27 June 2009

On referencing--again!

This harks back to an earlier post, to which Alec Gill, the author of the linked article, responded.

If you haven't got time to read his piece, the argument is for the simplification of referencing, and a straightforward way of doing it, by citing the form or medium of the material immediately after the date. The comments refine the ideas, leading to a constructive discussion.

I have great sympathy with the argument. Indeed, my only dispute is with the assumption that there is any prospect of achieving a standard format through rational discussion. That assumes that rational criteria such as clarity and usability actually count for much in this field.

Sadly they don't. The arcane variations in referencing practice owe more to turf wars between academic tribes or even competing journals than they do to anything sensible. And once a discipline or a professional association or a journal pins its colours to the mast of a particular style, negotiations become about face and power before mere utility.

Academe--we kid ourselves--is where the rational and the sensible reigns. Sorry.

23 June 2009

On implicit values

There is no better opportunity than the enforced leisure of a ten-hour wait in an airport to reflect on the conference we (two collaborators and I) have just attended.

The theme of this year's STLHE conference in Fredericton, New Brunswick was "Between the Tides"; quite appropriate considering that it took place not far (by Canadian standards) from the Bay of Fundy, home to the "highest tides in the world" according to its website. So it looked at negotiating the countervailing influences and pressures to which higher education--particularly in Canada--is subject.

Generally speaking conference "themes" are meaningless. They are cast so widely and blandly as to say nothing which might possibly discourage any attendance or any papers, so they say nothing at all. This one was different, and was structured around four dilemmas, explored principally of course in the Canadian context, but of much wider applicability.

They were;

  • disciplinary education vs. liberal education

  • physical environment vs. virtual environment

  • curricular learning vs. extra-curricular learning

  • institutional/professional autonomy vs. public accountability

I'm not going to go into them directly, but simply to point out that once you start exploring constructs such as these it almost inevitably leads back to the values implicit in them (cf. the "laddering" method in personal construct theory), and the theme of making explicit what is already implicit--so that it can be explored and debated--cropped up time and again in the papers I attended.

It was even there in our own, on "Safe teaching, risky learning?" in which we encouraged participants (it is the tradition to be quite participatory) to explore risk-taking in teaching, in a risk-averse "quality"-obsessed HE culture. (It is even worse in FE.)

What was encouraging was the extent to which such discourses and debates were readily accepted by the conference membership. The hegemony of utilitarian and neo-liberal discourse is being challenged; at least in Canada, at the chalk-face. ("PowerPoint" [blah] -face does not have quite the same ring...)

But what was challenging was to realise that what I had thought of as my stock-in-trade for many years, having grown old teaching social work, is now being being taken up and explored in many more disciplines, via many more frameworks. Instead of people wanting to impose an ethical or political framework on what are seen as basically technical issues such as curriculum design and the adoption of models of learning or even of student attributes---instead of that, there is a new recognition that those issues were never merely technical. They always contained (in several senses) implicit values, and perhaps the choice of technical means ought to follow the value-based ends?

What are these values? What are the frameworks? Hey, work out some answers. There are lots of potential ones!

22 June 2009

On live blogging

Content aside; is this the public emergence of a new medium? If so, how do we evaluate it?

Thanks to the Browser for putting me on to this!

On absence

Apologies for lack of activity. I'm away at a conference, and can't get my Linux netbook to connect; this is posted on a borrowed machine. And anyway, there are more interesting things to do at the moment;
To everything there is a season
and a time for every purpose under heaven...

A time to blog,
and a time to refrain from blogging...
(Ecclesiastes 3 [amended], from memory) ...

I hope to post on some themes from the event later this week.

12 June 2009

On British Orwellian discourse on education

Thanks Laurie, for this piece which concisely guts an important report, and also provides some material for a paper Peter and I are giving next week which is not yet written. There's always time on the plane!

11 June 2009

On creative cooking beyond recipes

As regular (?) readers will know, I sometimes use cooking skills and knowledge as a paradigm for exploring learning and the acquisition of competence and even expertise. So I am a sucker for anything which holds out a hope beyond Richard Sennett's ten thousand hours in a kitchen. (His account of culinary craft is one of the weirder parts of a sadly unfocused book.)

Indeed, following a recipe is a low level of skill. Thank goodness it can be acquired relatively easily, because otherwise we would eat less well than we routinely do. Tweaking or glossing a recipe may come next--improvising in the absence of some ingredients, spicing up a little... Then there is substitution--either of ingredients or of cooking methods. It's a bit tough if we grill it; let's try roasting more gently for longer. And eventually, there is invention based on deep understanding of how ingredients interact. We can all invent randomly (I remember a dish Pete Eggins and I cooked one evening in hall in 1965. It was based on a Katherine Whitehorn recipe, I think, for fish in a tomato sauce. It so happened that none of the ingredients matched the recipe precisely---wrong fish, wrong sauce, wrong method, but hey!...

It was revolting. Even as students we threw it away!

Knowing the underlying principle matters. Whether this guy's emphasis on ratios is the key, I doubt. But getting beyond the concrete is indeed what facilitates systematic progress.

06 June 2009

On referencing re-visited

This may be a little self-serving in the light of my post here, but the system really does need an overhaul.