Techniques are what teachers use until the real teacher arrives a #cel260 story

Baltasar_van_den_Bosch_001

Balthasar van den Bosch – A.M. Koldeweij, P. Vandenbroeck en B. Vermet (2001) Jheronimus Bosch. Alle schilderijen en tekeningen, Rotterdam: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam: NAi Uitgevers [enz.], ISBN 9056622196, ill. 131, p. 150. The Conjurer

We welcomed a new intake on our Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education course.  Over Tuesday and Wednesday evening 36 lecturers and post-doctoral students arrived with a range of expectations, hopes, and concerns.

Whether career progression was a motivating factor or not, all sought some support to develop their teaching skills and knowledge.  Some would arrive explicitly aiming to grapple with theories of teaching and learning.  All would hope to leave the course with new ‘tricks and tips’, practical techniques that they could employ in their classes NOW.

But ‘tips and tricks’ is a misnomer, since it suggests a separation from theory (and that theory is somehow separate from practice).  Kurt Lewin, a scholar of very practical inclinations, is reputed to have said that,

there is nothing as practical as a good theory

In outlining the curricular intention of the course we exposed the underlying constructivist philosophies of learning, modeling the method we hoped our colleagues would adopt in relation to their own practice.  Why?

The title of this post paraphrases a comment by Parker Palmer about the nature of teaching.  In his inspiring book ‘The Courage to Teach‘ he espouses a manifesto for a heartfelt practice of teaching – teaching as service (as distinct from service teaching).  Part of his thesis is that technique alone is never enough.  We can deploy the most sophisticated or engaging methods, but if they are devoid of a wider purpose they are likely to fail.  The reality is that when we experience a good teacher this wider purpose may not be clearly articulated (to us or to themselves).  So this is not a call to theory dominated teaching.  Rather it links to the questions I think Gert Biesta asks when he seeks to reprieve the language of teaching that seems often neglected by constructivist philosophies.  He asks us to think seriously about what it is we think we teach.

Because our license to practice as university teachers is the PhD (or other similar qualification) we are actually licensed to research.  We are comfortable with our domains and communities of knowledge.  Consequently, we can be mistaken in thinking that what we teach is our subject.  But, Biesta and others suggest, what we teach are views of the world and how we engage with that world.

On the course we expose the underlying constructivist beliefs in order to demonstrate how these weave in and through the techniques we use in class.  The fact that we construct the course around a small number of key concepts (rather than a list of content); that we privilege reflective modes of inquiry; that we promote dialogical engagement are all enactments of the underlying view of knowledge and the knower.  We do not do this in order to recruit them to these philosophies.  Instead, we want them to consider the authenticity of what they do.

What is meant by authenticity here?

Going back to the way we try to model the practice we encourage our colleagues to adopt, we are also hopefully modeling an authentic practice.  Its authenticity does not derive from its proximity to constructivist approaches to teaching, but to an openness to being questioned.  If we want our students to conceive of themselves as makers of the world rather than mere consumers, to be open to different perspectives, to be attentive to the values that underpin and guide their behaviours, then our teaching needs to model that in some way (and in imperfect ways).  We need to teach in ways that show the limits of our practice.

 

Going against the groove with a groovy beat – a #blimage story

vinylsheffield

Sheffield sits uneasily in my soul.  It is a city I love, but it is also where I have faced death in the face and just about survived.  It is a place I go back to regularly, each time finding new ways to love its energy, its independent spirit and connect with dear friends.  But it is also troubling, as I am always accompanied by ghosts of that near-ending, and of the way of being that led me to that point.

I visited Sheffield again recently.

And I found that I related to it differently (even though it was only a year since I was there last).  Sure, the ghosts were there, but I wasn’t troubled by them so much.  I let them be.  They are hungry ghosts, never satisfied, no matter the quantity of anguish I give them.  So I let them sit there.  Instead, it was the image of the record shop above that captivated my imagination because it spoke of a Sheffield that feeds my soul (as my new home of Galway does).  And it is this image I want to spend some time reflecting on.

Why an image?

Because of a challenge.

What challenge?

Well, a good colleague and friend @sharonflynn  alerted me the #blimage challenge, and well, to get on and do a post god damn it!!!!  Use an image to get thinking about learning.

And so @vinylsheffield.

In a way, this image reduced the ghosts to silence. How?  This record shop stands for much of my Sheffield, the Sheffield I love.  It doesn’t care to be like London, or other big cities nearby like Birmingham or Manchester or Leeds.  They celebrate their uniqueness, not caring much if it is out of fashion (whose fashion?).  It is its independence of spirit that attracts me (and perhaps why Galway feels so familiar).  And this independent spirit is in the water, is part of its historical DNA – no matter where people originate from.  It is Steel City, but not that imagined by so many folks, who imagine it incorrectly as being about hot furnaces and sheets of glowing steel.

Instead, it has always been a creative place, a maker space, a place of crafts and imagination.

And this spirit lives on in a multitude of creative acts that belie the national story of conservative revolution, austerity, and the industrial (and social) decline of the North of England (they still vote Labour there you know).

What has this got to do with learning you may ask.

Well, it speaks to the learning or the philosophy and politics of education I try to embody and inhabit (though not always, and not always successfully).  Its about an idea of education that is more like the independent spirit of places like Sheffield and Galway, the insistence that the hungry ghosts of neo-liberal depression need not be fed, and that we can just get on and do it our own way, thank you very much.

The hungry ghosts seem to tell us that we are always failing, always not meeting the target or outcome, always in need of improvement (continuous improvement), that only excellence is enough.  We know that often we are forced to feed these ghosts.  We do so reluctantly.  But there are too many in education who do so willingly, actually believing in the bullshit (really, what was the point of their education?).  The independently spirited education I favour encourages folks to see the bullshit for what it is, and to encourage them to be creative, to be their own makers, to share, to believe in generosity.

On this recent trip I was able to inhabit Sheffield with a new spirit of freedom.  I was able to share in the generosity of my friends, enjoy the creativity of the city’s inhabitants, to marvel at the free spirits – and yes, of course, the fine beer.  The ghosts were there.  I nodded to them.  But ignored them.  I was in no mood to feed them.

And what does this have to do with a record shop?  There is a struggle in Sheffield (as everywhere) to resist the onslaught of corporate thinking and its astonishing lack of imagination and soul.  This record shop, like many other created and creative spaces in the city stands against that desert like logic (I know deserts are not lifeless or without feature but you know what I’m getting at).  It is apparently ‘out of step’, yet, so right!

I leave you with two examples of the spirit I enjoy.

Who would have thought that Northern English Brassband culture could become this:

And in Galway we groove our nights away with abandon regardless of the performative culture:

Academic Exchange as Emergent Practice – a #TJC15 Story

Garni_Gorge3

(http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Garni_Gorge3.jpg)

The piece below is the brother post to Laura Gogia’s “Becoming Pedagogy for Becoming People“.  This relates to #TJC15 that I have written about before.  Our blog posts are an extension of our participation in #TJC15 and an instantiation of open scholarship.  We have published a Storify of a ‘twinterview‘ where we discussed ideas that are now found in extended form in these two blog posts.  As part of our commitment to open scholarship we are sharing the various iterations of our thinking/writing, inviting responses and contributions from others.  There will be further iterations over the coming weeks.

In the piece below, in the spirit of the particular ethic of open scholarship that I articulate I present my writing in an unfinished form (there are now hyperlinks or references). This is version 2.  Below you will see version 1.  This version was written using Ommwriter, a tool for contemplative computing.  The ethos of Ommwriter is that you focus on writing and so do not avail of the distractions of editing or spell checks.  I use this for first drafts so that I can concentrate on the essential ideas rather than formatting.


OPENINGS

Twitter Journal Club arrived in front of me at a moment of opening. I was open to a reconfiguration of my practice, a revisioning, in almost every sense of that term. I was a year into my job, in a new institution, a new country, and a new field of practice. I had moved from a fairly well bounded field of sociology of education to the more porous field of academic practice (jackson). I had already shifted balance, perhaps even sought to be off-balance in making this move. I had moved from familiarity to deep unfamiliarity. I had moved from a sense of authority or certainty to being a novice. So a year in I was emerging from that steep learning curve you encounter on entering new terrain. Continuing with that metaphor I had navigated safely through this new topography and rather than seek refuge in the new known, I sought disruption, disorientation. I sought to pocket the map and replace it with a new way of travelling, a form of travel more akin to the Situationist dérive.

Let me open up this moment of opening a little more.

I arrived in my current post mid-year. Although I arrived eager to make teaching and learning the core of my interests (rather than the core of my activity though not the core of my knowledge or personal learning networks) I was faced with more immediate demands – to cope, to cope with an existing curriculum and syllabus, with a cohort of students who had gained familiarity with each other for a semester and had formed relationships with their tutors. I was washed up ashore and needed to make it habitable, for me. I made my mark here or there, but it was a time characterised by a sense of cognitive dissonance. Everything looked familiar – how many configurations of higher education classes can you have? But everything was strange, slightly off kilter. There was new literature to get to grips with, and concepts half understood had to be more fully grasped. While some of my habitual ways of thinking and doing traveled well, many had to be put aside, leaving me feeling exposed. I started a new academic year feeling that I ‘knew’ the course, I knew its contours, I knew it peaks and valleys, I knew where to ford the rivers, I knew which were the places that were less clearly defined and so should be approached with some caution. I was even able to start re-drawing the map, becoming a cartographer of learning myself. I felt empowered in being able to apply principles of academic practice that had long been constrained, of enacting modes of constructivist being.

While the digital landscape was all around me and digital learning was in deed part of my remit, though one I was still to engage with, connectivism was not one of the lines drawn on the map, not a symbol, not a northing or easting. But it was there, in collegial conversations, hinted at when talking of open educational resources, of breaking out of the constraints of learning management systems. Even though I was already a fairly active blogger, both professionally and otherwise, and used twitter, the idea of these being platforms for a reimagined educational landscape was only slowly coming into view for me. One colleague nudged me in particular. I was challenged by her talk, by her practice, by her desire for more open educational practices. I felt resistance, resistance to the unfamiliar, to the challenging, to the not-quite-understood. While I was trying to put order on my anxiety, she was encouraging something that felt reckless. So, even though I was stimulated by the anarchic philosophy of Rânciere, and talked of enacting freedom and seeing what happens, my actual practice was somewhat different. And so I took a step from what I came to understand as striated to soft space (bayne) and engaging with forms of open education and scholarship that could be viewed as types of ‘nomadic science’ (D&G).

My entanglement with this was multiple in that it spoke directly to my new role in academic development, but also to a broader critique of academia as dangerous space. Over years of working in the striated spaces of postgraduate programmes and professional doctorates I had come to see the limitations not of the striated spaces but of the weak structures and failure to utilise the capabilities offered by the LMS. Coming into this job I was able to introduce into my courses those elements I had often found lacking in my previous work. Specifically this took the form of maximising the LMS so that it became less of an archive and more of a hub. But it is clear now that what I was mostly maximising was its MANAGMENT aspect. Its pedagogic function was less clear to me. However, I did introduce many elements of the flipped classroom and ‘just-in-time’ teaching.  Of course, I have come to see how this also works as an enframing device, of locking me and the participants into a closed system. My desire to provide clarity and clear signposting also had this mix of striation and softness, of clarity within enframement. Expectations, underlying pedagogies were all opened up to participants as central to my daily practice with them. This seemed more than appropriate given that we were focused on the development of teaching and learning in higher education. I tried to model the practices that were expected of them in the courses. If they had to keep a reflective journal then I did; if they had to talk openly about their signature pedagogies, then I did.  So, in this regard my slow turn towards open pedagogies and connectivism was a continuation of a journey I was already on.

OPEN SCHOLARSHIP

I had also been involved in critiquing higher education as a particular kind of dangerous space. I had done this from an autoethnographic perspective in my ongoing ‘broken academic’ project (link). This involved linking wellbeing and the micro-aggressions of academic life to the broader political economy of higher education. But this also found form in another kind of journal club. And it is this particular experience that resonates so much with TJC. The space was that of a combined MA in Academic Practice and a loose cluster of colleagues interested in the scholarship of higher education. Some structure was provided through the development of a journal club activity whereby we focused on a particular journal article in our fortnightly sessions. Although I initially volunteered the readings it was how we engaged with this structure that brought it close to my growing commitment to open scholarship. We were engaged in this reading in a context of a highly charged gender politics of academic promotions. We read in the context of petitions, court cases, and demonstrations. Our reading took up these themes, allowing us to examine a range of debates about how the university and academic practice could be both critiqued and re-imagined. The boundary between scholarship and our daily lives as academics became seriously blurred, and blurred seriously. For me this was reflected in a renewed interest in using my professional blogs a spaces to rehearse ideas, to practice writing, and to speak out loud about thoughts and writings that were in progress, unfinished. This covered both reflections on what was going on in class (links) and those emerging from the critical space of the MA.

TJC appeared at the confluence of these streams of activity, of these openings. Importantly, here, it housed two sets of practices/ideas that have increasingly defined my practice:

  • TJC as an enactment of academic practice beyond the ‘managed CV’
  • TJC as involving an ethic of care.

BEYOND THE MANAGED CV

The modern university, certainly in the UK and Irish contexts, is being experienced by many as a dangerous space. I will say more on this in relation to the ethic of care. But one dominant characteristic is the growth of methods of management that seek to align the personal CV of the academic to institutional objectives. We live and work in an age of the ‘managed CV’ or the ‘accelerated academy’ (links). These practices work to alter our own practices and relate to how we perceive ourselves as academics. TJC was interesting for me because it positively challenged both my inherited academic identity and the strictures of the ‘managed CV’.

The experience has tested my technical capabilities in relation to managing the various tools required to engage in this particular digitally mediated interaction. I had to move quickly from being mostly a consumer to being a producer in the twitterscape. You become entangled in the algorithms in a way that demands an intensity of thought, quite contrary to the ‘slow thought’ that I have sought to cultivate and value highly (link slow university). The content of the articles also demanded an acceleration of cognitive shift, to become familiar with a new terrain of connectivist discourse and digital pedagogies. I might have been operating from within an LMS but I was still an analogue academic. I would leave the TJC sessions simultaneously exhilarated and exhausted.

I came to reflect on how this experience differed from much of my day to day practice, and the feelings that this produced. The idea that a core feature of academic practice is the free exchange of knowledge, and that this is structured through academic journals and conferences sat uneasily beside the exhilaration of TJC. The unease did not come just from the contrast of intensities. Firstly, It came from recognition that in this particular experiment there was a quality of exchange and interaction that was largely absent from my own experience of traditional modes of academic exchange. Academic knowledge is locked behind a series of pay walls – journal subscriptions and conference fees in particular. The MA reading group discussed often the way the outputs of our endeavours were being commodified and knowledge privatised. We discussed the attacks on the very idea of academics as involved in eh production of public goods. The structures of academic progression demand that we collude with this privatisation of knowledge and locking it behind various pay walls. Indeed, many if not most academics see this as unproblematic. Secondly, the idea that what actually happens in academic journals and conferences is a free exchange of knowledge feels näive. Journals and conferences are substantively hierarchical spaces. Indeed, academic promotion is premised upon this hierarchy. We are counselled to publish in high impact journals, regardless of the quality or innovativeness of what we actually write. The assumption of course is that high impact journals equate with high quality scholarship. But the algorithms for measuring ‘impact’ (ref) do not assess quality of outputs and are mechanisms that increasingly tie the practice of academic endeavour to the commercial interests of academic publishers. Again this links back to the privatisation of knowledge.  Thirdly, academic publishing through the closed spaces of pay-per-view journals disguises the process of writing and working with ideas; it disguises the collective and collaborative nature of the academic enterprise. Writing is messy. Thoughts are usually emergent, being worked out in the moment. Academic publishing demands polished, non-messy, products. They are non-emergent. Even when articles have multiple authors there is a sense that the ideas contained within the bounded space of the article ‘belong’ somehow to the authors. This ‘belonging’, this notion of ownership of ideas is of course what gives legitimacy to academic promotion. You have appropriated the collective endeavour of many scholars, of participants in research, and privatised it, made it yours, and so added it to your CV, which you submit to the promotion panel.

TJC, despite its many limitations, for me, works against this culture of closure and privatisation. Accepting that no platform is ever fully inclusive, the use of this particular platform to engage in academic discussion breaks free of the institutionally defined spaces for academic exchange. There is inevitably a pay wall involved. You have to have access to the essential infrastructure – internet connection and a device for connecting to the platform and accessing the articles. But these are much more ubiquitous than the closed systems of universities, academic journals and academic conferences. The principle of using open access articles (whether pre or post published) is important in affording more people the capacity to participate. Using a digital platform means that the restrictions on international collaboration are, in principle, ameliorated, so long as attention is given to different time zones.

Activities such as TJC bear many of the hallmarks of Wabisabi, the Japanese aesthetic that celebrates incompleteness, amongst other qualities. The nature of the platform itself necessitates messiness, incompletness, disjuncture and non-continuous interaction. In this sense it also resembles the Situationist dérive and so can be thought of as a way of moving through a particular academic terrain (defined initially by the article of choice) but without a definite end point in mind. Following the idea of the dérive or psychogeography this is not without purpose, just that the purpose is emergent in the activity itself, and is likely to come out of specific interactions. It is marked by the way each of us would zone in on initial comments or questions posed by other participants, following up on those threads of discussion. The initial attraction might reflect a current interest or indeed might be recognised as something one had not thought of and so worth exploring. Each of us would then construct a representation of the event defined not by external criteria but by the impulses of attraction or repulsion. I would follow perhaps a number of threads but eventually concentrate on one or at most two. As has been seen in other events of this type, and I am thinking of various connectivist projects such as MOOCMOC and #rhizome, the interactions take on lives of their own outside of the specific frame the initial event. Indeed, this article is an example of just that. Again, this runs counter to the instrumental character of policy and institutional discourse on academic productivity and careers. In spaces such as this it is the connections and the working out of ideas, it is the emergent quality of academic practice that is foregrounded. This is enhanced by the way participants have chosen not to interrogate the articles as such but use them as springboards to reflect back on their own practices. There are interesting processes of feeding back on existing practice and feeding forward, of contemplation of new practices.

This relates to the third element, that of the way some TJC practices carry aspects of hacker culture. TJC discussions spring up in a wide network of places and spaces. Although Laura produces a storify after each event this is then available for anyone, TJC participant or not, to hack, to produce derivatives. Derivatives appear in peoples’ blogs or resurface in discussions in other connectivist spaces. This hacker commitment to re-use emphasises the collaborative nature of any endeavour. It is a different way of conceiving of the free exchange of knowledge that maintains a ‘public good’ aspect. While academics can become obsessed with plagiarism (in our students but also in relation to colleagues), TJC picks up on the growing interest in open data or experiments in collaborative education (lincoln ). It is non-proprietorial.

For me, TJC has felt like a ‘wild’ space escaping many of the closed systems that characterises and structures academic practice. In discussion with Laura I likened it to a ‘potluck’ meal rather than a three-course dinner. Although we had an entrée, the meaning of the event was given by what each of us brought to the table. Perhaps, building on the open access and hacker analogies, we can think of experiments such as TJC as forms of academic ‘maker spaces’.

ETHIC OF CARE

Personal circumstances (link) have made me particularly attuned to the many micro-aggressions we experience in academia. It would be nice to apportion blame to the rise of various neo-liberal forms of management and performative culture. But, as Kathleen Lynch has so rightly noted, higher education is almost endemically ‘careless’. In her discussion of this Kathleen Lynch points to the way the academic self is fashioned on a primary distinction between mind and body, a distinction that has historically privileged the male. Of course, this cascades out along a chain of other binaries such as public/private, assertive/passive, hard/soft science. By fetishising the the cognitive this model of academic identity and practice and its cross-referencing to gender means that women, in particular, have been poorly served by higher education. Some have sought to re-imagine higher education in ways that place care as central to the academic project and specifically as a public service (refs). What this actually means in the micro-practices of individuals is still a little uncertain.

I would argue that there are aspects of my experience of TJC that rehearse an ethic of care. In some ways the actual articles that form the initial point of contact are almost irrelevant, other than acting to signal the boundary of an affinity group. Thinking back on the idea of the ‘potluck’ and dérive, it is the specific character of connecting (what attracts and repels us in the different threads), the capacity of the article to support a feeding back on practice and feeding forward to imagining new practices that is important.   It is the emergent character of the activity the practices we undertake while engaged in TJC perhaps makes it more amenable to caring practice. Some of us have built up a certain amount of care and affection for each other over time and regular interaction in this and other spaces. But it is important to note that affection is not a necessary requirement. This is another example of how TJC resembles certain hacker practices. We are linked by a mutual interest in this project. We may or may not go on to work on other projects. It is the project and our interest in it that will determine the longevity of our commitment. Of course, proprietary practices are possible in such spaces. The hacker ethic simply dictates that if that happens, and if people don’t like it, then people go off and form other projects. Unlike the institutionally bounded spaces there is no requirement to keep TJC going. Anybody who has been involved in conference organising committees or editorial boards know how keeping the structure going all too easily becomes the underlying rationale. When that happens then care also dissipates. When participation in a project becomes a positional good in an academic market I believe care is undermined.


I am conscious of certain weaknesses in this piece, in particular

  • lack of discussion of the inherent problem of the ‘echo chamber’ effect in activities such as TJC
  • advancement of aspects of hacker culture that are too positive

I will deal with these in further iterations.


THE EXPEDITED VERSION (written with Ommwriter)

OPENINGS
Twitter Journal Club arrived in front of me at a moment of opening. I was open to a reconfiguration of my practice, a revisioning, in almost every sense of that term. I was a year into my job, in a new institution, a new country, and a new field of practice. I had moved from a fairly well bounded filed of sociaology of education to the more porous field of academic practice (jackson). I had already shifted balance, perhaps even sought to be off-balance in making this move. I had moved from familiratiy to deep unfamiliratity. I had moved from a sense of authority or certainty to being a novice (who had to act authoriorial). So a year in I was emerging from that steep learning curve you encounter on entering new terrain. Continuing with that metphor I had navigated safely through this new topography abd, rather than seek refuge in the new known, I sought disruption, disorientation. I sought to pocket the map and replace it with a new way of travelling, a fomr of travel more akin to the situationist derive .

let me open up this moment of opening a little more.

I arrived in y current post mid-semester. although i arrived eager to make teaching adn learning the core of my interests (rather than the core of my activity though not th ecore of th eknowledge networks) i was faced with more immediate demands – to cope, to cope with an existing curriculum and syllabus, with a cohort of students who had gained familirarity with each other for a semester already and had formed relationships with their tutors. I was washed up ashore and needed to make it habitable, for me. I made my mark here or there, but it was a time characterised by a sense of cognitive dissonance. Everything looked familiar – how many configurations of higher educatin classes can you have. But everything was strange, slightly off kilter. There was new literature to get to grips with, concepts half understood had to be more fully grasped. While some of my habitual ways of thinking and doing traveled well, many had to be put aside, leaving feeling exposed. I started the new academic year feeling that I ‘knew’ the course, I knew its contours, I knew it peaks and valleys, I knew wher to ford the rivers, I knew which were the places that were less clearly defined and so should be aproached with some caution. I was even able to start re-drawing the map, becoming a cartogrpher of learning myself. I felt empowered in being able to apply principles of academic practice that had long been constrained, of enacting modes of constructivist being. I fashioned forms of formative fedback, content as heuristics, drew out blackboard?????

I could have stayed in that place. The ill-defined zones were now more granular in their….

While the digital loandcape was all around me and digital learning was in deed part of my remit, though one I was still to engage with, connectivism was not on eof the lines drawn on teh map, not a sumbol, not a northing or easting. But it ws there, in collegial conversations, hinted at when talkin gof ‘open educational resources’, of breaking out of the constraints of learning management systems. Even though I was already a fairly active blogger, both professionally and otherwise, and used twitter, the idea of thes being platforms for a reimagined educational landscape was only slowly coming into view for me. I was nudged by one colleague in particular. I was challenged by her talk, by her practice, by her desire for more open educational practices. I felt resistance, resistance to the unfamlirar, to the challenging to the not-quite-understood. While I was trying to put order on my anxiety, she was encouraging a somethig that felt reckless. So, even though I was stimulated by the anarchic philosophy of RAnciere, and talked of enacting fredom ‘and seeing what happens’, my actually practice was somewhat different. And so I took a step from what I came to understand as a striated space to soft space (bayne) and enaging with forms of open education and scholarship that could be viewed as types of ‘nomadic science’ (D&G).
My entanglement with this was multiple in that it spoke directly to my new role in academic development, but also to a broader critique of academia as dangerous space. Over years of working in the striated spaces of postgraduate programmes and professionaldoctorates I had come to see th eliitations not of the striated spaces but of the weak structures and failure to utilise the capabitilites of offered by the LMS. Coming into this job I was able to introduce into my courses those elements I had often found lacking in my previous work. Specifically this took the form of maximising the LMS so that it became more than an archive and more of a hub. But it is clear now that what I was mostly maximising was its MANAGMENT aspect. Its pedagogic function was less clear to me. However, I did intorduce many elements of the flipped classroom and ‘just-in-time’ teaching. Of course, I have come to see how this also works as an enframing device, of locking me and the participants into a closed system. My desire to provide clarity and clear signposting also had this mix of striation and softness, of clarity within enframement. Expectations, underlhying pedagogies were all opened up to participants as central to my daily practice with them. This seemed more than appropriate given that we were focused on the development of teaching and learning in higher education. I tried to model the practices that were expected of them in the courses. If they had to keep a refelctive journal then I did; if they had to talk openly about their signiture pedagogies, then I did. So, in this regard my slow turn towards open pedagogies and connectivism was a continuation of a ourney I was already on.

OPEN SCHOLARSHIP
I had also been involved in critiquing higher education as a particular kind of dangerous space. I had done this from an autoethnographic perspective in my ongoing ’broken academic’ project (link). This involved linking wellbeing and the micro-agressions of academic life to the broader political economy of higher education. But this also found form in another kind og journal club. And it is this particular expereince that resonates so much with TJC. The space was that of a combined MA in Academic Practice and a loose cluster of colleagues interested in the scholarship of higher education. Some structure was provided through the development of a ‘journal club’ activity whereby we focused on a particular journal article. Although I initially volunteered the readings it was how we engaged with this structure that brought it close to my growing commitment to form sof open scholarlship. We were engaged in this ‘reading’ in a context of a highly charged gender politics of academic prmotions. Our reading took up these themes, allowing us to examine a range of debates about how the university and academic practice could be both critiqued and re-imagined. The boundary between scholarship and our daily lives as academics became seriously blurred. For me this was reflected in a renewed interst in using my professional blogs a spaces to rehearse ideas, to practice writing, and to speak out loud about thoughts and writings that were ‘in progress’, unfinished. This covered both refelctions on what was going on in class (links) and those emerging from the critical space of the MA.

TJC appeared at teh confluence of thse streams of activity, of these openings. Importantly, here, it housed two sets of practices/ideas that have increasingly defined my practice:

TJC as an enactment of academic practice beyond the ‘managed CV’

TJC as invovling an ethic of care

BEYOND THE MANAGED CV
The modern university, certainly in the UK and Irish contexts, is being expereincedby many as adangerous space. I was will say more on this in realtion to the ethic of care. But one dominant characteristic is the growth of methods of managment that seek to align the personal CV of the academic to instituional objectives. We liveand work in an age of the ‘managed CV’ or the ‘accelerated acdemy’. These practices work to alter our own practices and relate to how we perceive ourselves as acadmics. TJC was interesting for me because of how it positively challenged both my inherited academic identity and the strictures of the ‘managed CV’.

The expereince has tested my technical capabilities in relation to managing the various tools required to enage in this particular digitially mediated interaction. I had to move quickly from being mostly a consumer to being a producer in the twitterscape. You become entangled in teh algorithms in a way that demands an intensity of thought, quite contrary to the ‘slow thought’ that I have sought to cultivate and value highly. The content of the articles also demanded an execleration of cognitive shift, to become familiar with a new terrain of connectivist discourse and digital pedagogies. I might have been operating from within an LMS but I was still an analogue academic. I would leave the TJC sessions simulataneously exhilerated and exhausted. They were physically exhausting.

I came to reflect on how this expereince differed from much of my day to day practice, and the feelings that this produced. The idea that a core feature of academic practice is the free exchange of knowledge, and that this is structured through academic journals and conferences sat uneasily beside exhileration of TJC. The unease did not come just from teh contrast of intensities. Firstly, It came from a recognition that in this particular epxeriement there was a degree of exahcnage and interaction that was largely absent from my wn expereince of traditional modes of academic exchange. Academic knowledge is locked behiond a series of paywalls – journal subscriptions and conference fees in particular. The MA reading group discussed often the way the outputs of our endeavours were increasingly being commodified and knowledge privatised. We discussed the attacks on the very idea of acadcmis as involved in eh production of public goods. Teh structures of academic progression demand that we colude with this privatisation of knowledge and locking it behind various pay walls. Indeed, many if not most academics see this as unproblematic. Secondly it the idea that what actually happens in academic journals and conferences is a free exchange of knowledge feels naive. Journals and conferences are substantially hierachical spaces. Indeed, academic promotionn is premised upon this hierarchy. We are counselled to publish in high impact journals, regardless of the quality or inovativeness of qhat we actually write. The assumption of course is that high impact journals equates with high quality scholarship. but the algorithms for measuring ‘impact’ do not assess quality of outputs and are mechanisms that increasingly tie the prctice of academic endeavour to the commercial interests of academic publishers. Again, this links back to the privatisation of knolwedge. Academic conferences…Thirdly, acadmic publishing through the closed sapces of pay-per-view journals disguises the process of writing and working with ideas; it disguises the collective and collaborative nature of the academic enterprise. Writing is messy. Thoughts are usually emergent, being worked out in the moment. Academic publishing demands polished, nojn-messy, products. They are nn-emergent. Even when articles have multiple authors there is a sense that the ideas contained with in the bounded space of the article ‘belong’ somehow to the authros. this ‘belonging’, this notion of ownership of ideas is of course what gives legitimacy to academic promotion. You have appropriated the collective endeavour of many scholars, of participants in research, and privatised it, made it yours, and so added it to your CV which you submit to the promotion panel.

TJC, despire its many limitations, for me, works against this culture of closure and privatisation. Accepting that no platform is is ever fully inclusive, the use of this particular platform to enage in academic discussion breaks free of the institutionally defined spaces for academic exchange. There is inevitably a pay wall involved. You ahve to have access to teh basic essential infrastructure – internet connection and a device for connectign to th eplatform and accessing the articles. But these are much more ubiquitous than the closed systems of universities, academic journals and academic conferences. The principle of using open access articles (whether pre or post published) is important in affording more people the capacity to particpate. Using a digital platform means that the restrictions oninternational collaboration are, in principle, ameliorated, so long as attention is given to different time zones.

Activities such as TJC bear many of the hallmarks of Wabisabi, the Japanese aesthetic that celebrates incompleteness, amongst other qualities. The nature of the platform itself necessitates messiness, incompletness, disjuncrure and non-continuous interation. In this sense it also resembles the situatinist derive an dso can be thought of as a way of moving through a particular academic terrain (defined intially by the article of choice) but without a definite end point in mind. Following teh idea of the derive or psychogeography this is not without purpose, just that the purpose is emegent in the activity itself, and is likely to com eout of specific interactions. It is marked by the way each of us would zone in on initial comments or questions posed by other participants, following up on those threads of discussion. The initial attraction might reflect a current interest or indeed might be recognised as something on ehad not thought of and so worth exploring. Each of us woul dthen construct a represetnation of the event defined not by external criteria but by the impulses of attraction (and opposite?). I would follow perhaps a number of threads but eventually concetrate on one or at most two. As has been seen in other events of this type, and i am thinking of various connectivist projects such as MOOCMOC and rhizome, the interactions take on lives of their own outside of thespecific frame wothe initial event. Indeed, this article is an example of just that. Again, this runs counter to the instrumental character of policy and institutional discourse on academic peoductivity and careers. In sapces such as this it is the connections and the workingout of ideas, it is the emergent quality of academic practice that is foregrounded. this is enahnced by the way particpants have chosen not to iterrogate the articles as such but use them as springboards to reflect back on their own practices. There are interesting processes of feeding back on existing practice and feeding forward, of contemplation sof new practices.

This relates to the thrid element, that of the way some TJC practices carry aspects of hacker culture. TJC discussions spring up in a wide network of places and spaces. Although Laura produces a storify after each event this is then availabe for anyone, TJC participant or not, to hack, to produce derivatives. Derivatives appear in people’s blogs or resurface in discussions in other connectivist spaces. this hacker commitment to re-use emphaises the collaborative nature of any endeavour. It is a different way of conceiving of the free exchange of knowledge that maintains a ‘public’ aspect. While acaddmics can become obsessed with plagiarism (in our students but also in relation to coleagues) , TJC ick sup on the growing interst in open data or experiments in collaborative education (lincoln ). It is non-propriatorial.

For me, TJC has felt ‘wild’, escaping many of the closed systems that charactersies and strucures academic practice. In discussion with Laura I likened it to a ‘potluck’ meal rather than a three course dinner. Although we had an entre, the meaning of the event was given by what each of us brought to the table. Perhaps, building on the open access and hacker analogies, we can think of experiments such as TJC as form sof academic ‘maker spaces’.

ETHIC OF CARE
Personal circumstances (link) have made me particularly attuned to the many micro-aggressions we expereince in academia. It would be nice to apportion blame to the rise of various neo-liberal fomrs of managment and performative culture. But, as Katheen Lynch has so rightly noted, higher education is almost endemically ‘careless’. In her discussion of this Kathleen Lynch points to the way the academic self is fashioned on a priary distinction between mind and body. of course, thiscascades out along a chain of toher binaries such as public/private, assertive/passive, hard/soft science. By festishing the teh cognitive this model of academic identity and practice and its cross-referencing to gender means that women, in particular, have been poorly served by higher education. Some have sought to re-imagine higher education in ways that place care as cenral to the academi cproject and specifically as a public service (refs). What this actually measn in the micro-practices of individuals is still a little uncertain.

I would argue that there are aspects of my expereince of TJC that rehearse an ethic of care. In some ways the actual articles that form the initial poit of contact are almost irrelevant, other than acting to signal the boundary of an affinity group. Thinking back on the idea of the ‘potluck’ and derive, it is the specifica caharecter of connecting (what attracts and repels us in the different threads), the capacity of the article to support a feeding back on practice and feeding forward to imagining new practices that is important. It is the emergent character of teh activity the practices we undertake whlle engaged in TJC perhaps makes it more amenable to caring practice. Some of us have built up a certain amount of care and affection for each other over time and regualr interation in this an dother spaces. But it is important to note that affection is not a neccesary requirement. This is another example of how TJC resembes certain hacker practices. We are linked by a mutual interest in this project. We may or may not go on to work on other projects. It is the project and our interest in it that will determine the longevity of our commitment. Of course, proprietary practices are possible in such spaces. The hacker ethic simply dictates that if that happens, and if people don’t like it, then people go off an dform other projects. Unlike th einstituionaly bounded spaces there is no requirement to keep TJC going. Anybody who has been invlved in conference rganising committees or editorial boards know how keeping the structure going all too easily becomes the underlyhing rationale. When that hapens then care also dissipates. When participation in a project becomes a positional good in an academic market I believe care is undermined.

what is the point of education? why education should be about the cultivation of humane citizens

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I have just listened to Derek Jarman‘s “Blue” on BBC Radio.

Of course I saw the original film and have the book, though I never got to visit his garden (pictured above).

“Blue” is a touching and poetic account of his struggles with HIV/AIDS which was eventually to take his corporeal life, though his life-force lives on in his work, the love he bestowed on humanity, in the continued fight for equality and social justice.

It made me reflect on what the purpose of higher education is (as I have done before).  As the university seeks to optimise all our efforts towards institutional advancement but with apparently little regard for knowledge or wisdom, it is worth stepping back and reflecting.  Listening to this version of Derek Jarman’s prose-poetry acted to sustain such thought.

In the prose-poem he refers to the Memorial Quilt stitched together to commemorate many of those who died of HIV/AIDS.  It made me think of friends who, like Derek, sat in waiting rooms, received medication, were subjected to abuse, but whose humanity was as startling in their dying as it was in their living.

How this contrasts with the lifelessness of modern academia and academic management in particular.  How lacking in humanity is this metric driven edifice.

Maybe I would be better off visiting Derek’s garden so that I can be witness to some true humanity and wisdom!

Continuous Publishing and the digital republic of letters

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It has become something of a truism that we (that is academics) live in a time of intensification of academic labour with its technologies of surveillance such as research assessment exercises, key performance indicators, and metrics of productivity.  We are caught up in what Mark Carrigan has referred to as the ‘accelerated academy’ and its toxic and murderous effects.  It is this ‘toxic academy’ that I have directed some of my own energy, partly through my blog but more recently through more ‘legitimate’ (?) forms of academic publishing (book chapter under review).

In response to this situation some have called for the institution of a slow university that draws on the ethos of the slow food movement.  Others, however, have championed forms of open scholarship and open access as alternative or complementary practices.  Indeed some initiatives, such as the online journal Hybrid Pedagogy, deliberately situate themselves in this space.

Many of these debates congregate around the issue of academic publishing in these accelerated times.  In particular they attend to a number of intersecting issues:

  • the closed nature or privatisation of academic traditional publishing
  • the impact of the digital on traditional analogue publishing.

I won’t go into these issues in detail.  However, there has been growing concern about the dominance of academic publishers over the nature of academic labour, and that this constitutes a privatisation of what should be regarded as a public good.  The digital landscape has been seen by some as opening up a new republic of letters, a new way of reconnecting scholarship with its many publics.

My own scholarly practice has been impacted positively, in my view, by this more recent idea of a DIGITAL REPUBLIC OF LETTERS.  As Edward Said would note, there are many beginnings associated with this turn in my practice.  Specifically, I was inspired (and I use that term deliberately) by a number of articles in the LSE’s ‘Impact of Social Sciences’ blog.  These articles deal with the practice of continuous publishing.  One ‘beginning’ was my reading of Mark Carrigan’s discussion of The Open-Source Academic and the use of participatory media (for instance blogging and twitter).  I followed this discussion through two sister articles written by Mark and Pat Lockley.  They noted that “We need to have an ongoing and honest conversation about what academic publishing is, what it could be and what it should be.”, drawing attention to the perverse incentives generated by the particular kind of reputational economy that the accelerated academy is producing.  In this scenario university managers appear to fetishise metrics of academic productivity, being obsessed with improving their institutions’ relative position in an insular economy.  This particular reputational economy is increasingly divorced from the the big issues, and leads to public goods (research knowledge) being locked behind ever expensive paywalls.  They then go on to argue that multiple forms of publishing – journals, blogs, twitter, etc. should become the norm if we are serious about public engagement, and could enhance more traditional forms of reputational value.  Bonnie Stewart has done some incisive work looking at twitter activity as a measure of impact and contribution in open scholarly networks (which often sit alongside the traditional mode) (and it is important to mention Bonnie’s work here since a brief review of the LSE ‘Impact’ blog shows that men seem to be dominating this discussion in that particular space even though my personal empirical experience is of a dynamic network of women driving much of this forward).

But I think there is something beyond the #altmetrics buzz we are getting just now, something that has to do with ethical choices about the kind of academic you want to be.

I am struggling with this right now, caught between embracing digital and open scholarship as a strategy of increasing professional presence and public engagement (though the matter of publics is in need of serious deconstruction), and something more akin to #alt-ac.

My engagement with the work of Mark Carrigan and Pat Lockley came at a moment (a beginning) where I was reconsidering my place in academia, indeed whether I wanted to remain in it all.  A good colleague of mine had been gently nudging me to venture further into the digital and open scholarship space, and to build on my existing blog.  While my blog had initially been developed with a vague idea of the potential of participatory media as a platform for reflection, this was to be further and more deliberately developed later in response to my embracing of the digital identity.  This signalled a desire to refashion my professional identity and practice, to explore the opportunities afforded by ‘digital’, ’openness’, ‘connectedness’. 

In part this is a continuation of traditional modes of academic endeavour.  My sister blog ‘The Broken Academic’ is a vehicle for rehearsing ideas and writing leading to academic publication.  And in my main blog I am currently trying to tease out my understanding of various literatures in relation to aspects of learning and teaching in higher education, with the intent of publishing.  But I have taken to heart the ethic of continuous publishing as also being about uncovering the artfulness of academic writing, of its created sense; to capture in blog posts some of the messiness, the experimentation, so that it does not appear as ready-formed, as rationally produced, as the mere outcome of a recipe that one simply needs to follow.  In this it is a refashioning of the self and a framing of ‘engagement’ as making oneself vulnerable, and so undermining the potential mantle of ‘expert’.  Is this, though, a kind of ‘academic suicide’, a denial of the possibility of being an ‘academic’?

And this is why it is more than enhancing the traditional form of academic publishing (while not, as yet, refusing that offer completely). 

Jacque Ranciere is a fantom here, present not in his corporeal person but in his evocation of a spirit – the spirit that says “Enact openness and see what happens”.  I am seeing what happens, and what ‘openness’ might mean.

It is taking on interesting forms.

While for me the digital and open scholarship practices that I am trying to enact are about ‘connected scholarship’ I find myself enjoying the company of folks who might be described (inscribed?) by the term ‘connected learning’.  This space is defined by certain practitioners and certain concepts and certain networks, many of which overlap:

  • @catherinecronin; @bali_maha; @GoogleGuacamole (Laura Gogia); @JeffreyKeefer; @jessifer, @bonstewart, etc (just some most pertinent to this particular discussion) I am new to most of these folks and in a few short, but intense months, have learned so much that I doubt I can go back to where I was; and the use of ‘@‘ is deliberate because that is how I mostly know/communicate with them, the platform that carries the learning;
  • #connectivism; #connectedlearning; rhizomatic learning; digital scholarship; #digiped; #openscholar, etc. – and again the ‘#’ is instructive as to how I engage with these;
  • Hybrid Pedagogy/@HybridPed; @LSEImpactBlog; #TJC15 (via Laura Gogia); and now #rhizo15.

Now that most of my teaching has become f-2-f (having been distance/blended for so long), I find myself embedded in conversations about hybrid/connected/rhizomatic learning.  And although my concerns are with digital and open scholarship the crossover conversations are stimulating, push me beyond the familiar and habitual, push me into uncomfortable (but enriching) liminal spaces.

And, finally, perhaps this is what I really want to say:

I had imagined academia as a place where we regularly engaged in stimulating intellectual discussion, where, when one was teaching there would be pedagogic debate.  I never believed that this would happen all of the time.  But I had worked in spaces that on the surface appeared to share similar creative impulses (in community arts and education).  In those spaces debates/discussions/considerations of principle, of ideas, of pedagogy were central to what we did – TO OUR DAILY PRACTICE, TO OUR DOING.  Approaching 20 years in academia, in the company of the folks, the concepts, and the networks above, I find myself in that kind of stimulating arena, of being daily tested/attracted/disgruntled. 

BUT much of my normative/paid ‘academic’ doing is dominated by timetabling, meeting committee deadlines, instrumental demands around introducing modules rather than why we are doing it, what does it mean for teaching or for learning (and so for who we are or could be as academics).  Academic publishing and conferences are seldom experienced as invigorating but as enervating.

So, the discussions of continuous publishing speak, to me, of where we experience the kinds of discussion that academia should have, the spaces where we engage with people and ideas and practices that place us in liminal spaces, and therefore powerful learning.

What if? Or, alternative ways to structure the HE curriculum

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What if we organised the curriculum around difficult knowledge and awkward issues?

My favourite ‘teaching’ (such an awkward term when applied to colleagues) is the MA in Academic Practice which is also host to a wider network of colleagues across the institution who are interested in looking at different aspects of higher education.

So why is this my favourite?

As well as a new set of colleagues undertaking inquiry into aspects of their academic practice (understanding student engagement through time spent on online resources, deconstruction of discourses and practices of internationalisation, exploring the pedagogic role of service learning in constructing ‘professional’ identities, examining facilitation of student online engagement in ethical issues) there were a number of people who were looking for a home within which to have rigorous and vigorous debate.  Some are doing doctorates in different institutions but wanted a ‘local’ space for critical discussion.  To facilitate both sets of participants it was proposed that we organise the sessions around both presentations of ongoing research and a ‘journal club’ type activity where we would focus on an article.

We have been focusing on the contested nature of academic practice, specifically struggles to define the role of the academic and the university in neo-liberal times.  This took us recently to a discussion by Jon Nixon on the values that could underpin a new conception of academic professionalism as part of the university and academic work as public goods.  This was extended recently by looking at the work of Melanie Walker.

Melanie Walker, and many others, are entailed in re-inventing public sector professional work fit for a post-Apartheid South Africa. This has necessitated questioning the role of universities and their central role in professional education.  The article demonstrated a distinct difference in academics’ priorities with British academics privileging (disciplinary) knowledge whereas the data from South Africa placed greater emphasis on ethical and public good responsibilities.

Go into any European university and we will see that covering and delivering disciplinary knowledge is the way the idea of curriculum is enacted.  Within this there is little space for serious consideration of the ethical content of professional practice.  When looking at institutions such as my own, they are engaged in producing graduates who will be leaders and decision makers – that is engineers who are making decisions about engineering projects rather than tightening the bolts.  Craig Calhoun has argued that because of this universities have a moral obligation to take seriously the ethical dimension.  This is not a call for some kind of social engineering but to ensure that our graduates have had the opportunity to practice the kinds of skills necessary for identifying and working through the dilemmas that they will confront.  For instance, law students will sit through lecture after lecture going through case law.  Case law deals with numerous dilemmas yet are often dealt with as disembedded and disembodied knowledge to be recalled in exams.

We wondered, then, whether there was a different way of envisioning the higher education curriculum, one that was structured around difficult knowledge and professional dilemmas.

The Ethics of Academic Practice: Combatting Exploitation and Working for Social Justice

Is modern academia an economy of theft?

I am continuing with my contemplations on the 5 Mindfulness Trainings and how they can inform an ethics of academic practice.

In this second post I take the training on ‘True Happiness’:

True Happiness

Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to practicing Right Livelihood so that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.

 

What is meant by this ambitious declaration and how might it be imprinted on my academic practice?

I want to begin at the end, as it were, and the direct referencing of a commitment to reversing global warming.  This is a kind of aside but bear with me.

In referencing global warming specifically I feel that Thay is indicating that while the ‘trainings’ are universal, in the sense that their core orientations can be applied in any context, they should be adapted to the specific contexts within which we live.  This understanding of the universal yet contextual nature of the ‘trainings’ is important.  The ‘trainings’ are to be worked with rather than simply applied.  They are designed to sensitise us to certain ways of being rather than rules to be imposed.

The only authority behind the ‘trainings’ is our own commitment to ethical practice.

…and now down to business.

There are a number of topics that arise during discussion with colleagues on the academic development programmes I run that deal with issues of integrity and honesty.  They can arise in two specific contexts, those of academic integrity/plagiarism, and the ethics of authorship.  But I want to add another, that of the increasingly institutionally ‘managed’ nature of our academic CVs.

Plagiarism, authorship, and integrity

I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others

When writing, as academics or students, we are entering into discussion with communities of thinkers and writers – past, present and future.  Central to the idea of scholarly activity is the dispassionate exchange of ideas in the common pursuit of knowledge – that is, the ideal of the Republic of Letters (see the Networking the Republic of Letters, 1550-1750 project for an interesting piece of research on this).  I know this is an idealised notion of academic and scholarly activity.  I also know that it can hide the imperial and gendered natured of the enterprise.  But there is something in the idea that offers different ways of being an academic in the contemporary moment.

What I take from the idea is the notion that we are never the ‘owners’ of knowledge, of ideas, of text, but only ever the custodians.

Viewing knowledge-work in this way places a slightly different emphasis on issues of academic honesty and integrity.  Often, we come to these issues in relation to students who ‘cheat’.  Actual scholarly work on this demonstrates that it is seldom as easy or straightforward as our anecdotes would suggest.  This is usually how it is initially surfaced in discussions with colleagues in academic development programmes.  Then the discussion shifts towards considering the issue in terms of enculturation of students into the disciplinary forms of academic writing and of how we, as academics, deal with referencing.

But I think there is some value in also contemplating how we are custodians rather than owners of knowledge.  The idea of the custodian of knowledge can encourage practices of care and consideration which are, in my view, healthier and more productive kinds of sensibility than mere attention to the rules of referencing, or how to punish students who cheat.  The attention to proper referencing should not be an issue of rules but rather of the ‘public’ nature of our knowledge-work.  We not only share our knowledge-work, but make ourselves accountable through such mechanisms as referencing.  In modern parlance there is an ‘open source’ element to academic practice – we are revealing the code.

A possible negative side to the custodian metaphor is that we can become reverential towards knowledge, of attending to the gatekeeping function of protecting cannons of knowledge.  Such approaches are inevitably conservative and restrictive.  But if we think of the custodian role as one of care, and respect, this still leaves knowledge-work as open and as something we then leave to others to continue working with.

I feel that there is some mileage in this metaphor, but I need to explore it further.

…and institutional ‘management’ of academic CVs

But, perhaps the issue most pertinent to this ‘training’ is the increase in the way the institutions we work for seek to manage our scholarly activity in the pursuit of market advantage.

What do I mean by this?

The emergence of the what scholars such as Simon Marginson call the ‘global university’ and heightened global competition in higher education has brought in forms of management that views our individual scholarly ambitions as little more than institutional assets.  What I mean by this is the idea that my scholarly research and writing are viewed as contributing to or undermining my employing organisation’s stock of status capital.  The ethical, social, or cultural content of my scholastic activity is therefore of no real importance other than in its capacity to contribute to the university’s competitive ambitions as measured by various ranking systems.

This fundamentally undermines the idea of the Republic of Letters and of the scholar as a custodian.

It introduces a subtle, I think, change in the nature of social relations in academic practice.  This change is in the direction of making academic practice one of ‘value relations’ in the classic Marxist sense.  For more on this perspective I think it is worth looking at the work of Joss Winn.  In this change of relations the university acts much more like the traditional capitalist enterprise directly and indirectly appropriating my academic labour.  The drive is not to have control over my labour (and here I am referring specifically to academic writing and the direction of academic research) in order to produce better or ‘higher quality’ research, but as a private good (private for the university) in its efforts to improve its market position.

As well as leading to a ‘carelessness’ in the way academics and students are treated in universities, it changes the social relationship to knowledge.  Rather than being custodians of knowledge, as individual academics, we are increasingly encouraged to view writing and research and teaching as private property that can improve our individual status within academic markets.  It also means that our employers, universities, seek to appropriate (steal) the fruits of our labour.  Knowledge is there to be plundered.

Stealing from the poor….

It is one thing for employing organisations to be seen in the role of capitalist ‘robber barons’ of academic labour.  But when we see our role as custodians of knowledge then this also implies a certain social relationship to those who participate in our research and so form the basis for our writing.  Surely we have a duty of responsibility here as well?

Much of my research has been concerned with the impact of policy on different groups, often with an explicit social justice dimension.  When this work involves interviews I am inviting folks to talk with me about their experiences, concerns, interpretations, etc.  Some of these people will be those in positions of power, others not.  I believe that there is a duty placed upon me then to treat their participation with care, responsibly.  We are used to the various ethical protocols we are asked to sign up to.  But there is something that is not mentioned in these protocols – the duty of not appropriating their generosity and commitment of time, or their openness, simply to build a career.

Indeed there can be two levels of appropriation going on simultaneously.  As the academic I may appropriate their involvement in my research as part of a strategic manoeuvre designed to improve my career prospects.  And, my employing organisation may appropriate this as part of its strategy to improve its advantage in relation to other institutions.

Both are forms of theft.

The ethical cost of eroding the custodian role

What can we do in such circumstances?

It seems to me that we (academics), collectively, are allowing and enabling  this theft to continue.  Apart from complaining privately we seldom refuse, let alone resist this economy of theft.

The question remains, then, what can we do?

The Ethics of Academic Practice- 1: Reverence For Life

Watching the unfolding horror in Gaza I am reminded of my commitment to a form of academic practice that places ethics at its core.  But, apart from rhetorical claims to the moral high ground how might such an ethics inform academic practice; how might it guide a thoughtful and honest response to events such as those in Gaza as well as the ‘everydayness’ of teaching, research, and administration?

To explore this I want to look at the 5 MINDFULNESS TRAININGS  offered by the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich Nhat Hanh and the trainings are a good place to start for a number of reasons.  Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the key instigators of what has become known as Engaged Buddhism, that orientation within reformed Buddhism that seeks to engage directly with issues of poverty, equality, and justice as a means of practicing the teachings of the Buddha.  This orientation grew out of his immediate experience of war in Vietnam.  His efforts to engage in ethical practices applying Buddhist teachings led him and many other Vietnamese Buddhists to support villagers to rebuild their homes, to provide health and education in the midst of suffering, and to campaign for peace.  It was on the basis of this that Martin Luther King Jr nominated Thich Nhat Hahn for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thich Nhat Hanh has gone on to become one of the most influential Buddhist leaders in the world.  As part of his ethic of engaged Buddhism he has sought to establish sets of principles that can guide people in their everyday lives – the 5 MINDFULNESS TRAININGS.  These are based on the original 5 Precepts established in Buddhist tradition:

  1. Not killing
  2. Not stealing
  3. Not misusing sex
  4. Not lying
  5. Not abusing intoxicants

 

While similar to the rules and commandments found in other religions, in Buddhism there is no ‘god’ to provide authority for such rules.  Instead they are seen as rational guides for improving the human condition.  These precepts have been reformulated as:

Reverence For Life

True Happiness

True Love

Loving Speech and Deep Listening

Nourishment and Healing

Over the following weeks I will focus on each of these ‘trainings’ in order to elaborate an ethic of academic practice.

 

Reverence For Life

Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform violence, fanaticism, and dogmatism in myself and in the world.

 

As I write Israel is unleashing its amazing arsenal of death upon one of the poorest people in the world.  This is not a war between competing combatant states.  This is an asymmetrical war of destruction.  Borrowing from the Old Testament, a text that the Jews, Muslims, and Christians of the region regard as sacred, Israel is Goliath and Gaza is David.  In this story David is unlikely to win.

The other night I was talking with an Italian Jewish friend about this horror.  While unambiguously seeing himself on the side of peace and against this current onslaught, he remarked that he had come to the opinion that Israel’s heightened ‘security’ measures over the years that had effectively made Gaza an open air prison, had created necessary calm in Israel.  I could have asked him what he thought this meant for the population of Gaza.  Instead, I asked him what this was doing to young Israelis, particularly Jewish Israelis.  I asked him what this creation of Israel as a security state was doing to those young people who had to serve in the military.  We explored the psychological and moral impact of serving in the Israel Defence Force (IDF), of what this did to young minds and souls as they had to search old women at check points, go through children’s clothes, break down doors on frightened families, shoot young boys throwing stones.  We explored how fear could so easily be transformed into hate, into constructing the people of Gaza into non-humans.  We explored how Israel, and Jewish Israelis, seemed blind to how they, like the Christians before them, were creating new GHETTOS.

The constant heightening of security measures creates prisons for both Palestinian and Israeli.  But this prison, whose walls are constructed by high calibre weapons as much as they are by concrete and wire, is aided by scientists of many kinds.  There are those involved in the development of spy technology that enable the IDF to use pinpoint accuracy (so it is said) to target particular individuals and buildings.  There are scientists who are involved in the development of weapons as well as those involved in the psychological training of soldiers, and torturers; as well as those who advise on the use of psychological warfare against the civilian population of Gaza, or ‘persuading’ the Israeli population of the correctness of these actions through the controlled use of the media.

All of these ‘scientists’ were educated in universities.  What was the moral content of their university education?  How is it that universities can produce individuals who are apparently so lost to basic human empathy and compassion?  What is it about the pursuit of knowledge that splits a person from their heart such that they see only the spirit of the technology and the beauty of the algorithm?

And how is it that universities accept funding from arms manufacturers fully aware of the human and ecological destruction they unleash on the world?  Is this why there is almost universal silence from universities despite the death toll of Gaza’s civilian population?  Have they, that is the leading academics and administrators, literally sold their souls to the devil?

Israel’s IRON DOME defence system, heavily subsidised by the USA, is only possible by the complicity of universities and their scientists.

What ethical choices are these academics making?

 

But we face other ethical choices in these times.  It is all too easy to CHOOSE one side against the other.  But the challenge posed by the commitment to COMPASSION is that seeing one side as lesser than the other simply perpetuates this process of dualism, of distinction.  This is not to promote some kind of dispassionate approach.  But we must always seek the path of peace whilst also speaking out against injustice where we see it, regardless of personal security.

I am appalled by what Israel is doing to the Palestinian’s.  But I also feel such pain at what is happening to those young Israelis in the IDF, to the loss of humanity they suffer each time they construe another human not as a human like them, but as ‘enemy’, as being less than human.  Each act like this dehumanises them, alters their psychology and moral framework.  I hear the pain of Palestinians as they confront the loss of loved ones, wishing harm upon all Israelis or Jews.  But the death of any Israeli will never heal the wound of losing a child in such circumstances.

As academics we need to be attentive to the moral content of our teaching, and we should be mindful of the ethical modelling that accompanies our practice.

 

My friend and I finished the evening not in total agreement, but in renewing a commitment to ethical practice and the search for peace.

Zen and the Art of E-mail Maintenance

When you send an email to somebody do you expect an answer?

If you send an email to colleagues at work do you expect an answer?

If you send an email to colleagues at work asking them for help do you expect an answer?

I can’t speak for others, only for myself, and the answer to the above questions is YES.

 

My current reflection arises from an observation about the ethics of email etiquette in professional settings.  Some time ago I sent an email to a colleague in another institution offering to provide a workshop on contemporary policy developments.  This wasn’t just any random person but somebody responsible for professional development.  Hopefully I am not so arrogant as to presume that simply because I made this offer that it should be picked up joyously.  But, I had run a number of successful seminars on this topic so it wasn’t complete fantasy to think that my offer might be at least considered.  That was three years ago.  I am still to receive even a confirmation of having received the email.

I would like to say that this was unusual.  But it isn’t.

When you have been successful in applying for a job then it is normal to spend some time in communication with the prospective employer’s human resources department.  And it was for me recently.  Except that email after email went unanswered.

It doesn’t stop there.  As an Academic Developer my job is to work with other academic colleagues in the development of their academic practice.  So it is not unusual for me to request support from academic colleagues in this endeavour.  And so it was a few weeks ago.  I sent an email to a group of colleagues who had graduated from one of our courses asking if they would participate in a workshop to guide their own colleagues on the assessment aspects of the course – colleagues supporting colleagues.  Out of the 10 emails I received one reply.  That means that the other 9 colleagues did not even reply to decline the invitation.  This scenario was repeated again more recently and in relation to an identical request for support.  And the response?  The same.  Many emails posted, one positive reply, lots of completely unanswered requests.

What is the issue?

On the one hand there is the matter of simple courtesy.  I might be naive but if a colleague sends me an email containing a direct request I answer it.  Now, there are plenty of times when I miss an email and reply late, or have to be reminded – but 9 out of 10?

There was no expectation that people would say yes simply because I asked them.  The expectation, though subdued and implicit, was that there would be some reply.

I have to say that, unlike some years ago, the lack of collegial response did not upset me.  I didn’t go away feeling that I had been rejected, that I was discounted, that I – and that is it, I.  And so it is to the ‘I’ of this concern that I must turn.

A while back this series of mini-events would have caused me much pain, even if only temporarily.  The fact that it doesn’t now (though obviously it plays on the mind as a curiosity) is what I want to think through here, because it has something to do with the ‘I’ and the Buddhist concept of ‘no-self’.

The terms ‘academic identity’, ‘identity’, and ‘identity work’ can be found in scholarly discussions of how we see ourselves, of our struggles for authenticity, of battling with ‘managerialism’ or ‘neoliberalism’, of ‘reform’.  The language can often conflate our personal identities into that of the ‘academic’.  And often it can feel like that.  Who, on reading their students’ feedback, doesn’t zoom in on the one or two negative comments, blind to all the positive ones?  Its no surprise really.  Academic life is often isolating and vulnerable.  We are vulnerable in the face of our students, asking ourselves if we are good enough, if we are failing our students.  We are vulnerable in the face of academic publishing – remember the deep psychic pain when you receive a rejection from a journal editor?  We don’t even need a rejection.  Suggestions for revision can feel like a public declaration of failure.

It is as if my fundamental self is bound up so completely in the day job.

This reminds of Art Bochner’s wonderful piece on the divided self, “It’s About Time: Narrative and the Divided Self“.  In this article Bochner recounts how he was confronted with the chasm between his personal and professional selves.  Importantly he talks about how the ‘academic self’ rejected the affective self, pushing emotion into the private shadows of the personal.  So, we often feel, on a day to day basis, that hurt caused to our professional self is an attack on our deep self, on us as a PERSON.  Yet, the academic sensibility often negates the affective, the felt.  We struggle with an ‘I’ as if it were one and the other, the personal AS the professional.

And this is where ‘no-self’ comes in, and why, I think, I felt a healthy detachment from the lack of collegial response; why I was able to observe it as a phenomena, but not as something that caused pain.

Faced with the lack of collegial responses I was confronted with the possibility of seeing this as a comment on ‘myself’, as an evaluation of ‘me’ by my colleagues.  There is a moment, then, when I have to consider the ‘I-ness’ or ‘me-ness’ of my emotional responses.  If I see that what I call ‘me’ has no real substance, then there is no ‘me’ to be hurt.  This is not a lack of emotion, or a lack of identity.  Instead, what this notion signals is that what we conventionally refer to as ‘me’, as ‘I’, as ‘identity’ is of such a composite nature that it is finally difficult to identify with it in such a way that the normal slights visited upon us by social interaction can really touch ‘me’.

The feeling of love, of rejection, of course arise.  We, I, do FEEL them, sometimes intensely.

But what I have in my power to do is respond to them.  There is a moment when I can pause, and allow the mind and body to observe these rising feelings, a pause where the understanding that ‘I’ am a complex composite of inherited dispositions (like Bourdieu’s ‘habitus’).

In that pause before inherited emotional responses take over, I can see that it is the attachment to an essential and substantive self that causes the pain.  It is the desperate clinging to the idea of myself as an independent entity that causes me anxiety.  The ‘me’ that my colleagues might or might not reply to is not ‘me’ at all.  If there is a ‘me’ to which they are not replying (and there is an arrogance in assuming that there is a ‘me’ that prompts their not responding) then it is a phenomena of their mind.

A brief reflection on the substantial nature of ‘me’ can reveal that it is largely a narrative through which I seek to construe a sense of coherence  in the midst of impermanence and change, a coherence that carries me from a linear past to a distinct future.  In this narrative of self is a hint of the emptiness of this phenomena – ‘me’.  Drawing on Bourdieu’s concept of ‘habitus’ I can see myself as a condensation of history, of family, social and cultural location, historical events, chance happenings and meetings.  I am ‘me’ only so far as the conditions of my existence allow.  And those conditions do and can change.  In what sense does this composite of elements make me a coherent and substantive thing?

The empirical self is actually composed of a flow of mental and physical states that are co-dependent on history, on the different environments within which I exist and move.  While ‘I’ or ‘me’ are relative terms, phenomena of the mind, this does not mean that there is no ‘sense of self’, of a ‘me’ that is in the world.  Recognising that much of what I regard as myself is a composite of inherited dispositions, these do not wholly determine me.  Devoid of an essential self, I am faced with a different reality.  Faced with the lack of collegial response I have only that moment.  And in that moment I have power.  I have the power to respond in line with inherited dispositions that might see the lack of collegial response as something personal, OR I can respond otherwise.  I can accept the variety of feeling responses that might arise, but I do not have to identify with them AS IF THEY WERE ME.

I may still feel upset.  My feeling of worth may be rattled (as when we receive negative feedback from students).  But, if I do not attach too strongly with an essential sense of self that subsumes all of me into the professional me, then I can avoid much of the pain of those moments.

I am bemused by the lack of collegial response.  But my responsibility is not that, it is my ethical being in the world.  And that is another post.

Is the Curriculum Information Rich but Knowledge Poor?

brain

 

Two events this morning lie behind this entry.

The first was feedback on a student’s learning journal entry for an academic development course.  The student (academic) was raising the perennial problem of how to develop authentic assessment techniques while also delivering the required content.

The second was a symposium where similar students (more academics) were presenting the work they were doing on the use of learning technologies to enhance learning.  These technologies included the use of podcasts to provide feedback on student assessments, wiki’s to engage students in process-heavy tasks, videocasts to enhance skills development, etc.

These events prompted in me a line of reflection about academic identity, knowledge, and teaching.

As academics we are largely defined in terms of knowledge, of the epistemic tribes we belong to, our knowledge communities.  We variously describe these as disciplines and they are structured by core concepts, epistemological debates, conferences, peer-reviewed journals.  Our ‘license’ as academics is the doctorate, a training in engagement with particular knowledges and recognised knowers.  But, this is not a license to teach.  Teaching is something different all together.  Indeed, one can construct a very successful academic career without ever engaging substantively in issues of teaching and learning.

If our academic identities are sou bound up in knowledge of particular kinds, and our standing in our academic tribes often based on our successful performance with these knowledges, it is probably not surprising that our ‘teaching’ should often be described in terms of delivering knowledge.  We talk about curriculum as if it were coterminous with content, and that content was the same as knowledge.

But what passes as ‘knowledge’ is actually INFORMATION.  We throw bits of information at students, telling them that it is required content, that their professional competency, for instance, is dependent on their mastering of this content.  We do this despite the experiential and scholarly knowledge that it doesn’t work.  Students do not really come out of this process knowledgeable and certainly seldom wise.

But we continue in this vein.

So, we state, with apparent, authority, that we can’t really develop authentic assessment because it comes up against the primary need to ‘deliver’ the curriculum.

One of the many inspiring things about the symposium this morning was the fact that there are people from across all disciplines who quietly and diligently develop their craft as educators, thinking, reflecting, risking, changing, in conditions that are not always conducive to this endeavour.

So, experiencing directly the reality that students were not taking in the information and methodologies that they did REQUIRE, this colleague imagined how it could be if students used a research mode instead of the usual lab work, imagined what the possibilities would be if the classroom was flipped and students actually engaged with the information so transforming it into KNOWLEDGE.

This was just one example out of a number I witnessed this morning.

I makes me honoured to be part of such a community of scholarly educators.