Category Archives: Policy

Pay gaps, gender gaps and other crap

Money is power. More particularly, money is patriarchal power. Now here is the rub. If you use the powerful’s form of power to overthrow the current power, you simply replicate power as it is. You do not transform it. OK, it is a little more complicated, but that is about it. If you use hierarchised authoritarian structures to overthrow an authoritarian hierarchy, you end up with an authoritarian hierarchy. The Czar => Lenin => Stalin => Putin is the classic example given. If money and banking are used to overthrow money and banking… You get my point. “Progressives” believe incremental change can be speeded up and that systemic benefits can be progressively more evenly shared, thereby, progressively reducing noxious aspects of the present. I suggest male-female iniquities are due to more than pay differentials and while closing pay gaps is necessary, I suspect that male-female iniquity will persist unless other things also change. Or perhaps the pay gap needs to be levelled down with the differentials redistributed by some transparent, democratic mechanism to all those currently dispossessed by the current power..

Interlibrary loan or Sci-Hub? A short saga

What follows is a short saga.

Journal price inflation also adds significantly to staff time costs or reduced efficiency.

I was searching for: Ashwin, P, Deem, R, & McAlpine, L 2016, ‘Newer researchers in higher education: policy actors or policy subjects?’, Studies In Higher Education, 41, 12, pp. 2184-2197

Our online subscription to Studies in HE is embargoed for 18 months so I asked our librarian. I was advised that I needed to do an Interlibrary loan request (ILL). So, I thought I would try. To do an ILL I navigate to the page and click to log in to start the process. I enter my staff number as I do for all the Shib protected resources. Authentication fails with no request for password.

Oh yes… I remember long ago the library number was different to the staff number. you have to drop off the p and add an extra 0 (What? Yes, i know, who retains this kind of information?) And then you have to parse all the information from the citation into a slightly different structure and find the ISSN of the journal. Then you need permission from someone with access to cost codes. Get a cost code, by phone… not at desk. By email… wait until they are back from lunch? A week’s leave?.

Makes an already frustrating search for a current important piece of research in my field just that much more fun, knowing that somewhere someone in a wealthier university or the British Library can walk through the stacks, find the print article, photocopy it and post it to me for £10.30.

Or you paste the citation into Sci-Hub and in 2 seconds download the pdf.

I have broken the law. Using Brookes equipment. But I am mindfully going into harm to point out an issue. Journal price inflation significantly also adds to staff time costs or reduced efficiency.

What I should have done, of course is write to the lead author and request a copy, but they could be on leave, etc. And of course I did. But they haven’t replied yet.

Back to the really hard stuff

I am doing, in a way, what I have always wanted to do: teaching in a university, running an academic conference, editing a journal, supervising dissertations, some consultancy. And now I seem to have found the time and space to develop the two items that have been hardest for me to achieve and for which I have taken or given myself knocks: psychic and physical: the MA Education (Higher Education) and the Higher Education Journal of Learning and Teaching. (HEJLT)

Every student published? Original MA work? At the cutting edge of policy and provision.


Lots to do: thoughts on the task ahead

The task, for me, the lots to-do is to transform theory to practice. That is, education development aims not just to bring about correct understanding but to create social and political conditions (that is, community) more conducive to human flourishing than the present ones.

I became a Football Coach last winter and now help run a childrens’ football club (Donnington FC). My head coach has a to do list to keep Alexander the Great busy. I feel kind of the same at work. So many good ideas! Not all mine, I hasten to add!

Big on the to-do list is bringing a number of blogs back to life, not least my own! In teaching you do have to walk the chalk not just talk the talk. It can get dressed up as authenticity and typologised away into abstraction but that only lasts so long: froth. I was going to say like froth on a cappuccino but the cappuccinos from the machines today seem to have industrial strength froth that way outlasts the coffee. You get my point?

I say “social media” but I am far from the biggest of the big-time edtech bloggers. Not even close! Am I having my “those who can’t…” moment? I say “social” media but I do not do social media? So many film references, so little time: “here’s Jack,” “he’s back,””unforgiven.”

Look at my own typology. Experience? Well ok, or at least a few years under the belt. Dialogue? I have become better over the years at giving voice to others. Reflection? Yes but in my world, too private. This goes to a correction needed. Participation? There is a gap for me, which I will get to. Community? don’t get me started. It is all what matters and strikes me is incompatible with most hierarchies – but significantly: not all hierarchies. Outcomes? They matter. Whether or not specified or unintended what happens as a result of setting yourself up to do something is consequential. And, finally Activity. You actually have to do stuff. Like write. In blogs. And make pictures about it, which could mean lines in the sand, or yellow dandelions on green grass setting up positions for a transition moment: a change of possession. And in that moment, team, there is lot’s to do.

The participation gap? I said I’d come back to that. There is a gap, I suggest, for everyone in education. There is something called the “real world”. Where “real people” feed children, or not. Where absolutely all some people have is the child in their arms and a half a bottle of water.

Like I said, the task, for me, the lots to-do is to transform theory to practice. Education development aims not just to bring about correct understanding but to create social and political conditions (that is, community) more conducive to human flourishing than the present ones.

Higher Education Studies

Structurally, politically, philosophically and commercially there is more change in higher education in the UK today than there has been since the Polytechnics had their magic wand waved in 1992

The OfS’s foundation is more than a simple re-branding exercise. The shift from a ‘funding council’ to a ‘regulator’, a body found in many public and private sectors from energy, telecoms, to financial services and beyond, is a fundamental change in philosophy. (WonkHE, Monday briefing, 3 April 2017)

In a leap across several nations and several arguments, I expect England, along with Scotland (already) and Wales (very soon) will have a common, but possibly chaotic regulatory and funding framework for post-compulsory (“tertiary”) education including a plethora of new providers (many private) and new awards including Degree Apprenticeships. But difference, hierarchy and competition will persist and be generated within and between institutions, nations and firms (or syndicates or enterprises).

It appears that rules of “firms” more so than rules of “markets” or “businesses” apply. An altogether more Machiavellian future of privateers on the edge of empires beckons.

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Backpacks, badges and epistemology: an interesting conversation that leads to happily ever after

Grant (2014) asks in the title to her book about digital badges, “What Counts as Learning?” This succinctly expresses the question of higher education and explains the continuing interest in badges, and in learning technologies in general. The fact this is less explored, gives me an opportunity to explore both learning technology and epistemology.

I have developed a new MA Education course module, “Philosophy and policy of higher education”. In this 20 credit level 7 module the question: “What counts as learning?” will be explored. That is the seductive game higher education plays: a chance at determining or being among the determiners of meaning – what counts as learning – for a generation or so. To extend the “play” metaphor to a stage on which higher education acts, higher education as an institution and its practitioners as individuals seek to occupy the limen, the space on the edge between consensual suspension of belief in order to “live the dream”, and the world as it is, explained. More critically for those in the game it poses the question about one’s own underpinnings, one own “will to power”, or academic identity or even life.

Badges are something like brand propositions and to some extent depend on other similar propositions. Like many brand propositions their link to truth is explicitly unattested. The badge can only serve as a conversation starter. Like travel badges on a backpack seen on an overnight Eurail while sleeping in the vestibule: “So when did you go to Sweden?” Most universities have a t-shirt and sports kit with a name and often a crest or logo. Some might serve the question: “Were you at Malmo?” To which an answer might be “No, it is a good hoodie.” But could also be, “Yes, for ice-hockey in 2009.”

Possibly the internet will work like the cold vestibule of a Eurail under an ex army coat, and when we see badges on a site we may start that interesting conversation that leads to happily ever after: life, love, career, changing the world? Or same as it ever was. That conversation about changing the world? Because as it is now, the foundations of meaning sometimes appear both unsound and cruel, not just one or the other.


Grant, Sheryl. 2014. What Counts as Learning: Open Badges for New Opportunities. Kindle. Irvine, CA: Digital Media and Learning Research Hub.

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). .



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.