Usurpation of the University?

Transcendence – transgression – is the modality of human being in the world… The urge to transcend is the most stubbornly present … attribute of human existence (Bauman 2002, 222-23).

Last August I discussed a symposium to be held at the Australian Philosophy of Education Society with David Aldridge. That never happened but this note is what I was thinking of at the time.

Is transcendence as transgression a usurpation? We expect it is and is and is to be celebrated.

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Academic Practice in practice?

What is the model and purpose of academic practice development? Producing 21st C Cardiff graduates in your discipline? There are two pillars of Welsh Government policy: Social justice is as important as a buoyant economy. Nationality is an issue. Language is an issue. A concept of privilege pervades the process. Much is made of the Welsh context. A small nation that wants to value the individual in the nation. Eight Universities. Much HE in FE. FEs are praised as cutting edge with DL, online, part-time (note our Simon Llewellyn) came from Colleg Gwent) Is this what makes a Welsh graduate experience distinct from any other?

Participants on Cardiff’s supported individual pathway to professional accreditation with the HEA need to write 600 words under each of the seven areas of activity in the UKPSF, weaving in Core Knowledge and Values. I notice only 3 females in a room of 16. Very different from Brookes. We are advised that it is not anonymous. Something of institutional and individual reputation will stick. As teachers, we are invited to be conscious of our roles. I am reminded of Max Tegmark: Subject (observer), object (observed), context (all the rest) (Tegmark 2015 page). .



The “enhancement debate” and TEL

Beginning a critical exploration of “enhancement”.

The “enhancement debate” clearly (to me) must be addressed within the scope of technology enhanced learning (TEL) debates. TEL is largely seen as an instrumental means of making the individual person (human being) more effective and efficient in the information economy, maybe more compliant to employability and managerial norms as well as possibly resistant to collectivist and democratic or redistributive urges. TEL discussions often focus on the capacity of the technology to enhance, and the person to be enhanced largely through an individual’s own capacity to use or even master learning technology. The person is often understood as a decontextualised individual, with inadequacies to be remediated or skill levels to be increased largely through their own efforts, assisted by appropriate training and development programmes largely focused on using tools.

However set against this fairly common conception of the person and their relations to learning technology are various streams of more critical engagement (as set out by Van Den Eede 2015) from the transhumanism of Bostrom to the democratic humanism of Feenberg. Bostrom (2009) provides a definition of enhancement:

An intervention that improves the functioning of some subsystem of an organism beyond its reference state; or that creates an entirely new functioning or subsystem that the organism previously lacked. (89)

… which if the capacity to use certain tools or technologies is a “subsystem” and a human being is “an organism” and a “reference state” is a certain level of competence, then, I suggest this encapsulates “enhancement” sufficiently to both include TEL and to be included in discussions of TEL However, considering the individual “organism” or person as the object of the enhancement is only part of the landscape. Seeing TEL as an individual concern and an individual remedial (enhancement) challenge is simplistic and potentially problematic both for the individual and for groups (institutions, communities, etc).. As Feenberg (2009) suggests

… community is the primary scene of human communication and personal development. It is in this context that people judge the world around them and discuss their judgments with others. Any technology that offers new possibilities for the formation of community is thus democratically significant. (81)

Van Den Eede (2015) suggests that:

we must learn to see ourselves as hybrid blends of flesh, mind, materials, machines, information, values, institutions, relations, and processes. (152)


Bostrom, Nick. 2009. ‘Dignity and Enhancement’. Contemporary Readings in Law & Social Justice 1 (2): 84–115.


Feenberg, Andrew. 2009. ‘Critical Theory of Communication Technology: Introduction to the Special Section.’ Information Society 25 (2): 77–83.


Van Den Eede, Yoni. 2015. ‘Where Is the Human? Beyond the Enhancement Debate.’ Science, Technology & Human Values 40 (1): 149–62.


QAA Quality Enhancement Network 12/11/2015

Fiona Handley from University of Brighton uses the term “Graduate Attribute” for digital literacy, where blended learning is the starting point. Focus on the learning and then ask about the technology that “suits me”.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that at an event devoted to digital literacies, the connection to the internet is unreliable, there is no power supply to the tables and the format is all Powerpoint.

Brighton digital literacy framework links to UK PSF. Full roll out to the university.

Fiona Harvey, Southampton using PathBright open source eportfolio tool, badges to support and scaffold learning. Open badge factory for the iChamp badge, Suggests Open Badge Academy.

Benefit is in enthusiasm, confidence

Mark Childs on learner experience of distributed collaborative working

Mark reports on one international project in the built environment with Architects and Structural Engineers, working in three universities: Ryerson (Toronto), Loughborough and Coventry.

BIM3 is about co-creating online. Argues that BIM3 is not properly implemented. When it comes to training we train people on the minimum technical skills not the wider social context of tool use.

Draws on the idea of transactional distance. How can we bring people closer together.  Focuses on skills for online synchronous collaboration.

What is synchronicity in online environments. Does voice imply synchronicity?

So what drives trust? Perception of co-presence in time.

  • Fluency
  • Etiquette
  • Socialisation
  • Doodling
  • Don’t tell, show
  • Modify each other’s work

Towards a new education?

I asked Richard Murphy a question on Twitter after reading his post, “It’s not just a new politics we need: we need a new economics too.”
“And a new education?”
He replied “Almost certainly”.

This “new education” has to lie in what Murphy calls “collective” or shared narratives: “… where the individual seeks to achieve their purpose within the constraints that the planet now so very obviously imposes upon us… because achieving purpose is about substituting meaning for material consumption.” Narratives make meaning. Narrative must replace material consumption. As Max Tegmark (2014: 256) puts it, “… nature contains many types of entities that are almost begging to be named.”

I am leaning on Murphy and Tegmark here because both come from disciplines that value mathematical descriptions of the world above what Tegmark calls “baggage” or words. And both reveal the uncertainty at the base of measure, or to put it another way, they explore the measure problem. How you define constraints, if there are any?

And that I suggest is as ever: new or old education is about making meaning. Making meaning gets us very quickly into measures: pictures, categories, ranges, constraints; about how many lions are there over there? Meaning without baggage? Or is it all always baggage? Pragmatically, at what point do our useful approximations break down into mere baggage?

I spent much of Thursday and Friday last week immersed in dimensions of digital leadership in higher education, represented diagramatically. I started writing about this here. The base for this diagrammatic thinking was the range between “Visitor” and “Resident” in or to or in respect of/with reference to the digital. This model was constructed by Dave While and Alison leCornu several years ago in response to the “Native/Immigrant” model proposed by Presnky. There are other typologies, such as the “voyeur/flaneur” of dana boyd (2011) but the Jisc Co-designers find the visitor-resident one productive and useful.

To get the workshop talking and thinking together, the workshop facilitators laid another axis at 90 degrees to the visitor-resident x-axis. They labelled the upper end of the range “Personal” and the lower end “Institutional”. And this was the end of my messy thinking in my last post.

Tools as spaces as practises

Tools as spaces as practises

The next day we started again with a slightly rephrased map, where the top element was changed: “Individual” replaced “Personal” and rather than our own “digital capability” we were asked to map our institution’s.

Figure 1

Figure 1

It immediately struck my colleague, Richard Francis, that a small circle in the centre might represent the “disengaged learner” and that more “pressure” outward along any axis could be construed as a transformation of some sort.

Figure 2

Figure 2

I then observed that just maybe there were limits outward in some directions. It struck me that a person who was increasingly a visitor to one’s own individuality might lack self awareness (top left. And, in the same way travel too far lower right and a person might be in danger of becomming fully institutionalised.

Figure 3

Figure 3

Both these outer areas might break the “Identity and Wellbeing” circle suggested by the Jisc’s model of Digital Capability

6 Elements

6 Elements of Digital Capability

The last move in this opening development was to observe that the boundaries were at least elastic: that pressures towards self awareness might press inward while counterveiling pressures might push outward. And that these spaces might be characterised in various ways. Richard Francis proposed that being a visitor to one’s self from time to time might be construed as reflection rather than a tendency towards solipciism.

Figure 4

Figure 4

At this point in the morning the facilitators asked us to consider “openness” and “authenticity”. Richard Francis asked if perhaps the visitor-resident continuum might be relabelled “consumer-producer”? It struck me that an urge towards production and self-actualising transformation seemed to produce something like a wave or flow of force through the model, rupturing the membranes inward from the left to outward on the right. We realised that there was a relatively narrow band on either side of each of the main axes. We called the horozontal band the “Mean of engagement”: more or less individual and more or less institutional. We called the vertical band the “Mode of action”: more or less visitor and more or less resident. We also noticed an impact axis punching in another dimensionfrom lower left towards upper right. It appeard that the far left might be characterised by a lack of authenticity:. As one approached outer limits various pejorative warnings began to attach themselves to the image: at the outer and upper left solipcism and maybe hyper-capitalism dwelt, while at the upper right fully resident in individualism lurked the bully and the narcissist, with no self-control. There was a sweet spot for us upward and rightward from the centre where we put terms like open engagement, community, access and authority, while authoritarian by way of contrast fell out somewhere lower right.

Ruptured matrix

Ruptured matrix

We began to see institutional functions appear: assessment and the VLE seemed to occupy a backwater and the digital impact criteria of attention and presence firmly resided within the mean of engagement.

So all this was very satisfying as a means of understanding our world, but now the challenge is to turn it into action.



danah boyd. (2011). Dear Voyeur, Meet Flâneur… Sincerely, Social Media.” Surveillance and Society 8(4), 505-507

Jisc Digital Leadership Workshop

Semi-live blogging from the Jisc Digital Leadership project Workshop (Twitter #JiscDigLead. in Bristol at the Hotel Mercure, 22-23 October 2015.

Day 1

Lawrie Phipps opened the day mentioning the “dynamic online offer” from the Jisc Digital Capability service appearing maybe January time: “Online service moving into beta in the new year,” says Lawrie. I wonder if Jisc’s digital capability model

Jisc 6-element Digital Capability Model

Jisc 6-element Digital Capability Model

might assist in evaluations. And, I became exercised over a conflation of competitive comparison with evaluation. Just because s/he does it…

Clearly we want to Improve outcomes for learners and are trying to get our heads around the idea of adding value. Asking ourselves, what is learning gain? It is suggested there is an HE skills gap and that this goes top down. We are asked: Are you capable enough for the role you are undertaking? Who knows! I get a sense that Richard Francis and I, for Brookes are doing as well as many might hope. I suggest that there needs to be IT proficiency in the environs. You, the individual also needs to have to have some. What you don’t have others need. It is not only an individual good, it is a shared social good: education as well as the institution-digital. that is: the epistemic project rolls on.

See digital capabilities blog.

Moving on: Dave White asks why engage with technology? Is technology axiomatic? Is the digital being prefixed to everything? Why do we have a VLE? Can we reframe the discourse? What is the actual value? Dave is working with Donna Lanclos, who works at UNC Charlotte, NC, USA. Anthropologist studying the practices of  “the academic” in order to inform “the library”.

People are invited to question “George style”. Fame at last? Modelling practice? Or just annoying?

Dave and Donna show different pictures drawn by school kids asked to draw the Internet and my home in it (the internet mapping project). Map 2 Dave will want us to map our place on the visitor-resident continuum/a. He suggests, in response to questions that there are more than one dimension. Will we get near Hilbert space? Some of life plays out online. Other people are there. Social media, discussions all leave traces. Dave and Donna want to reassure us that modes of being online do not overdetermine our behaviours or experiences of the phenomenon of being online. We are asked to Google each other.

Dave raises the weak anthropic principle and the strong self-selecting assumption but doesn’t notice. Higher education so readily does the subject-object split to which is added an environment and within that (even going back to Lucretius) the waveform or quanta: movement and change. If the reference class is all people who might be invited and supported to attend this meeting then (as Wikipedia reports Brandon Carter says): “Although our situation is not necessarily central, it is inevitably privileged to some extent.”

And we dive into a Boston Consulting matrix style 2D representation of digital leadership.

  • x axis= Visitor-Resident
  • and y axis is Personal-Institutional.

In some quarters we “decompartementalise”. Richard Francis asks whether

  • Visitor = Consumer
  • Resident = Producer.

This seems plausable equivalence. I wonder how many more axes are possible and if two-d is really useful. They acknowledge the incompleteness of any model.

We are asked to map an “observer moment” of our life in the digital.

Here is mine.

Tools as spaces as practises

Tools as spaces as practises

It is later presented by Dave and Lawrie among four or five others  and comment invited from each of the mappers. It is messy. In one construction, the embodied world envelopes a digital space. But this gives the impression of focusing on “the digital”. We might use two axes to make a small spider diagram: or a dream catcher for the internet maybe? In respect of my map, I noticed the four foci on public writing. I acknowledged visitor status in much other multimedia. I observed how my use of email, Twitter, Facebook and a VLE worked: how it was all generally squashed down to the right: institutional resident. How metaphorical is the location and name of that quadrant?

Next James Clay is took us onto personal effectiveness: our effectiveness at using digitech, and how we build our capacity with technologies. We are asked: “You on your own, define the term: digital university.” I suggest teaching is the core project of the digital university. It seems to me that the digital still has the power to force questioning.

I suggest:

the digital university is immersed in the capacities and contexts of its world using and misusing as well as rejecting “the digital”. In particular the digital university is not slave to an external “digitality” but shapes and enables the shaping of the wider institution-digital. The institution-digital is a “moment” in the emergence of tools, practices and places within which the epistemological project takes place, transforming and also resisting the transformation of society.

A university that constantly evolves to

#JiscDigLead consensus on the Digital University

#JiscDigLead consensus on the Digital University

… the consensus distilled by reps from each table:

We then do PESTLE analysis (badly-can it be done well? The categories are so broad) on our digital university.

  • Political
  • Economic
  • Social
  • Technological
  • Legal
  • Environmental

… sort of.

Our table asks “Why are we doing this?” several times. Someone suggests: “marketing”. Of what? By whom? For whom? I might conflate legal with social, otherwise we more or less agree that leadership is all about:

  1. the political/economic/technical and environmental (society and culture)
  2. the personal (individual experience of society and culture)

I return to the question of embodiment around the breakfast/coffee/lunch/tea breaks. The problem of embodiment is seldom mentioned in higher education gatherings. The presumption of an embodied self-aware narrator is strangely persistent.

Day 2

This morning I am anticipating sessions on social media, cybersecurity risk, persuasive narratives and more mapping before we conclude with building a digital vision and strategy. This will be an opportunity to sanity-check Brookes’ new TEL Framework.

I am in the stoirytelling workshop on creating persuasive narratives.

Keep it lean and focussed. Is the story always an elevator pitch?

Link to strategic policy working document

I wandered off into Medium and pen and book.

The narrative continues here.



Sharks and TELephants


Caribbean Reef Sharks

The challenge for technology enhanced learning (TEL) is that it not be used to impoverish people. Let me begin to explain.

I can help you teach. I may be deluded, of course, but it is none the less something I believe and something that I can act on with an established and evolving repertoire. I have led a teacher education programme for lecturers in higher education for the past seven years. I can design programmes to help you teach, I can put on courses, stand in front of a class, work one-to-one and strive to help teachers elicit their own inner teacher. So why am I giving up an established role teaching teachers in order to enter the waters of “technology enhanced learning” (TEL)?

I thought I wanted a challenge! For myself, for the team and the department I felt it was important that I move on from the job I have done since about 2008. And of course, I have been splashing in those waters for I long time. In 1983 I arrived at Oxford with an electric typewriter. In 1986 I left with an MPhil and a Apricot “portable” computer. Arguably one of the most important things I learned over those three years was how to use a word processor and a printer. But technology enhanced learning? What does that mean? Arguably everything and nothing. And this is my first challenge. Wikipedia conflates “Elearning” and “Educational Technology” with “Technology Enhanced Learning“. It is worth while reading the first 200 or so words of this article.

TEL is a term that stimulates the production of complexity. It also, as a consequence, stimulates in many people the opposite desire: forBlind_men_and_elephant2 simplicity. Like the blind men and the elephant,  there are many parts.
and many people, who want to declare TEL to be one or another of the many things it could be: from pencils to iPads, to QR codes and smart cards. New! New! Shiny! Shiny! Or so far out in front that the string and baling wire are hanging off. Or simply the human condition. But, what ever it is, it has to be better (enhanced) than something else. But, better than what?

Can we posit technology-free learning? What would that look like? Among the parts of the TELephant is that which threatens established practices and identities: that which makes some people feel they can no longer teach well, that which makes some people feel diminished not enhanced, that which makes some people feel they would rather be rid of all this “technology” (whatever it is). To enter into this debate in this way brands me as a Luddite. But this is a badge that I have to be proud, now, to wear. Remember, Luddites were not against technology. They were against technology being used to impoverish people. Which brings me back to sharks and the main challenge: money and power.




Coaching – before the session

I have been offered and have taken up coaching as a method of professional development. I have had 2 sessions with my coach and am about to have my third. What do I want? Magic. What do I get? Well like magic, you get out what you put in.

I expressed my original aim as “helping me to achieve professorship.” Though “professor” is probably a cover term for “respect”, “satisfaction” and “influence” with minimum compromise to my core beliefs and values. And each of those cover other terms, among which must be professional things like “authority” and other things like “domestic security”: a “living”, a “house-bond”. Big stuff.

So that is the big picture. What are the challenges? Well, the big picture, itself. Focus. Attention, maybe? My challenge is that I see complexity and contradiction in most human things. Sometimes this is a source of conflict: warring beliefs or usurpation of livings. But often complexity is only in nuance.

What is this really about? What do I need to focus on for this session? Professionally it is the Technology Enhanced Learning(TEL) Framework. This is complex. All three terms are contested. “Pencils are technology!” some people shout. Others insist everyone MUST have an iPad. As a “teacher educafor” I had a platform and institutional place and a term with which to work that I understood; “teaching” is something I grasp, I can “profess”. But TEL?


Tealab? TEL me about it

Reviving Tealab: Tealab is explicitly a Teaching Laboratory and discussion “space”. There are a number of excellent initiatives across the university that lap over the territory. When Tealab was set up it was intended to replace the Learning and Teaching  Forum (LTF),  with a focus on people (possibly “younger” whatever that might mean) interested in new or innovative teaching practices. These practices did not need to make use of learning technologies, but given the zeitgeist and interests of the proponents of Tealab there was a strong learning technology focus.

The institutional learning and teaching focus is currently on the Technology Enhanced Learning (TEL) Framework with its participatory underpinning. The aim of the framework is expressed in four domains: Learning, Identity, Community and Place and is intended to enable the creative appropriation of tools, transformative academic practice, inclusive communities and safe spaces for learning.

Now, the Technology Experimentation Group (TEG), has a clear learning technologies focus and the Minerva Seminar Series is focused on teaching excellence.

Tealab can do two things.

One is serve as a clearing house and notice board of all the extra and co-curricular learning opportunities for teachers at Brookes, pulling from many sources: OBIS training, Library training courses, Digital Services training and various Guides, and OCSLD teaching courses.

And second Tealab can serve as a forum for collaborative discussion and development of the aspirations of the TEL framework. With this in mind, I am planning a series of Lunch-time sessions (and I know that time is troublesome so forgive me if these sessions are not accessible for you; we will simulcast and record for later review). I am proposing three this semester:

  • Monday 19 October 1200-1330 – Participation in learning, aspirations for teaching: introducing the TEL Framework
  • Monday 09 November 1200-1330 – Creative appropriation and appropriate technology for teaching
  • Monday 30 November 1200-1330 – Academic Identity today

And three next semester (dates to be announced)

  • Learning Communities
  • Holding space
  • Frameworks for learning and teaching