Curation note

Hello and welcome. I am recovering something through this blog. I recently started curating back pages, spurred on, in part, by quitting Twitter and engaging on Mastodon through and FediLab. I am making a new collection of poems, collecting as pages under Peaceful here. I will be looking for opportunities to read starting soon.

It is about working in poetry

Mick Heron refers to “…anything for a sausage roll poets.” A nod to (or at) the futile? Of course, he is right. But, I can make my own sausage rolls and do not need to compete with BAe or BP for a seriously-beyond-sausage-roll piece of the public purse to grift my my writing. So it is vanity, then? Not just. The first thing I need to do is, for once, be a good boss to myself. I have learned, about working for people, that good bosses don’t appeal to my (or their) vanity: positive or negative. There is a job. Do it or fuck off. They work as hard as they expect their staff to work and understand what you can be capable of, for good or ill. They don’t expect perfect. They expect a good professional account with reflection about how to do it “better” next time. So if my job is writing poems to be read AND heard, I need to get them audible and visible. There needs to be a trajectory… more… better… readers… listeners getting it: truth is allusive, seen squint and broken. And, the opposition is everywhere. Sometimes, they have sausage rolls.

Calibrating? Connecting? Consistently? (1)

On one level. that is what we do. All the time. We are planners, time and distance travellers. How much? Will it get us there? Every time? That is what we mean. But where is the “there” to which we want to get? And for whom do we want to get there? And who we?

Is there an effective broad, multi-adjectival, liberal, reflective, egalitarian, communal, woke, inclusive educational development tradition tracing ancestry to Dewey and Vygotsky with classical, marxist, cartesian, utilitarian, liberation and rational wellsprings, too?

Surely it is simpler than that.

Doesn’t the first rule apply?

And, why the admonitory tone?

There is a big “but” here.

I want to avoid the unexamined totalising/totalitarian “we” meaning “I” and yet also to claim some public – even (civic?) – space, if only for a moment. Participating in re-claimed space – not colonising it – is one way of paying a debt to we t’ing and our world.

I am returning to a question that I broached in my doctorate: there are the excluded and there are those who exclude (Roberts 2011: 27). And, as I suggested, the personal is still political (ibid.). That is how – at my university, anyway – the professoriate and SMT are chocks with the distaff half. But, there persists a challenge for people of colour. Or so it appears to me.

This is the beginning of an enquiry. I have been chewing on it since before Christmas.  I am using Scheffler’s (1965) three-part epistemology: knowing, doing and being, to explore an academic development framework that persisted for about 20 years (Oxford Brookes ~1993 – ~2012).  The “framework” aimed to be collectively owned, valued and experienced, part of the good staff experience, essential to education, underpinning academic quality and offered some (but by no means all) measures we needed to attend to, particularly those concerned with life after university: employability or leading a “life of consequence”.

Scheffler referred to the Rational, the Empirical and the Pragmatic as ways of being consistent (reasonable) in the: weight (calibre) of attention and presence (altogether: reliability) that we bring to our activity in relationships or connections. Academic development was grounded in these critical-theoretical principles.

We might know we were succeeding by our objectives, which were (once, anyway) to:

  • Expand networks of connections;
  • Span boundaries of ideas and things;
  • Establish foundations of local education quality;
  • Identify behaviours contributing to that quality;
  • Give presence, attention and work effectively in and across our fields;
  • Develop and refine measures we want and need (and have).
    [paraphrased items from Vice Chancellor’s longer list presented to the Dec 2017 SMT conference]

And, here is the big “but”. If I/we know, and have for years been promoting transformative learning (Mezirow 1997) based on dialogic and similar principles (e.g. Freire 1974, Chickering and Gamson 1987; Activity Theory, Communities of Practice, etc.), why do I still find learners, institutions and the curriculum in such tension, in an environment of ambiguity, anxiety, power and ideology (Morrison 2014; Roberts 2015)?

Get back on the horse

I have stumbled back over my place for writing and this is a surprise for me. I remember him! I last posted here two and a half years ago and retired from full-time paid academic work a few months later (August 2020), as the Covid lockdowns in the UK were being violated by Boris Johnson’s crew. My departure was not pleasant at the time. My parents each died: mother just before the first lockdown on 21 January 2020; father on 3 October 2021 as the second or third lockdown was easing. He was locked down and demented with no outside visitors for a year and a half.

I am going to leave it like this for a moment. I need to go to the shops, but I have a place and I am beginning to think about it again.

Cottage weavers

In another twist to the spiral curriculum thrown up in discussions triggered by the responses to Covid-19, we learn once again that things come round again, but different.

In Britain much heavy and primary industry has moved off the islands, where logistics, marketing and finance networks continue to make it uneconomic either:

  • To engage in such activities on the island; or
  • To develop new primary industries.

A century and more of bureaucrats and secretaries dictated structures and archived the protocols that wove these networks together.

Information technology enabled the expansion of information output as the assembly line and integrated hydrocarbon energy systems enabled the expansion of industrial output.

We gathered in great numbers on the roads and highways at predictable times as we crept to the great information mills where we worked: universities, research institutes, insurance companies, oil companies, banks, transport firms, health care providers and – of course – law firms.

There were some techno optimists who advertised Cisco Systems or Hewlett Packard lifestyles with a mobile phone and a laptop from a mountain cabin. We could be cyber commuters, dressed from the waist up. But for many reasons found it difficult.

Then, in February 2020, we all were forced through the looking glass to that world where we (who could, the information workers) had to work from home. We were shut out of the big information mills and found ourselves sat at our home looms weaving each our own very small part of the great information tapestry that holds our info-verse – our social imaginary – together.

And what is it all for? I have heard that for universities it is now “… all about control and compliance for service delivery. Not so much that academic freedom stuff.”

But, I repeat, what or who for?

Higher education: sunk at the end of history?

A reply to Justine Andrew. ‘The Strategic Imperative: Planning for a Post-Covid Future’. Wonkhe.

Justine Andrew in Wonkhe (6 May 2020) sets out a strategic approach to the big questions facing higher education: sector, institutions and their governors. She, at KPMG, uses the structure: React, Resilience, Recovery, Renewal and New Reality.

I want to suggest there is a flaw in her argument particularly when addressing the “New Reality”. The flaw is that higher education is a service delivered to customers by firms with employees. I acknowledge that this model underpins most orthodox economic thinking about society. I also acknowledge that that such a model is part of the story. The mission of the Office for Students to regulate higher education as a public utility confirms this. But, it is not the whole story.

Andrew asks, among other questions:

WHO is the “customer” (students, employers, government, partners in our region and globally) and what are their needs, now and in the future.

Higher education does not easily fit into the customer service model which dominates thought in the big accountancy consultancies and outsourcing firms. Higher education particularly does not fit into conventional accounting cycles, though it is forced to do so.

Higher education is, among others Andrew lists, its own customer, acquiring some of its “outputs” (graduates) for some of its own purposes (teaching and research). Therefore, higher education is also an employer. And, higher education is a partner. Institutions partner with each other as well as with local, regional and transnational partners in many categories: businesses, governments, militaries and NGOs.

But such a view is entrenched in the cadre of senior managers and governors of higher education institutions. Andrew asks:

Is the portfolio mix the right one and how can the university balance the need to reduce cost, generate revenue and, most importantly, meet the needs of the wider economy post-Covid-19, as well support strong recovery in the places where the university operates?

Lost in these questions is the epistemic role higher education plays as the “psyche of society”, one among several repositories of our cultures’ memories.

To point this out is to risk the accusation of elitism. To engage in activity that does not appear to deliver a customer a service within an annual accounting cycle for an efficient return is presented as a privilege to be pulled down. And that is not how a “new reality” will be shaped. That is the old one seeking to reassert itself. If there is one thing that the corona virus crisis should show us is that we are not sunk at the end of history.


Andrew, Justine. 2020. ‘The Strategic Imperative: Planning for a Post-Covid Future’. Wonkhe (blog). Accessed 6 May 2020.

Sustainable assessment

Been asked to reread David Boud’s (2000), Sustainable Assessment: rethinking assessment for the learning society. For me the article dances around problems of performativity and supervision.

Implicit and explicit throughout is the assumption that individuals might become effective at self-assessment.

Assessment involves identifying appropriate standards and criteria and making judgements about quality. This is as necessary to lifelong learning as it is to any formal educational experience, although it may not be represented in formal ways outside the environment of certification. Assessment therefore needs to be seen as an indispensable accompaniment to lifelong learning. This means that it has to move from the exclusive domain of assessors into the hands of learners. A focus on methods and techniques needs to be replaced by a new conception of sustainable assessment required for lifelong learning.

Boud 2000, 151

On reflection I might see that I bring these problems. I often question supervised performance. Supervised performance is linked to real hunger through not lifelong learning but through lifelong employment. Real hunger is where will the next meal come from? For me? For my children? My neighbourhood, city, region. Can I provide my children the lifelong security I have had? There are plenty in the world who cannot, mostly through circumstances brought about by supervision and performance put at the service of, call it what you will: colonisation, surplus value, interest, rent, oligopoly; usurpation of a common wealth.

In abstracting many factors into the term “learning needs” we lose sight of the moral aspect of the question.

Sustainable assessment can similarly be defined as assessment that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of students to meet their own future learning needs.

Boud 2000, 151

Sustainability becomes an empty value unless there is consideration of some substance around what is sustained. Is learning a good in itself without regard to application or outcome? And, what is a “learning task”? Learners “… need also to be prepared to undertake assessment of the learning tasks they face throughout their lives” (152). Could daily activity become a learning task? How much activity should be framed as learning? Who frames the learning task? Who says: this-is-real-life; and: this-is-a-learning-task? When assessment is framed this way, questions of justice are raised.

Maybe this is easier when employed by a university or any educational institution. Boud reserves his comments for “…formal educational experience… within courses” (151). People like me and my colleagues are employed by institutions to assess formal learning activities in courses. If you remove “the domain of these assessors”, have you removed the need for assessment? For whom is the assessment performed, in the end? The assessors? Or, the assessed? Or another? Again I return to justice.

The idea of reciprocity appears to offer a means to retain justice within a framework of assessment for (and of) the other, but can a grand-narrative learning society serve reciprocal justice without doing to others? Boud draws on Frank Coffield’s excellent work. Coffield’s (2006) “Running ever faster down the wrong road”, summarises work undertaken throughout the 1980s and 90s, concluding, “… the government’s programme of reform in the public services, despite significant investments and successes, is now doing more harm than good.” I suggest this is as true today as it was then. There have been some successes in the first two decades of this century as there were in the last two of the previous century but, directionally, the inequities remain. Health and wealth inequalities are starkly illuminated by the coronavirus presence.


Boud, David. 2000. ‘Sustainable Assessment: Rethinking Assessment for the Learning Society’. Studies in Continuing Education 22 (2): 151–67.

Coffield, Frank. 2006. ‘Running Ever Faster Down the Wrong Road: An Alternative Future for Education and Skills. Inaugural Lecture’. Institute of Education.

Our World in Data, Gapminder and Justice

Thumbnail link to original chart and data, is one of those things that makes the Internet a-good-thing. It is one of those things that makes universities worth some of their pennies. “Research and data to make progress against the world’s largest problems… All free: open access and open source.” Strapline and mission, in one. And their data visualisations are the best since Gapminder. Gapminder is another of those things that makes universities and the Internet good things. Truth through numbers made accessible visually, addressing problems that most people will understand. Kind of like Michael Sandel’s Justice course. There are more, but I realise this could become a long post, for which I do not have time this morning. About which, more later.

The personal-political imaginary restructured by a universal-Turing-machine symbolic

The tools used in a personal learning environment (PLE) will to some extent determine the shape of that environment. The shape of any object is always in some way a reflection of the tools used to make it. And as tools shape the object, so too will desire for the object shape the evolution of tools. That is, there are no “universal” tools. Any tool operates only on a part of the whole.

Lacan, who took Vygotsky’s work from develomental psychology into psychiatry, asserted that the imaginary is what we believe ordinary life to be. It is our representation of the real to ourselves: our belief as to what is “real”. The symbolic is the apparatus of language, law, discourse and custom: the tools by which we express and regulate the imaginary. The tools of our symbolic order shape our imaginary life. We think within the frames of our languages, cultures, tools and experiences.

Our learning environments are shaped these days by digital technologies. Digital technologies are the contemporary new-shiny symbolic order: a universal-turing-machine symbolic of imaginary universality.

Personal learning environments: everybody has one

Covid-19 has given me a little time to reflect on my past 10 or 15 years. A Personal Learning Environment (PLE) is for me, first of all a purpose, and then a place where I engage in activity with others. Only then do I look for tools to effect my participation in that activity with those other people. Whatever it is, it is not one thing.

A healthy personal learning environment and personal learning network is (or strives to be) a social learning network.

PLE 2010

One large multi-modal conference I participated in was the Personal Learning Environments (PLE) Conference (2010). In Barcelona and everywhere. (Graham Attwell’s account is still here). Graham’s “unkeynote”, partly crowd-sourced, asked us to imagine our own PLE. I went critical theoretical and wrote this, below. My aim in a few subsequent posts is to expand and explain. I said, my PLE is:

A progressive, emancipatory, democratic re-centering on the human other-space between community and identity where cultural capital accounts are balanced and the personal-political imaginary is restructured by a universal-Turing-machine symbolic, generating and regenerating tools and knowledge with which to build – in struggle if necessary – an unenclosed global commons of culture, nature, and  our geno-mimetic heritage;

A hyper-distributed mesh of universal, co-created, open community information and applications, on extremely local (even personal) infrastructure;

GPL-type, open-source, creative commons (attribution, share-alike) licensed; Powered by renewable, sustainable energy sources.

Return surplus value (material and symbolic) to the common-wealth;

Enable the free movement of economic, social and cultural capital, the free movement of cultural and economic goods, and the free movement of people;

Facilitate cultural mediation, creativity, learning and play;

Preserve, respect and protect human (and bio) diversity; Resist oppression, exploitation and hegemony.