Education for all: a public good?

This is still the question to be addressed as the consequences of less and less certain funding are felt in actual institutions with payrolls and contracts and food service and students. While the recharged Labour Party debate suggests there is political risk, there will be at least four more years of opposition and for institutions maybe five or six years of more or less living within this regime.

We can’t pretend that there has never been a problem of allocation. The system has been expanding since its inception, maybe most rapidly in the past fifty years.

Elitist and egalitarian forces have vied for entry and driven expansion and regrouping. The change in universities has reflected the great social changes of human history. In our tradition, Renaissance, Enlightenment and Socialist Revolution have all been mirrored in the institutions that have more, on balance, sustained dominant orders than challenged them.

Many feel the “end of history” an intrusion, a usurpation by a particular style of business that appears to find little wrong with making money out of the misery of others.

Are there any institutions that would stand up for Corbyn? Should they? Or not? I do not know. What would be the circumstances and conditions of a greatly revised “contract” with the nation? Should someone be planning for that change? Or helping to shape it?

The opposition need to sound credible as an opposition not cut and paste replacements. Their job is to oppose. Corbyn might be very good at leading an opposition. There are three years to get good at opposition. Then ask who might lead into government. That is the next game.

Is there a VC anywhere who would say: “… nay! We indeed need and deserve to drink deeply of public resources because we do far more good than ill”? Where in universities are those who might help provide alternative policies for universities. Acknowledge the conflict in interest up front, but hey, conflict of interest doesn’t bother the powers that be. Let them go on about it while focusing on being good providers of learning.

Usurpation: the condition of the university?

Usurpation might better be seen as the condition of the university than as a problem for any particular aspect of that complex phenomenon: higher education today.

Taking Subramaniam, Perrucci, & Whitlock’s (2014) theoretical framework of social and intellectual closure we might see usurpation as – in parts and in places – an ameliorating response to both micro and macro-political movements that lead to closure. I suggest that we might take this further into a space which can only be opened and kept open (rejecting closure) by the usurper who by choice lays him/her self open to being ursurped and indeed facilitates the process of ongoing transformation, which is the driving energy of the academy.

In making this argument I draw on Popper’s (1996) positivism, Kuhn’s (1962) understanding of development in disciplines and Bhabha’s (2004) third space theory.

The pattern of usurpation described by Subramaniam, Perrucci, & Whitlock’s (2014) applies to any attempt to enter a power structure –  a university is a power structure – by agents desiring that power, whether to address wrongs done to them by that power structure and its relatives, or simply to seize more of whatever is going. When the usurpation is successful the usurper assumes the mantle of the power structure and then defends it against subsequent usurpation.

So we see entryism into disciplines of minoritarian or post-colonial themes: Women’s Studies, for example. We see traditional promotion routes to professorship usurped by teaching pathways (an interesting one Subramian et al spotted, which casts me as usurper!). We see the student experience usurping scholarship.

But as Kuhn should remind us: this is the way it works! The English curriculum which is so exercised by usurpation by Media Studies, itself was an entryist program usurping the Classics. And as Popper should remind us, this is to be celebrated. The problem is not usurpation but closure, which might be seen as resistance to being usurped.


  • Bhabha, H. (2004). The Location of Culture. Abingdon: Routledge.
  • Kuhn, T. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
  • Popper, K. (1996). The Myth of the Framework: In defence of Science and Rationality. London: Routledge.
  • Subramaniam, M., Perrucci, R., & Whitlock, D. (2014). Intellectual Closure: A Theoretical Framework Linking Knowledge, Power, and the Corporate University. Critical Sociology (Sage Publications, Ltd.), 40(3), 411–430.

Getting away with it (a blimage challenge)

Bounced off Steve Wheeler’s post, “Blimy its a blimage” and thought I could be a nay-sayer or a player (more on which somewhere else maybe).  The image was of old school desks shot from above.

School desks

Photo by Steve Wheeler

The challenge — for the Blimage is a challenge — is to write an education-related piece about the image. Two thoughts hit me about this. I’ll go off for a bit on one and then close with the last.

First it strikes me that there is much synthesised nostalgia about school days, despite many people not recalling them with joy. I expect these desks are in an antiques yard waiting to be picked up by parents who will put them in their children’s bedrooms as sweet little learning spaces all their own. I sat at desks like that. In my early school days they even had holes for ink pots, though the ink pots themselves had long gone. The desk was was a safe space in which I could seek to be ignored between the much more challenging negotiations to avoid being hurt in the times when we weren’t sat at the desks. But when I see them in my friends’ kids’ bedrooms I do come all over fuzzy with kawaii. The fact that my children appear to be happy in school and there is not a school-desk in sight slips from my mind. I am not saying that the desks are causal, or even necessarily instrumental in themselves in the emotional abuse that old-school sometimes colluded in but they are symbols of order and authority as well as something more insidious: deception. The liftable lids enabled any amount of clutter and contraband to be swept away. As long as the surface could be tidy and the content hidden or deployed tactically and even surreptitiously all would be fine. The covered desk taught as much about what you could get away with as any other lesson. Carving your name in the desk was a rite of passage even if being caught doing it merited a punishment. Even if our subversiveness was unoriginal: smuggling comic books inside exercise books, even if we never read the comic books in class, I remember the frisson of hiding things in my desk and getting away with it more than most (any?) more substantive or intended lessons. I remember the feeling and that is the thing. The feelings that are a deep part of me were inculcated at desks like that and I am afraid I do not remember many feelings of joy from my school days. I am sure I learned other things but even to this day the struggle between authentic learning and just getting away with it occupies me more than I would like.

The second thing those desks reminded me of was this:


Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0): Photo by Graham and Sheila

The dark, hardwood stain, the association with a disordered and anachronistic, rectilinear formality in learning and in their own way authority reminded me of the often repeated iconic image of punts lined up on the streams that flow past the two oldest universities in the UK. I saw a thread through the desks to Oxbridge. But again it is not the substance of learning that was drawn to my mind but something other: something about context, deception and subversion, something about the importance of a superficial order even if all was disordered beneath the surface; something about mastering that surface at all cost and if something deeper drifted by so be it.

School of Education Research Conference 26 June 2015 #soeresearch

Semi-live blogging from the Oxford Brookes University School of Education Research Conference at Harcourt Hill, Glasgow Room, Friday 26 June 2015.

hash #soeresearch

Mandy Winter: Pupils conceptions and practices of composing.

Mandy Winter launches the proceedings: the Clangers travel in a boat powered by music. She reports on 3 Studies

  • Revisioning compositional pedagogy for adolescents
  • use co-creative partnerships as methodology for professional development
  • develop deeper cultural engagement
  1. Young Adults reflecting on music education: cultural disjuncts (why are we in school?)
  2. Adolescent learning: Year 9 composing in class: 2 classes smart phone voice composing, recording, observatins and reflections. The head was tolerant of kids with “small powerful computers”. Pedagogy (motivational)
  3. Teachers interviews discussion results of study 1 and 2 Life beyond formal education deeper cultural engagement

Young adults reflecting on music education. Terminology is problematic when making meaning: composing, composition or making stuff up. Routes into music. Reverse engineering. Importance of control and co-creation. Technology is time (context) dependent.

Adolescents learn social learning skills, achieve success as cultural creators, make meaning through movement and address consequences of interrupted flow: what do you get from the occasional lesson (e.g. 45 min once a fortnight). Winter calls for more extensive music lessons, especially if they are infrequent.

Teachers observe that adult modelling cultural engagement is important. The traditional conservatoire model remains dominant. Performing is more important than composing. Teaching composing is more difficult. Belief that you can’t “teach” composing.

Deb McGregor: Teaching creatively or teaching for creativity

What is creativity? There is a range of views:

  • Traditional: Einstein, Newton
  • Teachers’ view: novelty but not part of “science”; domain of the humanities, art, literature
  • Children: performance, gifted expertise in writing, art or music.

Divergent and convergent thinking; originality; cognitive processing. Generating possibilities is at the heart of creativity. Cites various contemporary writers on creativity: deBono, Facione, Swartz, Sternberg, NACCCE, Robinson, Lipman, Stylianidou  (any females?) Ken Robinson suggests we all can be creative, that we can plan for creativity and therefore it can be taught. So what do creative teachers do?

  • use imagination, develop material, capture attention
  • create dynamic active ethos, experience delight

The objective-subjective split remains a problem. Is there a spectrum of creativity little c to big Middle c?

Features of teaching creativity include make the ordinary fascinating, develop a sense of wonder, see things diferently, use metaphors, connect with experience, use unusual approaches and integrate it

Teaching creatively (TC) and teaching creativity (T4C) are different things.

Mary Wild, connecting home and educational play

drawing on Evangelou and  Wild, 2014, “Connecting Home and Educational Play: interventions that support children;s learning”, in Brookes, Blaise and Edwards, 2014, Handbook of Play and Learning in Early Childhood. Sage

Linet Arthur & Ian Summerscales, Troubling Knowledge:

In media res. Are Professional Doctorates a result of midlife crises? Doctoral journeys are redolent of mythic journeys. Background of the student is critical. Identity is distributed in multiple selves and contexts, multiple locations and interactions. We contribute as a part of a web of multiple connections. However the academy trumps the profession in the end. Linet argues that identity formation is necessarily part of the EdD journey. EdD helps some to cope with or mediate the solitary experience of traditional PhD study. I am pleased to see that the journey is not presented as a smooth trajectory. Mythic journey again: marginalisation and return.

 David Aldridge: Phenomenological description of student engagement

The phenomenon is that which allows itself to be seen. Not trying to effect an outcome. What happens beyond willing and doing.There is a rich phenomenology of experience. Gadamer recapitulated Dewey. The Phenomenological nod: statement of the bleeding obvious that wasn’t bleeding obvious until it was said. There is a tendency to instrumentalise engagement.

Engagement is transformative and transcendent… can it be? Location is engagement in-between. Links mutual understanding with learning.

George Roberts: Teaching into the third space: inclusive learning, active citizenship

Claire Fenwick Legacy of a MOOC

Wow, what a great account of an ooc in the wild.

Gillian Lake, RCT of language acquisition

Randomised Controlled Trial of an intervention involving planned pretend play and group shared storybook on language acquisition.

There was a significant effect of the intervention, but findings are interesting in some areas.

Carolyn Murphy: Physical Education

Teaches us how to do a cartwheel. Competency, autonomy, relatedness. Reports on PCTHE Learning Set project. Observes that low motivation emerges across disciplines. Uses Self Determination Theory



Reflection, criticality and transformation

I would like to know how to test a belief that I am forming.

I suggest that some people – perhaps especially mature learners returning to education – enter higher education with an unstated and often unconscious aim of becoming better at arguing for their prejudices. I do not mean to use the term “prejudice” pejoratively to suggest that these beliefs are racist, sexist or otherwise narrow-minded or exclusive but that people often have opinions based on long established beliefs that appear correct to them and wish to become better advocates for this position.

Problematically for educators, among these beliefs are some that suppose higher education will make a person more articulate and better able to argue one’s position without testing that position; and that possession of higher education qualification will lend authority to any argument for any position regardless of its quality.

I suggest that in line with Brookfield (1995) in Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher, these beliefs are “hegemonising” and obscures behaviours that are actually counter to the benefits that higher education might offer.

But how could I test this?

Because, of course I find myself in the position of having formed a belief but do not know how I know what I am asserting. In part this may have to do with my own journey as a mature learner, late returner to education and relatively late arrival in the Academy. I got my PhD at 55. My prejudices were (and are?) largely shaped around a critical-theoretical perspective, which I have long sought to become a better advocate for. While I might like to think that this is not simply a prejudice but an actual true representation of the world as it is, I have to admit that I can only laugh at myself when I write something like that.

In a recent conversation with an academic Psychologist friend…..

More soon!


Humanities and Social Sciences Research at Brookes

Semi-live blogging from the Faculty research conference.

Yet more 1000-mile questions.

In general, academics need to learn that not keeping to time is unprofessional and disrespectful of colleagues and audience.

Roger Griffin on Nomic modernity. Cites Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, as well as old and new academic writers in a compelling whirl of suggestions about the paradoxes of modernity. He suggests that human beings have an excess of consciouness (called reflexivity) which makes us aware of our impending death. Nomos creates a “totalising magic reality”, a world view and serves as a psychic duvet. Given the human condition, the absence of depression is a mystery. Should we have a belief system that celebrates rather than emiserates?. Becker, Berger, Eliade, Jung, Nietzche are his touchstones. Modernity, Griffin argues, is a nexus of forces that undermines nomos.  One loses a sense of space: all that is solid melts into air (Marx); modernity is nomocidal (Weber, Bauman) achieving permanent liminality without closure: liquefaction. This leads to a permanent crisis of identity: “liminoidality” changes the quality of time: empty homogeneous time (W Benjamin). Unstable syntheses of different moral codes (hedonism/family/religions). Modernity incubates addictive behaviours (what is the evidence, asks Juliet Henderson?). Addiction deals with time: temporal anesthesia. Beleaguered cultures protect themselves through violence. How does modernity stand outside the nomos? (Martin Groves). Barrie Axford asks, “What is the theory”.

Chris Lloyd, Department of Law (see Critical Legal Thinking), reads a paper “old school): Retort to Norrie: Derrida, Law and the socio political. Distinguishes between politics (la politique) and “the political” (le politie). Asserts that Derrida’s legal theory neglects the material structures that gives rise to a melencholy. Deconstruction simply happens. Criticises Norrie’s critique of Derrida. See Dick and Kofman “Derrida”). The “trace”: the space between the sign and the symbol, gives you everything: the present being of all things, the origin of sense in general. What gives us entities also undoes them.  The nature of being is called into question, So someone finally asks what is the pragmatic implication? This has to be a thpousand-mile question.

Gary Browning now moves to Rousseau and Derrida. Rousseau is a critic of modernity. Crisis, conflict and meaning. Modernity is a crisis. Rousseau sets up many dualisims. Most salient to this talk is Nature :: Society. Discourse on the Origins of Inequality. Series of paradoxes: we should be forced to be free. For Derrida there can be no absolute “truth” “out there”. There is a paradox of modern politics. You cannot critique or change from within. Are there multiple modernities? Gary Browning claims a particular reading of modernity in reading Rousseau’s understanding of modernity. Modernity is the sum of ways of thinking about modernity. Derrida takes a hermeneutic reading and then deconstructs this.

But are we not left with a totalising assertion of anti-totalisation which can only produce anomie?

Doerthe Rosenow on the Politics of “crisis speak”: towards a new understanding of radicalism in environmental activism. Emerges from anti GMO activism. Is it all about the politics of catastrophe? Does this position not lead to passivity. Is there a Foucauldian consensus in critiquing the politics of catastrophe. We cannot talk about knowledge outside power. (As an aside I ask, Is a non-interventionist small state necessarily a right-wing position?). She asks us to move to a new understanding of radicalism that avoids either millennialism or co-operation with dominant power. So I ask again, “No? is it not about resistance to co-option and colonialism. Everything is corruptable…? (see Mark Duffield and William Connolly).

Jason Danely, “When crisis is the norm: imagining Japanese eldercare”. We are in an age of mass care-giving to the elderly. What about robotic care givers? Lack of community and identity leading to increased prison population of elderly offenders – not aging lifers.

Carina Bartleet, Drama. “Mythologising violence: a crisis of feminist representation onstage in 21st century”. Based in the work of Sarah Daniels … (writer and script editor on Grange Hill). Talk focuses on Morning Glory (2001) and Dust (2002). In your face theatre from late ’90s early ’00s. Daniels is not an in-your-face writer but shares much with those who are. Morning Glory subverts stereotypes. Draws on myth of Osiris and Isis.

Alex Finnen, Russia’s use of ambiguous and unrestricted warfare. Unambiguous concern with “real” power. This paper challenges – implicitly – Rosenow’s paper and to some extent provides support for Griffin’s and in a different way, Bartleet’s position. Theorising perspectives that invoke power as an abstraction is one thing. Revealing the depth of real power is another.

Susannah Wright, Creating world citizens in British Schools 1919-1939. League of Nations Societies.

Rico Isaacs, Exit, voice, loyality and sanctions in Kazakhstan. interested in authoritarianism and the persistence of authoritarianism. What is the agency of ruling elites and their mechanisms for control; and what are the choices for opposition elites. Hirschman’s model of “exit, voice and loyality”. The choices around concepts of exit and voice act as feedback mechanisms for authoritarian regimes.


Flipping questions

These are the questions about flipped teaching that we will be discussing:

  1. Why would you reduce the time spent on “homework” and increase the time given to didactics?
    • Is the significant difference only that texts are presented as multimedia?
  2. How do you design for the periods between class?
  3. Is higher education is moving from a knowledge-based enterprise to a “higher skills and competencies” based one?
  4. Does highly didactic, knowledge-based, autonomous, single-summative-assessment point education style suit everyone? (Discuss each of the terms in bold italics?)
    • And, what if it doesn’t?
  5. Are group assessment and peer assessment now emerging as significant trends?
    • And, how did you find the answer to this question?
  6. How might you support group work in a large group?


It struck me as I was preparing a session on “flipped teaching” that there may be two related  questions in the approach for higher education (HE). Kong (2014) suggests:

The flipped classroom strategy is that work typically done as homework is better undertaken in class with the guidance of teachers. At the heart of flipped classrooms is moving teachers’ knowledge delivery outside of formal class time and using formal class time for students to actively engage in knowledge construction through extensive interactions with peers and teachers (161).

In secondary school, the amount of homework given does not often exceed the amount of time spent in the classroom. From my memory any teacher who gave more than an hour of homework was harsh. As a teacher, You have about equal chunks of in-class and out of class time to work with. In a typical 15 credit higher education (HE) module in the UK, about 30 hours is devoted to “lecturing” and 120 hours to “other stuff”: sometimes described as self-study and assessment preparation. In HE the chunks of in-class and out-of-class are different sizes compared to school. And in HE the amount of homework expected is proportionally greater than the amount of in-class time available. Why would you reduce the time spent on “homework” and increase the time given to didactics? But that is what it appears that flipped teaching does. Is the significant difference only that texts are presented as multimedia?

The second question arises from a traditional higher education practice: the large lecture. Large groups  lend themselves well to didactics and are hard to sub-divide and monitor individual progress in. Even if you had the staff.

The real question flipped teaching asks is how do you design for the periods between class or even: do you design for these periods. Even keeping quiet about “self-study and assessment preparation” time is a design decision.

Higher education is moving from a knowledge-based enterprise to a “higher skills and competencies” based one.

In the old days if you had a class of more than a hundred people, typically you gave them 12 lectures, a reading list and an exam. You probably related the lectures to the reading to the exam several times throughout the term/semester. Students shared notes between class in an ad hod fashion, And at the end of the semester they all trooped in and those who were good at that sort of thing did well on the exam.

Then you and maybe a colleague or two spent a couple weeks marking the exams. The students got jobs or partied on. Your work-load as a teacher was calculated on a similar basis as that of a student 12 x 2 or 3 hours of lectures at a 3 to 1 ratio meant  something like 100 hours and then you had a half an hour to an hour of marking per student. They did their 150 hours and you did yours. If you taught the same course year on year it got easier from time to time.

But that style, highly didactic, knowledge-based, autonomous, single-final-assessment point does not suit everyone.

As the numbers engaged in higher education increased, so did the challenges. Formative assessment and two stage assessment (mid-term exam or essay) came in. Assessed coursework and continuous assessment are all practiced to some degree.

I suggest that group assessment and peer assessment are now emerging as significant trends (Weaver & Esposito 2012).

One very effective way of getting large groups of students to work together is to make part of the assessment scheme done in small groups. Five or six is about optimum: minimum 4 maximum 8. But they will hate it and it will be hard work for everyone. However they will do the work, or far more will than would have if just left to their own devices. And those hated free-riders will have learned too, even if it is at the expense of their more diligent group members.

Questions repeated

So these are the questions about flipped teaching that we will be discussing:

  1. Why would you reduce the time spent on “homework” and increase the time given to didactics?
    • Is the significant difference only that texts are presented as multimedia?
  2. How do you design for the periods between class?
  3. Is higher education is moving from a knowledge-based enterprise to a “higher skills and competencies” based one?
  4. Does highly didactic, knowledge-based, autonomous, single-summative-assessment point education style suit everyone? (Discuss each of the terms in bold italics?)
    • And, what if it doesn’t?
  5. Are group assessment and peer assessment now emerging as significant trends?
    • And, how did you find the answer to this question?
  6. How might you support group work in a large group?


  • Siu Cheung Kong. (2014). Developing information literacy and critical thinking skills through domain knowledge learning in digital classrooms: An experience of practicing flipped classroom strategy. Computers & Education, 78, 160–173.
  • Weaver, D., & Esposto, A. (2012). Peer assessment as a method of improving student engagement. Assessment & Evaluation in Higher Education, 37(7), 805–816.





Victim of the system

I am very frustrated by not having access to our VLE/LMS today. The system, which is externally hosted by ULCC is “down”. It is Thursday 2 weeks after assignments were due. I and the team have 60+ papers to mark and/or moderate and upload grades. I am committed to my students to getting this done by tomorrow. There is precious little slack in any diary. I can’t just shift everything. I cannot do tomorrow’s stuff today because I have appointments tomorrow. This must be one of the biggest marking weeks in UK higher education. I am a champion of online assignment handling and marking. But 10 days ago I had to give all my students an extra day to hand work in because TurnItIn was down on the actual due-day. These incidents have to be factored into any risk assessment of online assignment handling and feedback systems that might be adopted.

The role of the PVC International (PVCI)

Alastair Fitt, Vice Chancellor, on the role of the PVC International (PVCI), Thursday 23 April 2015

These comments and reflections are mine and do not necessarily represent the views of the Vice Chancellor, Oxford Brookes University or any other member of the audience.

The Vice Chancellor’s talk, which opened the Internationalisation Steering Group’s Away Day, was a personal reflection on his time as PVCI at Southampton. A business and marketing-driven corporate mission and an individual researcher-driven research mission were the mainstays of the reflection.

Although framed within “Partnerships”, the PVCI role is highly market-driven and recruitment focused. Many of the observations made were how to be effective at recruiting and marketing while also promoting partnership. Continue reading

Brookes Learning & Teaching Conference (#bltc15)

Before the conference Richard Francis, David Aldridge and I led two “Walk and Talk” sessions on “a framework for inclusive learning?” (pdf). I have been exercising this framework in several contexts, most fully, perhaps, at the SEDA conference (Roberts & Francis 2014). However, I have to say that although the discussions were superb, the framework was not really tried. My aim was to critique and problematise “inclusivity”. Both sessions had a linguistic focus (unintended but perhaps unsurprising given Richard and I were shaping the conversations), asking, implicitly whether the language of inclusivity in higher education masks a deeper exclusivity, inherited from both ancient traditions of higher education and the current dominant late corporate capitalist, neoliberal, workforce attachment (higher skills and employment) paradigm.

The walk and talks more generally aim to break out of the architecturally and technologically mediated spaces of education and quite simply walk and talk, with a thematic “map” but no notes or slides.

Isis Brooks gave the conference Keynote based on her autobiography: a life in education. Isis spoke without notes or slides and incorporated many discussions into her “talk”, in a way also a perambulation, although confined in a lecture theatre.

She started with developing an academic identity as a mature learner: from school dropout to an access course at the Open University. She spoke about learning to calibrate one’s self against peers and introduced the small group discussion by asking us to reflect on our school experience.

From the OU, Isis went to Lancaster University. There were year 1 distribution requirements. She did her degree in independent studies (IS) in Religion and Philosophy. Most students in IS were mature students. If you were interested, she said, you would go to extreme lengths: stay up all night. Eventually she did her PhD in IS. Excellent for critical thinking. Her PhD started off looking at Science Teaching in Islamic schools, but transmuted into Goetheian Observation of Nature.

Her supervisor, Prof John Wakefield, gave people “more responsibility than they would have thought possible”. Again she asked us to reflect on what experience we might have had  like this.

The perambulation continued across a career in educational development and educational philosophy applied in land-based colleges, concluding with a vision of “purposeful freedom” as the lractice of lifelong learning.

I asked how we might discover that purposeful freedom within performative restraints?

For the remainder of the conference I practiced that freedom.


Roberts, G., & Francis, R. (2014). Transformational Learning Design for Open and Blended Learning. In Opportunities and challenges for academic development in a post-digital age. NCTL Learning and Conference Centre, Nottingham: Staff and Educational Development Association (SEDA). Retrieved from