week notes [290910]

consistently intermittent on these notes.

It has been the start of term so I’ve mainly been heads down in work. The start of term has gone well with a good group of students who really engaged well in a series of preparatory activities. On reflection, we tried to do too much and will be looking to condense the experience in the future.

Have also been able to take forward some of the more interesting research and development work. The most exciting bits cannot be mentioned here yet. But a small team of us are close to developing a clear framework for the strategic development of our subject area in the university combining mode 1 and mode 2 research, continuing professional development delivery and a postgraduate programme predicated on socio-material approaches to learning and knowledge. To operationalise this framework appears to be becoming the major focus of my work for the next five years or so.

My PhD research has been pulled back on track – i really needed some help on that as i went through a definite year one wobble! More on this to follow soon.

A frustration has been, for want of a better expression, the institutional drag on doing the work. In particular, the limited capacity to deliver a plethora of small to larger scale changes, along with internal political posturing has been a difficulty. Universities really are strange places, fearful of change but very sensitive to personal opportunities for advancement or threats to status. Very different from my previous experiences in other sectors and something I’m still struggling to work out how i can avoid the negative fall out from such a culture while driving forward on the type of work I see as valuable.

transforming education

An interesting post from Lars here on disruptive innovation of higher education. An interesting read and makes a strong case for the two year undergraduate degree. Especially as the traditional academic year structure is based on pre-industrial labour requirements (see Simon Jenkins in The Guardian), the argument for the two year degree appears stronger.
Structurally, higher education appears financially unsustainable and systematically inefficient. Highly paid academics develop the product as in course content, deliver the content and are responsible for a high proportion of administrative support for the course. At the same time, career development in many Universities is largely based on research activities and outputs. So a major barrier for implementing the two year degree would be academic staff as their careers are based on research, which requires time…. the long holidays have a purpose…
So there would appear to be two clear solutions. To change the link between research and career development, which is the case with many newer Universities – arguably they have a stronger record in teaching quality. Or employ a smaller number of well paid academics employed in research and course development and less well paid teaching staff responsible for delivery (as I understand it, the Open University is broadly based on this structure). Yet would this be acceptable for the average student with expectations of University involving being directly taught by the ‘famous’ professors and engaging in intellectual debate at the cutting edge (the fact that a degree is still engaging in the building blocks of knowledge far from the cutting edge doesn’t feature in this fiction)? So Universities are caught between efficiency/ effectiveness drivers versus meeting customer expectations …

[intermittent] week notes [28082010]

Its been a difficult few weeks of ball juggling. As part of getting my contract renewed I’ve taken on the role of Director of a postgraduate programme. This is alongside leading the revision of this programme for a new approval Board in early 2011, existing teaching commitments across two programmes, dissertation supervisions and my own PhD (progressing at a snails pace). While alot of the work is interesting, a fair amount is not very engaging to say the least. What I find amusing (not in a good way) is that I’m currently completing tasks that eight years ago when I earned almost half what i do now, my then line manager would have told me I was wasting my time and the company’s money (that was in a social enterprise, now I’m in higher education, no one seems too concerned about the waste!).
Having read this from Tony Hurst can only feel humbled, a bit lazy and realising there must be a trick to this academic life I’m really not yet getting.

On the meaning of a case study

I am currently trying to draft a research framework for my PhD and especially what might be the basic unit of analysis.

Ragin (2000) in discussing case orientated research (COR) raises the key question: a case of what is being researched? In turn, this problematises the notion of a population in COR. One approach may be for case populations can be defined by the research question which in turn highlights the interplay of population definition and causal validity. For example, using Orr’s (1996) analysis of work there may be two approaches to a COR ‘population’: (a) work as a series of employment relations and (b) work as day-to-day activities. My study is interested in work as (b) so not necessarily bounded by particular organisation specific employment relations

Howard (2002) discusses field settings as specific organisations or physical spaces but also as ‘nodal events’ that are socially significant to a community. His research focus was on a specific professional community. Maier & Thalman (2008) discuss the impacts of web 2.0 for knowledge workers in terms of deinstitutionalisation through, for example, individualisation and interaction. The implications of these arguments for case study research that focuses on informal learning practices in the workplace is that a significant proportion of such learning is supported by the individual’s own networks of contacts and trusted sources. Organisational boundaries are arguably less relevant, and access to data ‘held’ by the organisation may provide only a partial picture in the area of interest. Rather, informal learning may be better understood through a focus on ‘nodal events’ that can be seen as being interactions occurring within and between communities and/ or networks.

But this raises further issues of how to enter and/ or bound a network? What is or is not a network? Employing some aspects of Actor Network Theory, how tentative, dynamic and unstable can a series of connections be while still a network?

Howard, P.N. (2002) Network ethnography and the hypermedia organization: new media, new organizations, new methods. New Media and Society. 4 (4), 550 – 574
Maier, R. and Thalmann, S. (2008) Informal learner styles: Individuation, interaction, in-form-ation.
Orr, J.E. (1996) Talking About Machines: an ethnography of a modern job. New York: Cornell University Press
Ragin, C.C. (2000) Fuzzy-set social science. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

week notes [02082010]

Its been a difficult couple of weeks waiting to see if my contract would be extended while piling up a back log of tasks that all had future pay-offs. Not exactly motivating to get going on it must be said.

But now my contract has been renewed for a 12 month period. Relief as the jobs market remains pretty poor but some concerns as well (I’m sure a few years ago I’d have been more resilient than am now?): mainly I have to impress and make myself indispensable while growing the interesting aspects of the job and keeping an eye on other opportunities. In terms of the last point, I think I’ve neglected developing my own profile and will need to address this over the next six months or so.

So the next week is a combination of head down and catching up along with a hefty amount of planning the next 12 months so I have a few more opportunities than i feel like I do at the moment.

Agile learning

David Jennings has started various discussions on what he has termed “agile learning” – worth starting from here – which appears in part as technology enabled self-directed learning (or autodidacticism if you must) and framing learning in part perhaps as the assembling of various information resources. As David points out, this aligns to the work of others (Jay Cross, George Siemens’ Connectivism and Jane Harts promotion of social learning spring to mind) all pointing to networked learning environments as dynamic, interactional, personalised and loosely coupled assemblages of resources, objects and intermediaries using the internet as the learning platform.

From my perspective a key point of interest here concerns the integration of such an approach to the world of work where non-pedagogic tools used in non-pedagogic contexts (at least not intentionally pedagogic) generate learning outcomes. Are their limits to the sort of learning innovations that may emerge and if so, in what form do these constraints arise and how might they be overcome.

Also, how will the institutional dynamics play out. As has been pointed out, institutions have a tendency towards ‘bending’ the potential of innovations to the institutional agenda (see here – pdf paper) and the commercial potential for generating appropriate ‘products’ that are agile enough but also institutionally friendly is increasingly being recognised (see here on the VC investment in ConnectYard or this start-up based in Norway).

Back on blogging

Back from hols and conquered the email mountain (the biggest ever and I’ve no idea why!).

Read a perceptive post from Clive Shepherd here on blogging that suggests why blogs may whither and die (especially as the ‘presencing function has been taken over by other tools like Twitter) – writing a column is hard work:

Blogging is a specialist form of journalism, typically but not always aimed at a niche audience, and usually a voluntary, unpaid additon to the day job. A blog is essentially a regular column, with the added advantage that it can generate responses and a degree of dialogue. That may not be all that blogging thought it could become but it’s still a very valuable addition to our online existence.

But, a blog can also be more personal to the author than, say, a syndicated newspaper column that may be written for a very specific audience in mind. In a blog, you might well be writing just for yourself as a space of reflection – while also writing for a (possible) audience and the dialogue that Clive mentions. Its that tension between the internal (too personal for a public) or too external (impersonal) focus that I struggle with (should see my drafts folder for this …).