Manifesto for Teaching Online – Aphorism No. 12 – “Assessment strategies can be designed to allow for the possibility of resistance”

To adore, or scorn an image, or protest,
May all be bad; doubt wisely; in strange way
To stand inquiring right, is not to stray;
To sleep, or run wrong, is. On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must and about must go,
And what the hill’s suddenness resists, win so.
Satire III By John Donne  (1572– 1631)

My aim, in writing this book, is to show that the externalism of the West, the prevalent tendency to pay undue regard to outward and visible “results” and to neglect what is inward and vital, is the source of most of the defects that vitiate Education in this country, and therefore that the only remedy for those defects is the drastic one of changing our standard of reality and our conception of the meaning and value of life. Edward Homes preface to What Is and What Might Be  (1911)

A bald scalp is split open with a bonecrushing sound. A girl is shrieking hysterically … It was an ugly scene which demonstrated once again the feeling of impotence so prevalent among members of the antiwar movement. No longer satisfied with passive dissent the protestors wanted to be activist–to do something to stop the war. In the past, protests have been primarily symbolic; demonstrators have turned out in huge numbers as a show of strength. But now a new concept has been added to the rhetoric of the New Left, something short of open violence but beyond the impotence of dissent. It is “resistance.” Stephen Lerner, From Dissent to Resistance (1967)

“Resistance is futile” Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987–1994)

Immune systems resist disease by enacting measures to neutralize a wide range of potentially damaging agents, viruses, bacteria, parasites etc. It distinguishes them from healthy tissue and works to render them innocuous to the organism. The overall effect is experienced by the person as  health and well-being, and growth. Immunity and resistance is an active, ongoing and interactive dialogue as pathogens develop new tactics in their drive to survive and immune systems must constantly adapt to suit. Or they fail.

The immune systems macrophage strutting its stuff on e-coli - resisting infection

The immune systems macrophage strutting its stuff on e-coli – resisting infection

Resistance also plays an important role in electronic circuits.  They dissipate electrical energy in certain parts of a circuit as required to create an overall effect. Other components of the system aim to improve the passage of electricity within the circuit. Some other components act like a reservoir storing electrical charge to a tipping point before releasing it in a burst. Some prevent allow current only to flow one-way. All to create an overall set of inputs and outputs which affect flows and directions of electrons making for a desired and designated outcome, functional or experiential. Unlike immune systems electrical circuits tend to be rigid and designated in purpose. If any components fail then the whole system fails to perform.

Resistance according with a pre-defined range

Resistance according with a pre-defined range

In my work in user experience of technology I have described [bad] usability in a product, interface or service as ‘resistance’. Common sense dictates that the development of usage habits, or patterns of use (usage) and the perception of its usefulness (its value to the user) only occur as a result of devices, interfaces and services being usable.

Contextual usability quadrant showing how perceptions of the use process drive the uptake of of features and functions

Contextual usability quadrant showing how perceptions of the use process drive the uptake of of features and functions

Being easy to use extends to more general concerns than keyboard layout. It concerns, say, whether a device is ready to hand, such as in the case of cameras on mobile phones. The result is an increase in the amount of pictures that may be taken by the individual, over and above that when people had to intentionally take cameras around with them, say on a vacation or visit. With mobile networks and apps that make it easy to post that picture on social networks, and relate it to others of its type and tag the people in the picture, there is a new identity formed for the activity of ‘taking pictures’. Many of the process steps that previously existed, those that ‘resisted’ you taking pictures or cataloging and sharing them are removed. A further example of this can be understood when we consider the relatively poor usability of touch-tone dials for writing text did not prevent its uptake and use. People’s appraisal of the usefulness of SMS with its other communication benefits such as cost effectiveness made it a widespread and ubiquitous means to writing and communication. As the person develops mastery of using a device or interface then the resistance of poor usability also recedes.

An essay is a long-winded response sent via text message. These long responses characteristically come from people who express interest in a text message conversation, although this interest is in some cases overzealous.

An essay is a long-winded response sent via text message. These long responses characteristically come from people who express interest in a text message conversation, although this interest is in some cases overzealous.

Ten years ago the Scottish Qualifications Authority has expressed concern about the problem in its report on last year’s Standard Grade exams, and revealed that “text messaging language was inappropriately used” in the English exam.  It is a sure way to make the world less complex by writing in abbreviations, and in 160, or with tweets, 144 characters.

Resistance also features in terms of a person’ s, a group’s or organisations capacity to accept, absorb, and retain information. Prejudice, bias, predication and preference define what we read, watch and listen to, and digest, what we value and remember and what we believe. Through exercising our taste in literature, music, film, television we help configure ourselves and build knowledge and media ecosystems which resist intrusion.

Individuals, groups, countries, regions can lack absorptive capacity

Individuals, groups, countries, regions can lack absorptive capacity

Light reading means easy usable, accessible reading and contrasts with difficult prose and more academic writing, or that in an old style. Popular writers, those that groom and ‘make’  celebrities and stars, news editors, advertisers, politicians, and others attach their messages to ore-existing maps of associations in order to move the public in a desired direction and reduce their resistance to their status and message. This gives food for thought for new fields of study like behavioral economics. Building on the theory of cognitive dissonance, we can predict that commitment to a particular course of action, genre or brand, will cause people to become insensitive to the potential benefits of the rejected and resisted alternative. Resistance then can be said to be consciousness and sub-conscious (i.e. as a result of socialisation). Cognitive dissonance will appear only when new rationales regarding a resisted and rejected option conflict with deeply held and emotive views.

Technology has also featured in resistance to new forms of business and manufacturing. Post-fordism is taken to mean a shift from the mass production servicing a mass society, to a technology and communications enabled process using where there is ever more precise monitoring of sales and understanding of trends and then servicing this through highly optimised and targeted just-in-time manufacturing, enterprise resource planning and distribution.

“Real time monitoring is a process by which companies are building business intelligence to understand in the way that a national intelligence agency would, what is actually going on in the ground, on the ground in different parts of the world [and] in different parts of their business, which allows them to more quickly respond to changes in the external economic environment [as well as] to competitive moves, to changes in the financial markets, to changes in prices and reactions of different moves that they are making so that they can have an awareness of how each of those changes may influence what their business response should be and more quickly adapt to them.” Mendonca, How Can You Make The Most Of Technological Revolution? (2009)

Even more recently there is the suggestion that there is shift again into a subscription model of production-consumption, and a dematerialisation of products in to ever more services. Success is no longer gauged by counting how many units of your product products that can be put on a pallet you have sold, but rather services that are consumed over time. Rather, success is measuring how many customers are using your service on a recurring basis (a move to ‘usage’) and how successful you are monetising those recurring relationships. It all about values, flows, consumption, lifestyle and mobilities.

‘High-stakes’ exams such as ‘O’ levels, ‘A’ levels and final exams in colleges and universities are part of what may viewed as a rigid and dedicated system, where various levels of success and failure in learning are tested. Essays can show something of the university ideal of John Henry Newman in hte 19th century: “a place where inquiry is pushed forward, discoveries verified and perfected, and rashness rendered innocuous, and error exposed, by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge.”

Modern day Chinese sitting the Imperial Exam

Modern day Chinese sitting the Imperial Exam

The tensions, the resistance between competing ideas can be shown in the essay in the form of Hegal’s dialectic. Hegel stresses the paradoxical nature of consciousness; he knows that the mind wants to know the whole truth, but that it cannot think without drawing a distinction. Unfortunately, every distinction has two terms, every argument has a counter-argument, and consciousness can only focus on one of these at a time. So it fixes first on the one, then under pressure fixes second on the other, until it finally comes to rest on the distinction itself. The process of alternation and rest is the dialectic. When the essence is upon key thrusts such as ‘what is the issue being explored, how does the evidence support it, or not, and why is it significant?’ then there will be evidence that the student understands the salient issues involved, be able to research and source out knowledge to support or refute, and be able to draw or hand an opinion. It should show integrity and rationale.

Its little wonder that this has been used as a dipstick to show that learning has taken place, and methods of interrogation and critique can be employed. Even in assessments where the production of a final product carries the major weighing of marks, such as in creative media work, a supporting essay should document the conceptual and decision0-making aspects of how and why the product takes the form that it does. Why is it this way, and not another, with respect to the work of contemporary and historical others in field, political or technical and scientific aspirations and so forth.

In wider society and social affairs there is a long history and reality of resistance, to unfair laws, to oppression, to the privileging of the few at the expense of the many, those sights, knowledges, anxieties and experiences which outrage. Current global geopolitics hardly need introduction but the shifting focus of power and global domination, economically and militaristically, is shifting from the west to a more distributed form where nation states are taking control of their assets and China is also wishing to assert itself as a world policeman.

Dissent has defined, created and destroyed nations. It has usurped kings and empires, and brought about change. Such an event occurred on March 11, 1811, in Nottingham.

Nottingham, a textile manufacturing centre, saw British troops breaking up a crowd of protesters demanding more work and better wages. That night, the workers had smashed textile machinery in a nearby village.  It happened that Lord Byron’s maiden speech in the House of Lords, on February 27, 1812, dealt with the uprising of the Luddites, and this, in part, is what he said:

“By the adoption of one species of [weaving] frame in particular, one man performed the work of many, and the superfluous laborers were thrown out of employment. Yet it is to be observed, that the work thus executed was inferior in quality; not marketable at home, and merely hurried over with a view to exportation. . . . The rejected workmen . . . conceived themselves to be sacrificed to improvements in mechanism. In the foolishness of their hearts they imagined that the maintenance and well-doing of the industrious poor were objects of greater importance than the enrichment of a few individuals by any improvement, in the implements of trade, which threw the workmen out of his employment, and rendered the laborer unworthy of his hire.”

The occasion of the Luddite attacks intensified, although the tactics and targets were pretty consistent. They eventually spreading across a 70-mile swath of northern England from Loughborough in the south to Wakefield in the north. Fearing a national movement, the government soon positioned thousands of soldiers to defend factories. Parliament passed a measure to make machine-breaking a capital offense. In one of the bloodiest incidents, in April 1812, some 2,000 protesters mobbed a mill near Manchester. The owner ordered his men to fire into the crowd, killing at least 3 and wounding 18. Soldiers killed at least 5 more the next day (Jones, 2006). The events clearly indicated that the nation-state was now synergistically intertwined with capital and industrialism, that it would privilege and defend it, making revolts futile and reform ineffectual.

The Luddites whose issue was really jobs and wages, a familiar in Europe today, but also the poor quality of work produced by machines, demonstrated their protest by breaking machines. The rebellion was quelled by 1816, the workers settling into a new, grinding routine that did not really improve until the rise of organized labour and the unions. They nevertheless came to stand historically for a global anti-technology philosophy and a symbol for the return to a simple, organic way of life.

Where protest is not universal, and relegated to some quarters of society over others, there has sometimes been passive sympathy from those not involved directly with the dispute, and sometimes cynicism and contempt for such radical display, defiant, disobedient, non compliance. Such quarters may promote resistance to resistance, resistance to the changes advocated, inertia, conservatism and recalcitrance. Typically in the beginning, the majority of the population have typically disapproved of social change movements when they first emerge. They are fringe, as the Nazi party was in Germany in the 1920s, marginal and the product of a flawed outlook. But as the rationales develop, the logic improves, and wider support rallies and musters, the social justice seems to eventually shift move and mainstream societies, politics and law accommodate and eventually assimilate what was formally forbidden or despised in the name of improved democracy and equality of rights between citizens…  or the opposite.

Acts of resistance have taken many forms: demonstrations, vigils and petitions; strikes, go-slows, boycotts and emigration movements; and sit-ins, occupations, and the creation of parallel institutions of government. They can be very focused and specific or they can be inchoate, too disorganized, too incoherent to affect any meaningful change. They can be violent and widespread as in the street battles, armed struggle or bloody civil war of everyday television reports, or extremely private, personal and internal to the individual like resisting the temptation for a cigarette, to play a last hand of cards, or switch off the mobile. They can be passive and non-violent such as in the vein of Gandhi’s satyagrahainsistence on truth” – which influenced both  Nelson Mandela’s struggle in apartheid South Africa and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s campaigns in the U.S.).

Gahndi spin doctor

Gandhi spin doctor

They can become complex with different social interest groups competing to affect or lobby certain changes over others, the problem being that one set of interests may be contrary to others’  interests. Their resistance and interests can clash. In strict military terminology, a resistance movement is simply that; it seeks to resist (change) the policies of a government or occupying power.

The general fear today is that the entire world today is currently being run as a plutocracy, where global corporations and their singular interests in seeking out improving share holder value, are operating as a blind watchmaker where wealth is apparently being funneled up to a 1% of global super-wealthy. The profits are made possible through the agency of millions of people in certain parts of the world [the ‘developing’], some of who work in appalling conditions for little financial gain, the things they make sold in retail stores in other parts of the world by those often on minimum wage [the developed]. Sweatshops and forced child labor are a growing problem, especially in the clothing and textiles industry. In general, almost 75 percent of the price of a garment made in a sweatshop goes into the pockets of the manufacturer, shipping and retailer. A good proportion of this money goes to pay store rents, technology such as enterprise resource planning and some to advertising, Brand building and public relations.

Some of the stories of the American 99% are here. The issue is that nobody thinks that this has been a conscious effort by a self-proclaiming democracy to create a plutocracy. Increasing inequality has long been attributed to unstoppable market forces, the natural extension of the ideas originated by Adam Smith, and  since his illuminations of the algorithms of capitalism doing its blind watchmaker thing, they have. In fact, as Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson show, it is the direct result of U.S. congressional policies that have consciously — and sometimes inadvertently — skewed the playing field toward the rich, in such unexpected and unprecedented ways, as the rise of MRSA due to over-prescription of antibiotics. This is why big questions are being asked such as is the representational political system adequate?

Due to the scale, complexity and deep implication of the question it is has always been taken very seriously by government, who by and large wishes at all costs to preserve ‘business as usual’ – homeostasis – in the general population. It tries to mirror what he sees as the pulse of popular belief and opinion, what is acceptable, and re-present this in election speech.  The remit is not to  let the bacteria, parasites and viruses of objection, protest and complaint, overrun and destabilise the system but allowing claims to be amplified by the media. This then leads to censorship.

Dissent is linked to ‘resistance’ as is sedition. What constitutes their demarcation depends largely on the popular view and that of power including the legal authority. The May 1968 protests in France were significant in that 22% of the population were involved. Various slogans and maxims arose and were painted on walls they included:

  • All power corrupts. Absolute power corrupts absolutely.
  • Read less, live more.
  • No replastering, the structure is rotten.
  • The boss needs you, you don’t need him.
  • Worker: You are 25, but your union is from the last century.
  • We want structures that serve people, not people serving structures.
  • Those who lack imagination cannot imagine what is lacking.
  • Warning: ambitious careerists may now be disguised as “progressives.”
  • We will beg for nothing. We will ask for nothing. We will take, we will occupy.
  • We don’t want to be the watchdogs or servants of capitalism.
  • The future will only contain what we put into it now.
  • Under the paving stones, the beach.
  • The more you consume, the less you live. Commodities are the opium of the people.
  • Abolish copyrights: sound structures belong to everyone.

Many of these were influenced by the Situationists advocated experiences of life alternative to those admitted by advanced capitalism for the fulfillment of human desires.  Paris is seen as a harbinger of the rise of new social movements (NSMs), which take the place of organised labour  in the wake of post-industrialism. They address a plethora of issues with a focus more on human rights as opposed to workers rights. Issues to do with lifestyle and quality of life take over when there is a growing middle-class and these movements reflect more these interests. It culminates perhaps in the Occupy movement with its distinctive organizational make-up [flat and organic, almost networked based] and an egalitarian mix of supporters:

“No Martin Luther King, Jr. will emerge from the occupations of Wall Street and beyond. For better or worse — and we are certainly among those who find this a promising development — this emerging cycle of movements will express itself through horizontal participatory structures, without representatives. Such small-scale experiments in democratic organizing would have to be developed much further, of course, before they could articulate effective models for a social alternative, but they are already powerfully expressing the aspiration for a real democracy.” Hardt and Negri (2011)

Hardt and Negri noted that Occupy Wall Street’s exposing a larger failure of democratic representation. One of the issues that is a problem just now, and is an extension of the way in which, lobbying and scientific research has been bent towards commercial interests, lies in both the direct and indirect way individuals may be silenced, or their evidence discredited. Governments and corporations have vast resources, wealth, legal, scientific, medical, and militaristic to level at those dissenting from their agendas.  The Free Expression Policy Project have noticed that:

“Since September 11, in contrast to earlier eras, censorship of dissent has been mostly nongovernmental, or if governmental, indirect. That is, people are not being criminally prosecuted for “seditious” speech. Instead, we have seen self-censorship by major media, universities, museums, public schools, private employers, and private property owners, and sometimes veiled threats by government officials.”

This is another way in which distributed views and beliefs can lead to ‘clean-ups’ in expressed opinions that may counter whatever the dominant or ‘ received views; are of the day.  A glib example of this comes in the form of shopping mall owners demanding “that a man remove a T-shirt reading “Give Peace a Chance.”  The idea is that by perpetuating panics and fears of alien forces that could hurt anyone of us at any moment in time, or if you do not possess this then your life will suffer, galvanizes people into subscribing to extreme views, or to buy and posses things [again using an extreme, like the weapons, seeds and survival gear of ‘doomsday preppers’].  It is typical in-group – out-group tensions.

You better get your organization on the internet before your competitor or neighbor does or the world ends.

You better get your organization on the internet before your competitor or neighbor does or the world ends.

But the writing was on the wall, the problems come when you get locked in to ‘double-binds’. In a time of business mantras like ‘customer-orientation’ the UK’s main telecom provider incorporated automated phone systems. I paid a fortune and spent an hour and half trying to speak to someone who could tell me why I was being billed for something that I had never received [phone installation]. I was passed from automated server to human operators, who would pass me on to other automated services and/or humans in other departments and eventually to a continuous dialing tone representative of a void number. All my indignant efforts culminated in a void to which I objected.

I then had to begin the process hoping that an intelligent human being could or would listen to my impassioned requests for someone to check what was going on, my appealing logic that that if I had a phone in the house then i would be using it right then, and that this was my fourth attempt and I was running out of change for the public phone box [also owned by them – that is they were making money out of this angst].

The next communication I received was from a third party debt collector saying that if I didn’t pay up in 14 days then I was being taken to court, ordered to pay, fined expenses and would be reported to the credit rating companies. Should I in the spirit of American judicial system etiquette plea-bargain and prevent myself going to court and just pay up that which I didn’t owe? Hey but who am I to complain when many others are still, today, in 2013 getting the same treatment [little to no innovation there].

Or should I stand my ground and hope that the court would listen to my claims of innocence? Or just ignore the lot of them? How could I resist and complain? By writing to a ‘communications’ company? Yes this was a company which was so hell bent in using technology to streamline services, to dispel the need for the human touch, that they were willing to put into service such systems, and no doubt somewhere down the line their was someone giving a brief to management on how successful it was working and the cost efficiencies that were being produced.

In effect, resistance was futile. I was locked in a regressive system of double bind. The more you protest and complain the more you were seen as ‘difficult’ , ‘irrational’ ‘trying it on’. You were not raining descent at a person, a tyrant or dictator, you were a ‘Joseph K‘ locked in the bounded rational, the iron cage of a system. a system likely not intentionally designed to frustrate but nevertheless a bludgeoning blunt unintelligent and unforgiving system which offered a one way communication concordant only with the myopia of the needs of the company and this articulated into a technical system by engineers.  In a sense I was a bug crushed by a foot as the foot’s owner was out walking his dog. But at corporate headquarters the new system is performing well, customer complaints have also dropped due to its efficiency.

Dawkins and Krebs (1978); from the evolutionary psychology perspective notes that“ Natural selection favours how to maintain power for a little longer in spite of enemies and adverse fortunes. Individuals who successfully manipulate the behavior of other individuals, whether or not this is to the advantage of the manipulated individuals.” Similarly, Nietzsche put forward his idea on the “will to power”, which he saw as the domination of other humans as much as the exercise of control over one’s environment. Power over others is by force or persuasion, and considers also the principle of voluntary action versus physical coercion or compulsion, which resonates with the agency-structure sociology of Giddens, ventured an enabling (and voluntaristic) concept of power. In Stephan Lukes more recent but influential contribution, power is seen as the imposition of internal cognitive constraints, and those subject to it acquire beliefs that result in their consent or their adaptation to domination, either by coercion or non-coercive forms. In this sense those that have power may exercise it without knowing that they do, and those who come under its influence may not know that they are. In either case their response will be acquiescence.

Even more recently, work by Bent Flyvbjerg, Rationality and Power: Democracy in Practice (1998) represents a study of how power influences rationality and democracy, which builds on the tradition in power studies that runs from Machiavelli who views power as “a complex strategic situation in a given society social setting” Being deeply structural, Flyvbjerg’s concept involves both constraint and enablement in dynamics of power and how power enables and constrains rationality and rational governance of large-scale projects.

The net emotional result of such types of encounter go beyond simple frustration at stupid corporate systems, bad usability, poor customer care, unfair laws, etc. They enter the realm of disenfranchisement and alienation and isolation and other negative emotions where people begin to believe they are being targeted. Systems of persecution and ‘brand or corporate image hygienic and management’ can pick out and isolate individuals. Whistle-blowers such as Julian Assuage of wikileaks and Bradley Manning face the torture of knowing they are targeted, all behaviors and communications interrogated, facing stiff penalties all of which takes tolls on mental and physical health problems:

“You’ve been labelled as “mad”, but that didn’t work well enough. So now you are “bad”: you’re a fraud, a liar, a criminal. You didn’t pay a parking ticket in 1987 and now owe $860,000 in fines. The character assassination begins in earnest. Why? If you’re not credible, neither is the truth you have revealed … You’re isolated, and broken. You grieve for the loss of your life as you knew it. Now you really do have depression. Often along the way you lose your spouse, and your house.” Suelette Dreyfus, The 5 Phases Of Whistleblowing (2012)

The above quote was taken from an Australian police officer who was whistleblower regarding sexual abuse in the Catholic Church [ you can fill in Suelette Dreyfus’s survey here]. There are very strong incentives for us not to resist, but to allow ourselves be led by our betters. The tenacity and shear bloody mindedness of those who would speak ‘truth to power’ only for batten to fall on a bald scalp, or for you to be placed in solitary confinement, or to sit out in the freezing rain for hours, days and weeks,  or to be sacked,  ridiculed, and have all your assets removed, is incredible.  One question in Suelette Dreyfus’s survey is telling:

27. How would you generally describe people who reveal inside information about serious wrongdoing to the media? Choose the description closest to your view.

Villains Misfits Normal Martyrs Heroes

Now I have not lost track of how ‘resistance’ translates into teaching, learning an assessment. How much opportunities is there for ‘resistance’ when it is considered in an academic setting? i would say little, any villains, misfits, martyrs or heroes in this context would probably face retribution in the shape of not graduating.

I remember only too well helping my son prepare for his ‘school exams and one of his subjects was business studies, something that I am reasonably aware of. One question posed a business dilemma and gave several options. I got it wrong. But not without being frustrated that my answer was one of several possible ‘right’ answers. Again, any right to argue, debate, or resist is lost. There becomes a brittle, crystallized, myopic way of asking and answering questions which may only accent the artificiality of formal learning in the traditional senses.

Education straddles the entire spectrum between the big and small ‘p’s fusing them in its own unique way to create the lived experience of teaching and learning, either online or offline.

In his day Adam Smith noted his belief that investment in “education, study, or apprenticeship” is beneficial for an individual’s personal wealth and by extension that of the society “to which he belongs.” Smith remarked that by being endowed by with “improved dexterity” persons would perform in ways akin to an entrepreneur investing in a “machine or instrument of trade which facilitates and abridges labour, and which, though it costs a certain expense, repays that expense with a profit.” Thus the economists’ view of education – that of the creation of ‘human capital’, education working under capitalism, fueling capitalism, presenting at the same time as a private and a public good. Good for oneself and good for the family, community and big society at large.

Smith also illustrates his point with that familiar 18th century linear, determinist and mechanistic bent (e.g. Skinner, 1996), human development which, through the magic transformative sprinklings of teaching or apprenticeship (secret formula ‘x’), there will arise improved productivity, manifesting in either abilities to make or do more per head capital or per hour (tangible output ‘y’).

But it is clearly not like that when there is a rising graduate unemployment and there are no tangible outputs from all those  magic transformative sprinklings of teaching or apprenticeship. Is it really advantageous to call on government to provide more jobs, would they realty offer tax breaks for Chinese manufacturers to open up factories in the U.S. and pay Chinese salaries? Or open more care homes and other government funded social programme? You do not need a degree for these occupations. Pupils kept burning the midnight oil in order to become students, students burned it in order to have the ability to ‘signal’ their abilities to employers by also passing exams, then they emerge to a market where the final test is attaining work – for some the most difficult test of them all.

Smith’s idea breaks down when he sees that efficiency will free up time for other productive activities, thereupon improving conditions for someone’s return of investment on their education. To view a complex phenomenon like education and learning as no more than the sum of its parts is to subscribe to a kind of reductionism, which I suppose, does belong to the 18th century ideal, which was when classical free-market economic theory originated.


Indeed ordinary people just seeking jobs, and a home, and family, and the occasional holiday, are carried along with the tide, including those in academia. Sarah Amster remarks that there has been little resistance even by those who are paid to think and discuss, that is, by academics to marketization of the university:

“Why aren’t more academics speaking and acting out in greater earnest against the destructive policies of privatization, marketization and corporatization now being imposed on and from within universities? For unlike the remarkable new student movements and apart from professional projects to mitigate the excesses of the government’s programme of extreme neoliberalization, academic responses have been very muted indeed. Even within the critical corners of the universities, and outside of politicizing crises such as departmental closures or parliamentary votes, there have been few serious direct challenges, or articulations of alternatives to the prevailing narratives of inevitability. Why?”

She goes on to list some possible answers:

  1. Ideological: “enough academics desire this, or that we don’t believe in the promises of critical education enough to fight.”
  2. Prosaic: “perhaps this majority hopes for the introduction of costly tuition fees, seizing upon them as a long-denied source of private investment.”
  3. Disciplined: many are also convinced that alternatives are impossible, and that challenging the policies is therefore hopeless or pointless or both. “Perhaps it believes that students will be intellectually committed when, in the classroom as in the market, time becomes money.”
  4. Kudos: “Perhaps academe has become populated by scholars who enjoy ranking their work competitively against that of others, or who believe that the only meaningful recognition of social value is that bestowed by institutional elites.”
  5. Direction and leadership: Perhaps teachers want their pedagogical practices be determined by the executive decisions of corporate managers in accordance with logics of bureaucratic and economic necessity, so as to avoid inefficiencies or unsettling students with difference.
  6. Subject matter: hordes of anthropologists, philosophers, sociologists and historians are now enthusiastically preparing grant applications to study the Big Society, saying to one another: ‘yes, this finally makes good sense’

Most of us would consider a person naïve if he or she picked up a book entitled ‘How to create a risk-free business in ten easy steps’. That is not to say that such a book doesn’t contain some valuable matter-of-fact advice and ideas, but unless you are a proof-reader literary critic or editor, you are unlikely in the first instance to create a business or get paid reading a book, or stand in front of a class. This something the same here. When change is brought be agents which are diffuse and insidious, then they are difficult to combat.

Sarah Master goes on:

“…as the first new budget cuts materialise and universities begin enforcing changes to accommodate and legitimise the government’s policies, there will be other openings for organising new, not-yet-imagined forms of collective resistance to the agenda. We are learning from our students that such work is neither easy nor impossible. We are also learning that such serious attacks on public education, critical disciplines and research, non-hegemonic epistemologies and democratic life, can only be met with equally as serious acts of resistance.”

We can also consider that the reification of the word ‘business’ only masks the fact that businesses are in all flavours and sizes. Yes there are some commonalities between the large enterprise like IBM and the small stall in a Cambodian market, but after that differentiation shifts in terms of what it is you make, sell, provide or do. And this of course varies immensely. Businesses situate into environments called markets whose recognition by the business practitioner can inform and pave the way for what business is to be considered viable in the first place, and afterwards exist become somewhat Darwinian in so far as to promote or abate  growth and development of products and services through competition with other firms developing and making similar products.

This is properly articulated by Michael Porter in his theories of competitive advantage. Markets, the environment of businesses, are further reifications in so far as they can also vary in terms of complexity and maturity. Adding to this mix is of course marketing, publicity and advertising which also impact upon the market, and government regulation and consumer trends and interests. These have been treated variously as academic subjects and elements have been studied in a scientific manner but due to the complexity of the entire system there are no sure ways to guarantee success in 10 easy steps style.

No heuristics that can guarantee the success or failure of product. It has to be made and introduced in order to ‘see what happens’. Sarah Amster’s perceptive reiterates for me the power of technocracies within the academy, and the struggles of academics in a University system that serves as a functionary of neoliberalism within the social factory. Consider that the Arts, the Humanities and the Social Sciences are being reduced to that of non-vocational studies. They are considered by the ruthless regime of productivity as ‘non-productive’ compared with science and technology.

Now this crash course in very basic business points to the difficulty of it as a body of knowledge, precepts and concepts. For instance a widely recognised authority in the field, Micheal Porter speaks of the need to differentiate one’s products and services in a market where there are many competitors. One can do this by offering innovative products and services, or by lending the appearance that your product or services ‘is different’ through innovative and pervasive marketing. Thus the onus on creativity and innovation in business over the last 20 years.

Building a brand means making your claims regarding the difference concordant with the experience of the product and services itself, so that customers identify you with good quality. But what defines these qualities will be increasingly commercial interests, interested in repackaging them for profits.This knowledge exchange’ or  ‘knowledge transfer’ system will reward academics measured against their ability to provide money by being successful at getting enormous grants. No more Noam Chomskeys here.  The model of the academic is the networker and the lobbyist, not the researcher and the teacher, critic or activist.

Studying all the various interconnected elements of this system, all the causal loops for instance, is punctuated with explorations of various cognitive, attitudinal, financial and economic, and even neurological aspects. This makes the study of business at undergraduate and post-graduate levels (MBAs for instance) a bundle of theories and ideas most of them derived from across the social sciences, or case studies of business practice. This only underscores the fact that ‘there are many ways to skin a cat’, and difficult to pin business down as a school-based course, with precise questions and precise answers. Of course it is possible to articulate a cash-flow problem as an arithmetical operation (how much money does the company need to borrow to stay afloat during the first year of start-up?), but anything that approaches the relevance of thinking even given the prominence of the creative industries in building brand Britain is out the window.

Formal education is different. It is tied, centralised, to a location, whether that is online or offline. It is furthermore tied to particular characters or individuals or avators or experts or facilitators or teachers, like Micheal Porter, certain people which will act as a focus for that to be examined, explored and studied. It is tied, and must tie, to bodies of knowledge, concepts, theories, ideas, approaches, methods, discussions, issues, propositions, problems, phenomena and so on. It is tied to literature and sometimes practice depending of what is being taught and studied. Even if it is a completely new phenomena and experience, like a piece of Martian technology which has fallen to earth it must be contextualised and situated in terms of what it means to use today, couched in terms which scaffold and relate it to all that which is already familiar and known.

There may be paradigm shift therein, a ‘discontinuous’ or ‘radical’ innovation, serious background-foreground shift in ontology, but until that is justified and illustrated it must be treated by ‘normal’ science under proven otherwise. There are some ‘totalising’ best practices, but certain subjects tend towards the realm of art, that is, they can and should be interpretative, as they move from basic foundational principles and move towards their contextualisation in the complex ebbs and flows of everyday life in modern society. As we live in complex systems there is a renewed focus on context and upon abilities to consider ‘the bigger picture’.

What we will be looking for essentially is what Gregory Bateson referred to as ‘The difference that makes a difference’ which I often think of as ‘teaching’. For me, it is the correlate of ‘learning to learn’ and in many ways the synonym of the ‘double-bind’ or ‘catch-22‘.

You can resist but you cannot run

You can resist but you cannot run

‘The difference that makes a difference’ links to two other maxims that Bateson declared, one is  ‘the pattern that connects’ and the other is  ‘news of a difference’.   In the core and pivotal need for homeostasis, or stable state, both biologically and psychodynamically we have to satisfy certain needs. Like most or all living organisms we can only register difference, not the thing or stimulus itself in some pure unchanging state. In reading English for instance, the integrity of a word for instance lies within the boundaries of the blank spaces before the beginning and at the end. It also lies in the differences signifying a ‘p’ from a ‘q’ and so on.  A person cannot really feel hot, just hotter than they can remember.

The experience of similarity and difference and just what presents itself as ‘new’ is that of the notice, in our case the student. It is they that must connect the dots and draw together and fuse, combine, consolidate and consider differences. Scholarly activity is that which identifies, draws out and ascertains scheme of differences in the pre-existing work and records of others. Intellectual work is considering, meditating, dwelling upon these differences, testing these differences and moreover, a focus upon the ‘differences that makes a difference’ and developing one’s own schemas, configurations, relationships and approaches to new and old knowledge. Academic work is the nuts and bolts writing, reporting, publishing, and dissemination of scholarly and intellectual activity including its ‘teaching’. The teacher can wield their scholarly or intellectual abilities and impress and dazzle colleagues and students with their erudite manners and utter swaggering confidence, but ultimately like beauty and aesthetics tastes the meaning and relevance of these acts lie in the minds of the beholders, their ‘takeaway’ from the lecture, text, film, exhibition or performance, or even school or university.

It is this ‘takeaway’ which is the difference that makes a difference. It is not celebrity on stage, the idiosyncratic or charismatic professor, it is not the style and operating of the interface, nor is all the other ‘touchpoints’ where what has been planned and sometimes carefully crafted to embellish the experience of learning meets with those who are supposed to be changed somewhat somehow, by such experiences. It is none of these in particular, rather it is the residuals of them all, their gestalt, which counts. This defines the user experience of learning – offline or online, and what makes for compelling experiences is where there is a reduction in noise in an ecosystem of learning. This comes about like well designed products and websites. As D.H Lawrence said:

“Design in art, is a recognition of the relation between various things, various elements in the creative flux. You can’t invent a design. You recognize it, in the fourth dimension. That is, with your blood and your bones, as well as with your eyes.”

When I speak of the language of a course syllabus, I refer to how it strings together for instance, not only in style, but also in relation to the other units or modules or lectures taught. But it also must include some awareness of its integral ideological basis. So often in my experience, and chiefly to do with the fact that lecturers while perhaps being informed at the deep level concerning their field and research interests and topics, often have little knowledge, interest or concern of how this abuts other teachers, their presentations, salient points and issues. So much so that you can have two subsequent lectures in a given module given by two lecturers which seem from the student perspective to digress entirely in terms of both subject matter, treatment of case examples and use and interpretation of the literature. Mark my words, I am not advocating for a homogenisation of knowledge, its reification if you want in the dictatorial manner of the first year all –encompassing textbook, I am merely saying that feedback I have received from students is that modular styles of learning can offer specific themes and information which lacks coherency with other modules on the course, their pre-existing knowledge glanced from previous courses.

Operationally this latter problem is supposed to be catered for by certain course options having more elementary courses successfully completed as per-requisites. But in poorly designed curricula, those which have not had anything like an adequate level of attention  placed on how systems of knowledge ‘fit; together then there can be gaps, lacunae or discontinuities which need to be plugged usually by the students themselves. Especially at elementary levels, when a corpus of fundamental principles and operations must be learnt this is woefully inadequate to build upon. In these cases students may not be able to ‘scaffold’ to use the Bruner term, and find identify weakness in themselves as opposed to weaknesses in where the teachers and the institution of teaching should be guiding them. A glib examples would be students being able to answer 2×2=?, but not recognising or being taught that 22 =? Can be treated as the same question. Of course as learning progresses to being increasingly inquiry-led over simple resource to facts, this can give way to more inductive kinds of expertise which requires critical and creative approaches to learning, that is learning to learn. But the rudiments nust be mastered, to a certain ‘tipping point’ in order to do this. Clearly one’s ability to listen, read and count, and to effect numeracy is crucial to learn.

The wife of F.D.R. Roosevelt and serving First Lady of the United States from 1933 to 1945, Elenor Roosevelt, had some astute observations in her book published a couple of years before her death. In You Learn by Living (1960) she has a chapter dedicated to ‘Learning to learn’:

“What I learned from my own experience is that the most important ingredients in a child’s education are curiosity, interest, imagination, and a sense of the adventure of life. You will find no curses in which these are taught; and yet they are qualities that make all learning rewarding, that make all life zestful, that make us seek constantly for new experience  and deeper understanding. They are also the qualities that enable us to continue to grow as human beings to the last day of our life, and to continue to learn… Education provides the necessary tools, equipment by which we learn how to learn. The object of all our education and the development which is a part of education is to give every one of us an instrument which we can use to acquire information as any time we need it. “(Roosevelt, 1960; pp.4)

What follows is a summary of her own intellectual development with reference to both her informal and forming schooling. She spoke of a French tutor at her English public school that would meld subjects such as geography and history together and give a reading list such as one would receive on a graduate school course, and ask for papers to be drafted. Those which merely regurgitated the material and facts given in the tutorial were disposed of and only those brining something new to bear on the discussion were admitted. This clearly shaped Roosevelt’s thinking with respect to educating. Prompting such activities can impress a student far beyond their first glimpse this comes through teaching aids and materials.  In fact, if you could, if someone could observe the best teachers, one-on-one tuition, curriculum and teaching material you notice that the small details that speak to you subconsciously and that consistency improves your experience and as a result makes you more likely to return thoughtful work.

Elenor Roosvelt was aware of the wide debates which are still taking place between ‘progressive’ (i.e. John Dewey) and ‘orthodox’ styles of teaching and instruction (authoritarianism and rote learning, and preparation for being a good citizen in whatever that meant to your social group). The polarisations did not phase her as she accords with the view that both are relevant and have their place.

“For some years now there had been considerable conflict in educational circles about what and how children should be taught. The old system was to serve two purposes: to discipline the mind and to provide young people with a background of knowledge about the past, history, philosophy and the arts … More recently, the influence of Dewey has been powerful in effecting a change in orientation. It is not so important, according to this school, to provide the child with a background of general culture. The essential thing is to relate every fact learned to the tangible world around him. The purpose of his education is to explain to him the things he can feel and see and touch in his daily life … Carried to an extreme, the progressive method has not attempted to direct the child in any direction in which does not want to go. Unless he enjoys it or sees a value in it, he is not forced to accept the discipline. … Both methods have their value. Of course, it is useful to relate the child to his immediate surroundings, to have him understand them and their functioning, It is never enough, I seems to me, to teach a child mere information. In the first, place, we have to face the fact that no one can acquire all there is to learn about any subject. What is essential is to train the mind so that it is capable of finding facts as it needs them, train it to learn how to learn. If later on, a child must acquire a foreign language he should have background of training to enable him to sit down and concentrate on mastering the langue, If he must do research, he should have discipline and training in how to do research, It is not enough to have does one of more pieces of research, he must have mastered the technique. The essential thing is that he is so trained that he can use his mind as a room a supple instrument to dig out the facts as he needs them, But facts, after all, are a comparatively small part of education. They are a small part of the thing broadly know as culture.  (Roosevelt, 1960; pp.6-7)”

The whole idea of agency – the ability of people to make independent and free behavioral choices – and structure – the conditions and exigencies which  have played an important role in political, technical, legal and economic debates. Governments, technology developers and city planners need to think systemically in order to accommodate or predict knock-on or adverse unexpected consequences. All interventions that take structural forms have these effects. In order to understand these effects or to reduce them there has been the employment of social science in order to locate them and make adjustments. As methods have increasingly became more participant and inclusivity, more democratic, the aim is to decentralize not only the decision making process but also the design, shape and form of the interventions. But this is easier and more successful in some areas than others.  In many cases  it has required negotiations, diplomacy and compromises.

Better than his head up his?

Better than his head up his?

Just how much of  one’s labour can be given out free of charge for the greater good depends on having enough resources in which to live. And large scale infrastructure for the common good of everyone at nation state level, may not be good for local communities or the trans-national and global community [i.e. chopping down rain forests, or building a dam upstream on a major river system which also benefits neighboring countries]. Also, where power is maintained and consolidated, where there is lack of transparency,  such as by corporations and governments, getting closer to the people can be reinterpreted as intrusion or breech of privacy, as in where agencies track the everyday life of particular individuals whilst not being open to be under such scrutiny themselves. Consider that this is a world of public relations and corporate social responsibility programmes where ostensibly there is the desire to be perceived as wielding the moral up-hand and engaging in practices which profit whilst generating public goods, but in reality have the ability to covertly engage in activities which are not.

Such a power relationship happens in externally administered assessments in education. Examinations are supposed to be ‘usable’ by those possessing a set of knowledges and skills which they have been taught or have acquired during the prescribed period of study. They resist, or prevent the student from moving on in their studies to further, more specific or technically more difficult levels, or to graduate and enter the world of work.

The idea of ‘resistance’ in assessments suggests that there is in place a dominant received view of what it is to be assessed and this does adequately, from the students or the exam committee drafting  the crteriea, essay question or exam questions, relevant to the learning outcomes. The learning outcomes must also benchmark to accreditation, and accreditation must benchmark to some form of awareness of what is expected or required from the needs of the larger society. It is difficult to remove the political dimension here as it refer to economic and industrial needs, or wider sociocultural concerns including the production of critical free thinkers. However, in this later group the formulation the strategy of their overall learning will be based on an awareness of their own development needs (their strengths, weaknesses and aspirations) in their own renditions of what ‘society’ requires – that is they must legitimise their renditions.

At the opposite end of the assessment spectrum from universally applied examinations, is student’s outlining there own assessments products and criteria. This could be combination of work, portfolio style, which could have examination elements, drafting of a essays or papers, and a prototype or example. The outputs would to be articulated in a manner of learning outcomes, and awareness would have to be exhibited regarding their effectiveness and relevance. In some senses it would be an extension of the Ph.D. thesis and its defense by viva. This moves both learning and assessment from a practice where the content and learning methods are tightly controlled and focused on behalf of the project of learning, to a more open prospect where challenge and resistance is met all the way through the study and become an integral and naturalised part of the learning.

Adams et al (1981), Brookfield (1986) and Robbins (1988) have indicated the potential within the bureaucracies of formal institutions for the subversion of student intentions. Of particular importance are the mechanisms for financial and resource control and, most crucially, the structures of academic power. All the points of formal contacts between institution and student, from application through to final assessment, must be part of an overall ethos of support for students taking responsibility. Resistance in such cultures of teaching and learning is a very different prospect to ‘learning to the test’. It requires a more expansive, systems orientated, ‘out-of-the-box’ form of thinking. The apotheosis if inductive Socratic forms of teaching is metalearning such as that put forward in Eleanor Roosevelt’s ideas cited earlier.

John Biggs (1985) is credited with creating and defining the concept of metalearning, it does however bear relationship to Gregory Bateson’s dutero-learning  and Argyris and  Schön’s (1978) double-loop learning. Bigg’s conception is framed around the idea of ‘being aware of and taking control of one’s own learning.’ Implicit within this conception are the ideas that:

  • people need to have knowledge of how they learn
  • they have the motivation to be proactive in managing themselves in this way
  • they have the capacity to be able to regulate their learning

This expression of the conception has similarities with the concept of ‘managing own learning.’ It implies that metalearning is a complex mixture of:

  • Knowledge products – knowledge of learning / own learning and how self learns
  • Attitudes – I am going to do it
  • Capacities and skills – to think and act on thinking in this way

Therein lies the logics of decentralisation, devolved forms of government, and the oxymoron of personalisation, customisation, user and customer focus, and the internet itself as phenomenon and technology as generative phenomena. Increased interest in ethnography to fill the gaps that cannot be properly rationalised by managers, planners and designers. All towards the aim of economies of scope rather than scale. Aggregation moves towards the notion of communities, trends and Facebook ‘[likes’ over and above notion of mass. It takes for granted that one has access to clean running water, sanitation and a home, and works to consider what gourmet meal you want to buy pre-packed or buy the ingredients for, what you want to spend your disposable income on – ‘given’ the choice [limited choice that is]. Just as material and media Industry moved from mass production to post-fordist or customised delivery.

A list of features of meta learning approaches has been described thus:

  • Engages all students including those who are distractible and inattentive in the intentional process of learning.
  • Makes learning activities more transparent by provoking questions about purposefulness.
  • Always includes introspection.
  • Discusses and illustrates the connection between student knowledge/skills, and the “big-picture.”
  • Provokes individual teachers to share novel teaching methods through continuous professional collaboration and dyads.
  • Enhances the SELF through goal setting, performance, implementation, introspection and comparing oneself with the “industry” standard.

When approaching such situations where students are not spoon-fed content and formats, it can be disarming if they have had exposure to the didactic rote learning / examination style. By working on problems that require them to research and negotiate in the real world, to locate and formulate problems that need additional work, knowledge, and skills, to move them in ways where one person cannot carry the entire group and to reinforce this by insisting upon group reports and critiques is a way is demanding on facilitators as well as students. Delivering end products which have not met with requirements but being able to justify and point out precisely why shortcomings arose is demanding. Thinking ahead, outside, beyond the envelope of where the students are at is also demanding and requires craft and agility on behalf of the facilitator.

And it is at this is the juncture in time, there has been much discussion regarding technologies tat can facilitate learning online, and while this is not a literature that I have exhaustively ploughed through, and this may be a selected example used to force the point, I get the feel that this is very biased towards the technology, in the same fashion that Taylor was biased towards the forces of production and its hardware and delineated and conditioning work spaces. Just as championing Mac over PC, it blurs the real debate concerning the real use of computational networked technologies in the lives or real people.

His excellency Samdach Akaek Moha Sena Padei Decho Hun Sen receives an Honarory Ph.D. from the Irish International University (IIU) of the European Union click here for details.

His excellency Samdach Akaek Moha Sena Padei Decho Hun Sen receives an Honorary Ph.D. from a ‘Professor’  of the Irish International University (IIU) of the European Union click here for details.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could just attend and just pass the course without any resistance? I taught some courses where there is stipulated that people get a percentage, say, 10% just for being there. I am going to be very straight when I say this is rubbish. There is a case for someone doing a course such as the free online courses offered by M.I.T. if one has a genuine interest in the subject, or needs the knowledge to make or do something. This is what learning should be about. But somehow globally, it gets strangely turned around. It sometimes appears that people are not really interested in learning something, but they would give an arm or a leg for an official looking transcript and certificate. Its kinda of back-the-front to me. However the bottom line is that not only are ersatz institutions involved in such practices the wider jobs markets seem to be as well.

In Cambodia I have been passed on numerous occasion official looking business cards with official looking titles printed on there UNDP Finance director. This from someone who boasted a business degree from the local management university and had been funded to do his maters at the college, but also whom I had found to have little to zero numerical abilities whatsoever. This is not an isolated case and digging a bit deeper and meeting foreigners from the developed world who work in these organisations, the positive discrimination policies and Geneva head office requirement was that you ‘localise’ at all cost explain why this person has a complementary 4-wheel drive and official looking cards, and been sent on this course to get some piece of paper that can be scanned and faxed back to Switzerland.

Now these practices and others where people are parting with the hard or soft earned development money salaries become engrained in the local culture in respect to its view of education and its merits. Basically the important thing is that piece of paper, and an opportunity to have a ‘happy day’ – that is a graduation ceremony which marks the day you start adding letters to your name. You start to see that most certificates replete with fingerprints, seals crests and signatures of provosts, deans, rectors, registrars and so forth are suspicious. You begin to realise that this karaoke learning begins and continues right into the workplace where you have to pretend to do your job, as there is no way you have been trained to do it or anything like in your schooling. You end up doing semi-automated tasks if you are working for western style banks, supermarkets and other businesses. Once you get hired nad in the door with that certificate, whose going to fire you, the other person who has the same certificate? You end up not doing that much either,what little needs done, i.e. fixing and spending the budget is done by the foreigners, who in their advocacy or monitoring roles spend most of their time in expensive restaurant ith the other westerners producing billboards and glossy reports claiming that aids is reaching epidemic proportion, or pedophiles are highly active, or they is not enough pesticides or fishstocks or whatever.

In other countries there is a fervor to learn English and some semblance of seriousness in education, but closer examination will show you that beyond the veneer their is little substance in these private ventures. Singapore is of course an exception. They have in most, bot all, clung to old fashioned British ideas of due diligence and rigour in both delivery or teaching, parental support for educational effort, and in application and aspiration by students. Most are driven by the promise of the mertitous society, in which diligence and application will reap benefits not only for oneself but ultimately family and nation.

In such an environment it would be almost impossible to start a school that suddenly and ‘really’ offered a western standard of education. The simple fact is that nobody would have the propensity or inclination to subject themselves to such training. I have even had those coming to courses as immigrant Australian residents, with distinctions in the bachelor’s degree, but unable to draft a simple essay or complete more than a single [of three] exam question. There is a road in Bangkok, famous with backpacking tourists which openly sells official looking degree certificates from name universities. Without delving into realms where you are doing expensive checks on each and every applicant how would you know? Well it emerges when you start to work with them and you realises that not only the students have no idea of the subject, most of your colleagues do either. I have met many westerners and other boasting Ph.D.s and masters and only after the fact and in conversation you realises that they are not educated, expect in how to manipulate the system.

Another terrible but pervasive activity is plagiarism, which of curse, has been covered elsewhere in depth. In many respects this has been accepted in the past, and students may think there is little wrong with such practices. Often they have insufficient English  comprehension, reading and writing to perform assessments in that language adequately.  In other cases they may not have the capacity to do the work to any acceptable level. In other cases still they may have some written and reading literacy but have no idea how to write academically. All the teaching i have done in Africa and Asia have suffered from this. It is the responsibility of admissions to screen and prevent those with inadequate language and academic skills from entering the course. In most cases they do not filter students who produce transcripts and fulfill on paper the entry requirements. the students themselves seem to care little that they will not understand very much. I have strongly advocated for pre- or ‘access’ courses for students. This is often disregarded by a senior management detached from the realities of teaching and interested purely by revenues. Pushing too hard on the point will simply have you replaced.

This brings us to assessment. It has also been invoked

The old binaries – vocational versus liberal education; specialist versus general education; etc. – no longer work. They are weary. Schwartz is right in pointing a way forward – but we do need a new language to distinguish his emergent vision of higher education. Central to that vision is the development of a broad education that is cosmopolitan in its global outreach and interconnectivity in its inter-disciplinary aspirations.

A really thoughtful article. The National Co-ordinating Centre for Public Engagement have developed a draft framework for assessing some of the attributes that you mention. The framework focuses on key learning areas that arise when students are working with others. I wonder what the similarities between Wisdom as you talk about, and reflective practice as discussed in their framework?

  • co-creation of knowledge;
  • managing engagement;
  • awareness of self and others;
  • communication;
  • reflective practice.

The emphasis on attributes and the implications of that emphasis for the development of a broad and balanced higher education curriculum is welcome. All the ‘vital attributes’ listed seem hugely important. My only quibble is that Steven Schwartz runs the risk of collapsing the notion of ‘attributes’ into the notion of ‘skills’. I think there’s an important difference between these two ideas and the way in which they lead educational thinking. I’m very happy for ‘wisdom’ to be included in a discussion regarding ‘vital attributes’, but am rather wary of it being reduced to an ’employability skill’.

This is more than a matter of semantic slippage. It has to do with the way in which ideas are increasingly presented within a dominant lexicon (skills, outcomes, impact) that undermines the ends and purposes of those ideas. Wisdom is central to those ends and purposes but cannot be reduced/restricted to a skills set. It can neither be calculated nor measured. It points to a purpose beyond the ends that can be pre-figured. This suggests a different curriculum model for higher education: a model that acknowledges the unpredictability of learning and recognises the complex interconnectivity of ideas.

The old binaries – vocational versus liberal education; specialist versus general education; etc. – no longer work. They are weary. Central to that vision is the development of a broad education that is cosmopolitan in its global outreach and inter connective in its inter-disciplinary aspirations. This is not what is happening in the double-binds of education policy just now. We keep inventing new forms of work to occupy our time. Whether that’s as lucrative as standing in front of a camera in a bikini, or merely involve making a better quality cup of coffee for someone with a ‘real’ job (who again is probably just editing a spreadsheet – an information age profession, rather than anything historically relevant), the question is not one of the technology, but the resulting distribution of income. Meanwhile from the pages of The Economist:

“Indiana University has just announced innovations aimed at lowering the cost and reducing the time it takes to earn a degree. More of this is needed. Universities owe it to the students who have racked up $1 trillion in debt, and to the graduate students who are taking second degrees because their first one was so worthless. They also bear some responsibility for the 17m who are overqualified for their jobs, and for the 3m unfilled positions for which skilled workers cannot be found. They even owe it to the 37m who went to college, dropped out and ended up with nothing: many left for economic reasons.”

Let us trust  that these innovations are not essay of 144 characters of resistant vim.


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