Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

A turning point

I am unsure whether or not I believe in specific turning points. Perhaps life is a bit more complex. The metaphor of life as a road with specific forks which mark the turning points, seems a bit simplistic. But today does feel like a turning point due to two events:

  1. reaching closure on the PhD; and
    I’ve just sent off a complete draft of the thesis to ANU for a couple of folk to reading and the provision of pre-submission feedback. The thesis is no longer some Sword of Damocles hanging over my head, demanding attention and effort. Instead, I sit back, have a life, enjoy the family and think about what I might do (hence this post).
  2. acceptance as a University student.
    Today I received acceptance into the Graduate Diploma of Learning and Teaching at CQUniversity.

Changes in the blog and my PLN?

This turning point also marks, I think, a turning point in this blog. It’s going to take on a more educational/high school focus. The IT side of things will remain, but there will also be an increase in mathematics since I’ll be a math/IT teacher, probably. You are warned.

I’m also wondering how this will and should influence my PLN. I’m already feeling that some of the uni folk I follow are becoming slightly less relevant to my learning needs. Though they do remain interesting and insightful. I’m beginning to wonder if I prune and what I’d miss if I did.

Ideas and suggestions

You may want to skip the whinging diatribe about university L&T and jump to the more future looking perspective. This is where I outline what I’m doing to prepare for the future and would love some ideas and suggestions about “what should a novice high school teacher be thinking about?”.

Turning away?

To some extent I am turning away from being a part of the technologists alliance as described by Geoghegan (1994)

The last decade has seen the formation of an alliance between “technologist” populations concerned with instructional computing. Those involved include faculty innovators and early adopters, campus IT support organizations, and information technology vendors with products for the instructional market. Ironically, while this alliance has fostered development of many instructional applications that clearly illustrate the benefits that technology can bring to teaching and learning, it has also unknowingly worked to prevent the dissemination of these benefits into the much larger mainstream population.

In particularly, I was part of a group within a university charged with helping improve the quality of teaching. Increasingly, most universities have such a group or groups.

I am incredibly happy to be leaving this type of group. Not that there aren’t some great people (not to mention some silly and downright dishonest and hurtful) doing some great work. But the technologists alliance within universities, as a whole, is going the wrong way and most of the senior leaders of this alliance are actively enabling that trend. They seem to be actively creating systems that don’t value teaching. What’s worse, I see a system that is increasingly hurting the members of the alliance that work at the coal face. The type of frustration reported by Mike Bogle is more prevalent than those in leadership positions understand.

The fundamental problem here, at least for me, is the insidious growth of techno-rational approaches to “leadership” within universities. An approach that assumes that the leaders can identify what is required and then tell their staff to implement those solutions. This can never work because Universities and teaching and learning are much more complex than simple solutions. The trouble is that when those solutions fail, it’s never because the leadership identified the wrong solutions. It because their staff didn’t implement it well enough. The staff carry the can.

To make matters worse, by this time a new VC or other leadership have arrived at the institution. Leadership on a short-term contract determined to make a mark so that they can receive another short-term contract, preferably one step up the ladder. To make their mark, they need to argue for radical change. They need to hold up prior work as somehow flawed, identify some scape goats, identify some new solutions and implement them, preferably minus the scape goats who were suposed to implement the previous solutions.

I suggest that you can see some evidence of this process in the summary of the report of an ALTC project. This project was titled “Strategic Leadership for Institutional Teaching and Learning Centres: Developing a Model for the 21st Century”. The report looks at the findings from a survey of 31 of the 38 Directors of Teaching and Learning Centres at Australian universities. It’s first finding was that the average centre “would have been restructured sometime in the previous one to three years”.

The triumph of the techno-rational approaches to leadership has resulted in a university sector that is increasingly trying to improve the quality of learning and teaching by fiat. By telling academics you will do X, complete GradCert Y, use LMS Z, be guided by principles L. And at the same time ignoring the context within which academics operate and what those academics already know and are doing.

A few months ago I was interviewed for a position as the head of a group of educational developers. We were asked to provide a vision of the enhancement of learning and teaching. I provided one that focused on creating an environment that helped academics (and the broader institution) reflect on what was happening and struggling to improve. It wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

Based on the questions I was asked, both before and during the interview, the strong message was that they wanted someone who would manage the group as a service provider. I have some qualms about the impact of using the client/server metaphor, but lets leave those aside. The impression I received was not that the client in this relationship was not the teaching academics. The client was the Dean of the faculty. The service to be provided, was whatever the Dean thought was appropriate. See above points.

Needless to say, I am incredibly happy not to have gotten the job.

Turning toward?

Looking forward. In the short term, it looks like I’ll be a Math and Information Technology high school teacher. At least that is what I’ll be studying next year. I’ve already started reading and listening to more high school related resources. I’m increasingly interested in being more directly responsible for teaching and being able to experiment with all the insights, tools and practices which I think are important. At the same time, I’m also realistic enough to know that the school system has its own problems. It too has been invaded by techno-rationalist approaches to management. There are bugger all resources. Aspects of the system are as buggered, if not more so, than the university sector. But importantly, I’m hoping that there will be possibilities for taking some control of what I do in the classroom and subsequently what is inflicted upon students.

In preparation, I’ve been

  • listening more to the Future of Education podcasts and looking for more of the same;
  • purchased a bunch of books on mathematics in order to (re-)discover my inner math nerd;
  • joined the AAMT mailing list;
    And in a few days have already discovered that I have far to go before being a math nerd.
  • begun collecting online resources and sources related to teaching; and
  • beginning to reflect upon my thoughts on teaching and learning.
    George Siemens recent post is an interesting spring board, as is much of the above.

Either way, it’s a damn good feeling to be finally completing one chapter and moving onto another.

If you have ideas or suggestions that can help me be better prepared for this next chapter, fire away.


Initial plans for BIM 2.0


Delving into institutional information systems


  1. stuartpalmer

    Oh the irony. As one of the authors of the mentioned ALTC report, I can further report that, as of Tuesday 9 November, my T&L centre has been officially notified of the commencement of a ‘consultation period’ for a major restructuring – cue HR, NTEU and other parties to enter the fray. Of course, by the findings of our own report, this event was, in fact, overdue! 🙂

    • stuartpalmer

      PS – Congratulations on the ‘beginning of the end’ for the doctoral studies!

    • G’day Stuart, I had pondered that irony when you tweeted the restructure. Had the people at your institution who moved for the restructure read the report? Perhaps not a question you can answer here.

      I wish you and all the others involved the best during this process. Above all I hope it was better than the two restructures we went through within 18 months.

      I guess being in a T&L centre is a bit like Melbourne weather, if you don’t like it now, wait a bit. I couldn’t be bothered waiting anymore.

    • stuartpalmer

      Hi David, thanks for that.

      Stopping to read things would get in the way of the ‘fire-ready-aim’ strategy for action – any action. I kid thee not when I say that one of the justifications offered for the original desire to have the new structure all done and dusted by the end of November was so that it could be included in the draft paperwork being prepared for the next AUQA audit at my place!

      One of my good colleagues here has been in a central teaching development role for many years, and this will be his 10th (or maybe 11th, he can’t really remember) restructure.

      At this point, I’m quite ambivalent to the whole shenanigans. But, I know there are some others in related division also involved in the restructure, who may suffer if it goes as currently proposed, and I do feel for them.

  2. As someone who has more or less had the exact opposite shift in career to you, I can likely only be moderately useful, but as you know, I do share your frustrations with university L&T. Your reservations about the school system are correct also. That said, there’s a lot about the school system that’s really organic, there’s an immediate adaptability that we HE boffins don’t have. Theory goes out the window as soon as you step in the classroom and that can be quite liberating (especially, I imagine, after you’ve just churned out 100,000 words of theory).

    The main thing I would say to you is – don’t prune your PLN. Some of the most valuable people in mine are K12 teachers. Less relevant to my learning needs, as you put it, but still valuable and I think my PLN would be the worse without them.

    And – grats on the PhD. Epic effort.

    • re: the PLN. I think I was starting to come to the same conclusion. But I have been wondering when enough is enough. Have seen folk following 1000s on twitter, I often wonder how that can be managed and useful. Perhaps I need to think about my own practices.

      It’s the “now” of the classroom that really does beckon again. I enjoyed that as a university teaching academic. The high school aspect will be similar, though different.

      Sarah, I guess the big question I have for someone like yourself is

      What would you like to have known going into high school, that you know now?

  3. What would I have liked to have known? That if, like me, you are a pretty introverted person, nothing in the world will prepare you for wrangling large groups of children. Might be true for extroverts too but can’t help you on that one. All the T&L theory in the world did not help me know how to navigate the realities of classroom management. My big mistake was being unwilling to admit I was struggling with that and not asking for help.

    The other thing I would have liked to have known was that admin and politics will kill you, but working in HE you already know that.

    • Thanks Sarah.

      I am an introvert and am expecting high school – especially junior maths – to be a very different environment than university level IT.

      At the moment, I’m actually excited about that. Wonder how long that will last?

  4. kwilco

    David –

    I didn’t see any mention of the Kahn Academy in your or others’ posts. If you’ve not checked it out, you simply must must do so!!!!!!

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