Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Doing better; creating conditions for engagement in higher ed

Ive been reading some trite rubbish on the ranking of universities for their teaching and its not hard to come up with some more worthwhile gems:

Prof Mollie Neville, writing on value added schools, traced young people's descriptions of "it was like i didnt exist". She recognized what worked was strengthening relationships.
Its not a hard ask to call people by name :)
It's super easy when the medium is online.

Not talking with anyone at school is the sad experience of many young people at school. Prof John Hattie talks of the filmed experience of children at school who didn't talk with anyone all day. This happens at universities too. Assuming learning might involve bouncing ideas around then setting up opportunities for this to happen, fostering engagement in class and online becomes a teaching imperative.

There's a theme here. Knowledge doesnt happen in a vacuum, its made in connections. A focus on relationality provides possibilities for things to be otherwise. Active networking is an approach worth investing in for successful education.
Consciously nurturing the relationships seems a more useful approach than the audits i have seen scoping irrelevant conditions.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

A convenient blindness; sessional contracts in higher ed,%20L.%20Gale,%20I.%20Campbell.pdf

May,R., Gale, M., and Campbell, I.(2008). Casually appointed, permanently exploited: How is NTEU responding to the casualisation of academia in the current climate? Paper presented at AIRAANZ. Melbourne.

Many in the university community take comfort in the idea that sessional academic employment is a privilege and an opportunity – a kind of apprenticeship that leads to tenure. It may once have been so. However the data and the qualitative experience of sessional staff demonstrates that this is not the case in Australia in 2007, and has not been the case for many years. The illusion of the sessional apprenticeship, like the illusion that young people prefer casual employment, contributes to a convenient blindness that allows extreme exploitation to continue. That exploitation is not accidental or self-imposed. It is the necessary outcome of
decisions taken by governments, university administrations and staff in supervisory positions throughout a devolved budgetary structure.

This is an excellent article, that needs wider discussion.

It is so easy to attribute blame, but there are a myriad of factors that have resulted in the current situation.
An ANT analysis, without using the language of ANT comes through.
Revisiting the relational aspects in improving the current scenario would also be useful. For things can always be otherwise.
If you work with sessional staff, start with valuing them :)
The stories pointed to here are of unpleasant experiences; offensive and devaluing, largely invisible, but always personal.

Issues identified:
Not being provided the necessary conditions of work.
Being seen as being part of the problem.
A misleading terminology of flexibility and choice-
Most people do not like being seen as a disposable section of the workforce. Citing a large survey of general and academic casual staff by Junor (2004:284) found that over 80 percent of the casual academic staff who responded wanted ongoing employment.

The article cites Evans (2007)
As one casual academic noted: ‘It used to be that tutoring was a kind of indenture, a poorly paid but pleasant part of post graduate study, valuable experience on the path to an academic career... (now it) leads to nothing’.

Taking a 'relational turn' (Kenneth Gergen, 2009) is worth further consideration;
to approach human beings exclusively as seperate or bounded units- whether individual selves, communities...-is to threaten our future well-being ... It is through relational process that whatever we come to view as independent beings are given birth. ...whatever we think, remember, create and feel, we participate in relationship ...We carry with us traces of myriad relationships, past and present, existing or imagined. These traces equip us with multiple and often conflicting potentials for action. (p,397)

It is in relating, rather than avoiding or in pointing elsewhere a finger of blame, that there is potential for movement.

meantime, leading nowhere sounds like a potential paper...
Must finish the phd...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A cunning plan, or a culling plan? Education on the edge of reason

Just when you think it cant get any worse, it can.
Today i am seriously asked to consider outsourcing marking to the other side of the planet.
The latest 'cunning plan' is argued in terms of better consistency and saving us from re-training markers each year. And here's a paper for discussion at Mondays meeting:
Some papers are uploaded to Bangalore to be graded
alongside its serious brochure from VTA.
This surely is a solution in search of problems.
Where i work has made 110 people redundant over the last 4 years, presumably this was due to lack of work...or at least lack of work that might make use of these people's expertise... what I cant fathom is expertise from the other side of the planet is apparently better?
And its all sold with a cost-benefit ratio that's "completely in our favour".

A slippery slope?
mmmm just maybe
If they can do online PE classses, sneakers optional you can also do weight training online...

Hoping it was all a bad joke I responded to this latest innovative technological holy grail and ask:
Please tell me its got to be tongue in cheek
Maybe we outsource our work like we have students who outsource their work ...
Except buying someone to do your work when your a student is called cheating...
When its the institution its called efficiency.

The response back: Not being funny - we already out source the marking to Teaching Assistants, many of whom are not New Zealanders - so there is little difference.

Time for a joke?
What's worse than a full glass of digital hemlock?
A half a glass of digital hemlock
... ROFL ...

Love to know your views,
1. Should taxpayer money be spent on paying for tertiary students assignments to be regraded from the other side of the planet.
2. Should content be so homogenized that its not a problem for people in Bangladore or any other place, to mark it?

On the cutting edge, there's blood on the floor

I love learning in a virtual world, its teaching in it i hate.

The control embedded by 'you cant do that...the rooms had to be booked a year in advance' has changed, yay!
But such vinegar is now in new bottles...
It has become you cant do that because it all has to be the same...every course....looks like this...put up notes a week in advance.... make the readings this size, this shape, from this book...make the ppts using this template...that way when its 'beamed out' the 'live head' wont obliterate what you want the students to know, see...and make sure that whatever you test the students on can be answered from the ppts...
And at its worst it is about surveillance; being watched, kept in check, controlling for sameness and creating mediocrity.
At best it might be about a lack of resourcing that presents a method as resource efficient. What's really dumb is its not resource efficient if the learning is only a regurgitation. And I dont want vomit!!! I dont like vomit. Not my own nor from students.

I want learning to be about freedom, and am a tad gobsmacked because it's what took me into teaching in virtual spaces in the first place; the escape from reality that was constraining.
Now i find the constraints have caught up and i now need to plot my escape from unreality.
Reminds me of snoopy...
jumped over the fence to escape the pound but still in the world *sigh*
Or the man dressed as Snoopy in worst jail break ever...

How to change?
'Cause Im certainly not resistant to changing this...
Am looking forward to hearing from Steve Wheeler next week, he's authored a provocative chapter titled Teacher resistance to new technologies: How barriers to Web Enhanced Learning can be overcome.
Heh? I dont like what's being done to me, I'm happy to work with technology and others so long as its about nurturing the freedom to learn. Its the current imposition that needs the two fingered salute.

And since I started my thesis for these very reasons, change and resistance therein in teaching and learning, I've been thinking a lot about shaping the digital spaces to be more responsive to human needs. (see Peter Sloterdijk and Bruno Latour's)
As does my reading of Kenneth Gergen,in his book on relationality, where there is also a chapter on ANT.

It is through relational process that whatever we come to view as independent beings are given birth. ...whatever we think, remember, create and feel, we participate in relationship...
We carry with us traces of myriad relationships, past and present, existing or imagined. These traces equip us with multiple and often conflicting potentials for action. (p397)

I think the only way is to get relationality back in to the picture.
Whats held in place by relationships can also only change by relationships.
Back to rereading Machiavelli's the Prince, which btw is freely available courtesy of the Guttenberg Press and the wonders of technology, web 2.0 and people who want to help people...
Strategising how to win friends, fight the battles that matter, and make some change happen.

Having got that rant out of the way, i might now be able to get back to marking or maybe the thesis...
Gergen, K. J. (2009). Relational being: Beyond self and community. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Latour, B., & Sloterdijk, P. (2009, February 17). Networks and spheres: Two ways to reinterpret globalization. Presentation to the Graduate School of Design [Video webcast]: Harvard University. Retrieved from
Machiavelli, N., &. (1998). The Prince: Retrieved August 19, 2010, from Project Gutenberg, (Original work published 1532).

Friday, September 17, 2010

Studying what isnt there; a PhD by another name

PhD writing is very much about finding what's not there, and hoping it will stay empty while one studies it.

Studying the blank space is a really peculiar past time for entrance to the academy
Lewis Carrol or Stephen Fry could have written about the absurdity of it.
I recall seeing a poster in London by Stephen Fry saying something similar:
An original idea. That can't be too hard. The library must be full of them.

I have enjoyed an entertaining diversion watching Fry's interviews on everything from what is learning to what is web 2.0and he may not have written of the Phd (note the caution with which i say this) but at least it was 30 mins of life i would happily spend this way again.

My problem is, and i think most PhD students would agree, is having confidence to say, yes, the spot is blank. I've invested 6 years in it, and i know there's nothing there.
It's an absurdity really.
Nonetheless (and i do love this word- less than none is worthy of my study... )
there's always a worry that one just didnt look hard enough.

There are so many ways to waste time, if not a life, angst being one of them.
(Housework's another)
But at least looking for Stephen Fry quotes put smiles into this day. Bless him.
Now i really must get back to the writing, and like Fry:
I get an urge, like a pregnant elephant, to go away and give birth to a book.

(BTW this post was inspired by some very light musing on
1. what i wish i had known before i began the thesis, and
2. what i wish i knew when i finished the thesis.
Topics the thesiswhisperer will be working on.)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Folding time; transference and counter-transference

Wicked wikipedia. And not in a good way.
Somewhere between August and September 2008, a new little take on transference and countertransference entered the world of wikipedia...and now its everywhere. The same little saying.
I confess I have not read all there is to read on transference or counter-transference.
I am not trained in a psychodynamic tradition.
So maybe I am just ignorant.
I have, however, done counselling in the voluntary sector for 30 years, worked as reg nurse in psychiatric hospitals (a time of deinstitutionalising in NZ) in the 1980s and done a fair bit of reading on counselling and communication skills.
Nevertheless, until i looked it up just now, i had never heard the terms of transference and counter-transference refered to in the way wikipedia and now countless other 'sources' do:

"During transference, people turn into a 'biological time machine.'" A nerve is struck when someone says or does something that reminds them of their past. This creates an "emotional time warp" that transfers their emotional past and their psychological needs into the present."

And now everywhere i look are the same repeated phrases. doesnt list a book called the Source published in June 2001 that would have credibility in the field, so i am at a loss to know where it came from.

The 'stickiness' of the web, doesnt look likely to let it go, or spit out where it came from.
A curiousity that i wish i could source.

I quite like the imagery generated, very Latourian to have folds in time where disconnected things connect.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

hopeful monsters

Technologies are not born ‘usable’ and ‘reliable’ regardless of their users. (Gherardhi,2010, opening lines)
I love this, I get positioned as a user, yet am feeling used.
But more seriously, when my daughter was born, i was a well adjusted being, and i had a very rude awakening that my parenting said babe didnt make said babe pleasant to be around. She certainly didnt enter the world reliable. makes me think i/we should always know better when it comes to other things we parent.

However as someone who works with technologies, I do find it refreshing and disarming to be reminded that new practices do not come into the world, born, usable and reliable.
They need to be made so, and I need to be made more able to interact with them in their infancy.
As written of by Latour in Aramis, adaptation required not only by Aramis but all those involved; adapt or die.

Gherardhi (2010) has been summarising some of the research on technologies coming into practice:
Such practices become such when use institutionalizes them as one ‘practice’ among others working practices (Suchman et al., 1999).
The concept of technology-in-practice (Orlikowski, 2000) reflects the way with which its users have learned the interaction between humans and non-humans.
And involves the ‘invisible work’ (Star & Strauss, 1999) required of users so that a technology can become ‘usable’ in a given context of use.

The myriad of factors required to nurture into being the new entity of practice involves a network, or as the parable says, it takes a village (an unusual one that lists the social and technical as parents of such protege)

My colleagues recently gave a presentation on the bruising that occurred/occurs with the 'beaming out of lectures across 4 sites via teleconferencing that does or doesnt hook up. It reminded me very much of this videoclip

Our conference calls arent quite so funny.

They talked of having their professional identities implicated in the errors. Identity over which they had little control. such identities are made they do not come ready made, and are not as intrinsic as might be presupposed.

In the intro by John law to A sociology of monsters: Essays on power, technology and domination he starts with a quote:

I said 'I think they might also be called "hopeful monsters".'
She said' What are hopeful monsters?'
I said 'They are things born perhaps slightly before their time; when it's not known if the environment is quite ready for them.' Nicolas Mosley, Hopeful Monsters, p.71

It has always stayed with me, the birth of a hopeful monster, a little bit like an idea before its time, born into a space that isn't prepared for it. How to nurture it through to survival?
Reminds me of the birth of a child and what i was told on the birth of mine, that it would be 100 days of crying. In the romanticism with which parenting is glossed I hadn't expected the tears to be my own.
What are the components that make spaces more and less nurturing?
Such questions are touched on in Latour and Sloterdijk's presentation at Harvard Architecture Faculty, and are the questtions of my thesis.
How might care be communicated when a youth telephone helpline is increasingly being mediated through sms text messaging. Will such text counselling survive, will the other actors?

Like Gherardhi, my intention is to direct attention to practice in which the new practices encounter and conflict with practices already established, and where new activities necessitate negotiations with established power relations.

Gherardi, S. (2010). Telemedicine: A practice-based approach to technology. Human Relations, 63(4), 501-524. doi:10.1177/0018726709339096
Latour, B. (1996). Aramis: Or the love of technology (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
Latour, B., & Sloterdijk, P. (2009, 17 February). Networks and spheres: Two ways to reinterpret globalization Retrieved from
Law, J. (Ed.). (1991). A sociology of monsters: Essays on power, technology and domination. London, England: Routledge.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

listening and being heard

"But speaking depends on listening and being heard; it is an intensely relational act." - Carol Gilligan

This post got started by a reading a tweet that got repeated. An interesting aspect of voice that it found resonance here :)
and will resonate elsewhere- in the thesis- but here's the roughish notes - there's a problem in writing a thesis when your mind is two chapters ahead of where you are currently writing...

But it took me on a search of google and back to Carol Gilligan's In a different voice, and I do love being able to read the pages provided by publishers.

In her writing she talked of not being heard when working in the 70's 1970s (on moral development with Kohlberg). A bit like an idea born before its time but also having different voice that just wasnt out there yet.
Now this 'resonated' with me because i had just been talking of moral development and of different voice relating a very poorly executed rendition of Gilligans critique with students last week. I had been looking at adolescence and had ditched the textbook (Berk) for its lack of respect for difference: "Delinquency peaks in adolescence" and opted instead for a New Zealand text, (see ref below)
given that many/most/almost all teenagers live lives with integrity, intelligence and good common sense. To quote Claiborne and drewery:
"Perhaps we might celebrate the competence of young people instead, as a ‘work in progress’ more in need of extension than colaapsing down to their being no cure but aging."Claiborne & Drewery (2010)

In Gilligan's writing was a fuller picture to 'seeing difference not as deviance but as a marker of the human condition'.

She says she moved away from relativism to relationship. i take this to mean a movement away from 'this is my position this is what i see, and from your position you will see it differently'; to relationship, 'this is my experience, my reality is different to your'. For myself, this suggests an ANT analysis; reals are made in relationship.

On being asked what is voice she says:
By voice I mean voice. Listen I will say, thinking that on one sense the answer is simple. it is simple. And then i will remember how it felt to speak when there was no resonance, how it felt when i began writing, how it still is for many people, how it still is for me sometimes. To have a voice is to be human. To have something to say is to be a person. But speaking depends on listening and being heard; it is an intensely relational act. (p.xvi)

Hauntingly familiar is when those spoken about have no voice, are not heard.
(Tis always a good question; whose voice is being heard.)

Often repeated is that teens are tethered to their phones (Turkle) but it is not teens who are describing it this way.
And in my data collect on youth counselling there were counsellors saying that young people would manipulate them into conversing by text instead of by calling. 20% of all texts coming in were loud and clear, for example: 'if i wanted to call i effing would have', and 'cnt i jus txt coz i don wanna be heard'.
The 'voice' moved to a different medium, it wasnt that relating wasnt wanted. On moving into this medium with young people, relating is enacted.
It connects inner and outer worlds.
To not listen is to deny the choice to relate.
"To give up their voice is to give up on relationship and also to give up on all that goes with making a choice."(xvii)

To choose not to relate in the spaces young people were/are choosing for counselling would be offensive twice over, first for not listening and secondly for disempowering choice.

Carol Gilligan further expands on what it means to have voice:
When people ask me what I mean by voice and I think of the question more reflexively, I say that by voice I mean something like what people mean when they speak of the core of the self.

It is the relational that is mediated by speech, it can also be mediated in print form; while voice in the digitally texted space of SMS messaging being used for txt counselling, is not part of a seen and heard experience of breath and sound in a rhythm of speech, this does not alter that breathing and being heard continues, that an intensely relational act is occurring.
And the costs of detachment are too great to think otherwise.

Claiborne, L. and Drewery, W. (2010) Human development; Family, place, culture. Auckland: NZ. McGraw-Hill.
Gilligan, C. (1993). Letters to readers In a different voice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Friday, September 03, 2010

How to execute a dream

In Every bastard says no. The 42 below story is a 'rollicking good story of how to go from woe to go...The NZ vodka story- from $5.00 a litre of product made on a still in a garage to a company sold for 138 million.
The product was named for the latitude at which the company developed down under.

In Pandora’s Hope (Latour, 1999) Latour’s question was:
‘how do we pack the world into words?’ (p.24) And

This is one read that does this exceptionally well.
There is a chronology, but it doesnt restrict the construction of the book which is interspersed, sliced, with vignettes and with visual imagery of the advertising that aided the seduction of a market, as well as its betrayal of competitors.
For example the required public retraction of a defamatory comment on competitors product which is portrayed below.

The title of the book points to the reasons given by the actors who invented the company for its success: "Every bastard says no."
In the "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" ethos, this company had directors who decided to prove the naysayers wrong. The bastards who said no drew a resistance to failure, a dogged determindness that might not have occurred otherwise.
The treatment of product, branding and company as their baby reminds me that the product itself is an actor here, given some voice...and more wouldnt have been a problem to me.

Latour (1996b) acknowledges that ANT ‘is an extremely bad tool for differentiating associations. It gives a black and white picture not a colored and contrasted one’ (p. 380).
The quality of the associations is something that requires thick descriptions, this book provides it.
For Jan Nespor, the questions shift from what the assemblages are, to also inquire as to the nature of the interactions- The question is "how and why ‘commingling’ happens, for example, how important to a given outcome is the sequencing of assembly, the pacing of composition, the speciļ¬c mix of the elements associated, whether a given element is essential to the mix or open to substitution, and whether the associations are reversible or easily changed. Do associations and delegations come slowly and incrementally, allowing different kinds of uses at different stages as a device takes form (or as different versions of a device are produced), or do commitments come together all at once (the organization bets on a particular product)? Are commitments large at the outset or do they gradually build? How does one translation relate to a preceding sequence of translations (e.g., Latour, 1996a, p. 91; Law & Callon, 1992, p. 52)?"

Stephen Fox also questions the quality of the connections, when he enquires as to what force there may be in them.
"Where is power in Ant? it is in in the acts tions in the network including the actions of inanimate objects such as newspapers, metal...And that non human entities also 'act': eg radiation on atomic structures. Force is tangible. Force is relational- it implies active and resistive entities. Even the self can be acted upon and resisted. If we think about force relations at every point in a network we begin to think about learning in different ways.

Power needs to be explored and demonstrated in the thick descriptions.

The similarities with the changes i have been studying include a dogged determinedness, fickle funding, a transience that makes some things easier and others harder.
Retrospectively it is easy to see the strength of the assemblages; at the time it is a more tenuous reality made solid in enactments.


Fox, S. (2000). Communities of practice, Foucault and actor-network theory [September 05]. Journal of Management Studies, 37(6), 853-867.

Latour, B. (1999). Pandora's hope. Essays on the reality of science studies. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nespor, J. (2010). Devices and educational change. Educational Philosophy and Theory. Retrieved from doi:10.1111/j.1469-5812.2009.00611.x

Troy, J. and Ross, G. (2010). Every bastard says no. The 42 Below story. Auckland, New Zealand: Random House.

(click on the picture for a bigger image, then hit your enlarge view...or at least read this:
In our ad we had said absolut vodka was judged "the least favourite". The Board (advertising complaints) told us this was a fib....What was actually said was..."no one had kind words to say about absolut..."
They were so apologetic they published this retraction at huge expense...saying they should not have said absolut was least favourite and correcting this to say had no kind words a further three times.
Deeply sorry, very, very
Machiavellian :)

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Juxtapositioning technology with heart

Summarising Latour (1996), maintaining something requires active work on the relationships that hold it so, while at the same time a turning down of other possibilities.
Similarly for a change in the order of things, this requires betrayal of those previously held relationships to be seduced into new ones. (Or at least for the making space for newer ones)

Today I have been reading Latour's wriitng on Macchiavelli's The Prince, while concurrently listening to a TEDtalk by His holiness the Karmapa: The technology of the heart.
(This truly is the oddest juxtopositioning i have ever engaged in)

He talks of the bombing of the Bamyan Buddhas with a startling re-frame: the bombings have drawn people together.
In tearing down, there is a building up, one he equates with pulling down of the Berlin wall.
An act of destruction draws others together. With differences of tradition and tragedy, the depletion of matter, some solid substance disintegrating, a divide that keeps two kinds of people apart had collapsed and opened a door for further communication.

And advice from his holiness:
In climbing trees we risk damaging the tree's roots
We need knowledge of what is going on under the tree.
Whatever work you are doing now to try to benefit the world, sink into that.
We often miss the subtle changes, we develop grand concepts of happiness, but if we pay attention there are little symbols of happiness in every breath we take.
Take a moment to appreciate fortunes of coming together, and an aspiration then to take the good and the positivity that comes with that and to spread this to all the corners of the world.

From Latour
“the burning desire to have new entities detected, welcomed and given shelter is not only legitimate, it’s probably the only scientific and political cause worth living for” (Latour, 2005: 259).

And if i take the technical as Urula Franklin does,(the way we do things round here) as process rather than object. Then the technology of the heart espoused by his holiness makes some sense.
It is about the way we do things round here, with moral purpose, and with the knowledge of the myriad of things that make being, an understanding of and a respect for not damaging these.
Making some meaning that is engaging of hope.
Or as Peter Sloterdijk suggests designing spaces for being that are nurturing.

Relevant readings and references
Franklin, U. (1999). The real world of technology. Toronto, Canada: House of Anansi Press.
Latour, B. (1988). How to write 'The Prince' for machines as well as for machinations
Latour, B. (1996). Aramis: Or the love of technology. Cambridge,MA: Harvard University Press.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social. Oxford, England, Oxford University Press.
Latour, B. and P. Sloterdijk (2009, 17 February). "Networks and Spheres: Two Ways to Reinterpret Globalization " Harvard University. Retrieved March 3, 2009. from
Machiavelli, N. (1998). The Prince, Retrieved August 19, 2010, from Project Gutenberg, (Original work published 1532).