, and sport sport and more sport.. and a bit of weather from tourist locations.

Sigh. So I turned on the radio and muted the television. Triple J (a public radio station that used to be half decent) doing shit talk back on the "craziest question you've ever been asked in a job interview".

Last night I tweeted a criticism/half question of the Gov 2.0 lobby in Australia, pointing out the comparatively zero coverage by the stream on the 2 weeks of parliament and senate debate on Afghanistan.

Self proclaimed online evangelist CraigThomler (@craigthomler) was the only person watching the gov2au stream (or interested to reply), and replied by the morning with:
@ isn't about specific issues, it's about transforming governance systems to models suitable for the 21st century.
To which my reply (considering the 530am start to Australian TV and Radio) was pretty prickly:
@ yeah right, how about a few examples. is a technofad echo chamber
And so began a short lived exchange of why and why not. Twitter is useless for debate.

Looking back on Craig's own tweets on #gov2au, he thought the TEDxCanberra photostream was related somehow, and in the end he dismissed my remarks to the #gov2au stream as "adding little value".

I personally think #gov2au needs to cover much more than open data, censored Internet, public broadband and otherwise blind lobby for more government bordering on global. If Australian politicians are going to debate whether military personnel should be helping to kill off people in Afghanistan (the first time they've ever debated the idea), but with a foregone conclusion of smelly bipartisanship and avoidance of the question on whether 911 was good reason to invade in the first place, and mainstream media is going to largely black out non party line input on the issue, then I think this becomes a prime candidate for testing ideas of #gov2au! The debate doesn't even have a hashtag as for as I can tell!

While the dispersed chatter about the war goes on through social media, as it does on carbon taxes, emissions trading, global warming and climate change, not to mention a raft of other important and poorly represented issues, none of it is feeding through to the political, economic and cultural class, despite it often revealing many an insightful remark and eye popping evidence. Gov2au ideals of engaged and participatory citizenship and political representation is not looking very likely at all. More likely is it will remain a clique of technofans, existing in a in a bubble of do-good, averse to any real issue of controversy, life and death, leaving the technology to simply amplify the real underlying problems in our society.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Our war in Afghanistan

Last week, the Australian Parliament debated our combat operations in Afghanistan. This is the first parliamentary debate had on Australia's military involvement in Afghanistan. This week, the Australian Senate will debate the same issue.

Sadly very little substance has been brought into the debate, with all but 2 people so far towing an implausible, an unacceptable rationale for the occupation. The so-called Gov 2.0 crowd are quiet as mice on this very important debate, and commentary so far seems sporadic. The mainstream media is as useless as ever, but I did manage to find Syd Walker, a blogger giving what I think to be very good commentary on the debate and surrounding issues.

Syd points to this speech given in Detroit a few months ago, by David ray Griffin, questioning the reasons for the invasion of Afghanistan. I'd like to echo Syd's call to our politicians to at least sit through David's speech before they use up this valuable opportunity for open debate at last!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Some recognition from Otago Polytechnic

As I'm sure many in the network know, it is very rare to get recognition for work in open education from the likes of bosses and former bosses. It is much more common for them to take all credit for other's innovation, but not for Phil Ker, CEO of Otago Polytechnic and my old boss.

I left Otago on not-so-happy terms in 2009, with a sense of a lot still not done or even appreciated. So it came as a pretty nice surprise when a few colleagues at Otago messaged me during Phil Ker's talk at the Open Education Foundation's web conference for Open Access Week, to tell me that he was heaping a fair bit of recognition my way.

Phil's remarks about me come in at about 13 minutes, but it is well worth listening to the whole recording if you'd like to hear the frank and open reflections of a principled Chief Executive talking about initiatives, mistakes and strategies for Otago's attempts to embed open educational practices.

It sounds as if they still have a very long way to go, but its encouraging to hear initiatives being talked about at the senior executive level at least.

Thanks Phil, good luck Otago Poly

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A pattern language

A friend who shares interest in container based houses, and modular housing design, recommended I get a copy of A Pattern Language. By Christopher Alexander, Sara Ishikawa and Murray Silverstein, with Max Jacobson, Ingrid Fiksdahl-King and Shlomo Angel. 1977 Oxford University Press.

Although it is said to be vastly popular in architecture circles, my local city library is devoid of a copy, and the local universities, in their infinite wisdom, only give restricted access. So I ordered a copy through Amazon, and am thinking about how to bring a free adaptation to Wikibooks. No wait! Here's an online viewer for it already! Jeez the Internet is great! But once again, in the education sector, here is an example of highly relevant, radical and valuable thinking from the 70s somehow left forgotten these past 40 years.

100 pages into it, I can say I was made for this book. I am a child of the 70s after all. It is a clear and concrete manual for planning and building cities, towns, villages, houses, rooms, gardens, one's self. It is based around a list of 253 patterns we can use in any number of combinations to create spaces with meaning, much in the same way we mix words to create various densities of meaning. Like words we can use these patterns to create towns and buildings of mere pros, or brutal sentences (such as Canberra), or we can create poetry, song, and timelessness such as... well the documentary series currently screening on SBS only springs to mind: Welcome to Lagos.


After the thoroughly engaging introduction, I'm into the first of 3 parts - Towns (the other two are Buildings and Construction). In Towns is a chapter called Network of Learning, and it understandably cites Illich as the most penetrating proposal for an alternative framework for education. The chapter opens with:
In a society which emphasises teaching, children and students--and adults--become passive and unable to think or act for themselves. Creative, active individuals can only grow up in a society which emphasises learning instead of teaching.
It seems everywhere I look these days, I see reinforcement for Teaching is Dead, Long Live Learning - I'm thinking to shift the focus of my "PhD" to where it should be.

The chapter goes on to quote Illich, from his article, Education without Schools: How It Can Be Done New York Review of Books 1971.
New educational institutions would break apart this pyramid. Their purpose must be to facilitate access for the learner: to allow him to look into the windows of the control room or the parliament, if he cannot get in the door.
Sounds like online, open education, even Gov2au to me... and yet most of these movements almost never refer back to such previous authors and modelists.

Anyway, on to reading this 1170 page text. If not for the failed institutions, then to build myself a house with poetry.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Student as Producer: A Pedgogy for the Avant-Garde

Sorry to steal the punch line, the 9 page paper is well worth the read:
So in answer to the question ‘How do revolutionary teachers teach?’ The response must be through interruption and astonishment, experiments with history, deconstructing the capitalist labour process by reconnecting intellectual and manual labour, and by creating Zones of Proximal Development. In other words, not teaching - so that we all might learn.

Student as Producer: A Pedagogy for the Avant-Garde; or, how do revolutionary teachers teach? by Mike Neary Centre for Educational Research and Development,University of Lincoln, Brayford Pool,
I would go so far as to say, Teaching is Dead, Long Live Learning...