Thursday, August 03, 2017

On critique

I've been ruminating on my use of critique, and hence this reminder from Foucault.

The purpose is not to close something down, but to provide a catalyst.

Critique is too often done as a means of showmanship; too often done for closing things down. What if instead it was undertaken to light fires... a catalyst invoking thoughts and possibilities?

Dream of criticism that does not judge but brings ideas to life.
It would light fires,
watch the grass grow,
listen to the wind
and catch the sea foam in the breeze and scatter it...
A criticism of scintillating leaps of the imagination….
It would bear the lightening of possible storms.
(paraphrased, Foucault, 1994)

Foucault, M. 1994. The masked philosopher. In: Rabinow, P. (ed.) Ethics: Subjectivity and truth. (Essential works of Foucault, 1954-1984, Vol.1). London, England: The New Press.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

In pursuit of what makes a difference in higher ed, and chasing rainbows....

The first thing to make visible:
"the minimum goal of education, when rightly expressed, should be for all students to make at least one year’s progress for one year’s input, no matter where they start" (Hattie, 2015)

The second concern Hattie argues is that unless an impact passes the 0.4 level, grounds for support are seriously dubious.
He makes this highly visible in the visual guide on what does or doesnt have impact  and its worth then considering what translates across to a higher ed sector.

The teacher having credibility, clarity and opportunity of discussion all score highly.
Providing timely and specific feedback scores well.
The size of a class, does not. Class size has a 0.21 impact.
Pre term birth weight is a more reliable indicator!
Often argued is that it is what the teacher does as makes the difference. Notably, this is not John Hattie's argument. He points out there is so much more going on; its the lecturers and the structures or wrap around services, the 'culture' of the learning environment, where learners (and teaching staff) are nourished and supported by the system as a whole.
In a PhD study by Molly Neville, it came down to feeling like I (the student) matters.

How come then, we get so distracted by quality measures that bear little resemblance to what makes a difference?

Informed by Hattie's meta-analysis, this is where we might be better focussed:
Instead of predetermined student outcomes, might we focus on what are the student's needs?
From this, what then are the lecturer needs in relation to the student needs.
Identify the required actions or behaviours for implementing.
Evaluate the impact, and
then do it all again, continuously...

Starting from know thy impact- what is it we do, that we would want to keep doing, and is there an evidence base for this in terms of desired impact on student learning?
Is it good enough, and is there evidence that this is 'good enough'?

THEN, we might consider what progress in this area might look like.

Monday, April 03, 2017

Actor-Networking with dead people.

Invoking a dead language I draw on the past to give meaning to where we are now,  nanos gigantum humeris insidentes.  While  attributed to Bernard of Chartres of the 12th century, the more familiar expression provided in English comes from a 1676 letter of Isaac Newton:

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Acknowledgement is then given to those on whose shoulders we have stood ; those who inform our gaze, and through whose learning, we might begin to learn even more.

Channelling knowledge drawn from a past, from those spatially and temporally challenged, is not new. Stevenson (2007) argues:
[in] the postmodern period....Traditional literature has been found to have been written by "dead white males" to serve the ideological aims of a conservative and repressive Anglo hegemony....disguised in literature and other discourses as positive ideals and objective truths – but they slant our sense of reality in favor of power and privilege. (pp. 9-10)

Accepting new research is situated on a body of knowledge that informs it is one aspect of this. Informing futures from current times is not a new phenomenon and despite the disparagement evident, in the  example above, a Euro-centric wisdom of patriachs is not the only wisdom that might be accessed.

There are alternate realities that might be explored:
 Literally a paving one's path to heaven by looking after the dead.
A reminder then that we live in differing realities.

Another example is the very recently passed legislation that has positioned the Whanganui river in New Zealand as having personhood status.
An ingenious approach consistent with the people of this place to grant legal rights to a living ancestor. This spiritual ancestor is not to be insulted by being placed under human control. Instead there is open acknowledgement of the one with the other.:
 "I am the river, and the river is me"

In actor-network theorizing,  the literature reviewed is not only providing a body of knowledge that provides a space on which to stand, or to speak from, enhancing perhaps on a current body of knowledge by "filling a gap" the literature is an actor that is also open to interrogation. Worth considering is how the literature maintains a status quo.

In the telling of an actor-networked account, the actors are human and otherwise,  and the human ones might be dead or alive. In addition there is no necessary seperation of what was that informs what is, the writer is implicated through and through.
As said by Mulcahy(1999),
Over the course of these accounts, I came to understand that the tale I was telling of my network was complicit with the tale it was telling of itself.

Where 'I' am in a study as Latour describes it, is situated and positioned.
" I insert my gesture in a ‘garland of time’ as Michel Serres (1995) has put it, which allows me to insert myself in a variety of temporalities or time differentials." (Latour, 2002).

The"gathering garlands in time"  metaphor used by Latour and attributed to Serres, relates to how networking is not just about geographically, spatially positioned networks. We have tendency to attend to what is geographically and spatially close. However, networks have no top nor bottom, left or right, no close or distant, big or small, but that thinking makes it so.
A network study needs then to be recognised as a moment, or clotting in time as Helen Verran has suggested:

'Given spacetime framed context' and 'clotted/clotting context' are metaphysically distinct, juxtaposing them recognises that the seemingly innocuous and helpful work of contextualising is a form of ontic politics. My aim here is not to promote one form over the other; the claim is that the stories express alternative forms of empiricism and that we need both forms to be explicitly held in tension.

Time; a necessary consideration then.

It is all too easy to criticise with the wisdom of hindsight, but what if instead we look at something in terms of how it was in its time,  when an idea is in its moment, the hopes inspired... a

"Always assume people are right, even if you have to stretch the point a bit. A simple rule, my dear pupil when you're studying a project. You put yourself at the peak of enthusiasm, at the apex, the point when the thing is irresistible. " ( Latour, 1996, p. 36).

Latour, Bruno. (1996). Aramis: Or the love of technology (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Latour, Bruno. (2002). Morality and technology. The end of the means. Theory, Culture and Society, 19(5/6), 247–260. doi: 10.1177/026327602761899246
Mulcahy, D. (1999). (Actor-Net) Working bodies and representations: Tales from a training field. Science, Technology and Human Values, 24(1), 80-104. Retrieved from
Stevenson, J. (2007) The complete idiot's guide to english literature. Alpha Books

Verran, H. (2007). Telling a story of a tender bids hearing and considering researcher responsibility. Paper presented at the Lancaster University STS Students-University of Melbourne Education ANT group. Video-conference 

Please dont get picky about the fonts, the grammar, the incomplete thoughts. Its a blog; a space for raw thoughts and playful writing.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bean counting in academia; a position informed by leaders in education and some management wisdom.

Changes in the fiscal envelope, for reasons beyond local control* have created a need to get acutely cost efficient in academia. 
*unexpected high dollar, a drop in full fee paying overseas students, changing immigration patterns,  government changes to funding study... changing government approaches on super-annuation /pension eligibility has impact on international student choices... through to building purchases, construction costs... and an election year when promises to cut taxes get made but which always comes at a cost to services such as education...

This blog post addresses fiscal prudence in education as a factor care and thoughtfulness. 

Drawing on the wisdom of leaders in education,  I begin with an invocation for thoughtfulness and a refusal to accept the all too easy approach being that of a sinking lid.
When you know you work with complexity, then you know (or should know) a single solution is unlikely to address complex concerns.

1. Get a moral compass

There's no app for that!
As Simone de Beauvoir said of ethics, it doesn't lend itself to recipes.
Work out your core business, and what's bottom line.
If you took everything out and then were thinking about what needs to be in, knowing you had a limited budget, what would you put in?
Then consider what can be kept, and what might be dropped?
Differentiate between what's essential and what's nice to have.
What's really at work here is to have a pedagologically driven curriculum, albeit an efficient one.
What's not ok is a fiscally driven curriculum where the pedagogy is secondary.

2. Value added, rather than value substraction, and the problem with bean counting*
*Bean counting is the consequence of a view of the world as consisting of “things” to be counted and then manipulated, rather than accepting that those involved are people to be interacted with and conversed with and responded to.

Small erosions over time eventually add up and accumulate, as was the goal on the one hand, but on the other there will be an accumulative erosion in brand, a loss in quality, a subtraction from something that took years to add up.

If I was in the business of coffee making and made coffee with a little less coffee in it everyday, in the short term this could be ok, but do it with the number of rivets holding a plane together and a serious irreversible condition evolves.

Any subtractive method needs to be mindful of the longer term aim for enduring greatness (Fullan). And as expressed by Hargreaves,  depletion should not occur in the value base.

Not replacing staff when a position becomes vacant (sinking lid) is an easy option, but can be destructive. It's an uneven redistribution of work and can risk profound gaps as well as being a recipe for lowering staff morale.
The alternative is to nurture relationships.
If relationships improve, schools get better. If relationships remain the same or get worse, ground is lost (Fullan).

3. On how to get from here to there

Informed by one and two above:
Revisit what's wanted and needed: the shared vision
Map out the steps required.

Value adding is also about improving on underperforming staff.
Other alternatives to sinking lids include offering options for leave without pay.

4. Gain control over the miscellaneous
aka shuffling the deckchairs on the titanic...

This is am extension on the concept of bean counting where the activities are ultimately less than needed to address a much more systemic problem.
I once worked in a hospital that took out every second fluorescent tube AND gave the dimwit a hundred dollars for this less than bright idea. 'Snuff said?
In regard to admonishments to cut the catering budget, its probably unwise to cancel the end of year function, the cost to morale is not worth it.

Nov-Dec at a time when where my workplace has no students,  photocopying was in excess of $2500... 0.05c per black and white; 0.25c per colour
We could go paperless really fast.
BTW One ream of paper (500 sheets) uses the equivalent of 6 percent of a trees It takes approximately 4 tons of wood to  make one ton of paper (there's a lot of water in trees) and a single mature tree can release enough oxygen to support  2 human beings. Green Facts

In an educational setting, time is money - people's time is bought and paid for and therefore saving time, saves money.

The cost in my workplace of hourly paid teaching assistants, comes in at about 1.5 fulltime salaried staff. BUT these people are employed just as and when needed...they collectively mark something like 7000 (!) pieces of work a year. No full-time equivalent staff member can do that. Cutting this already fiscally prudent measure is not easy. Any tweaks might be restricted to being really clear with time spent on marking or the pre/mid/post marking meetings.

On the subject of meetings:
Are they needed for as long as they are? Do they need all those present?
Imagine a meeting of about 16 exceptionally well paid people. discussing cost savings, They discuss for 2.5 hours the need for the organisation to save money.
16 people x $45.00 an hour = $720
AND they do it all again a week later... $1450...
What I know is that's not working.

Exploring resistance to the needed changes:
An ANT informed analysis
For change to occur, an appreciating doe what's maintaining the current systems is needed.
While ANT can inform this aspect, it does not provide directions; a network is never fully known and there are always going to be unintended consequences. (The example from Edwards and Siddharta in the opening paragraph points to the perverse that can occur when we think we are designing for other ends. See also Latour on Design Cornwall).
First, design is not ex nihilo, there is always something already in existence, and that existence has multiple activities sustaining its current shape.
Bruno Latour: "we are enveloped, entangled, surrounded; we are never outside without having recreated another more artificial, more fragile, more engineered envelope. We move from envelopes to envelopes, from folds to folds"
When we bring our best intentions we do not come empty headed or handed.
There are 'settled controversies' 'black-boxed' as it were that  have a tendency to not be questioned, they are instead treated as standard and not noticed.
But of the settled controversies that we might pull apart, we might also consider that nothing is good or bad but that thinking makes it so. 
Untangling others from what they do may require untangling thoughts and emotions and relationships  (with things both human and otherwise)  that are maintaining what currently is.
It takes work to keep things in the shape they are, just as it takes work to change such  shapes and what is shaping.

Things done:
Value adding:
We mapped a paper that had gone from 3hours a week face to face to four hours a week face to face to five hours a week face to face.
What was shown was no increase in student success on the paper, if anything there was a small downwards trend: Doing more of the same when there's a sense that what is currently being done is not enough didn't lead to the anticipated outcome. We are cutting the course back to four hours, but also doing a content review- what do we really want and what's the best way of getting there. This saved 20% of salaries, implemented through non replacement of a staff member being on leave (saving anticipated of $120,000 in form of salary saving as well as alteration in course components).

We are going paper minimalist:
We wont be printing paper booklets, these are accessible online (saving anticipated $12,000 annually).
The mapping of grades over time will continue, in appreciation of the best intentions in design can sometimes have perverse consequences.

Attending to pull rather than push:
Sharing the dilemma and inviting solutions but with a focus on what it is we collectively aim for,  shared approach in how to  implement this with concern for prudence and care, and with concern for pace. The changes made are done in our smaller semester.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Improving communications and workplace culture with a five finger meme. Rules of engagement.

Rules of engagement in a workplace renowned for herding cats...Simple rules.

Some simple rules for engagement based on an easy 5 finger mantra:

1. Thumbs up:
Bring your positivity

Engage with shared purpose: we are all in this for a shared reason, improving on what is, or will be otherwise.

Be respectful, polite, assume the best of others.

And give attribution where it is due >^^<

2. The index, pointing finger, or trigger finger.
Don't point at others.
Dont. Point. Fullstop.

 Make "I" statements rather than "you" statements.
Practice assertiveness skills:
The Desc script:
Describe with concrete data not with judgements
Express your concern regarding this
Suggest alternatives, seeking agreement
Convey the consensual consequences of such an approach.

3. The middle finger
Don't be rude.
image via

4. The ring finger
Engagement and commitment

Be on time
Use other's time respectfully
Follow through, accountability and responsibility matters.

Image by luv2laff(2014)

5. Small things matter:
Everyone plays more nicely when fed, watered, and get toilet breaks.
Treat people well, relationships are the only way we have to collectively move forward.
And remember other lives outside of a work-place also matters.