Friday, February 11, 2011

Joseph Beuys
Some time ago, Brent Simpson urged me to read up on Joseph Beuys.

Its taken too long to get to it (too distracted by the prolific outputs to be discovered in Illich!) But I finally found my way to a documentary on Youtube about the life and work of Beuys.

Beuys' conceptualisation of art, and of education is certainly the alley I want to go down. Serious, spiritual, humanistic, metaphoric, controversial, universal. He set up the Free International University for a start... which is a framework and legacy that I hope Roberto Greco, Dougald Hine, Joss Winn and Richard Hall (The UK Connection) will consider aligning with.

Beuys breaks a path I can follow with this "OpenPhD" too, where I aim to develop an output for the requirements of a Creative PhD, namely a 20 thousand word thesis and an artistic exhibition.

Youtube user AccountOfTheSun has done a great job uploading the video documentary of Beuys, and I've collected it into my own playlist below.

Hopefully Dougald Hine is working on an event to introduce the work of Beuys to educational audiences via someone he knows is knowledgable.

Open Education and Research at the University of Canberra

Getting audacity to export an MP3

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Florian Schneider's (Extended) Footnotes On Education

Robert Greco tweeted me a link to one of the most outstanding contemporary readings on the situation in education I have seen in a long time. Florian Schneider's (Extended) Footnotes On Education.

Referring to early rejections of institutionalised education in the 60s and 70s, and how they have successfully infiltrated and perhaps laid the seeds for undermining the institutions:
Those who realized that it had become pointless to reproduce the gestures of their masters did not only understand that there was nothing left to learn from, within, or against the institutions; they decided to take an interest in precisely the disciplining character of those institutions, the confinement of knowledge and subjectivities, the exclusion of differing and deviant forms of knowledge production.
Establishing deschooled ideas where:
...learning could suddenly take place anywhere: in the streets, in bars or clubs, in self-organized seminars, in the office spaces of so-called social movements, in soccer stadiums, through subcultural fanzines, in squatted houses or even science shops (“Wissenschaftsläden” as they were called in German).
Today, I am noticing a lot more work like this, including:

Although many of these are exciting, they are still only consequential...
Today’s crisis of the educational system, with all its consequent phenomena, can also be understood as a result of the refusal to be subjugated by the command of an educational system that represents the fading paradigm of industrial capitalism.
Ultimately, the network is the great destabliser/enabler..
The advent of digital technologies and deregulated networks triggered a long-overdue process of deinstitutionalization and deregulation that from today’s standpoint appears to be irreversible. This process was based on a fatal promise: self-organized access to knowledge, independent of any further mediation other than that of the medium itself.
BUT!... and this is the risk in relation to the MOOCs and independent teaching...
As soon as learning becomes an exclusively private concern, the primary goal of what is by then a required self-education is to demonstrate and perform the permanent availability of the self in real time rather than just perform discipline in a system of spatial control. It becomes necessary to continuously perform “selves”: not as mirror-images that reproduce the gestures of a master, but as self-managed profiles, animated images of a self that needs to be multiplied infinitely in order to satisfy the insatiable demand for omnipresence that renders possible the very idea of control.
And the institutions and corporations stand to profit from this approaching twilight, again with the MOOCs...
Today it seems that institutions and ekstitutions [networked learning environments] correspond to complementary rather than antagonistic modalities. What once appeared a challenge to the traditional educational framework, turns out in the current situation to be a correlate that compensates for the deficits of institutional frameworks that are gradually losing their conceits.
Nevertheless, there is an urgent need to develop experimental formats for generating findings that bring forward a process of “self-valorization” of knowledge that jumps across the pitfalls of the contemporary self.
Florian goes on to rightly criticise standardised (Taylorised, and ultimately commoditised) understanding of knowledge and competency. The same model of assessment and accreditation that I have based my approach to open educational development on! Florian argues that breaking everything down into assessable units drives all skills and knowledge into discrete assessable items that plays into the commodification of learning, and further disenfranchises independent learning.

Florian then all-too-briefly proposes an alternative, which in many ways IS what the MOOCs - especially DS106 is doing when it throws structure to the wind and organises simply a happening..
Not as a conclusion, but rather as a very preliminary proposal, one of these formats thought to resist the sliding scales of neo-Taylorism in the creative industries could be entitled “virtual studio.” In the first instance, the studio has striking associations with both the workplace in creative industries and the permanent need for self-organized studies.
Furthermore, this distinction is supported by the very notion of the “working” mode; it asserts the unfinished character of the studies undertaken, which culminates in an otherwise precluded appreciation for the aleatory essence of both working and studying.
Florian's final (and I think more convincing) proposal is in relation to more collaborative spaces as a stronger act of resistance, which might be why I'm so attracted to Wikiversity.. I dunno...
In that respect, collaborations are a practical way of reading the division of labor against the grain, and may turn out to be a way of swimming against the current of an enforced and blatantly absurd measurability of immaterial labor. Only in collaborative environments is it possible to embrace the infinitesimality of what is essentially beyond measure. The outcome of a collaboration is rampant, unforeseeable, and always unexpected. Sometimes it may not turn out nicely, it may even be harsh, but one thing is for sure: it cannot be calculated, it has to be imagined.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

An introduction to Foucault. Where's Illich? And why our research is so safe these days

A friend on the outer edges of my ONPhD/OpenPhD network has recommended I look into Foucault, and gave me this audio recording as an introduction.

Interview with Professor Stephen Shapiro, Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies

The first question on listening that popped into my head was, what are the connections between Illich and Foucault, given they seem to talk to very similar themes, and were born in the same year. To my surprise, a quick search revealed very little connection, and I haven't yet found a reference by Illich to Foucault, nor Foucault to Illich.

In a forum archive there is this interesting response to someone asking the same question:

There are several common ideas between Foucault and Illich. Foucault would say: it doesn´t matter if I read or not the books of Illich; the important thing is to know why in the middle of this centuary some modern ideas related to education are being criticised.

So we have a little mystery to explore. Perhaps its just academic snobbery. Certainly Foucault is quoted and pretended to be known by just about every academic I've ever met, where as Illich remains the unknown and unread.

In the recording starting at 14.40, Stephen Shapiro makes an interesting observation on the mechanism of academic control in the UK presently. He refers to the research rating and reward scheme they have there called called PBRF (Performance Based Research Fund). New Zealand uses the same scheme and the Australian equivalent is called ERA - Excellence in Research Australia. Stephen says:
All scholars have to deliver their research to be evaluated on a system of one to five, right, or one to four, I mean it changes all the time. That's the other Foucaultian thing - the rules change so you can't put any logic to it or retrospective studies. The work is sent to a central committee to be evaluated on merit. The work is rated but, no one is ever told what rating that work got. The individual isn't told, the department isn't told, the university isn't told. So let's say I write a book, and I send it in to be evaluated and its going to be rated on a scale of one to five. I am never told what that book is actually rated as. So that means I have to spend my entire time wondering, was this a four book, or was it a five book!? This is the mechanism of control right. So in other words, every time I write something I'm wondering is this really good or is this maybe not so good... we start to police ourselves. One of the effects of this is that individuals would start to worry about taking risks, or about saying things that might cause them to be controversial, because maybe controversy isn't excellence. There's a very thin line between ground breaking work and terrible work. If there is this committee of people who are credentialised to make these evaluations, that never have to explain what those evaluations were to you, you're going to hang towards the middle. That is a tremendously powerful mechanism for controlling the academy, which was threatening - maybe not the most threatening thing under the Thatcher years, but definitely threatening, because Briton was known in the Western world for having a very bolshe left wing academy. I don't think you could say the same thing today. 

The self regulation that results from the anxiety of not knowing, based on general and non specific ratings from hidden research evaluation committees, encourages the individual academic to shy away from risk and away from radicalism.

Its sounded just as plausible to apply this same view onto Australian academia and its ERA, and New Zealand academia and its PBRF. Both are financially rewarded based on their evaluations, resulting in an all but silent subservience to the authority, and its quiet and distorting level of control over academic expression.

The Age of Professions

The Age of Professions will be remembered as the time when politics withered, when voters, guided by professors, entrusted to technocrats the power to legislate needs, renounced the authority to decide who needs what and suffered monopolistic oligarchies to determine the means by which these needs shall be met. It will be remembered as the age of schooling, when people for one-third of their lives had their learning needs prescribed and were trained how to accumulate further needs, and for the other two-thirds became clients of prestigious pushers who managed their habits. It will be remembered as the age when recreational travel meant a packaged gawk at strangers, and intimacy meant following the sexual rules laid down by Masters and Johnson and their kin; when formed opinion was a reply of last night's TV talk show, and voting the approval of persuaders and salesmen for more of the same. 
It would be pretentious to predict if this age, when needs were shaped by professional design, will be remembered with a smile or with a curse. I do, of course, hope that it will be remembered as the night when father went on a binge, dissipated the family fortune, and obligated the children to start anew. Sadly, and much more probably, it will be remembered as the age when a whole generation's frenzied pursuit of impoverishing wealth rendered all freedoms alienable and, after first turning politics into the gripes of welfare recipients, extinguished itself in a benign totalitarianism. I consider such a descent into technofascism as unavoidable unless the major thrust of social criticism begins to change from the support of a new or radical professionalism into the endorsement of a patronizing and sceptical attitude attitude towards the experts - especially when they presume to diagnose and to prescribe. As technology is blamed for environmental degradation, the complaint may be turned into a demand that engineers ought to study biology. As long as hospital catastrophes are blamed on the rapacious doctor or negligent nurse, the question of whether the patient can in principle benefit from hospitalisation is never raised. If mere capitalist gain is blamed for an economics of inequality, industrial standardisation and concentration - causing an unequal power structure - will be left uncriticised and unchanged.
The return to an era that fosters participatory politics in which needs are defined by general consent is hampered by an obstacle that is both brittle and unexamined: the role that a new kind of professional elite plays in validating the worldwide religion that promotes impoverishing greed. It is therefore necessary that we clearly understand:
  1. The nature of professional dominance
  2. the effects of professional establishment
  3. the characteristics of imputed needs and
  4. the illusions which have enslaved us to professional management 
Ivan Illich, The Disabling Professions. Page 12-15

Monday, February 07, 2011

Recent Changes Camp take 2

We hosted another Recent Changes Camp at the University of Canberra on 28 January, this time for the full 3 days.

Wikimedia Australia sponsored Mark Dilley's flights in to facilitate the session and report our RCC back to the US. They also sponsored the flights of several others, to the worth of $5000. UCNISS catered the 3 days, and AboutUS covered Mark's work load while he was away.

22 people attended, and we covered quite a range of topics:

  1. Discussion About Open Space
  2. WikiCulture
  3. Wikis for education
  4. Printing books out of wikis
  5. All about Appropedia
  6. When will wikis supersede traditional Word Processing?
  7. Wikisource
  8. Wikis for fun
  9. What key facilitation capacities help create successful wikis?
  10. Let's reverse-brainstorm: Why wikis don't work
  11. The future of the Vocational Education and Training sector
  12. Open Educational Resources
  13. All about Wikitravel
  14. Wikiversity for postgraduate education
  15. Wikimedia Australia session
  16. The Bruce Declaration
  17. Going forward: Future wiki conferences

The thing that struck me this time, is what a difference 3 days makes as apposed to 1, and when the participants all have experience (as diverse as that was) with wikis and collaborating online.

RCC2011 is being archived here, where you'll find photos, videos, and notes for the sessions.