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?

Our World in Data, Gapminder and Justice

Thumbnail link to original chart and data

ourworldindata.org, 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.

https://ourworldindata.org/grapher/coronavirus-cfr

Reflection in action: professional development study visits

How close to the moment can you get? “Be here now,”  urges 1960s psychologist Richard Alpert. A mythical Google aspires to a perfect concurrent rendering of this reality: in real-time, in software. How much rewinding can we do before anyone notices the pause for thought? Reflection in action often has the effect of: “Oops! Don’t do that again.” Have we all heard ourselves tell ourselves, “Don’t say that,” and then hear ourselves say it? The warning reverberates like a slow bell buoy. It fades until the next wave makes a ding! Good learning is sometimes referred to as “authentic”. What is this but being “in the moment”?

I have been invited to “Listen to and comment on” a number of presentations this morning. These presentations will be made by participants on a study tour for Chinese academics and higher education professional and student-support services staff.

I received the invitation yesterday morning in a hotel dining room in Cardiff, shortly before co-facilitating a workshop for newer academic staff at the University of Cardiff, who may be new to teaching and leading study modules.

So this is a note to myself, in the moment between. My colleagues at OCSLD and I use a phenomenographic approach to analysing learning events and the work of those who lead, teach or otherwise facilitate learning in higher education. Try to distinguish between event and judgement. There is data. And, there is analysis.

I have engaged with four one or two-day events organised by Oxford Prospects Programmes. Two events were for about 50 “senior academics” (n=100) from a number of Chinese Universities. One event was for about 45 professional and student-support services staff. One event was a symposium on “Education and Social Governance” jointly organised by Beijing Normal University and the Department of Education at the University of Oxford. At the symposium, academics from both institutions, eminent local government officers and representatives of the British Embassy in Beijing and the Chinese Embassy in London addressed contemporary socio-economic impacts of higher education and the role of education in social governance issues such as rural depopulation, industrial development and teacher education.

I am seeing these events all through a professional development eye as an authentic opportunity to consider where a globalising academy sees itself going next.

Beginning of term

Shamanic meso-american woman playing the earth as a computer keyboardSystems or people? We can model learning in order to develop ways for our machines to acquire, store, process and apply data: information gathered from the world around. Although I put it as a vague question of preference at the start of this essay, it has many ramifications. Are people not just quite complex systems? And is complexity simply a diversion? Is it not a more simple question? Where are the boundaries and limits?

I ask this at the beginning of term because this is hurricane season for university administration people and systems in general, and has been in particular for my university at this moment. We are building a new student record system. Well, we are acquiring, localising and implementing a student record system consisting of many new – and large – components. And, it is the system we use to manage relationships.

Which means, for the moment at least, we need to manage relationships in a different way: through people not systems. Or at least we have – for the moment – to act as though people are different to systems. Or, maybe that systems are people?

One thing we do know about people is that they feel things when they are under stress. They feel things like anger, anxiety and fear. Can I repeat that, please, using “I-statements”? I feel angry, anxious and fearful when I am under stress. While I want to be careful about projecting those feelings onto colleagues, I also want to attend to others with empathy for the possibility that they might also be angry, anxious and fearful.

Tinkering with algorithms

I read Franklin Foer’s Facebook’s War on Free Will the Guardian’s “Long read” for Tuesday 19 September 2017.

He recapped a familiar argument: you are Facebook’s product. But when he hit “data science” I turned up my sensors. He says, “There’s a whole discipline, data science, to guide the writing and revision of algorithms”. Then he picks up on Cameron Marlow, “the former head of Facebook’s data science team”:

Facebook has a team, poached from academia, to conduct experiments on users. It’s a statistician’s sexiest dream – some of the largest data sets in human history, the ability to run trials on mathematically meaningful cohorts. … Marlow said, “we have a microscope that not only lets us examine social behaviour at a very fine level that we’ve never been able to see before, but allows us to run experiments that millions of users are exposed to.”

The point the experimentalists miss is that the experiment is directed towards outcomes already. The ethics are, at least, sensitive. Continue reading “Tinkering with algorithms”

Dialogic multimedia

Biblioteca Angelica
Biblioteca Angelica (cc sa) Seth Schoen

What kicked me off on this audio exploration of academic multimedia? Two things.

First and proximal cause: when I reported that my colleagues and I had been asked if we could give workshops on technology enhanced learning (TEL) the suggestion was scoffed. Why give workshops when you could do a series of three minute talking heads?

But the deeper underlying cause has been my interest in academic multimedia and dialogue – even dialogism – in learning. Continue reading “Dialogic multimedia”

FSLT16 Week 1

Week one has flown by like a simile. There are 58 participants on the course of whom 22 are doing the module for academic credit (10 credits, level 7) towards a PG Cert in Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (PCTHE). Sixteen (16) of the assessed participants are from Brookes and six are from other places. So far 20 people have claimed the “Scholar” badge for contributing to the collaborative annotated bibliography. The most distant participant is in Central America, but this year the participants are largely based in the UK.

I am not sure what these numbers tell us. In many ways FSLT is now quite an “ordinary” online course. That doesn’t mean it isn’t engaging. It might mean the mooc buzz, such as it was five years ago has vanished into the maw of Coursera and Future Learn.  FSLT justifies itself because of the internal members of staff who take it as part of their mandatory PCTHE. We used to run our introductory module twice a year, once in each semester. No we run “Learning and Teaching in Higher Education” (P70405) face to face in the first semester and offer people the opportunity of taking 20 credits online in the second semester. Opening the course up to the world for free allows us to widen our audience and expose ourselves to a wider community of teachers in the expanding tertiary education sector. That is, as well as being good for what it teaches, it should be beneficial to our teachers because of the wider community they might meet. And for those from beyond Brookes, we trust it isn’t too bound up with local jargon.

FSLT16 Kicking off

It has been a lot of work this year getting FSLT ready to go. Partly this is because as ever, I start too late. We also pulled the starting date forward from last year by two weeks so not only am I late the course is early. There were several reasons to do this, but mainly we hoped to be able to engage with teachers before (most of) their own teaching started.

But the main reason for the load of work was because the course had become over complicated and a lot of the internal links had broken or degraded. It needed a lot of patching up and this led me to do a root and branch overhaul. We have simplified the assessment scheme, tidied up the activities and are rebuilding the resources. We hope to stay at least a week ahead of the timetable! It is still not perfect, but it is a lot better than it was (in my eyes).

I hope you who are participating agree.

FSLT16 Joining Instructions

First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (#fslt16)
20 January – 26 February 2016

Hello all

Thank you for your interest in First Steps into Learning and Teaching in Higher Education (#fslt16). Welcome to the course.

These “Joining instructions” should help you to get started. Continue reading “FSLT16 Joining Instructions”