Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Month: May 2009 Page 1 of 2

A night at Ezard

This is the second in an intermittent collection of posts associated with visits to nice restaurants. This one tells the story of the visit of my wife and I to Ezard in Melbourne.

Disclaimer: I’m a philistine when it comes to food, but am attempting to improve my tastes and experience. I’m a clueless foodie.

In summary, fantastic. Fully recommend it. Service great. Food to die for. We’ll be going back again, whenever possible.

There are photos of my meals but the questionable wireless in the hotel lobby leaves a significant amount to be desired.


The meal started with some good crusty white bread, the house parmesan, garlic and rosemary infused olive oil (very nice) and some house spices (ranging from somewhat over-powering to the near sublime).

We were then presented with a mouthful of sashimi on a spoon, and that description doesn’t do it justice. A range of other spices, sauces and other bits and pieces that combined worked very well together. I am not a seafood/raw fish type of person and I enjoyed this greatly.


As you might be able to tell, I couldn’t remember the details nor find them on the Ezard menu (as I did with the following).


The missus started with

fried zucchini flowers, goat’s cheese, mascarpone, panzanella salad, balsamic syrup

and loved it.

I started with

five spiced korubuta pork belly with celeriac and apple remoulade and mustard sauce

Pork belly

As with all of the food, it was the combination of the ingredients that moved the overall experience to something greater than the sum of its parts.


The missus went with

seven score wagyu beef with sake roasted king brown mushrooms, garlic jam, black vinegar and shallot glaze

I beat her to the punch and got the duck

roast duck with green chilli and shallot sauce, stir fried silk melon garlic shoots and rice noodle rolls

Roast duck

Since we expected the food to be good, we went for a side as well

fried desiree potatoes with roasted garlic and rosemary

The waiter commented on how clean our plates were when he picked up the empties. There was good reason. Neither of us we’re going to leave any of the flavours on the plate.


During the mains it became absolutely obvious that we would have to try dessert. The wife wanted the dessert tasting menu, I preferred to go with a single choice. To maximise pleasure.

The missus chose

romage frais cheesecake with butternut and black sesame crunch, spiced rhubarb jelly

I’m not much of a dessert person so went with the ice cream

honeycrunch icecream with toasted gingerbread and sugar swirl

Honey crunch ice-cream

The consensus between the wife and I was that I got the best end of the deal.


Again, I’m not a wine drinker, but the house reisling the wife had by the glass was good enough we went with a bottle of it. A 2005 donnhoffriesling from German.

Yes I do recognise the mismatch that exists between the wine and the food described above. But I did say I’m a clueless foodie and not a wine drinker. My palette lacks the education to shudder at the combination.

What are the conditions that are conducive to the creation of a variety of new ideas?

I’m currently working on the Process section of my thesis. As part of that I’m referring back to a book chapter (that was a conference paper) by Bo Carlsson (2004) titled “Public policy as a form of design”. This post is an attempt to summarise some of the points made in that chapter as they are connected to my new job.

What are the conditions that are conducive to the creation of a variety of new ideas?

Let’s start with this quote

Sometimes the first and most important policy objective is to remove obstacles to creativity and to foster entrepreneurship rather than to take new initiatives. The formation of new clusters can be facilitated but not directed. Planning cannot replace the imaginative spark that creates innovation.

He does make the point that once innovation clusters evolve, then it may be necessary for appropriate policy to develop.

Three types of facilitating policy stand out

  1. Increase absorptive capacity or receiver competence.
    i.e. the ability of folk to identify innovations and convert them into “business opportunities”. Such capacity is built through research and development, hiring of personnel, training of personnel and accumulation of experience.
  2. Increase connectivity.
    Increasing the quantity and quality of linkages within and outside of the system.
  3. Promote entrepreneurship and encourage variety.

    Given the risk and uncertainty associated with each link in teh chain, the greater the number of players, each with uncertain and divergent beliefs about the chances of success, the greater are the chances of successful outcomes. This is a game of effectiveness, not efficiency. Let the market (or the public), not bureaucrats, select the successful projects

Misc quotes

The higher the opportunity cost of entrepreneurship, the lower the qulity of entrepreneur because the process becomes driven by adverse selection. In the extreme, the only agents willing to undertake entrepreneurship are those who cannot do anything else.

Application to innovation within universities

Given the growing influence of managerialization within society and the increasing moves to standardisation and accountability within higher education it is not difficult to identify some tensions. Indeed, the tension between accountability and innovation and its negative ramifications within universities is the topic of Findlow (2008)

Limitations in academic staff development, the lack of perceived importance of learning and teaching, a focus on specific technologies and a range of other factors mean that the absorptive capacity of universities around e-learning is not great.

The connectivity is also somewhat limited due to the hierarchical structures that arise out of the same influences. The separation of academics into disciplinary sub-groups and the organisational distance between the academics and the IT and L&T folk all arise from these structures and its increasing reliance on teleological design.

The lack of connectivity and the increase in top-down approaches to decision-making is significantly reducing the variety of approaches. Obviously the pressure for standardisation and the fear of risk-taking impact upon this.

Now, there are activities that can work around this, however, the emphasis on top-down decision making will make this difficult. Unless of course someone senior can see the light.


Carlsson, B. (2004). Public policy as a form of design. Managing as Designing. R. Boland and F. Collopy. Standford, CA, Standford Business Books: 259-264.

Findlow, S. (2008). “Accountability and innovation in higher education: a disabling tension?” Studies in Higher Education 33(3): 313-329.

Teleological and ateleological processes

The following is an early section on the Process component of the Ps Framework and is intended as part of chapter 2 of my thesis. Still fairly rough, but somewhat cleaner than some of the thesis sections I’ve shared here.

Teleological and ateleological processes

Clegg (2002) suggests that one of the most pervasive debates in management has been between the “planning school” and the “learning school”. The planning/learning school continuum is mirrored in a range of literature describing different approaches to processes. Table 2.1 provides a summary of some of this literature. Table 2.1 and this thesis make use of the terminology introduced by Introna (1996) with respect to design processes: teleological and ateleological. This continuum covers the spectrum of different types of processes identified in the literature on and informing the practice of e-learning within universities.

Table 2.1 – Different authors and terms for the teleological/ateleological continuum
Author Teleological Ateleological
Mintzberg (1989) Deliberate strategy Emergent strategy
Brews and Hunt (1999)
Clegg (2002)
Planning school Learning school
Seely Brown and Hagel (2005) Push systems Pull systems
Kutz and Snowden (2007) Idealistic Naturalistic
Hutchins (1991) Supervisory reflection and intervention Local adjustment
Truex, Baskerville and Klein (1999) Traditional information systems design Emergent information systems design
March (1991) Exploitation Exploration
Boehm and Turner (2003) Plan-driven Agile

Introna (1996) identified eight attributes of a design process and uses them to distinguish between the two extremes: teleological (planning school) and ateleological (learning school). The eight attributes of a design processes are used by Introna (1996) to highlight the differences between the two extremes. This work is summarised in Table 2.2 and will be expanded in the following sections.

Table 2.2 – Attributes of teleological and ateleological design processes (adapted from Introna, 1996)
Attributes of the design process Teleological development Ateleological development
Ultimate purpose Goal/purpose Wholeness/harmony

Intermediate goals

Effectiveness/efficiency Equilibrium/homeostasis
Design focus Ends/result Means/process
Designers Explicit designer Member/part
Design scope Part Whole
Design process Creative problem solving Local adaptation, reflection and learning

Design problems

Complexity and conflict Time
Design management Centralized Decentralized
Design control Direct intervention in line with a master plan Indirect via rules and regulators

The information systems discipline has seen fairly widespread domination by teleological thinking and ateleological design taking on a subservient position (Introna 1996). A position reinforced by the labels used by Truex et al (Truex, Baskerville et al. 1999) where teleological design was described as traditional information systems design while ateleological design is labeled emergent information systems design. Introna (1996) suggests that most, if not all, of what happens within modern organizations is teleological. Teleological processes dominate the training and practice of information systems development (Baskerville, Travis et al. 1992). Many, if not most, universities follow, or at least profess to follow, a purpose driven approach – a teleological approach – to setting strategic directions (McConachie, Danaher et al. 2005).

There are risky extremes inherent in both approaches that must be avoided if organizations and systems are to be functional rather than dysfunctional (Jones, Luck et al. 2005). An extreme pre-occupation for either exploration or exploitation can trap organizations in unproductive states (March 1991). A purely deliberative strategy suggests no learning, while a purely emergent strategy suggests no control (Mintzberg 1994). A synthesis of the most productive elements of both teleological and ateleological approaches is crucial to addressing the plethora of issues competing for the attention of university decision-makers (Jones, Luck et al. 2005). The aim of this section is to offer a brief explanation of the two ends of the process continuum and the relevant weaknesses and strengths of the two extremes. The following section (Section 2.1.2) examines the literature around the processes used in universities and, in particular, for e-learning.


Baskerville, R., J. Travis, et al. (1992). Systems without method: the impact of new technologies on information systems development projects. The Impact of Computer Supported Technologies on Information Systems Development. K. E. Kendall. Amsterdam, North-Holland: 241-251.

Boehm, B. and R. Turner (2003). "Using risk to balance agile and plan-driven methods." Computer 36(6): 57-66.

Brews, P. and M. Hunt (1999). "Leanring to plan and planning to learn: Resolving the planning school/learning school debate." Strategic Management 20(10): 889-913.

Clegg, S. (2002). Management and organization paradoxes. Philadelphia, PA, John Benjamins Publishing.

Hutchins, E. (1991). "Organizing work by adaptation." Organization Science 2(1): 14-39.

Introna, L. (1996). "Notes on ateleological information systems development." Information Technology & People 9(4): 20-39.

Jones, D., J. Luck, et al. (2005). The teleological brake on ICTs in open and distance learning. Conference of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia’2005, Adelaide.

Kurtz, C. and D. Snowden (2007). Bramble Bushes in a Thicket: Narrative and the intangiables of learning networks. Strategic Networks: Learning to Compete. Gibbert, Michel, Durand and Thomas, Blackwell.

March, J. (1991). "Exploration and exploitation in organizational learning." Organization Science 2(1): 71-87.

McConachie, J., P. Danaher, et al. (2005) "Central Queensland University’s Course Management Systems: Accelerator or brake in engaging change?" International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning Volume,  DOI:

Mintzberg, H. (1994). The rise and fall of strategic planning: Reconceiving roles for planning, plans, planners. New York, Free Press.

Seely-Brown, J. and J. Hagel (2005) "From push to pull: The next frontier of innovation." The McKinsey Quarterly Volume,  DOI:

Truex, D., R. Baskerville, et al. (1999). "Growing systems in emergent organizations." Communications of the ACM 42(8): 117-123.

Continuing to bash the consultant model

I’m currently on a bit of a wave with bashing the consultant model of change, i.e. a model by which an “expert” from outside comes into a context performs or directs the performance of some analysis and evaluation of the context and then, drawing on their vast knowledge, recommends some ways forward. I started my “bashing wave” in a post comparing this model with the “fat smoker” problem (telling them what they already know isn’t sufficient to create change) and then continued with this inspiration from Dilbert.

Aside – Dilbert’s latest contribution

Which reminds more of the SNAFU principle.

Back to the consultants

The real reason for this post was to save this quote for later purposes. It’s talking about professional development around ICTs in education and the facilitators (i.e. consultants)

Facilitators however can pay
too much attention to analysis and recommendations and not enough to the complexity of translating these into actions. (Watson, 2006)

The quote is part of a section title “The problematic of the teacher” which resides in a broader section titled “Enduring issues”. The other enduring issues are: understanding learning; learning about or learning with; and, a technocentric enthusiasm.

Some other quotes from the section on those problematic teachers

Beynon and Mackay (1992, 1993) reflect that introducing ICTs into teaching create a number of tensions that professional development does not necessarily resolve. I have myself noted the dichotomy of purpose in rationales for using technology that leaves teachers unconvinced (Watson, 2001); and that those who don’t use ICT do so because it resonates with their personal beliefs and professional philosophy of teaching (Watson, 1993). And yet much professional development for using ICT in education leaves the participants feeling that training has been done to them rather than with them (Burstow, 2006)

And there is the following one, which really resonates with the local context and some recent discussions

Research such as that reported by Gross, Giacquinta, and Berstein (1971) indicated that there was no resistance to planned change on the part of teachers. On the contrary, they were receptive to educational innovation, but the strategies for implementation were deficient in two respects—failure to identify and bring into the open various difficulties teachers were liable to encounter in their implementation effects, and failure to establish and use feedback mechanisms to uncover barriers that arose during the period of attempted implementation. (Watson, 2006)

Note the date on that reference 1971. That’s 38 years ago, and yet I would suggest that there are still institutions that have implementation strategies that have these same two deficiencies. I would go further to suggest that those same organisations, when questioned about these deficiencies, respond with typical model 1 behaviours and defensive routines.

Especially when those implementation strategies rely on specialised project managers to manage the implementation. Such project managers suffer exactly the same flaws as consultants and MBAs – emphasis on objectified knowledge and processes over context. An emphasis that leads to the above deficiencies, an increased tendency to see the participants in the change as recalcitrant and lead to feelings from the participants of change being done to them, rather than with them.


Gross, N., Giacquinta, J. B., & Berstein, M. (1971). Implementing organisational innovations: A sociological analysis of planned educational change. New York: Basic.

Watson, D. (2006). “Understanding the relationship between ICT and education means exploring innovation and change.” Education and Information Technologies 11(3-4): 199-216.

The problem with consultants/MBAs – Dilbert's view

In recent post I eventually made some disparaging comments about consultants and what they do. Like many, I believe that the idea that they know the solution when they have little or no idea appreciation of the complexity of the context and believe that they can overcome this because their “special” knowledge is somehow universally applicable, is just plain silly and is the source of most of the problems they create.

I also believe that the practice of staff development, instructional design and associated professions around improving learning and teaching at Universities can suffer from exactly the same flaws. It’s become so obvious that some organisations are using the terms “consultant” or “consultation” to describe what these folk do.

This is all particularly good timing, because this week Dilbert has started a series of cartoons around MBAs. It makes many of the same points I’ve tired to make, only much more interestingly and effectively.

I particularly like this one

Phd Update #12 – some progress, but late

Number 12 of the weekly PhD updates and the first one that is late – this was meant to be done yesterday afternoon. Better late than never. This has been a fairly positive week, some progress made and more importantly I may have learned a small lessons (and put it into practice) about the size and amount of stuff I’m trying to put into these sections of Chapter 2.

I may not get a chance to apply this lessons a great deal in the coming week. Most of it will be spent on a holiday.

What I did

Last week I said the aim would be to

  • Have completed and posted the section on “Place”. – DONE
    The last section was put up fairly early in the week. I’m not all that happy with this section. But it might be close to “good enough”.
  • Be close to doing the same thing for “Purpose”. – DONE
    This was the major task this week that resulted in this post. It’s much shorter than the other sections. To some extent this is due to the nature of the component, but mostly my aim not to write another paper for each section.
  • Perhaps make some headway for another component of the Ps Framework – perhaps either People or Pedagogy. – started
    I ended up starting work on the Process component of the Ps Framework. It flowed nicely from Purpose (connection with plan/purpose driven design processes). I’ve written papers on the question of process, so I have 80+ pages of thoughts and quotes that I’m re-organising into a section. A start has been made.

There have been a few blog posts, somewhat related to the thesis but not worth recounting here.

What I’ll do next week

With most of next week consumed in a holiday, I don’t expect to make a great deal of progress. The aim will be to

  • Complete the process component, or as much as I can.

The perils of re-organisation – Gaius Petronius

While chasing down some work by Fullan on educational change I came across the following well-known quote that happens to, based on recent experience, have a fair bit of resonance.

We trained hard…but it seemed every time we were beginning to form up into teams we were reorganised. I was to learn later in life that we tend to meet any situation by reorganising, and what a wonderful method it can be for creating the illusion of progress while producing confusion, inefficiency, and demoralisation. — Gaius Petronius, A.D. 66

Imagine my surprise when, via Wikipedia, I discover that the attribution given by Fullan is apparently incorrect.

No matter, the quote still resonates.

Learning spaces: expenditure and time spent learning

I’ve just been listening to this podcast of a keynote by Dr Phil Long. Apart from the content of the talk, this is interesting because Dr Long has just recently started work at the University of Queensland (which is just down the road from here) at the Centre for Educational Innovation and Technology.

There is much good content. I particular recommend listening through the question and answer section at the end for a story about a “student/teacher” relationship that is very inspiring.

The bit that sparks this post is also in the question and answers at the end and is interesting to me because of a nascent idea I have for some experimentation. When talking about the future of university campuses, Dr Long suggests that classrooms will become marginal and goes onto say

Most institutions, when it comes to infrastructure, spend 8 of 10 dollars on physical classroom infrastructure, and if you do any study on where students learn you will find that less than 7% of the time when they are working on class related work happens in that box. How do you spend 80% of your dollar on where students are spending 7% of their time?

There’s a growing interest at my current institution in the question of learning spaces, though much of the interest I’ve seen so far seems to be stuck about 5 years ago. The nature of my current institution is such that for a large proportion of our students, the 7% figure would actually be 0%. In some cases, a large number of our students never set foot on a campus.

And yet, much of our expenditure, our concerns, our learning and teaching practice and our management and workload calculations are built around the assumption of the classroom. Even though it is increasingly problematic.

It’s as if, in the words of Postman, that the lecture and its associated goods and chattels continue to be mythic.

Where's the inspiration? Where's the desire to improve?

The title and spark for this post comes from this post entitled “A night of ‘Biggest Loser’ Inspiration”. I came across it via a tweet from Gardner Campbell and in particular the quote from the post he tweeted (included here sans the 140 character tweet limit)

People follow inspiration and that’s where students will go — where they are inspired to learn, collaborate, build and innovate.

I’m guessing, though am currently not 100% certain, that my current institution will want me to contribute to creating this sort of inspiration in my new role. I’m excited by that, but I’m also concerned that it will be really difficult. When I’m looking at the difficulties I will face, the biggest is perhaps embodied in the second question from this quote from the post (caps in original, I’ve added the emphasis)


Where’s the desire to improve?

When it comes to improving learning and teaching I am a firm believer in the absolute centrality of teacher’s conception of learning and teaching. Yes, I agree that student learning is the focus, you want to inspire students to learn, collaborate, build and innovate. However, I work within a university setting and am tasked with helping improve the learning students receive from the university. In that setting the conceptions of learning held by the teaching staff directly impact upon the quality of the student learning.

Consequently, I currently believe that an important, if not the most important, aim for my position should be to encourage academics to reflect upon their conceptions of learning and teaching. The theory being, see the following figure from Trigwell (2001), change in those conceptions is the only way to achieve sustainable improvements in the quality of learning experience by students.

Trigwell's model of teaching

The problem is that for this will only happen if there is a desire on the part of the academics to reflect. If there’s no desire, it won’t work. My current institution has been going through some tough times which may make it hard to find that inspiration.

Further connections with the biggest loser

The post that started this, was sparked by watching the Biggest Loser – one of the recent franchises of reality shows to go global. Since I listened to some of David Maister’s podcasts from a recent book of this (Strategy and the Fat Smoker – there’s a good review/overview here) I’ve been pondering the connection between weight loss and encouraging innovation and improvement in learning and teaching (I can see at least a presentation and maybe some research arising from this work but it’s been put aside until I finish other tasks).

I particularly like this quote

If you truly want to succeed (and many people do not want it badly enough to make it happen) then you must never settle, never give up, never coast, never just accept what is, even if you are currently performing at a high level.

which I took from this review of the book. The review was done by a lawyer who focused on one chapter of Maister’s book – Chapter 17: The Trouble with Lawyers. The review includes this

He highlights four problems that prevent “lawyers from effectively functioning in groups:”

  • problems with trust;
  • difficulties with ideology, values, and principles;
  • professional detachment; and
  • unusual approaches to decision making (referring to lawyers’ propensity to attack any idea presented to locate and highlight its weaknesses, with the result that “within a short time, most ideas, no matter who initiates them, will be destroyed, dismissed, or postponed for future examination.”)

A list which I find fairly appropriate for university academics.

One of the observations that arise from the book is the examination of consultants and the businesses that employ them and a comparison with health professionals and fat smokers. Consultants are brought in to tell the business how to improve itself, just as health professionals are brought in to help fat smokers. The trouble is, that like fat smokers, most business people already know what they are doing wrong. Fat smokers know they need to stop smoking, eat well and start exercising. What do health professionals tell fat smokers? Stop smoking, eat well and start exercising. Duh!

Of course, consultants know that most business people know what the consultants know. Increasingly most of the business people have been through the same education processes and read the same literature as the consultants. Though the business people often have the huge benefit of long-term and in-depth practical experience within the specific context of the business. A consultant knows this and has to justify his/her fee. So consultants come in with a barrage of jargon and technologies (in the broadest possible senses) that the business person doesn’t have. However, in the end it all boils down to the same knowledge.

I can see a lot of similarities here between instructional designers (and other folk employed to help academics) and academics. The instructional designers are the consultants and the academics are the business people. I see instructional designers developing a barrage of jargon and technologies which essentially boil down to telling the fat smoker to stop smoking, eat well and exercise. Essentially telling the academic what they already know but making it so difficult to understand that the academic spends more time understanding than implementing.

Of course, this is a generalisation and metaphor with all the attendant limitations. But, I do believe there is a glimmer, possibly more, of truth. It also makes some assumptions and raises some questions:

  • That academics do know the equivalent of “stop smoking, eat well and exercise” for learning and teaching.
    Having worked in a number of positions that help academics in their teaching I’ve had an opportunity to see a large number of very different academics. Sadly and somewhat suprisingly, a fairly significant number appear to be somewhat clueless. However, I do wonder how much of this lack of knowledge or simply poor execution.
  • If they know, why don’t they follow through?
    What are the factors or reasons why this knowledge isn’t put into action? Can anything be done to address them.
  • Is there really an equivalent of “stop smoking, eat well and exercise” for learning and teaching?

It has to be intrinsic

Have to add this in before I close. This review of Maister’s book mentions the following as one of the many answers provided by Maister

Motivation must be intrinsic, not extrinsic. The biggest barrier to change is the feeling that “it’s OK so far.”

When I ask “where’s the desire”, I think this is perhaps the best answer. When the desire to improve and innovate is intrinsic to the academic, then the question becomes how does the university get out of their way and help them achieve?

But, how do you enable/encourage/create that intrinsic movitation? Can you? That’s the question I’d like to investigate.

Purpose – a component of the Ps Framework

The following is yet another section from chapter two of my thesis. As with previous sections, this is an early first draft, it will change.

This section attempts to give a brief overview of the Purpose component of the Ps Framework.


The purpose or reason for an organisation adopting e-learning or changing how it currently implements e-learning is widely understood to be an essential starting place for any project. How do you measure achievement if you have no shared understanding of what you are aiming for? Transformational change through e-learning requires institutional leaders, amongst other things, to articulate a clear, bold vision and demonstrate a broad understanding and acceptance of that view (Hitt and Hartman 2002). The common features of successful implementations of Learning Management Systems include realistic operationalised objectives and defined project scope (Wise and Quealy 2006).

Many, if not most, universities follow, or at least profess to follow, a purpose driven approach to setting strategic directions (McConachie, Danaher et al. 2005). It has, however, been argued that a “fixed purpose” approach to e-learning within universities significantly limits flexibility and choice for learners and learning (Jones and Muldoon 2007). Problems with a “fixed purpose” approach are discussed in more detail in the Process (Insert cross ref) and Place (Insert cross ref) components of the Ps Framework. Rather than repeat these arguments, the aim of this section is to give a broad overview of the claimed purpose behind the adoption of e-learning within Universities. It does this by starting first at what is known about the broader purposes of universities (Section 2.1.1) and learning (Section 2.1.2) before examining e-learning (Section 2.1.3). Finally, it attempts to draw out some lessons for future implementation of e-learning from the Place component (Section 2.1.5).

Purpose of universities

Understandings of the purpose of a university are many and diverse. Rashdall (1895) concluded that the university embodied three educational values: the provision of professional training and the highest intellectual cultivation possible; a desire to conserve, transmit and advance knowledge; and the joining together of teachers of diverse subjects into a single harmonious institution. The idea of a Humboldtian university, a common perspective underpinning many modern universities, encapsulates an idea of freedom from external controls and academic autonomy (McNay 1995).

Martin and Etzkowitz (2000) identify two main conceptions held about the purpose of a university:

  1. the pure or ‘immaculate’ conception; and
    A view that sees the purpose of the university is education and knowledge for its own sake.
  2. the instrumental or utilitarian ethos.
    Where the role of the university is to create and disseminate knowledge and train students with skills, which are deemed useful to society.

It is perhaps timely to mention the discussion of the limitations of dichotomous views of such binary views, and the value of harnessing paradox mentioned in the section (insert cross ref) on Place.

Diversity in the purpose of universities arise from a large number of factors. Table 2.1 provides an overview and description of some of these factors. As a result of the factors shown in Table 2.1 and others, higher education’s purposes and mandates are multiple and under constant pressure to change to such an extent as its very definition becomes unclear (Kogan 2000). The existence of several competing visions of true purpose is the cause of much of the malaise within modern university communities (Kerr 2001). On the other hand, any attempt to enforce commitment to an all-embracing set of values would inhibit innovative thought or create tensions that fracture the institution (Marginson 2007). The contemporary university suffers from an acute case of mission confusion (Jongbloed, Enders et al. 2008).

Table 2.1 – Some of the factors increasing diversity in the purpose of universities
Factors Description
Individual or societal outcomes There are disagreements about whether universities should aim to promote individual or social outcomes (Bell 2004).
Competition leading to differentiation Increased national and international competition cause universities to search for a unique purpose in order to increase differentiation and attract students and academic staff (Waeraas and Solbakk 2009).
Freedom Freedom (to varying levels) granted to academic staff enable the pursuit of a broad range of objectives and agendas, with varying values and ethical regimes in order to fulfil the knowledge-forming role of universities (Marginson 2007).
Responsive In order to reflect the ever-changing philosophical ideals, educational policies and cultures of particular societies or institutions, university missiones are dynamic and fluid (Scott 2006).
Changing tasks Tasks expected of universities are so multifarious, subject to change, mutually contradictory and immediately pressing (de Ridder-Symoens and Ruegg 2003).

Purpose of learning

It can be argued that the purpose of learning, particularly within universities, can be seen through two conceptions very similar to those identified by Martin and Etzkowitz (2000) for the broader purpose of universities: the immaculate and utilitarian. The immaculate conceptions include a broad array of work from diverse authors, including but not limited to Illich (1972) and Friere (Freire 2000), while the utilitarian approach sees learning as making contributions to society. Illustrating these two conceptions, Thompson (quoted in Mayo 1999) suggests

Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of generations into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes the ‘practice of freedom’, the means by which men and women deal critically with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.

While Illich (1972) suggests

A good education system should have three purposes: it should provide all who want to learn with access to available resources at any time in their lives; empower all who want to share what they know to find those who want to learn it from them; and finally furnish all who want to present an issue to the public with the opportunity to make their challenge known.

Increasingly the purpose of universities with respect to learning is seen through a more utilitarian perspective. Mass access to tertiary education is seen as a major contributor to the fostering of knowledge societies (OECD 2005). The knowledge society becomes increasingly dependent upon the social institutions that create knowledge and educate people (Duderstadt, Atkins et al. 2002). Consequently, the neo-liberal state continues to control universities through devolved mechanisms including accountability-based funding (Lewis, Marginson et al. 2005). Increasingly higher education is expected from outside and increasingly intends to be a strategic actor that sets clear goals and establish forceful means of pursuing the implementation of strategies (Brenan 2008).

The wider regulatory context encourages the development of learning and teaching strategies that focus on students’ learning (Newton 2003). From a quality assurance perspective Biggs (2001) suggests the basic purpose is whether or not “our teaching programmes are producing the results we say we want in terms of student learning?”. From a utilitarian perspective the desired results are related to serving the needs of the society within which universities operate. A perspective in which education is a commodity and universities are enterprise institutions selling educational products (White 2006).

Purpose of e-learning within universities

The stated and apparent reasons behind the adoption of e-learning within universities exhibits many of the characteristics identified within the broader purpose of universities and learning. That is, it is possible to identify a significant diversity in the reasons behind the adoption of e-learning within universities that can be grouped within both the immaculate and utilitarian conceptions of purpose. There is, however, similar to the growth of utilitarian perspectives of learning within universities, an identifiable preponderance of utilitarian drivers for e-learning.

In discussing the influence of the learning management system (LMSs) Coates et al (2005) identify six drivers that have enhanced the attractiveness of LMSs to universities and have driven their rapid uptake. More broadly, these drivers can also be seen in the broader literature about e-learning.

Table 2.2 – Drivers behind the adoption of e-learning
Driver Description
Efficiency E-learning can reduce the administrative burden on teachers (Britain and Liber 2000).
Enriched student learning E-learning technologies are adopted to enhance the flexibility of traditional teaching (Nanayakkara and Whiddett 2005).
New student expectations Technology is necessary to meet the changing demands and entry-level skills of recent high school graduates (Duderstadt, Wulf et al. 2005).
Online education is increasingly common in tertiary education in response to the growing needs of the student population (Nanayakkara and Whiddett 2005).
Competitive pressure E-learning is a way to respond to a changing and more competitive marketplace (Xu and Meyer 2007).
Responding to massification E-learning overcomes access limitations caused by the lack of physical infrastructure (Coates, James et al. 2005).
Control LMSs appear to offer a means of regulating and packaging pedagogical activities, to create order (Coates, James et al. 2005).

There is a tendency to see technology as the “magic bullet” that will enable reforms to make university learning more accessible, more affordable and more effective (Van Dusen 1998). There does, however, remain significantly questions about this ability and about whether or not e-learning can actually fulfil the needs identified by the drivers described in Table 2.2 or whether or not fulfilling such requirements will have negative consequences. For example, Wise and Quealy (2006) suggest that there is no evidence that the selection of an LMS has any affect on the enrolment choice of students.

Lessons from purpose

The above has suggested that increasingly universities are being driven more by the utilitarian conception of their purpose rather than the immaculate. Universities and their learning and teaching are increasingly expected to be accountable and consequently managed through strategic, plan-driven approaches that tend to prefer a unity of purpose. At the least, e-learning within universities needs to demonstrate an appropriately pragmatic level of support for this the increasingly utilitarian and singular view or purpose. In addition, this section suggests two two additional lessons from this discussion of Purpose for the implementation of e-learning: problems with purpose proxies, and problems with a singular view of purpose.

Problems with purpose proxies

The rise of the minimalist state (see cross reference to society section) brings with it accountability-based and performance-oriented funding strategies on the part of government that require standardized data collections (Lewis, Marginson et al. 2005). However, no ranking or quality assessment system has been able measure the value added during education and few comparisons focus on teaching and learning (Marginson 2007). A significant and related problem is that measurement and quantification distort the character of what is being measured (Shore 2008) and divert attention from the central purposes of higher education (Marginson 2007).

Instead of valid data, various proxies of teaching quality are used, even though empirical research suggests little correlation between those proxies and quality outcomes (Marginson 2007). In order to obtain meaningful measures for the audit process the meaning of teaching quality is being transformed into something that can be quantified and standardized (Shore and Wright 2000). It is becoming less important how well an academic teaches or whether or not students are inspired, it is more important that they have fulfilled the prescriptions outlined by externally driven policy (Johnson 1994).

Problems with a singular view of purpose

Goal ambiguity is a defining characteristic of higher education institutions (Hearn 1996). As argued above, broader agreement about purpose within a university may not only be impossible but undesirable (Marginson 2007). For example, the absence of a specific or single purpose can make individuals within an organisation more open to change (Kezar 2001). With e-learning the different campus cultures and lack of a single, unified vision for e-learning work against a single tool being considered best across the board (UF CMSAG 2003). Rather than expend resources attempting to develop, promulgate and deal with the resulting tension associated with enforcement of a singular view of purpose, it may be more appropriate to accept and harness the diversity inherent within universities.


Bell, P. (2004). "On the theoretical breadth of design-based research in education." Educational Psychologist 39(4): 243-253.

Biggs, J. (2001). "The Reflective Institution: Assuring and Enhancing the Quality of Teaching and Learning." Higher Education 41(3): 221-238.

Brenan, J. (2008). "Higher Education and Social Change." Higher Education 56(3): 381-393.

Britain, S. and O. Liber. (2000). "A Framework for Pedgogical Evaluation of Virtual Learning Environments."   Retrieved 21 Nov, 2006, 2006, from

Coates, H., R. James, et al. (2005). "A Critical Examination of the Effects of Learning Management Systems on University Teaching and Learning." Tertiary Education and Management 11(1): 19-36.

de Ridder-Symoens, H. and W. Ruegg (2003). A history of the university in Europe, Cambridge University Press.

Duderstadt, J., D. Atkins, et al. (2002). Higher education in the digital age: Technology issues and strategies for American colleges and universities. Westport, Conn, Praeger Publishers.

Duderstadt, J., W. Wulf, et al. (2005). "Envisioning a transformed university." Issues in Science and Technology 22(1).

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. London, Ctoinuum International Publishing Group.

Hearn, J. (1996). "Transforming U.S. Higher Education: An Organizational Perspective." Innovative Higher Education 21(2): 141-154.

Hitt, J. and J. Hartman (2002). Distributed learning: New challenges and opportunities for institutional leadership. Washington, American Council on Education: 28.

Illich, I. (1972). Deschooling society. New York, Harper and Row.

Johnson, N. (1994). "Dons in decline." Twentieth Century British History 5(3): 370-385.

Jones, D. and N. Muldoon (2007). The teleological reason why ICTs limit choice for university learners and learning. ICT: Providing choices for learners and learning. Proceedings ASCILITE Singapore 2007, Singapore.

Jongbloed, B., J. Enders, et al. (2008). "HIgher education and its communities: Interconnections, interdependencies and a research agenda." Higher Education 56(3): 303-324.

Kerr, C. (2001). The uses of the university. Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press.

Kezar, A. (2001). "Understanding and Facilitating Organizational Change in the 21st Century: Recent Research and Conceptulizations." ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report 28(4).

Kogan, M. (2000). Higher Education Research in Europe. Knowledge Management in the Learning Society. Paris, France, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, OECD: 193-209.

Lewis, T., S. Marginson, et al. (2005). "The network university? Technology, culture and organisational complexity in contemporary higher education." Higher Education Quarterly 59(1): 56-75.

Marginson, S. (2007). "University mission and identity for a post-public era." Higher Education Research & Development 26(1): 117-131.

Martin, B. and H. Etzkowitz (2000). "The origin and evolution of the university species." Journal for Science and Technology Studies 13(3-4): 9-34.

Mayo, P. (1999). Gramsci, Freire, and adult education: possibilities for transformative action. New York, Palgrave Macmillan.

McConachie, J., P. Danaher, et al. (2005) "Central Queensland University’s Course Management Systems: Accelerator or brake in engaging change?" International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning Volume,  DOI:

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Nanayakkara, C. and D. Whiddett (2005). A model of user acceptance of e-learning technologies: A case study of a Polytechnic in New Zealand. 4th International Conference on Information Systems Technology and its Application (ISTA’2005), Palmerston North, New Zealand, GI.

Newton, J. (2003). "Implementing an institution-wide learning and teaching strategy: lessons in managing change." Studies in Higher Education 28(4): 427-441.

OECD (2005). E-Learning in Tertiary Education: Where do we stand? Paris, France, Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Rashdall, H. (1895). The universities of Europe in the Middle Ages. Oxford, Clarendon Press.

Scott, J. (2006). "The mission of the University: Medieval to postmodern transformations." The Journal of Higher Education 77(1): 1-39.

Shore, C. (2008). "Audit culture and Illiberal governance: Universities and the politics of accountability." Anthropological Theory 8(3): 278-298.

Shore, C. and S. Wright (2000). Coercive accountability: The rise of audit culture in higher education. Audit Cultures. M. Strathern. Milton Park, UK, Routledge: 57-89.

UF CMSAG. (2003). "Report of the University of Florida Course Management System Advisory Group."   Retrieved 21 Nov, 2006, 2006, from

Van Dusen, G. (1998). "Technology: Higher education’s magic bullet." The NEA Higher Education Journal: 59-67.

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White, N. (2006). "Tertiary education in the Noughties: the student perspective." Higher Education Research & Development 25(3): 231-246.

Wise, L. and J. Quealy. (2006, May, 2006). "LMS Governance Project Report." from

Xu, Y. and K. Meyer (2007). "Factors explaining faculty technology use and productivity." Internet and Higher Education 10(2): 41-52.

Another cultural conflict

The main point of this post is to save this quote. I’m about to delete it from the thesis, can’t make it fit, and I think it is important.

(Zellweger 2005) the tasks assigned to each group bear a number of inherent conflicts. For example, the push of instructional designers for creative and flexible solutions matching a faculty member’s goals might impose a threat for well-rehearsed IT processes. The deviation of standard solutions implicates a certain risk that IT workers would rather avoid as they most of all feel responsible for the stability and security of the IT systems.

It connects with a sentence or two from an earlier post

Ayers (2004) observes that academic and information technology cultures, two of the main sub-cultures involved with e-learning within universities, do not mix together well. The differing viewpoints and subsequently the varying and competing priorities of the different sub-cultures within an organisation can lead to considerable internal tension (Luck, Jones et al. 2004).


Ayers, E. (2004). “The Academic Culture and the IT Culture: Their Effect on Teaching and Scholarship.” EDUCAUSE Review 39(6): 48-62.

Luck, J., D. Jones, et al. (2004). “Challenging Enterprises and Subcultures: Interrogating ‘Best Practice’ in Central Queensland University’s Course Management Systems.” Best practice in university learning and teaching: Learning from our Challenges. Theme issue of Studies in Learning, Evaluation, Innovation and Development 1(2): 19-31.

Zellweger, F. (2005). Strategic Management of Educational Technology: The Importance of Leadership and Management. 27th Annual EAIR Forum. Riga, Latvia.

Another BAM problem – awarding mark of 0

Following on from yesterday’s start of using the blog to record fixes to software, here comes another one.


Awarding a student a mark of 0 for a post, doesn’t work

Identify the cause

First, re-create the problem, log in and try and give the student a mark of 0 – yep doesn’t work.

Check the database, there is a mark of 0 recorded. However the textbox in which the mark should be displayed, is empty.

Let’s try changing it to a non-zero mark and then back again – I’m wondering if 0 is the default mark. Ahh, giving the student a mark of 5 and then changing it back to 0 results in the 0 appearing in the box. Seems to be some screwy code.

Looking further it seems that the following is happening

  • A post’s database entry starts with a mark of 0 and a status of Submitted.
  • When displaying this type of entry the 0.000 in the database is modified to the empty string by the view code.
    I’m assuming this is to stop the marker thinking that a mark of 0 has already been awarded.
  • The code processing the submitted form (i.e. I’ve entered a mark of 0 and hit submit) is comparing fields in form to data in database. If a mark of 0 is awarded in the form it will equal the default value in the database and hence not spark a change.


If the mark in the form is 0 and not empty, then a change must be made.

Innovation role as Trickster

Happened to watch this talk by Emily Levine at a 2002 TED conference a funny talk with some interesting insights and perspectives that I find potentially directly connected to my new role. What follows is some reflection on these.

It is interesting to see some of the negative responses to this talk that arise on the Ted talk site and on youtube.

You can’t deny another person’s reality, only build on it

Mention of this theatre sports rule is made near the beginning of the talk. Particularly important because too much of what I see in universities around learning and teaching and innovation ignores and de-values the reality held by other people.

I think is a particular symptom of the “what management does” approach to improving learning and teaching. Management sets themselves up as knowing better than the academics and mandates changes. In most cases not being aware of or respecting the view of reality held by those academics.

And certainly a feature of Model 1 behaviour and defensive routines.

Trickster makes this world

From about 13 minutes into the talk, it shifts to talk about the impact of the book Trickster makes this world by Lewis Hyde. Why? Well, I like the following quote from Hyde’s home page

Trickster Makes This World (1998) uses a group of ancient myths to argue for the kind of disruptive intelligence all cultures need if they are to remain lively, flexible, and open to change

The first chapter of the book is available here.

Back to Levine’s points:

  • Trickster is a change agent.
  • Qualities that make it possible for change to happen:
    • Boundary crossing – the value of talking about something you don’t know anything about, seeing things anew. This connects with the idea of pattern entrainment.
    • Non-oppositional strategies – forget contradiction and embrace paradox.
    • Smart luck – being prepared for the unprepared. The ability to hold ideas lightly to see contradictions and new ideas.
    • Making connections – break up associations.
    • Walking a fine line – finding a balance.
    • Doesn’t have a home.

Don’t have the time now to do more than list them. Must get Hyde’s book and revisit this. However, these qualities of trickster make for useful ideas about how to engage in and encourage innovation.

Diagnosing and recording a problem with BAM

Trying out a new approach to documentation of coding changes to BAM – i.e. writing it up in a post.

The problem

A large number of student blogs are being reported as “Not mirrored yet”. BAM is meant to report the amount of time since an individual student blog was last updated (i.e. a student made a post) and mirrored.

Diagnosing the problem

  • Is mirroring still working?
    Yes, student blogs are being mirrored as they updated. The copies of each student’s RSS feed is being kept up to date.
  • Are the new posts being “allocated” properly?
    Yes, the student I’m checking has a RSS file with a file system time stamp of “May 14 20:43”. This indicates when the file was mirrored from the student’s blog.

    The BAM_BLOG_MARKING table has a DATE_PUB time stamp for the most recent post for this student of “2009-05-14 10:43:11”. This indicates that the allocation is working, when BAM mirrors a RSS file, it goes through each student post, any new ones it attempts to allocate.

    It appears that it is using the CQU system current time to allocate DATE_PUB

    Small problem: Strictly speaking it should be using the date published value for the post as stored in the RSS.

    Actually, this isn’t what’s happening, the student had actually made a post at that time.

  • Is the “LAST_POST” field being updated?
    No, it’s set to the 0 value. This is where the problem is starting. When the display code sees this 0 value, it assumes that the blog hasn’t been mirrored yet.

Something in the allocation process is updating the LAST_POST field in BAM_BLOG_STATISTICS incorrectly. Rather than put in the timestamp for the most recent post, it’s setting it to 0.

Locating the problem

The mirror/allocation process is

  • BAM/support/ creates BAM::Mirror object and calls DoMirror
  • BAM::Mirror::DoMirror
    For each course currently being mirrored , create BAM::BlogStatistics object and call DoMIrror
  • BAM::BlogStatistics::DoMirror
    For each student in the course
    mirrorFeed (get the latest copy of the RSS file for the blog) and then parseFeed.
  • BAM::BlogStatistics::parseFeed
    • use XML::Feed to parse the local copy of the RSS file
    • use XML::Feed to get the lastModified timestamp for the blog
    • if there are more posts in the new file than the last one then
      • BAM::BlogElements->new for the student
      • updateMarking
  • if mirrorFeed returns true then update NUM_ENTRIES and LAST_POST in BAM_BLOG_STATISTICS

It appears that the likely problem is

  • the value for LAST_POST is being set incorrectly in parseFeed, or
  • the update of LAST_POST is setting it to the wrong value.

My guess is that parseFeed is the source of the problem – though I wonder why it’s happened all of a sudden.

Checking parseFeed

Will have to write a stand alone script using XML::Feed and an existing RSS file. Can’t use the above as the mirror thing depends on a new post.

Well, it looks like the “modified” method for XML::Feed is not working. Why?

Okay, tried the same script on an “old” XML file. It seems that WordPress – possibly for an external reason – has changed the format of the RSS that it generates. This has broken the method used to get the time the blog was last updated.

The change, in the XML, appears to have been a change from the tag “pubDate” to “modified”.


The current Perl/Webfuse-based instantiation of BAM is not likely to last long. Combine this with other contextual factors and the solution will have to be a kludge.

Essentially some additional checking has been inserted into the section that tries to get the lastModified timestamp for the blog. Very kludgy

Have also modified the return code check of the mirror process. Normally it only runs the parseFeed stuff if the return code is 200 i.e. there’s been a change. Modified it (for short-term) to run parseFeed for 304 return codes – this will update the LAST_POST value.

Running this on a whole course identified another kludge that was needed to get the modified date. That’s done. Now to run the kludge script on all the current courses, remove the 304 check and then commit everything.

Quality assurance of learning and teaching

AUQA is coming. Eventually most Australian universities will receive a second visit from AUQA. As such visitations come closer increasing levels of thought are given to demonstrating quality. What does it mean to demonstrate quality of learning and teaching?

According to Biggs (2001) the answer is

The basic question then for QA is: Are our teaching programmes producing the results we say we want in terms of student learning?

This definition seems to suggest two main questions to answer:

  1. What do we say we want in terms of student learning?
  2. How do we know if our teaching programmes are producing those results?

Given what I’ve had to say about difficulties associated with measuring the effectivness of learning and teaching, I’m not confident that that the second question can be answered by many universities.

Given that level 1 smile sheets do not work what do you do?

Over emphasis on design and bugger all on maintenance

I have a quote from software engineering that I have been quoting for a long time. It’s from Glass (2001) and says that when building software, 40 to 80% of the costs are going to be for maintenance. i.e. Only from 20 to 60% of the costs are going to for the initial development or purchase.

Maintenance is something that takes more money than design.

I feel the same thing applies for courses, especially online courses, within universities, especially those with which I’m familiar with. In terms of time spent by academics on their courses I rank activities in the following order

  1. teaching the course;
  2. maintaining/modifying the course;
  3. designing the course.

Designing the course is generally the activity they do the least.

Question: How many staff have actually designed a course?

Increasingly in my context, academics are simply taking a course that someone else has created. Due to the nature of this context many of them tend to make changes only when absolutely necessary, and many don’t then. This is due to a number of courses being taught all year around – which means no one academic can have ownership of it

Question: Is there any difference in the answer to the previous question based on characteristics of the course (e.g. # times offered, # of campuses etc)?

The problem

Sometimes the processes, people, research and products intended to help academics with the courses show an unhealthy focus on design and creation of courses and little on maintenance. Which is a mismatch, if staff spend the majority of time teaching and maintaining courses.

I’ve seen this in course designs and systems that offer some support for design, but offer little support or consideration of on-going maintenance. For example, a kludge in using a LMS that achieves a design goal but requires hours of additional work each time the course is reused.

I’ve seen evidence of this in senior management who think the solution to problems in courses is to engage an instructional designer to help the academic to re-design the course. An approach that ignores the majority of what people do.

I’ve seen evidence of this in organisational processes that place emphasis on the creation of artifacts (course profiles, course websites, features of course websites) and little to no consideration of what happens for the tasks that take up the majority of time spent by academics teaching.

Ideas for more thought

  • Quantify some of the anecdotal “evidence” I’ve mentioned above, especially the questions above.
  • What are the factors that encourage/require an academic to make changes to a course?
  • What are the features provided by a LMS to support maintenance? How effective are they? e.g. the course copy feature in older versions of Blackboard had some fairly significant limitations.
  • How do the (do they?) processes and policies of an institution impact on where academics spend their time?
  • What are the impacts of all of the above on the quality of learning and teaching?

I’m sure there are many more.


Glass, R. (2001). “Frequently Forgotten Fundamental Facts about Software Engineering.” IEEE Software 18(3): 110-112.

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