A literary aside

I was reading material about the role of certification played by higher education

Zombie literature?
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institutions.  It’s part of the background that I’m doing for a piece on badging for a local website with my colleague and linguist, aka word guru, Roly Sussex O.A.E.  But you know how these things happen.

A reference in the paper I was reading pointed to an article in Inside Higher Education. The link was about scholarly publication and the role of peer review, at least in part. Steve Kolowich, the author of the piece in IHE was describing some ideas of  Kathleen Fitzpatrick, director of scholarly communication at the Modern Language Association and a professor of media studies at Pomona College.  Her point was that the scholarly book is no longer the primary mode of communication in the digital age.  Yet it remains entrenched in the hallways of some disciplines as the only means by which one can jump through the tenure hoop.  She described the scholarly monograph not as dead, but as undead.

I realise I spend little time in the literary world. I don’t re-read Jane Austin or despite the recent anniversary I haven’t picked up The Pickwick Papers or A Tale of Two Cities (despite the New York Times poster that leveraged the opening lines to great effect many years ago – by the way, if anyone knows where one can get a reprint of that classic NYT advertising poster, let me know. I had one once and didn’t keep it. 😦  What got me intrigued was the reference to “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Classic Regency Romance – Now with Ultraviolent Zombie Mayhem!”.  Huh?

Seth Grahame-Smith wrote a novel re-imagining the classic Pride and Prejudice but with zombies!  From the Amazon book description:

 a mysterious plague has fallen upon the quiet English village of Meryton—and the dead are returning to life! Feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is determined to wipe out the zombie menace, but she’s soon distracted by the arrival of the haughty and arrogant Mr. Darcy. What ensues is a delightful comedy of manners with plenty of civilized sparring between the two young lovers—and even more violent sparring on the blood-soaked battlefield. Can Elizabeth vanquish the spawn of Satan? And overcome the social prejudices of the class-conscious landed gentry? (Amazon.com)

Ok. So much for the draft of our column.  Where’s my Kindle???

— pdl —

Read more: http://www.insidehighered.com/news/2011/09/30/planned_obsolescence_by_kathleen_fitzpatrick_proposes_alternatives_to_outmoded_academic_journals#ixzz1pLgAhMjA
Inside Higher Ed

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What is Scholarship?

What is scholarship? That question arose at a discussion on Transforming Education . A nice reference was offered that seems worth sharing . Robert diamond wrote the following description of scholarship. It’s short and sweet.

Recognizing Faculty Work, by Robert Diamond and Bronwyn Adam (1993), identifies six characteristics that typify scholarly work:

  • The activity requires a high level of discipline expertise.
    The activity breaks new ground or is innovative.
    The activity can be replicated and elaborated.
    The work and its results can be documented.
    The work and its results can be peer reviewed.
    The activity has significance or impact.
  • This was summarized by Diamond in the The National Academy for Academic Leadership.

    The activity or work requires a high level of discipline-related expertise.
    The activity or work is conducted in a scholarly manner with:
    · Clear goals
    · Adequate preparation
    · Appropriate methodology
    The activity or work and its results are appropriately documented and disseminated. This reporting should include a reflective component that addresses the significance of the work, the process that was followed, and the outcomes of the research, inquiry, or activity.
    The activity or work has significance beyond the individual context. It:
    · Breaks new ground
    · Can be replicated or elaborated.
    The activity or work, both process and product or results, is reviewed and judged to be meritorious and significant by a panel of the candidate’s peers.

    The interesting thing is that while their is general acknowledgement of this description as reasonable and thoughtful to characterize scholarship, the remarkable thing is our metrics and local incentives often fail to clearly reinforce it. This is particularly true when this applied to one of the most important roles of the university, learning.


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    LAM/T, Process/Repetoire Hierarchies and Sense to Express them As a Story

    Like Gardner, I find every time I read Augmenting the Human Intellect I find something new, something unexpected, that Engelbart draws out of me in reaction to the depth of  his thinking.  This time was no different.

    Resonating with me now is what I recognise as what we call today compound document authoring – but that’s a lousy description of it.  The essence of the idea is the ability to connect disparate thoughts (the combination of the repertoire hierarchy with associative links) and surface them for not only us to see in our own thinking (for metacognitive recognition) but for us to communicate to others.

    Engelbart took a key insight of V. Bush, the associative trails, and with benefit of 18 years of technology development and thinking, most critically with the recognition of the coming of graphical user interfaces, transformed these into the description that “Joe” gave us wherein ideas where connected graphically in fragments, or sentences or paragraphs. I don’t recall if he actually talked/wrote about naming the relationships themselves but today we would.

    This immediately conjured up the work going on in compound document authoring where ideas are drawn not just from oneself, but from disparate documents and connected with directed graphs, each association described in the metadata that identifies the meaning/intent of the relationship.  Interestingly Jane Hunter’s eResearch group has built these kinds of tools to remix or connect thoughts across parts of a document or across different documents.  The AusLit LORE tool is prime example of that.

    We’re planning collaborating with Jane Hunter and her eResearch Lab to develop this idea in the context of metacognitive portfolios.

    Thank you Doug. It’s always inspiring to read the depth of your thinking even 50 years from the writing of Augmenting the Intellect. If ever a man was ahead of his time….


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    Innovation – Don Quixote’s Army

    From several directions I’ve encountered a set of messages, converging from Twitter, email, and conversation all focused on some aspect of innovation. The general theme is “why it is so hard?”.   A succinct summary to that point was made recently by Terry Cutler:

    Innovation is  “a deliberate and thoughtful act of defiance against the status quo in order to make a difference.”

    This was complemented by a colleague writing in a discussion list about the ambivalence of educators to adopt technologies in their teaching.  He reminded us that Neal Postman had something to say of relevance here,

    Postman used to say that it’s the job of university professors to teach AGAINST THE CULTURE.  (Ed Lamoureux)

    Innovation pushes you outside your comfort zone. Those who are uneasy with ambiguity or uncertainty have particular trouble with this sensation. The problem is that creativity or at least the talk about it has become a positive cultural norm – that is, not the act itself but the rhetoric around it. We espouse the value of creativity, but it makes us uncomfortable so in the same breath that we advocate for it, when it is expressed in new ways to do something that touches us, we revert to caution and express concern for risks and the negative impacts that might be caused. Not that they will, or that  there really is danger or damage imminently on the horizon if the innovation is pursued, just that it might be horrible because there is a potential for things to go wrong, and that needs to responsibly be avoided.

    Jennifer Mueller, Shimul Melwan, and Jack A. Goncal, authors of the paper “The Bias Against Creativity: Why People Desire But Reject Creative Ideas” in DigitalCommons @ IRL, wrote

    …if people hold an implicit bias against creativity, then we cannot assume that organisations, institutions or even scientific endeavours will desire and recognise creative ideas even when they explicitly state they want them.

    All of this was summarised nicely in the blog by Stephen Machette, writing in of all places the blogs of the Australian newspaper (a publication I no longer read regularly because of its unrelenting bias against the reality of climate change and human contributions to it), entitled “No One Likes a Smart Innovator”.  The sad reality is that it is very true to the mark.

    In universities everywhere I suspect, but certainly where I have current first-hand knowledge, the reaction to a radical course redesign that is supported enthusiastically and fully by the faculty can run into deep opposition among senior university leadership. It is too much change, too fast, putting too many students at risk, or so the response is often articulated. Why, one might be asked, couldn’t you just do one or two tweaks to the course and teach everything else the same? But that’s the problem with change – you do it or you don’t. It’s hard to innovate half way.

    Yes there is risk. Yes it could fail to work out as intended. The risk is minimised because the faculty teaching and proposing innovations are committed and responsible. They will do their utmost to avoid diaster if they really believe that’s where they’re heading. But they’re equally passionate about the potential upside for the course redesign and it’s benefit to students. That in itself will mitigate even those changes that may when tried turn out to be less than we hope.

    I’m reminded of a wonderful saying attributed to “Doc” Edgerton, the father of high speed photography among other things.  He said

    That’s the nature of research–you don’t know what in hell you’re doing.

    That’s true though “Doc” was exaggerating to make his point. Good research is in fact based on deep inquiry that sits on a sound, but unfinished framework. The best research re-shapes the framework itself.  Recent findings from CERN have experimentally rejected much of  ‘string theory’,  with experimental physicists finally having an instrument to collect data that allows them to now tell their theoretical colleagues , think of something else because the predictions from string theory aren’t substantiated by experimental data.

    We face times that need innovation more than ever. We have to embrace the ‘mindfulness’ of openness, questioning what we ‘know’ and what authority says must be.  Without that we’re in for a long slow descent.

    — pdl–

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    Productive Failure

    Education today is tremendously risk averse. There’s a good reason for that. The institution of the school or tertiary education is trusted with providing education and training to its most precious commodity, the children of its community. The last thing one feels comfortable about is trying out something that, heaven forfend, might fail. We’d be abdicating our duty of care.  Or would we?

    One of the most common and salient characteristics of human endeavor is failure. It’s basic to our learning and intrinsic to our neurological development, our motor skills, and basic interactions with the world. Yet, in the spaces of formal education it has become more of a liability to avoid than a process to encourage.

    There are, of course, kinds and degrees of failure. No one is suggesting that we watch lovingly as our kids, fascinated by the flame on the stove top, reach out and burn their fingers to follow up and say, “Fire is hot Sally.  Try to avoid doing that in the future.” Whereas we can and do push them on their two-wheeler after a period of time on training wheels and run alongside, steadying where we can, but ultimately trusting them to get the hang of balancing themselves on two spinning gyroscopes, but expecting that at least in these early stages, there will be a crash or two and bandaids need to be at the ready.

    In education, failure is a part of trying. It happens even with the best of preparation when one is reaching beyond oneself. And it’s good. Whether in the sciences, humanities or the arts it is key to learning. We strive there for what Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts (US) calls “productive failure”.  He spoke recently at a public high school graduation ceremony in the US to the assembled eager graduates on this topic.

    Where arts education has been nurtured….however, innovation born of struggle results..

    “Productive failure” — something the arts are particularly suited to teach, he said — is useful in all parts of life, from medical research to the business world. If people are doing something they enjoy, he said, failing can inspire them to try harder and produce creative alternatives.

    He told the graduates to think about the times they couldn’t make a scene work, or couldn’t complete a dance combination, or couldn’t get the light right for a painting. As artists, he said, they understood the role of luck and of perseverance through failure better than almost anyone.

    “You didn’t quit, you tried again, you tried harder, and you tried something new — it was productive failure,” Mr. Landesman said. “Those of you who failed often, succeeded sooner.”

    @GardnerCampbell brought this article to my attention in a Tweet (thanks Prof. C) and it reminded me of how much we’ve tried to engineer learning situations to avoid failure. An early conversation with colleagues who specialise in academic staff support (aka faculty support) in Australia introduced me to how profound cultural differences can be in seemingly similar environments. Here, I was told, failure is not to be talked about in that language. It damages the persons sense of self-worth. We need to protect students from the long-lasting negative effects such language has on their developing personalities.  I was a relatively recent arrival but I was nevertheless gobsmacked.  Failure, I said, happens to all of us.  In my world the goal is to fail early and often as that’s the only way I really learn.

    I’m reminded of sports analogies. There is a coach’s common encouragement to tell their athletes, if you aren’t failing you aren’t trying hard enough. Failure conditions to be avoided are those that are life-threatening.  Those that are ego-bruising are worth striving for.  What better place for learners to try and fail but in the relatively ‘safe’ environments of schools, where there is understanding, support, encouragement, and shared experience?

    — pdl–

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    What makes for success & fosters innovation?

    The joy of exploring – what work should be.

    With the announcement of Steve Jobs stepping down from the role of Apple’s CEO there have been a flood of responses from various communities like the media, business pundits, and the general public. The majority have recognized that whatever you might think about particular aspects of his approach to leading Apple & Pixar, there is general consensus that he possesses a combination of leadership & vision that are rare in any era. For example, I don’t much like the closed nature of the Apple universe, but appreciate why he took that path. But among all the posts, thoughtful, blathering, critical, or laudatory, the short piece by Carmine Gallo in Forbes was among the most succinct.

    Gallo titles the post “What makes Steve “Steve”?”  Gallo is no stranger to the topic of Steve Jobs, having written two books about him in the recent past. However, in this post from Forbes he zeros in on the seven things that distinguish creative innovations leading to success, an which typify what makes Steve “Steve”.  Gallo’s post is worth reading for the elaboration on each point but I’ll provide the short list below:

    1. Do what you love
    2. Put a dent in the universe
    3. Connect things to spark your creativity
    4. Say no to 1,000 things
    5. Create insanely different experiences
    6. Master the message
    7. Sell dreams, not products

    Do what you love – The first is not just arbitrary in order of priority,  it is the priority.  Just a few days ago in Lifehacker  David Fuhriman wrote a  post entitled “If You Wouldn’t Do Your Job For Free, Then Quit“.  His brother had graduated from Yale in 2009 and during the graduation proceedings a list of  ‘advice’, you know, the platitudes that seem to always accompany graduation ceremonies everywhere, were given to the soon to become lawyers, writers, and the highly educated unemployed.

    • An hour of sleep before midnight is worth two, and an hour of work before noon is worth two.
    • Always pick your kids up from school. That’s when they want to talk.
    • Never let your skill exceed your virtue.
    • Never take less than two weeks off when you have a child or for your honeymoon. Don’t let them talk you down.
    • When you mess up, admit it frankly and quickly, and move on.
    • Always do your very best in your job, but if you don’t like what you’re doing enough that you would do it for free, quit.

    It was the last of these that Fuhriman reacted to most, and led him on a quest to change jobs (he was doing accounting) through several intermediate “test” careers to his current career (small business consulting), where he seems to have found himself and his niche.  This last piece of advice,  do what you’d do whether paid or not, is all about finding your passion because there in lies the intrinsic motivation that you need to put in the ‘10,000 hours‘ it takes to have the potential to achieve great things.

    Put a dent in the universe  – This is pretty obvious. Do what matters.  If what you’re doing doesn’t mean a hill of beans in this world why in would you waste the precious time you have doing it? What matters doesn’t mean solving world peace or creating the successor to the iPod. Being there for your kids, or making a difference in the lives of those around you in some small way each day are things that matter, too. The point is changing the world is good – it’s just that the world is a complex system made up on things big and small.  The scale part isn’t the thing, the ‘mattering’ part is.

    Connect things to spark your creativity – This is one of the areas that makes higher education so powerful, and simultaneously one of the attributes about it most in jeopardy. The horizontal thinking that comes from intellectual exploration is often among the first things sacrificed in the pursuit of learning outcomes. We often don’t know or can’t tell in advance what it is that will make the difference in understanding a subject, or how a set of subjects will bring understanding to us.  Yet it’s precisely these lateral elements that come under the microscope when asked to demonstrate their return on investment. It’s the ‘liberal’ in a liberal arts education. Given the political polarisation today perhaps this should be rebadged “lateral arts” education.  It is what Gallo points out Jobs was masterful at, creating things by joining the dots between ideas in different fields.  It’s the truth behind the aphorism research is most productive at the intersection of disciplines.

    Say no to 1,000 things – This one is where I typically fail miserably. Yet I’ve heard it in so many contexts that there is no doubt in my mind that it’s true. Focus, focus, focus. To do that means saying “no”.  A colleague of mine at the Sloan School at MIT told me about the lessons he learned in the first few years of being a faculty member there. When asked what was different about his new position at Sloan, he thought a moment and said, ” Each week someone will pop their head in my office, describe an insanely interesting research project, and ask if I’d like to participate in it.  Week in and week out a face will appear and point out a line of research or a grant opportunity that sounds like it’s just impossible to pass up. It was really hard at first because I never had experiences like this before. But here it’s different. Here the secret is saying ‘no’ not saying ‘yes’.  The good news, ” he concluded “is that the really terrific thing that you passed up two months ago and turned out to be spectacularly successful, doesn’t really make you feel as bad because you know something’s going to come along as good or better in the weeks and months ahead.” It’s all about saying ‘no’ to most things so that the things you say ‘yes’ to you can put your whole being into.

    You can read the rest about what makes Steve “Steve” in Gallo’s post.  It was the first set that really rang true for me and I think resonate across discipline are professional boundaries. But it’s the first that matters most. Being able to get up each and every day and eagerly approach ‘work’ with anticipation and gratitude, that’s priceless.

    — pdl —

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    Visualising student interactions

    How do students spend there day? It’s a good question and there are lots of suppositions and some data that describe it but a recent study by researchers in Lyon, France, makes these interactions tangible. By putting RFID tags on students in elementary school, across 1st through 5th grades, how students physically interact becomes trackable. It makes movement visible. Their video about this is informative, generating a newer, clearer understanding of social interactions across grades in a single school day.

    It’s clear from the data that 5th graders are ‘special’. In this school I believe 5th graders are the highest grade, with students moving on from their to 6th grade at another school. The interaction patterns suggest they are rather isolated from the 1st through 4th grade students, or as the article notes, too cool for the rest.

    This comes from research published in PLoS,by a string of scientists: Juliette Stehlé, Nicolas Voirin, Alain Barrat1, Ciro Cattuto, Lorenzo Isella, Jean-François Pinton, Marco Quaggiotto, Wouter Van den Broeck, Corinne Régis, Bruno Lina6, and Philippe Vanhems, in an article entitled, “High-Resolution Measurements of Face-to-Face Contact Patterns in a Primary School.” This work was done to look at the interaction patterns from the perspective of potential infectious disease transmission – the interactions representing potential opportunities for disease transmission for the purposes of modelling epidemiological control strategies.  Yet you can imagine a wide range of potential research topics with such detailed knowledge of interaction patterns of groups over time.

    This work is from a research collaborative called SocioPatterns, a group formed among researchers at

    The collection of research groups and people involved in the SocioPatterns Collaborative.

    This research platform opens new vistas for looking not only at epidemiological data for epidemics and pandemics, but also utilisation of space in offices, classrooms and laboratories.

    Thanks to @aneesha for bringing this to my attention.

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