Thursday, 20 December 2007

Postgraduate coursework and technology transfer

Further to technology transfer and knowledge commercialisation, here is an excerpt from the draft of the paper I have just completed. BTW this paper is also the most sciencey thing I have ever written...and it feels a bit weird, actually. But that is another story. Overall, the paper considers whether postgraduate coursework might function as a non-commercialised (or semi-commercialised, more likely) form of technology transfer.

"Industry, academic and student surveys all demonstrated a significant need and value for technology transfer, enabling animal genetics research to be used for practical purposes. However, in recent years, University-originated technology transfer has come to be equated with research commercialization, so that practical application is now almost synonymous with purchasable knowledge. In the case of animal breeding, widespread possession of knowledge of animal genetics underpins enhanced breeding programs and therefore economic performance, contributing to national productivity – a good technology transfer outcome. However, the false equivalence in this case of technology transfer with commercialization means that the contractual value of knowledge is over-simplistically construed as exchange value. Since the contractual system fails to identify the real economic gains of education, it fixates on sale value and therefore the competitive over the collaborative, adding significant costs and inefficiencies (cf Marginson 1993, p. 198). This is certainly not to say that universities should receive no benefits from this approach to technology transfer. Indeed, in this case universities were to receive external funding for course development and fee income for teaching. However, where widespread possession of knowledge and skills – transferred in this case through teaching – is of benefit to national economic performance and public good, a structure that encourages universities to use intellectual property arrangements to impose an artificial scarcity on knowledge, is likely to do more harm than good (Marginson 1993, p. 198).

A 2000 report to government suggested that the “major weakness” in technology transfer in Australia occurs at the point where research ends and transfer needs to begin (Commonwealth-of-Australia 2000, p. 27). By positioning it as neither undergraduate education nor research training but somewhere in between (and more), postgraduate coursework can potentially function to effectively fill the gap between research and application. It can achieve this by connecting researchers and professional practitioners, research and practice, academic coursework and professional training."



Full draft of the paper can be found here http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=dfqggshp_8d2667r&hl=en

This is mostly me and it is probably not fair to blame all my colleagues and co-authors for it to date. It has had some real input and most likely represents the views of my colleague at Meat & Livestock Australia, Dr Rob Banks, my wonderful Ed Design colleague Ruth Laxton and the ever-impressive Rosanne Taylor.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Knowledge legitimation and the role of universities

Started this post a thousand years ago and I'm just gonna post it without finishing it. So there!

...the question of double legitimation...comes to the fore. For it appears in its most complete form, that of reversion, revealing that knowledge and power are simply two sides of the same question: who decides what knowledge is, and who knows what needs to be decided?

Lyotard p8-9

Also see Herman Hesse, The Glass Bead Game, as Joseph Knecht writes his circular letter to the Board of Castalia. This is from P. 338 of the Vintage 2000 edition:

Therefore it is not our business to rule and not our business to engage in politics. We are specialists in examining, analysing and measuring. We are the guardians and constant verifiers of all alphabets, multiplication tables, and methods. We are the bureau of standards for cultural weights and measures.

Granted, we are many other things also. In some circumstances we can also be innovators, discoverers, adventurers, conquerors, and reinterpreters. But our first and most inportant function, the reason the people need us and keep us, is to preserve the purity of all sources of knowledge.

In trade, in politics, and what have you, turning X into a Y may occasionally prove to be a stroke of genius; but never with us.
I had planned on working through Lyotard more meticulously, but I need to move on and get these bloody bits of paper of the walls, so we'll skip forward to Part 10: Delegitimation, and again, I'll just pop in the quote:

What we have here is a process of delegitimation fueled by the demand for legitimation itself...an internal erosion of the legitimacy principle of knowledge...erosion at work inside the speculative game, and by loosening the weave of the encyclopedic net in which each science was to find its place, it eventually sets them free.

The classical dividing lines between the various fields of science are thus called into question - disciplines disappear overlappings occur...The speculative hierarchy of learning gives way to an immanent..."flat" network of areas of inquiry...in constant flux. The old "faculties" splinter into institutes and foundations of all kinds, and the universities lose their function of speculative legitimation.
Lyotard, Post. Con: Rpt Knowledge P.39

....next (should be)...how legitimation works: Lyotard's language games and the glass bead game. Maybe.

Technology transfer and commercialisation

I have been working on a paper on whether or not postgraduate coursework, developed with industry, is a useful mechanism for enabling widespread, practical implementation of scientific research, partly to try to tease out the somewhat confused value and purpose of postgraduate coursework generally. The test case, for this paper, is the (Faculty of Vet Science at Sydney) program in animal breeding management, where we aim to put animal genetics knowledge in the hands of people who will be advising breeders etc. and support economic productivity in the sector. (And yes, I think these things matter too).

I've also been thinking, naturally, about the commercialisation of research and technology transfer, as you do.

Transfer is about getting the research into practice, where it becomes useful...big concern in a knowledge economy where it is clear that the faster it can be converted (or, as it is rather unfortunately phrased, exploited) the more valuable it will be.

Check out the wikipedia entry on technology transfer:

Technology transfer is the process of developing practical applications for the results of scientific research. ... Many companies, universities and governmental organizations now have an "Office of Technology Transfer" dedicated to identifying research which has potential commercial interest and strategies for how to exploit it...

The process to commercially exploit research varies widely. It can involve...
What starts as locating practical uses for research very rapidly becomes research commercialisation so that the use of research and the sale of research amounts to exactly the same thing. Enter long lines of lawyers to ensure research organisations get every cent they are owed for every idea they've ever had.

This has to be a classic case of converting use-value into exchange-value if ever there was one. Even if I think of it only in economic terms (ie not even caring about knowledge in itself) we've gone from converting (A) research into widespread knowledge that underpins the national agricultural productivity into (B) research we can sell to someone on the basis of its convertability, which is quite a different thing.

In both cases the financial value of knowledge is at the core in one way or another, but there is still something new here in knowledge's saleability (Lyotard p. 51) rather than its social and economic value.

Then again, I am a novice in this area. Am I wrong? Have I made any sense at all?

Anyway, back to the paper....maybe the scientists I work with can help me figure this out.

Saturday, 24 November 2007

Elected party night

We ventured out last night to GLEDHILL07, our friends Nick and Amelia's election party. Wonderful night, cheering at the ABC coverage. The highlight for me was that my lovely 7-year-old was able to taunt politicians coherently until nearly midnight, waving sparklers for every additional labor seat won and singing the song he and a school friend had made up:

Give John Howard a grave stone
give John Howard a grave.
Give John Howard a grave stone
give John Howard a grave.
All together now....
The song gained meaning as Bennelong's numbers looked more and more like an actual loss for the PM.

Managed to get the little boy home by midnight, piggy-backed through the crowds attending Newtown's Good Rid Dance party in the street, which largely appeared to be people crowded on The Hub steps watching the ABC coverage on a big screen, cheering as if for sport.

A sleepy and slightly cranky boy this morning is still saying "remember when Peter Costello said...and I yelled..."

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

3 lessons from my life as a manager

The type of work I am doing today encourages me (as an aside to it) to reflect on my role as an educational manager and to consider, before I leave, what I think are the 3 key lessons I've learned in this job.

Today, I think they are:

  1. Keep one eye on the goal, the other on the ball
  2. 99.9% of problems will pretty much solve themselves if you are open and honest about them
  3. If you declare it to be true it will normally become so

Saturday, 17 November 2007

Knowledge in a computerised society: Lyotard part 1

One of the things I've been doing is trying to get something resembling a grip (rather than a vague idea) of Lyotard and how that might work with my project. Naturally, since the project is also only emerging, the links are a little fliud. And in this heat, so is my brain. However, it is time for the bits of paper I've stuck up on the loungeroom wall to come down, so this is where they are going. I bold words so they stand out to me on the wall and wanky as it may sound, I find they start to sink in a little subliminally until I have one of those ah-ha moments (I think this is a learning-with-no-time strategy). I'll do it here too, not sure if they'll have the same effect. It can be an experiment.

Right. The Postmodern Condition: a report on knowledge. This is part 1, knowledge in a computerised society.

It [HE knowledge] can fit into the new channels, and become operational, only if learning is translated into quantities of information...knowledge that is not translatable in this way will be abandoned...

...
Along with the hegemony of computers comes a certain logic and therefore a certain set of prescriptions determining which statements are accepted as 'knowledge' statements.
(P. 4)

Basically, what we find acceptable as knowledge has changed because a computerised society tends to 'informationalise' - a little like chunking, but also impacts the way we expect to be able to retrieve information and use even non-digital tools etc. A change to what is allowed to be knowledge is obviously significant and worth tracing historically.

We may thus expect a thorough exteriorisation of knowledge with respect to the "knower" at whatever point he or she may occupy in the knowledge process.
So, in our knowledge-machine, the individual does not matter, but the role does. Sounds like HR.

The old priciple that the acquisition of knowledge is indissociable from...individuals, is becoming obsolete.
There is a reason for this...

The relationship of the suppliers and users of knowledge to the knowledge they supply and use is now tending...to assume the form already taken by the relationship of commodity producers and consumers to the commodities.
If knowledge is to be commodified in the type of mechanised structure imagined, it must be separable from the knower so that it can systematised (or informationalised, in this case).

Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold and it will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: the goal is exchange. Knowledge ceases to be an end in itself, it loses its "use-value".
(pp. 4-5)
This is just describing the process of commodification as Marx did, as it applies to knowledge. I always have to remind myself about use-value and to do this I keep a stupid image of a hammer in my head: a hammer costs, I dunno, $5 - its exchange value. But if you were a builder, through use that hammer would produce value that far exceeds what the damn thing costs. And (to put it a little clumsily) this is its "inherent" value (so if there was no money in the world at all, it would still be worth this). Commodification's key characteristic is to declare that this use-value has no value and that it is only "worth" what you could sell it for - since the system is based on exchange.

We know all this. But when it applies to knowledge, things change that perhaps we did not expect:
...knowledge has become the priciple force of production...

Knowledge in the form of an informational commodity indispensable to productive power is already, and will continue to be, a major - perhaps the major - stake in the worldwide competition for power.
(p.5)
This forms what has become known as the knowledge-economy, in which knowledge (rather than labour) underpins productivity. Naturally, where knowledge is commodified, this changes the role of learning:
It is not hard to visualise learning circulating along the same lined as money...the pertinent distinction would no longer be between knowledge and ignorance, but rather, as is the case with money, between "payment knowledge" and "investment knowledge".
This then changes the role of higher education and the state:

The notion that learning falls within the purview of the State, as the brain or mind of society, will become more and more outdated with the increasing strength of the opposing principle, according to which society exists and progresses only if the messages circulating within it are rich in information and easy to decode.
[p.6]

So we have both a change to the structure of society, repositioning the state from the "brain" role it had previously and a change to the nature and role of knowledge, in which the exchange of knowledge, rather than the decisions of the state, drive progress. One might expect this to be both good and bad news to Higher Education: 'bad', in that funding would fall with the state's lack of involvement (yes...though maybe not everywhere) and 'good' in that Universities could, perhaps, have a central role given their role in knowledge production and dissemination. But the character, not just the role of knowledge has also changed, which may well be the key to Universities' lack of success in really doing well out of this set-up (if it is true).

And it could potentially be a problem for the legitimacy and relevance of the state:
...communicational "transparency", which goes hand in hand with the commercialisation of knowledge will begin to perceive the State as a factor of opacity and "noise".
[p.5]
Transparency has so many meanings I am not 100% sure of this one, but suspect it might just be a straightforward transparent communication as business talks about it (experts, please correct me) in which we can imagine a State that was actually interested in knowledge would actually get in the way of a knowledge free-market.

Overall, 30 years ago, Lyotard took the idea of commodified knowledge, knowledge capital and a knowledge economy and extrapolated it to give a picture of what it might look like and it socio-political implications. Might wait until a little further into the book, but it is plausible and aligns somewhat to experience.

Failure to invest in higher education is irresponsible economic management

Our government has been given strong, expert advice on the need for increased investment in research and education - and not from a bunch of whinging out-of-touch academics, as Julie Bishop would have us believe.

Here are some of the government's advisors: Mr Hutch Ranck Managing Director, DuPont (Australia) Limited; Dr John Bell Associate Director, The Allen Consulting Group; Dr Graeme Blackman Managing Director, Institute of Drug Technology; Ms Mara Bún former Director, CSIRO Business Development; Dr Megan Clark Vice-President Technology, BHP Billiton; Professor Peter Høj Chief Executive Officer, Australian Research Council; Mr Tony Pensebene Associate Director, Economics and Research, Australian Industry Group...and more.

What they had to say more than a year ago is quite terrifying. They had a really straightforward brief, really - just to talk to the government about the impacts on Australia of economic growth in India and China, which is "is focussing the attention of all major economic powers". Here is the graph the Prime Minister and education minister were shown:



(Source: PMSEIC Working Group on Asia presentation)

This situation, of course, provides Australia and everyone else with opportunities to benefit from participating in a new economy, which is driven largely by the sheer size of these emerging powers and markets. The opportunities for Australia depend on linkages internationally, formed through exports. Australia's exports, in turn, are dependent on good research and development and well-trained people who can implement the latest ideas in real workplaces. Research and education are the foundation of economic development.

Just in case politicians failed to understand this argument, they were given this image:
(Source: PMSEIC Working Group on Asia Report)

The problem is, as we know, Australia has fallen well below the OECD average for investment in research and higher education. This is a particularly large problem, because China and India are seriously investing in these areas - meaning they will soon be able to do very nicely without us, thank you very much...and in fact we will probably need them, given our own skill shortages.

On creating linkages (the second tier of that highly complex pyramid), the report said:
Australia is competing for attention against all other global players. Other OECD countries are making a much greater effort to develop science and technology-based links with China and India (see Appendix 4). Clearly we cannot compete on scale but we must significantly improveour investment in these relationships if we are to make an impact.
Just in case the Education minister was still thinking that these people asking for additional funding for universities were actually whinging academics in disguise, she and the PM were told that their good friemd George Bush is doing it: increasing investment in research and higher education to $136 Billion over 10 years. [As an aside, rumour has it that Mr Bush was convinced to do this due to racist inclinations - fear of China. It has been suggested that perhaps if we cultivated some racist sentiments against these neighbours of ours, perhaps we might see some real investment here.]

The message was pretty clear (remembering this was more than a year ago):
When the working group started, we focused on business opportunities and threats. But during our deliberations and interactions, we unanimously came back to the same premise – without a strong education foundation no strategy is sustainable.
And so were the consequences:
The prognosis is alarming...not only do we not have the capacity to improve our position as a knowledge economy, our ability to sustain our current position is doubtful.
One would think that our economically responsible Prime Minister would be concerned about this, correct? Well, according to rumour, he was, and asked the education minister to look into this and report back. Apparently she reported back, simply stating what the government is currently spending on research and higher education. [She has since consistently publicly declared that Universities are extremely well-funded, even describing the research-based opinions of leading researchers in Higher Education as 'out of touch', making it a little worrying about the basis on which she makes decisions - see http://del.icio.us/hannahforsyth/Bishop%2CJulie.]

So, all these people work together to make a report that says Australia is in big, big trouble economically unless we invest in research and education.

The government fails to act. And yet claim to be economically responsible.

What (almost) seems worse, is Kevin's "this irresponsible spending has to stop" line means that it looks like under a change of government things won't get much better. Though I would prefer to be disappointed in a politician who at least says higher education is important. Of course he can't say that "this irresponsible lack of spending has to stop", but it would be more accurate.

Shouldn't politicians be held accountable for this? The government has been given clear and credible advice that to be economically responsible means investing in research and education. They haven't ... and it appears they wont.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Who gets to play the glass bead game?

My current reading-for-fun is Herman Hesse's Glass Bead Game. I've not read any Hesse before and I am certainly not a scholar in any of the areas it considers (**uninformed opinion warning**).

I am only around one third of the way through and am disturbed by something, which I'll get to in a sec.

I am enjoying the book, particularly the descriptions of the complexities and obsessive-compulsive characteristics of intellectual pursuits, the exploration of the monastic "calling" of academia, the role of the ivory tower in society and of course the dialectic of pure intellectual exploration and participation in and contribution to society. The glass bead game itself is nicely positioned as a kind of impossible metanarrative and a playful interdisciplinarity.

There's plenty in here and the tendency to somewhat ponderous or self-indulgent writing is justifiable when it works as well with the subject matter as this one does.

So, overall, I have no problem with the elitism of Castalia or its monastic qualities, because these allow the author to explore these characteristics of academia and its institutions in a more-serious Jonathan Swift kind of way. I like it.

Moreoever, the narrator, like the main character Joseph Knecht, betrays a weakness for the elitism and self-indulgence of a purely intellectual life - but also feels guilty and uncertain about it. It is utopian but carries with it all the dangers of utopia. I think a lot of us can relate to this and to the complex and somewhat uncertain positioning and justification for the intellectual pursuits of the academic system (the value of which we may be guilty of oversimplifying due to the similarly oversimplified attacks it is constantly bombarded with).

But the monastic qualities of Castalia does not, in my mind, justify the complete absence of women in at least the first third of the novel (will update this opinion if they sudden appear in the last two thirds). This might seem a little on-the-side, but I do find it quite disturbing and not a little insulting, to be honest.

For Castalia is a utopia - but the consequences of its elitism are questioned and explored. But what of the consequences of its gendered structure?

Here is the only real mention of women thus far:
The danger of wasting himself on women
Hmmm....
or on losing himself in sports
similar, aren't they - women and sport? In their impact on intellectual life.
is also minimal. As far as women are concerned, the Castalian student is not subject to the temptations and dangers of marriage, not is he oppressed by the prudery of a good many past eras...which made them

We are of course only concerned with them...

turn to more or less venal and sluttish women.

Uh oh....
Since there is no marriage for the Castalians, love is not governed by a morality directed towards marriage. ... It is customary in the Province for the daughters of the citizenry

I am of course a daughter of a citizen, not a citizen myself...

not to marry early, and in the years before marriage they look upon students and scholars as particularly desireable lovers.
What an enlightened system!
The young men, for their part...since they have no money, must make their repayment by giving more of themselves than others would. In Castalia the sweetheart of a student does not ask herself: will he marry me? She knows he will not.
And I hardly know where to start with that section!

I hate it when I suspect I might be a little over-sensitive to these things, but an intellectual utopia in which this is the only mention of women does taint the novel slightly.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Asynchronicity: why won’t those discussions work?

For some time I have been trying to figure out why asynchronous discussion isn’t working that well in teaching postgraduate quantitative genetics. I had a feeling this would be the case, but I still can’t tell you why, intuitively, I thought this. It has something to do with the quantitative nature of the study – but we’ve seen problems with it that we haven’t seen in other quantitative areas (like veterinary epidemiology and animal health economics).

But interviewing students this week have given me the clues I was looking for, I think.

Reason 1: learning genetics necessarily takes students through complex quantitative tasks that do not make sense unless everyone is at exactly the same point.

Reason 2: meta-cognition and therefore high level discussion (what some of the students have called “real discourse”) happens at specific points in the units of study – probably at the end (or at the end of sections) - rather than continuously. This might be because learning the theory and the calculations is quite involved and there is a need to concentrate on them before trying to draw them all together to think about at a higher level might take some weeks, rather than happening on a week-by-week basis.

This might mean that we could:

  • leave the students on their own to work through problem sets OR
  • we could schedule regular synchronous chats, where students work through problem sets synchronously (we tried this and it worked pretty well, but there are some practical problems)
  • schedule meta-discussions at specific points in the units to happen either asynchronously or synchronously

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Distance running

An earlier draft of a paper I have just submitted for review is here http://docs.google.com/Doc?docid=dfqggshp_4hs4kgn&hl=en

This sort of thing really succeeds in making my job more difficult, but I am hopeful that as we look at the issues we deal with in distance education in a non-DE place like the one I work in, we'll be able to make things better.

I have really enjoyed working with a wide range of colleagues lately, on describing distance education, figuring out what makes it different, what makes it fit and not-fit at a University like ours and what (to an extraordinarily specific level) could change that would make it better for distance students and staff.

This paper is the first finished of two that I've been working on plus some internal politicking.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

Proposing history: knowledge ownership in Oz HE

Quick post to give opportunity for comments on my current draft of PhD project proposal looking at the ownership of knowledge in higher education in Australia - proposal is to do this in the history department at University of Sydney. Current draft can be found here:
http://docs.google.com/Doc?id=dfqggshp_1c9fw6r

Would love to hear any thoughts.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Spiderland

One of my early memories is my grandmother taking me through her large garden in Strathfield, teaching me the names of all the plants. Never being the great gardener she is, I can't remember most of them anymore. But I do remember the spiders.

When a spiderweb was in our way - often the case - she would stop me and ask me to look at the web and note how beautiful it was and how much work the spider had put into creating such a lovely home for itself - and a home that very cleverly doubled as a means of getting food. She would then ask me to hold a couple of the web's threads and would take a couple herself and we would very carefully move it, sticking our threads to new plants so we could get past without disrupting the spider or getting its web in our hair. Undoubtedly we also destroyed its chances of catching insects, as the web was in the way for a reason - but I didn't know that.

I've never been particularly scared of spiders and I've always believed that those days in Nana's garden were why.

And of course, I've also pointed out the beautiful webs and almost equally beautiful spiders to my son, Cooper.

For the last couple of days a spider has made its home in our bathtub. Just a daddy long legs, but a big one, whose body you could see and whose legs had an elegance and stance a sense of wisdom - as far as a daddy long legs can look wise, that is.

Cooper had already said, yesterday "there is a spider in the bath and I don't want to kill it", but I thought he meant he didn't want the squishy sensation, like our reluctance to squish cockroaches 'cos it is gross.

This morning we talked about the spider again and Cooper and I both agreed that the problem was he was a real beauty and we did not want to hurt him. Cooper went further, saying he didn't want to hurt any spiders. He suggested that we move him. He went and found a piece of paper and tried to pick the spider up himself - but only succeeded in spooking spidey a little.

Worried he might make it worse for the spider, it was declared to be my turn - we collected spidey and walked together outside, triumphantly depositing him on the brick wall.

I don't know where spidey went and think he probably liked the bathtub better, but I am really glad that Cooper wanted to move him. And I like to think it is all because of the care my Nana showed for her spiders when I was a tiny girl.

Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Objectivity, construction, agency

“Our atrocity is exactly the reverse of that of earlier centuries. It consists in eradicating the blood and cruelty by use of objectivity. A colourless, programmatic, bloodless atrocity, like the white-noise of torture of sensory deprivation cells” (Jean Baudrillard, Cool Memories, published 1990, from Chapter October 1980)

As I read this today, I was struck by how much I now find myself not relating (anymore) to Baudrillard’s sense of the violence of objectivity. I find it sometimes difficult to see whether this is a result of my growing up intellectually (mind you I was in Kindergarten when Baudrillard wrote this), whether the environment in which I operate has changed, whether theory has more broadly moved on or something else entirely.

Today I am sick and indulging in reading theory I have no current use for, which recently has been against the rules for the sake of efficiency. So I was also reading Bruno Latour (2005), and jumped back to the section on constructivism versus social constructivism. In this Latour distinguishes between a scheme in which the reality that all knowledge is socially constructed enables the creation of a site for sociological investigation – that is, how did people come to know this, how did they construct it, did they construct it well, kind of thing (constructivism) as opposed to social constructivism that acts as an accusatory (sort of…) tool, declaring the fictive state of all knowledge – that is, it is “constructed”, not real. So thereafter there are endless boring debates with scientists who declare that facts exist and a bunch of humanitities wankers (like me…) declaring they are constructed. And Latour kindly points out that both are right – the fact of construction does not prevent reality (in fact it created…or constructed…reality) nor does it need to imply that facts do not exist (and this is absurd anyway).

It reminds me of a criticism of a work-in-progress I had once: “Hannah it sounds like you think it is real, not constructed.” I had trouble answering this – as a well-brung-up arts graduate of the 1990s of course I think it is constructed but…isn’t it time to move on? Just because it is constructed doesn’t mean it isn’t real and I don’t want to be stuck doing what Meaghan Morris once described as the (boring…well, she didn’t say that, but everything in the article did, really) coded/decoding task that simply demonstrates what we all already know: that this, too, is constructed.

But then I was thinking about why construction was (see, I’ve decided it is inherently past tense…) important. For in, say, the 1980s this was a new-ish idea and it meant that cultural meanings were not immutable. This is important in a political sense, for when meanings are structured and made to seem natural (as many a social scientist has shown) social construction offers a set of tools that can highlight this process of naturalization and enable political agency.

My feeling is that agency is not a problem for Latour, in the way that prompted social constructivism/ anti-objectivity to be a significant thing for the likes of Baudrillard and others in the 1980s (who then went on to teach me in the early-mid 90s). Why is this? I guess I sort of think it is because, for Latour, agency is assumed and, in fact, any structure that emerges is a result of agency, rather than needing to somehow figure out how agency fits into structure.

A little bit like, I have sometimes wondered, if educational constructivism is a statement of fact (that is, learners really do construct knowledge themselves) then there is absolutely no necessity for adopting a constructivism approach to teaching, as it will happen anyway. (Of course, adopting an approach that aligns to the mechanisms of learning might be more efficient). But some seem to suggest knowledge is individually constructed only comes about when the teacher takes a constructivist approach, which seems utterly absurd. But, without wanting to move onto yet another topic, perhaps the idea of affordances assists in this: perhaps knowledge construction is afforded more readily in one environment than another.

There is no stopping agency, it simply is. But perhaps it is possible for some agents to contribute (or even construct) an environment that affords more agency than others.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Time space and e-learning

Over the weekend I actually read (rather than skimmed the first 2 pages) of Peter Goodyear's "Technology and the articulation...time, space and e-learning" (very long article title) from Continuing Ed July 2006. Have to say the most valuable part of this was actually the stuff about knowledge and has a fabulous critique of simplifications of knowledge conceptions. Here the discussion is careful and clear, ensuring we understand and appreciate the subtle differences between knowledge types.

Having read this part of the paper I was expecting great things...like a compressed version of Stephen Kern's culture of time and space (2003) only re. e-learning. But there was a combination of a couple of disturbing things, a couple of useful things and one confusing thing.

1. Disturbing things: A very bold and apparently incontrovertable declaration that there has (only) been two time-space compressions...though when I realised the first one was from 1850 all the way to 1914 this is a little more plausible. But the very sweeping approach to the developments in time and space in the 19th and early 20th centuries and the relationship of this to distance education made me think there were potential relationships there that could use a little more thoughts and investigation.

2. Useful things: the very thoughtful and insightful discussion of the value of co-presence, the trade-offs and the need for flexibility was excellent and beats those of us over the head (ie. me...) who have wide-eyedly (is this a word...can you wide-eyedly do something?) declared flexibility is clearly better than not-flexible. Also that anytime/anywhere may not mean all that much (another area requiring further investigation I felt)

3. Confusing thing: I can't figure out what the relationship is between the knowledge types and time and space. Maybe I didn't read as well as I sort-of tried to (like whipping out the article in the moments I sat alone waiting for lunch to arrive and things like that...).

Friday, 24 August 2007

Politics and technology

OK I think so far we can call this a blog of random thoughts, and certainly not evolving into a thorough thing. Probably suits me best anyway (and where are you supposed to put all those random thoughts? Or should I be guarding myself against random thoughts...?). Anyway, on with it.

Thinking after today's news about how the Prime Minister's office has been editing Wikipedia to get rid of things that might harm the government (although it made a better headline than article...it seemed to amount to boring things like adding "allegedly" to stuff. But still pretty funny). There has been stacks around this election about "understanding" technology - Howard got slammed because he used, but clearly did not "understand" YouTube. Kevin is a hit in Facebook and then there is the Kevin07 debate about whether it is so kitsch it is cool ... or is it just kitsch (I am leaning on the cool side, but I normally do when it comes to kitsch and technology...plus, Kevin...)

This is making the social networking tools something like the taunting cool crowd, telling Howard he just doesn't get it (and this is reflected in Howard's "blog", too...). But of course it is also a way of declaring Howard to be out of touch with the "real" world by telling him how out of touch he is with the virtual one. Think this is new.

But it is Friday afternoon, so that is as far as the thoughts go.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

Liberal and useful knowledge

I am just about to return a library book that has been recalled: Bruce Williams' Liberal Education and Useful Knowledge (2002) is a tiny history of the University of Sydney that describes (among other things) the constant tension between "academic learning" and "working knowledge", a discursive dichotomy regularly referred to by Peter Goodyear (eg Goodyear 2000).

The coincidence of needing to return a book on the subject and currently reading "Technology and the articulation of vocational and academic interests" (Goodyear Studies in Continuing Ed, which I am reading just because it distracted me when preparing for the Distance Education workshop this week...), makes me think about the role of this dichotomy in history and now in practice - and wonder what changes if we do not have it. Clearly needs more thought.