DMU Research Seminar: Immanence in learning

You are warmly invited to the next DMU IEF (Institute for Education Futures) Research Seminar

Title: Immanence in learning

Researcher: Jason Eyre

Date: 18th January 2017, 4.00 – 5.00pm

Location: Hawthorn Building, Room 0.07

Immanence in learning

This paper represents a work in progress. It seeks to present an account of learning which places the emphasis not on the content of what is learned, but rather on the context in which that learning takes place – the when, where and who. Taking a philosophical approach, the paper will argue that the goal of a marketised higher education sector has largely been achieved. However, conceptualising higher education as a commodity requires a stable and predictable ‘product’ that can be standardised and measured to enable its marketing, sale and consumption. Higher learning, by contrast, is highly contested with the various actors (institutions, disciplines, learners) all approaching the learning process with their own motivations and values.

What emerges is an educational milieu characterised by the interplay of forces (Nietzsche), each of which enters into relation with the others based on its own genealogical context (its past), and with an anticipation of its own telos (its future). The domain in which these forces come into relation with one another is the here and now, a spatio-temporal present that constitutes an ever-emerging plane of immanence (Deleuze). We can thereby begin to understand learning in higher education not as the simple transfer and accumulation of knowledge or know-how, but rather as a perpetual negotiation of what emerges as the present. This conceptual shift in turn may permit new and potentially fruitful ways of engaging with the idea of learning in the contemporary university.


notes on social media for researchers

With Julia Reeve, I have just returned from leading session for 10 PGR students from across all four of DMU’s faculties on social media for researchers. Our notes are given below. Here are the slides.


The session focused on linking our individual uses of social media to researcher development, through the Vitae RDF, and especially in terms of developing the following capabilities:

A1: Knowledge Base

B3: Professional and career development

C1: Professional conduct

D2: Communication and dissemination

The session also demonstrated the potential of social media for academic practice/scholarship in public, and for co-operative, scholarly work. It closed with some considerations for future practice for PGR students.


The connections between the Vitae Researcher Development Framework and specific technologies are important.

For Knowledge Base (A1), which focuses on subject knowledge, research methods, academic literacy and so on, we focused on the following.

For Professional and Career Development (B3), which focuses on career management, CPD, responsiveness, reputation and networking, we focused on the following.

For Professional Conduct (C1), which focuses on Ethics, legal requirements, IPR and copyright, co-authorship, we focused on the following.

For Communication and Dissemination (D2), we focused on the following.


We also looked at some specific cases of how researchers have used social media and our interpretation of that use (or what we think is interesting/possible). These include the following

  1. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s site that acts as a pivot for other engagements. The structure of the site enables ready access to a wealth of public scholarship, with pointes to “most read” work. There are also links to speaking/engagement events, as well as external content/multimedia. The site enables an understanding of the relationship between the public, social media and personal academic formation.
  2. Lucy Atkins adventures in EdTech, is a representation of a journey through a PhD. Lucy uses PhD notes grounded in verbs to articulate the process of the PhD, using a standard open technology. It then links to her Twitter feed to enable a public face at low cost.
  3. The transition through a PhD can be analysed through on-line engagements like #phdchat, and also the updates to networks like the Guardian HE Network. However there are also therapeutic networks for PGR students, and other support networks that relate not just to PhD study, but also to the precarious nature of labour in academia.
  4. There is a wealth of useful material on academic writing using social media, including seven reasons why academic blogging is valuable. The DMU Commons is a space for open writing at DMU.
  5. Social media can be used effectively for collective work/co-operation. Joss Winn’s site acts as a blog and a site for notes, as well as pointing to his academic writing, and presentations, but it also highlights the scholars that he follows, and his networks. This has reputational consequences.
  6. The use of social media enables alignment with research nodes/centres/projects, as witnessed by the DMU Centre for Pedagogic Research and the Digital Building Heritage project, both on the DMU Commons.
  7. The use of social media enables participation with user communities, for instance: the DMU Square Mile project on the Academic Commons; the Galaxy Zoo; and the RunCoCo project.
  8. These tools enable public Scholarship. See, for example: Melonie A. Fullick interviews Raul Pacheco-Vega; Doug Belshaw’s Never Ending Thesis; and The Social Science Centre.

There are some follow-on resources for attendees about work at DMU.

DMU Commons: http://our.dmu.ac.uk/

DMU/CELT Guidelines when using Social Media Technologies for Teaching http://bit.ly/1iDiIc2

See also DMU Email, Internet and Social Media Policy: briefing; policy

DMU Library Copyright pages: http://library.dmu.ac.uk/Support/Copyright/


There are also some matters arising for PGR students to consider.

  • What is the balance between the intensity of reading/research needed for a PhD, versus the intensity of networking that you are willing to commit?
  • How risk averse do you *need* to be when working with social media?
  • How open do you *need* to be when working with social media, and with other researchers, students, research stakeholders, participants, supervisors and so on?
  • What is the balance between soft and hard publishing?
  • How do you use your networks to challenge your own orthodoxy/previously held views and conceptions?
  • What permissions do you need to use public or published stuff?
  • What permissions do you want to give your public or published stuff?
  • Think about your identity across disparate platforms. How coherent do you need it to be?
  • Think about being true, necessary and kind on-line.
  • Think about your e-safety, especially in terms of your personal relationships with those you know or don’t know, the institution/your funder, the State.

Slides 8-12 in the presentation are amended from “Social Media for Researchers” by Tanya Williamson and Louise Tripp at Lancaster University Library.

The presentation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


Notes on Social Media for Researchers

The slides to accompany this presentation to DMU PGR students can be found here.

The session will focus on linking our individual use of social media to researcher development, through the Vitae RDF, and especially in terms of developing the following capabilities:

A1: Knowledge Base

B3: Professional and career development

C1: Professional conduct

D2: Communication and dissemination

The session will also demonstrate the potential of social media for academic practice/scholarship in public, and for co-operative, scholarly work. It will close with some considerations for future practice for PGR students.


Last week I emailed the 22 signed-up attendees with three questions. What follows are the responses from five DMU PGR students.

  • Which social media tools do you use?

RESPONSE: I currently use Facebook on a personal basis and LinkedIn on a professional basis.

RESPONSE: I don’t really use social media (except occasional work on Facebook and networking on LinkedIn).

RESPONSE: Mainly, I use social media (Facebook & Tumblr), but not for academic purposes.

RESPONSE: I use social media for personal use but intend to use Twitter mainly for my research to keep up to date with what other people in my field are doing and to promote my research.

NOTE: These responses made me consider issues of academic identity formation and boundaries between academic/professional practice and the Self/personal identity.

  • What do you use them to achieve in your academic work?

RESPONSE: I have been hearing about how I should be using twitter from a research/professional basis so am trying to increase my use of twitter now.

RESPONSE: I am connecting with other researchers, keeping an eye on hashtags such as #phdchat for useful information and contact with fellow phd students.

RESPONSE: I would really like to learn what platforms I should be using and how to use them best to engage for success in my phd. Am I doing the right things?

NOTE: These responses made me consider whether there are ever “right things” in research or in the use of specific tools for research? What are good enough approaches? They also made me consider the balance of time/investment and the development of social or cultural “capital” and what this means for practice.

  • What would you like to cover in the session or in a follow-up discussion?

RESPONSE: I’m very interested in how social media can contribute to participatory action research with young people and how it can be used to effectively disseminate research findings & recommendations in ways that can have an impact.

RESPONSE: Probably achieve some marketing of work/ideas and networking.

RESPONSE: I would be interested to understand how others successfully use social media for academic purposes. By successful, I mean more than just adding people into friends lists – for example: did they obtain research projects? did they enter networks that otherwise could not have taken part?

NOTE: These responses made me consider the relationships between social media and collective work across networks and research groups.

NOTE: In the session I will also ask participants to consider the following question.

  • What are the ramifications of your work being social?

The connections between the Vitae Researcher Development Framework and specific technologies are important.

For Knowledge Base (A1), which focuses on subject knowledge, research methods, academic literacy and so on, I will focus on the following.

For Professional and Career Development (B3), which focuses on career management, CPD, responsiveness, reputation and networking, I will focus on the following.

For Professional Conduct (C1), which focuses on Ethics, legal requirements, IPR and copyright, co-authorship, I will focus on the following.

For Communication and Dissemination (D2) I will focus on the following.


I will then look at some specific cases of how researchers have used social media and my interpretation of that use (or what I think is interesting/possible). These cses will include the following

  1. Tressie McMillan Cottom’s site that acts as a pivot for other engagements. The structure of the site enables ready access to a wealth of public scholarship, with pointes to “most read” work. There are also links to speaking/engagement events, as well as external content/multimedia. The site enables an understanding of the relationship between the public, social media and personal academic formation.
  2. Lucy Atkins adventures in EdTech, is a representation of a journey through a PhD. Lucy uses PhD notes grounded in verbs to articulate the process of the PhD, using a standard open technology. It then links to her Twitter feed to enable a public face at low cost.
  3. The transition through a PhD can be analysed through on-line engagements like #phdchat, and also the updates to networks like the Guardian HE Network. However there are also therapeutic networks for PGR students, and other support networks that relate not just to PhD study, but also to the precarious nature of labour in academia.
  4. There is a wealth of useful material on academic writing using social media, including seven reasons why academic blogging is valuable. The DMU Commons is a space for open writing at DMU.
  5. Social media can be used effectively for collective work/co-operation. Joss Winn’s site acts as a blog and a site for notes, as well as pointing to his academic writing, and presentations, but it also highlights the scholars that he follows, and his networks. This has reputational consequences.
  6. The use of social media enables alignment with research nodes/centres/projects, as witnessed by the DMU Centre for Pedagogic Research and the Digital Building Heritage project, both on the DMU Commons.
  7. The use of social media enables participation with user communities, for instance: the DMU Square Mile project on the Academic Commons; the Galaxy Zoo; and the RunCoCo project.
  8. These tools enable public Scholarship. See, for example: Melonie A. Fullick interviews Raul Pacheco-Vega; Doug Belshaw’s Never Ending Thesis; and The Social Science Centre.

There are some follow-on resources for attendees about work at DMU.

DMU Commons: http://our.dmu.ac.uk/

DMU/CELT Guidelines when using Social Media Technologies for Teaching http://bit.ly/1iDiIc2

See also DMU Email, Internet and Social Media Policy: briefing; policy

DMU Library Copyright pages: http://library.dmu.ac.uk/Support/Copyright/


There are also some matters arising for PGR students to consider.

  • What is the balance between the intensity of reading/research needed for a PhD, versus the intensity of networking that you are willing to commit?
  • How risk averse do you *need* to be when working with social media?
  • How open do you *need* to be when working with social media, and with other researchers, students, research stakeholders, participants, supervisors and so on?
  • What is the balance between soft and hard publishing?
  • How do you use your networks to challenge your own orthodoxy/previously held views and conceptions?
  • What permissions do you need to use public or published stuff?
  • What permissions do you want to give your public or published stuff?
  • Think about your identity across disparate platforms. How coherent do you need it to be?
  • Think about being true, necessary and kind on-line.
  • Think about your e-safety, especially in terms of your personal relationships with those you know or don’t know, the institution/your funder, the State.

Slides 8-12 in the presentation are amended from “Social Media for Researchers” by Tanya Williamson and Louise Tripp at Lancaster University Library.

The presentation is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.


DMU Policy Commission: Young people and employment

With Jonathan Payne at DMU I’m leading a strand of DMU’s 2015 Policy Commission on young people and employment. We met for the first time today to outline the work that we might do together with eight undergraduate and postgraduate students. The students focused on the following.

  • What could be done with schools and in schools around the experience of young people and the labour market?
  • What needs to be done about precarity and zero-hour contracts?
  • How might learning and training be made hands-on or experiential?
  • How might funding be found for study and training?
  • What is the role of businesses?
  • What is the role of apprenticeships?
  • Why is there no Minister of State for Young People?
  • How do we analyse the value of work and worthless work?
  • What is the role of regulation?
  • Can we map out stakeholder responsibilities related to young people and work or employment?

In terms of organising the strand there are two events coming-up: a big brunch on 12 February at noon-2pm; and an event in the DMU Festival of Ideas in w/c 17 March. Attendees should contact the DMU Events Office. Questions relating to this strand should be emailed to the Policy Commission.

However, we will meet to discuss Young People and Employment from 10-11am each Tuesday for the next six weeks in Hugh Aston 2.38. All DMU students are welcome.

The twitter hash tag is for the DMU 2015 Policy Commission is #dmu100

References

Jonathan and I have pulled together some references.

Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. (2012). Engaging Employers in Tackling Youth Unemployment, London: CIPD.

Gutman, L. M., and Akerman, R. (2008). ‘Determinants of aspirations’, Centre for the Research on the Wider Benefits of Learning Research Report No. 27, London: Institute of Education, CRWBL.

Hamilton, V. 2012. ‘Career Pathways and Cluster Skills Development: Promising Models from the US’, OECD LEED Working Papers, 2012/14, Paris: OECD. Available [online] at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/5k94g1s6f7td-en

Institute for Fiscal Studies (on work, employment and pay).

The Intergenerational Foundation (established to research fairness between the generations. IF believes that, whilst increasing longevity is welcome, government policy must be fair to all generations – whether old, young or those to come).

Keep, E. (2012). ‘Education and Industry:  taking two steps back and reflecting’,  Journal of Education and Work, Vol. 24, No. 4, 357-379.

Michael Roberts’ blog, The Next Recession, for an alternative view on employment, wages and work.

New Economics Foundation (2010). 21 hours.

Novara FM podcasts on 21st Century work, precarious employment, real wages and economic growth in a service economy.

Social enterprise at the University of Northampton.

UK Commission for Employment and Skills.

Van Parijs, P (2005). Basic Income: A simple and powerful idea for the twenty-first century.

Weeks, K. (2011). The Problem with Work: Feminism, Marxism, Antiwork Politics, and Postwork Imaginaries.

Wolf, A. (2011). Review of Vocational Education – The Wolf Report, London: Department for Education. Available [online] at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/review-of-vocational-education-the-wolf-report

Work Foundation website on youth and employment.

Zerohedge on the student debt bubble.

The 3Cosas Campaign for equality of terms and conditions between the University of London’s direct employees, and its outsourced workers.


2+2=5: The University and the Secular Crisis

At some point this coming academic year I have to give my inaugural Professsorial. I’m wondering whether Blue Monday (21 January 2013) would be the most apposite day.

Anyway, it has the working title of “2+2=5: The University and the Secular Crisis”. I thought that we needed a double feature, with a short film that precedes the low-budget second feature (a B-movie lol-fest). The latter will follow, but the short has been uploaded on my slideshare —> here.

NOTE ONE: this short needs to be consumed with Radiohead’s 2+2=5. You might be able to source that here, or here.

NOTE TWO: this short needs a digestif. Try this.

NOTE THREE: a playlist will follow.

In solidarity.


Making the Cloud work for you: institutional risk and governance

On Thursday I am presenting at BETT13 on “Making the Cloud work for you”, with a subtitle of “institutional risk and governance”.

My presentation is here: http://slidesha.re/11OHwoK

These are my notes for those slides, which are a mix of a case study of learning and teaching a De Montfort University and an approach to personal/institutional risk.

SLIDE 3: thinking about the pedagogic development of cloud-based technologies has amplified issues around the following [risks].

  1. How does the use of cloud-based technologies affect how an institution maintains a level of curriculum control or control of curriculum change-management processes? Control might be required for quality assurance, curriculum transparency or accountability. Where academic autonomy and the use of technologies in the curriculum is devolved, how do cloud-based technologies affect ad hoc curriculum design/delivery, as opposed to strategic control. How do staff digital/technical literacies affect this approach? What are the implications where staff are operating beyond a hosted/in-house LMS?
  2. How do institutions support/nurture in-house skills development? Do they focus on what is of quality or is distinctive or is interesting, and then outsource or migrate that which is deemed boring (depending on risks to data etc.)?
  3. How do institutions analyse and prepare for elasticity of demand and new service-provision, where technologies or techniques are in the cloud? How d they focus on developing technologies that will enable emerging and future web applications?

SLIDE 4: this is DMU’s Core/Arranged/Recommended/Recognised technology model. This is defined as follows:

Core: integrated corporate systems, including the Blackboard VLE, the staff/student portal, library management systems, MS Lync, streaming media (the DMU video server), dropbox facilities like Zend, and the DMU Commons (our.dmu), are available to students/staff to use with the devices and services of their choosing, and extended through tools that the institution arranges, recommends or recognises.

Arranged: accounts are created on key plug-ins or extensions beyond the core, like plagiarism detection tools (Turnitin), external blogs and wikis, like Campus Pack, and synchronous classrooms (WizIQ, WebEx).

Recommended: recommendations are made with supporting training materials, for connecting key, web-based tools into the core/arranged mix. This might include using RSS to bring in content from Twitter, SlideShare, iTunes or YouTube, or supporting SKYPE.

Recognised: the institution is aware that students and staff are experimenting with other technologies and maintains a horizon-scanning brief, until and unless a critical mass of users require the recommendation of specific tools.

SLIDES 6-11: whether or not one buys into the critiques of how neoliberal policy is opening-up higher education, it is clear that HE is seen as a marketised space into which services can be sold. Lipman defined this as a $2.5 trillion market in education that is restructuring the reality of education and training. This has ramifications for those who work in institutions that are, at least in-part, publically/charitably-funded, governed and regulated. How value is defined in that restructured space, beyond the rule of money, needs to be assessed, including which services will be outsourced to the cloud and why. This is more important because, as Macquarie Capital Equities Research House argues, the market for cloud-based solutions is growing and becoming more aggressively competitive. Witness Google’s Knowledge Graph and the application of big data/semantic web to web-based service development. The rate of profit is critical here in how it affects the restructuring of businesses that operate “the cloud” and which will be looking for new markets, and for those universities which are being recalibrated through HE policy as businesses and which need to extract value from their operations. UK Government policy, the pronouncements of UK Vice-Chancellors like Malcolm Gilles, and reports from think-tanks like Educause create a cultural space inside civic society that helps to reframe educational policy around deterministic uses of technology.

SLIDE 12: Stakeholders inside universities might reflect on how technology is deployed inside hegemonic, fiscal “realities”. These include the following.

  • The drive for public-private partnerships, or private finance initiatives that drive efficiencies, value-for-money etc.. This underpins ideas of service re-engineering, outsourcing of services to lower-wage/cost spaces, and consultancy for new services. This is about disciplining labour and extracting surplus value from outsourced services.
  • The generation of discourses of efficiency/productivity that are rooted though analytics, big data, the reduced circulation time of information-based commodities, changes in production through outsourcing, and workload/workforce monitoring.
  • The legitimation of further innovation and R&D, through discourses of value-for-money, commercial efficiency, business process re-engineering (c.f. European Vision 2020; HEFCE 2012).
  • The need to maintain technological innovation, in order to stay one step ahead of competitors. This connects to Marx’s idea of the moral depreciation of technologies/machines, and the need for constant innovation/value-creation.

Each of these pressures act on universities, and catalyse the need to consider cloud-based migration.

SLIDES 14-17: the second big risk is to users and institutions of placing data in the Cloud, especially where that data is stored on services hosted by a corporation based in the USA, or where hardware is physically located in the USA. The Electronic Frontier Foundation and the Center for Democracy and Technology have both raised concerns over the Justice Department’s use of courts in the USA to subpoena access to data that has left a user’s device and is stored in “the cloud”.

SLIDE 18: universities might wish to consider the following cases, which affect the storage of corporate assets (research data, personal information, communications, assessments and evaluations etc.) in the cloud.

  • Twitter: the EFF/American Civil Liberties Union reported on the U.S. Department of Justice’s subpoena to Twitter for Icelandic MP Birgitta Jonsdottir’s tweets regarding Wikileaks. The Salon reported:

The information demanded by the DOJ is sweeping in scope. It includes all mailing addresses and billing information known for the user, all connection records and session times, all IP addresses used to access Twitter, all known email accounts, as well as the “means and source of payment,” including banking records and credit cards. It seeks all of that information for the period beginning November 1, 2009, through the present.

  • LinkedIn: opens-up attempts to crack a service, and to enable hackers to aggregate data for future cracking of other services, for instance by confirming guesses about passwords. This enables the comparison of hacked data against pre-computed versions and broadens “guessable” data. How does this affect the recommended technologies that staff/students use? In June 2012, ComputerWorld noted:

More than 60% of the unique hashed passwords that were accessed by hackers from a LinkedIn password database and posted online this week have already been cracked, according to security firm Sophos.

  • Facebook, Google and Twitter: there is now an obligation to identify “trolls”, and internet companies will have to surrender the details of those posting libellous messages. How does this affect staff and student professional development/identities?
  • Leveson: Jeremy Hunt’s private Gmail account, which was used to conduct official business was subject to Freedom of Information, according to the Information Commissioner.

This raises issues of: cloud-based service availability and resilience; confidentiality/privacy and personal/institutional data; copyright/copyleft/content distribution; data security/back-ups control/deletion.

SLIDES 19 and 20 demonstrate how important it is to protect critical assets or data from providers and to think about service resilience, even when dealing with a behemoth like Amazon Web Services which has suffered outages.

SLIDE 21: demonstrates just how ubiquitous cloud services are, and how deeply interconnected they are to broader geographies of transnational finance capital and corporate governance. Thinking through what transnational corporate governance means for your institutional data/services/technologies is critical.

SLIDES 22-23: some final governance issues for institutions and their staff.

  • Risk-management operates at a range of scales: does it matter if someone accesses your stuff? [c.f. Dropbox; subject to FoI] If so, canyou build Chinese walls or local alternatives?
  • What about corporate governance, including access to services that are marketised? [e.g. the recent Google-Verizon issue, which flagged the possibility of a two-speed internet, especially for multimedia distribution/consumption. See also the potential costs of accessing data in a marketised HE space.]
  • Does it matter if the academic who is responsible for the curriculum/assessment that is managed in the Cloud, in non-institutional services gets hit by a bus? [What should be managed in-house or hosted via a contract?]
  • Do we understand that data is being transferred into a service and that we have responsibilities? [T&Cs; Intellectual Property; protected characteristics; indemnities for libel].
  • How do we work-up the digital literacies of our staff/students in these spaces?

On the structural adjustment of higher education

I

I’ve been trying to develop an argument that the development of innovations like MOOCs, learning analytics, personal learning networks etc. are a form of structural adjustment of higher education. In previous posts I have argued that MOOCs and other specific technologically-driven innovations need to be critiqued in terms of their impact on the historic forms of the University and the idea of academic labour. Thus:

The political economic background against which the University’s mission and role is played out is one of indenture, collapsing real wages, unemployment and depression. It is against this background that the political economics of MOOCs might be addressed, as one form of the negation of the historic role of the University, and as a mechanism through which capital can extract rents (through access rights or accreditation) or release (social or human capital as) surplus value for the market. One important strand that emerges from any such analysis surrounds the meaning of academic labour and the role of academics as organic intellectuals.

Beyond their capitalisation by transnational networks to attempt either the restructuring of the University or the release of the surplus intellectual value contained inside it for entrepreneurialism, technological innovations are also aimed at maintaining an increase in the rate of profit. Hence the role of transnational educational corporations like Pearson, or of transantional finance capital, like Goldman Sachs, in the privatisation of higher education, with technology as a crack in that idea that the University might be publically-financed, governed and regulated.

Structural adjustment across the globe has taken very specific forms, promoted by transnational organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. There has been some pushing back against the imposition of structural adjustment, for example in Malawi where subsidies for grain fertilizers were re-introduced in 2005 to alleviate famine in the face of global pressures.

The important lesson for policy-makers in other African countries, which continue to battle with chronic hunger and food insecurity, from the Malawi turnaround, is the fact that it has been triggered solely by a government policy intervention- a reintroduction of deep fertilizer subsidies as part of the 2005 Fertilizer Subsidy Policy. This policy was implemented at the cost of inviting the wrath of the donor community, particularly the IMF, World Bank and the USAID.

However, the story of structural adjustments ties into Naomi Klein’s precepts that underpin the shock doctrine and the impact of austerity politics.

  • The relentless law of competition and coercion [the rush to internationalise].
  • The impact of crisis to justify a tightening and a quickening of the dominant ideology [student-as-consumer; HE-as-commodity].
  • The transfer of state/public assets to the private sector under the belief that it will produce a more efficient [smaller, less regulatory] government and improve economic outputs [outsourcing; service-driven innovation].
  • Lock-down of state subsidies for “inefficient” work [Arts and Humanities subjects].
  • The privatisation of state enterprises in the name of consumer choice, economic efficiency or sustainability [creating a political and socio-cultural space that encourages the privatisation of HE].
  • A refusal to run deficits [pejorative cuts to state services].
  • Extending the financialisation of capital and the growth of consumer debt [increased fees; the use of bonds].
  • Controlled, economically-driven, anti-humanist ideology.

This focus on structural adjustment and shock is important in the unfolding crisis of higher education, and it relates directly to MOOCs/technological innovation and change, precisely because we are witnessing the policy space being recalibrated to marginalise the idea of the University as a public good. Within UK HE, the move by the last Labour administration to place higher education within the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and their introduction of a fee regime, the Browne Report and the Coalition Government’s subsequent response to it, have turned the global economic crisis into a means to quicken the privatisation of the state, and to attempt the strangulation of possibilities to energise transformative, co-operative relations. This places previously socialised goods like healthcare and higher education in the vanguard of austerity-driven shock, which designs “to achieve control by imposing economic shock therapy”. The extraction of value, or the state-subsidized privatisation of higher education (in Christopher Newfield’s terms) is what follows.

II

This line of thinking is important because of two recent statements that further shape the policy/practice space of higher education. The first is the latest statement released by Moody’s, the credit rating agency, about higher education, and the second is the funding letter from DBIS to the Higher Education Funding Council for England. Each of these documents is critical in recalibrating the ways in which we are allowed to think about higher education and what higher education is for.

Inside Higher Education reports that:

Moody’s analysts caution that revenue streams will never flow as robustly as they did before 2008. The change will require a fundamental shift in how colleges and universities operate, they say, one that will require more strategic thinking. “The U.S. higher education sector had hit a critical juncture in the evolution of its business model,” wrote Eva Bogarty, the report’s author. “Most universities will have to lower their cost structures to achieve long-term financial sustainability and to fund future initiatives.”

Moreover:

The report notes that colleges will have to rely on more strategic leaders who address these challenges through better use of technology to cut costs, create efficiency in their operations, demonstrate value, reach new markets, and prioritize programs. Many of those efforts could be grounds for disputes with faculty members or other institutional constituents unless leaders can get the collective buy-in that has long been the staple of higher education governance.

Thus, in terms of the mechanisms through which profit might be generated, in particular given the attrition on enrolment being reported in global North due to rising costs (see this report on families being priced out in the USA and hand-wringing over falling admissions in particular in the Russell Group universities in the UK):

The ratings agency argues that they are an opportunity for market leaders — those institutions that already have diverse revenue streams and brand recognition — to further improve their position. Such institutions could find ways to monetize MOOCs by potentially granting credit for a fee, licensing their courses to other institutions and advertising. Moody’s also notes the possibility of technology to increase faculty productivity by increasing the number of students one faculty member can serve, potentially creating efficiencies in the long term.

Whilst Moody’s is reflecting on HE in the USA, it has clear ramifications for UK HE, as institutions are seeking credit ratings for bond issues, and because transnational organisations like credit ratings agencies are integral to the geographies of neoliberalism that underpin transnational activist networks (TANs) that are in-turn adjusting the space inside which the University operates. Thus there is a space being opened up by the inter-relationships between ratings agencies like Moody’s, global finance capital, like Goldman Sachs, global private education providers like Pearson and Blackboard Inc., think-tanks like Pearson Education, and policy makers or administrators.

Whilst the report highlights the impact and risk profiles of both the growing issues of a student debt bubble and ensuring that the degrees awarded are of sufficient quality, a third issue is developed in the report and that is labour relations. Structural adjustment demands a restructuring of labour costs and practices, as is witnessed by the Troika’s actions in Greece. This is also hinted at in the Moody’s report which Inside Higher Education notes:

The report notes that any efforts to prioritize programs will likely run into opposition from various campus stakeholders. The governance model of universities vests varying authority in boards, managers, and faculty members. Even when faculty members are cut out of decision-making, the institution of tenure gives them leverage.

At issue then is the role of organised labour in the University sector, and its ability to push back against the restructuring of individual institutions or the sector as a public good. This is more important in the UK given the DBIS letter to HEFCE about funding. The letter highlights:

  • the pace of change through the clear link between HEFCE and ensuring that the Coalition’s “reforms are delivered in a timely and efficient way” [para 5];
  • the focus on competition through enabling alternative providers to enter the emergent HE market [para 6];
  • the focus on generating a culture of philanthropy or what has been called “philanthrocapitalism” [para 7];
  • the co-option of organisations like the Higher Education Academy, which have a vision to support the student experience, teaching excellence and innovation, to the service of the Government’s readjustment strategy and entrepreneurial/industrial agenda [para 11];
  • the imperative to develop information and learning/institutional analytics as a central disciplinary tool for managing higher education agendas [para 14];
  • the generation of universities as sites of service-driven change and marketisation [para 15];
  • the co-option of publically-funded “university research infrastructure”, in order to underpin “strategic research partnerships between universities, businesses and charities” that enables economic growth through state-subsidised privatisation [para 16];
  • the use of science and research by “selectively funding on the basis of only internationally excellent research,” to drive further competition between universities [para 18];
  • the explicit shackling of HE to the Coalition’s industrial strategy, so that the idea of the university is driven by economic growth [para 20];
  • the use of the term “legitimate students” playing into an agenda that continues to demonise “the other” inside and across UK society [para 21];
  • the use of a risk-based approach to HE, which Andrew Haldane has critiqued for its lack of respect for non-linearities and its inability to model contagion [para 23];
  • the use of financial incentives to model social mobility as a disciplinary function [para 25]
  • the imperative to seek efficiencies through outsourcing [para 26];
  • the demand that the pay and conditions of academic labour are managed with “restraint” [para 26];
  • the use of core and margin student numbers as a policy lever, now through custom and usage rather than primary policy the everyday reality of higher education, that creates the objective conditions for a competitive market to be structured [paras 30-35].

Some University leaders, notably DMU’s VC, have reacted to this letter by outlining how it impacts the relationship between staff and students, with a focus on student charters, admissions policies, and the development of a “Darwinian approach to enrolment” that prefigures an increasingly competitive higher education policy. Quite how this Darwinian approach plays out in terms of: University missions and diversity; the idea of the university as a public good; the use of financial mechanisms like bonds; the impact of a differential approach to implementing fees; a new regulatory approach for cross-sector organisations like HEFCE and the QAA; and the relationships between management, unions, academic labour and students; needs more meaningful critique across the sector.

III

The pace of change demands that alternatives or spaces for critique and action are developed, in particular because those TANs are restructuring the idea and the reality of higher education. In terms of how innovations are presented inside civil society in terms of social mobility, or reducing the rights of academic labour, or in terms of economic efficiencies, or in terms of access and student rights, or more brutally in terms of socio-economics in terms of the rate of profit and addressing issues of under-consumption, a critical emergent issue is about the place now of organised academic labour inside the University, and the role of, for example, UNISON and UCU. In this I am reminded of Paul Mason’s argument after the March 26 2011 anti-cuts demonstration in London, when he argued that

The big takeaway from today is that the trade union movement – though dominated by the public sector – is certainly a force to be reckoned with: what it chooses to do now will be interesting because Miliband’s strategists certainly want nothing to do with the mass, co-ordinated strike movement advocated by Serwotka, Len McCluskey etc.

We tend to forget, because we obsess about political parties, that in organisational terms the unions are much bigger than the Labour Party itself. Indeed the Labour Party branch banners I saw were often carried by a few, oldish, colourfully dressed people, whereas unionists tended to be younger and very “branded” by their professions or unions, as with the Unison Filipino Nurses, the FBU etc.

Another note: we tend to think of the public sector unions as white collar or from the service industries but this was not true of today: there were many tens of thousands of manual workers in their bibs, hi-vis uniforms etc. I met binmen from Southhampton furious that they pay is being cut; and of course the Firefighters, designated “stewards” in order to deter the anarchists from coming anywhere near the demo.

In terms of higher education there are clearly issues of labour relations and solidarity within the sector between different unions, and across sectors that now matter. Thus, there is a second emergent issue, related to this issue of solidarity, namely the relationship between formal higher education and the academic labour located therein, and those alternative educational projects that still survive two or three years after they originally coalesced. These alternatives might be MOOCs, where they have not been co-opted for capital, rent, profit or restructuring, but more importantly they include ideas like the Social Science Centre in Lincoln or the Workers Education Association or adult education providers, or the educational spaces opened up by, for example, the transitions movement. How we connect across the range of spaces that exist so that they can co-exist, energised by organised academic labour in the face of structural adjustment is our emerging challenge.


A Critical Appraisal of Technology in the University

On Wednesday I’ll be chairing Innovative Learning: Maximising Technology, Maximising Potential. I have written a piece on taking a more critical approach to deploying technology here, and this complements the short presentation that I will make, and which is on my slideshare.

I will make the following points, which connect to two recent journal articles.

  1. Towards a resilient strategy for technology-enhanced learning.
  2. Questioning Technology in the Development of a Resilient Higher Education.

FIRSTLY. At DMU we are engaging with the following questions.

  1. What is the place of technology in the idea of the University?
  2. How do technologies help us to realise or diminish our values, and how do they impact the social relations that emerge around these values?
  3. Can strategy for embedding technology relate it to the broader humane activities of the University?

In addressing these questions we are developing an approach to the use of technologies in the curriculum that supports:

The transformation of learning by staff and students through the situated use of technology.

Our approach has amplified issues around the following [risks].

  1. How do we manage issues around curriculum control and change-management? How do we balance ad hoc curriculum design/delivery in programme teams with a perceived need for strategic/institutional control? In this approach, how do we enable staff digital/technical literacies?
  2. What technology-related support and skills do we retain and nurture in-house? Do we just retain those that enable us to develop our quality/distinctiveness, or just those that are interesting?
  3. How do we manage elasticity of demand and new service-provision? How do we develop technologies that will enable emerging and future web applications? [See Scott Wilson’s recent presentation on this issue]

SECONDLY. We are trying to address or refine a model for the institutional implementation of technology that maps across to work started a Manchester Metropolitan University, under Mark Stubbs. They worked-up a Core/Arranged/Recommended/Recognised model for the use of technology stemming from their VLE Review in 2009.

Core: integrated corporate systems, including VLE, portal, library, streaming media and email, are available to students/staff to use with the devices and services of their choosing, and extended through tools that the institution arranges, recommends or recognises.

Arranged: accounts are created on key plug-ins or extensions beyond the core, like plagiarism detection tools, user-generated content tools and synchronous classrooms.

Recommended: recommendations are made with supporting training materials, for connecting key, web-based tools seamlessly into the core/arranged mix. This might include using RSS to bring in content from Twitter, SlideShare, iTunes or YouTube, or supporting SKYPE.

Recognised: the institution is aware that students and staff are experimenting with other technologies and maintains a horizon-scanning brief, until and unless a critical mass of users require integration.

A representation of this at DMU is shown below.

jpg image of the DMU model for educational technology

However, in moving this forward we are now thinking about how we do our work in public, rather than in an enclosed set of spaces. The work of the CUNY academic commons and of the ds106 community has been important for us here, in demonstrating that spaces might be cultivated and opened up in different ways by different communities at different times, and where the rules of engagement are determined through negotiation. This means that governance is also important and is actually negotiated with the academic community, rather than done to them.

THIRDLY. Governance and enclosure. We are having to think closely about what might be termed our corporate and personal assets, but which we might also refer to as personal or corporate data, or research/teaching/learning outputs or resources. A key issue surrounds out-sourcing or hosting, as opposed to in-house developments. Our IT Governance Team are helping us to think about the implications of the Patriot Act in the USA, and how our use of the cloud might be affected.

In particular, we are addressing issues of pedagogy and how they relate to: service resilience; confidentiality/privacy; copyright/copyleft/content distribution; data security/back-ups; control/deletion.  Im portant here is the realisation that

The cloud has its own challenges, not least of which is the fact that the name can lead non-tech savvy folks to imagine that their data is bits of magic floating about in the ether rather than sitting on a server subject to the laws of the land in which it is located. There are concerns about ensuring safety of information. Additionally, there are potentially big problems with ‘offshoring’ corporate assets outside of corporate governance.

So we are thinking about risk-management at a range of scales: does it matter if someone accesses your stuff? [c.f. Dropbox; personal emails subject to FoI, as seen in Leveson].

We are also thinking about corporate governance, including access to services that are marketised? [Google-Verizon and a two-speed internet; costs of accessing data in marketised HE?]

We are also wondering about what happens if the personal circumstances of the academic who is responsible for a specific course or programme change and we cannot get access to core student information, like assessments? [What should be managed in-house or hosted via a contract?]

We are asking whether users and the institution understand that data is being transferred into a service and that we/they have responsibilities? [T&Cs; IP; protected characteristics; indemnities for libel.]

Finally, we are beginning to ask how do we work-up the digital literacies of our staff/students in this space? [We have some emergent staff guidelines and some guidelines for our Commons.]

FOURTHLY. This takes place against the backdrop of a world that faces a crisis. We might view this as a triple crunch of economic crises of scarcity/abundance and finance capital, of liquid fuel availability [including peak oil], and climate change.

  1. There is a strong correlation between energy use and GDP.
  2. Global energy demand is on the rise yet oil supply is forecast to decline in the next few years.
  3. There is no precedent for oil discoveries to make up for the shortfall, nor is there a precedent for efficiencies to relieve demand on this scale.
  4. Energy supply looks likely to constrain growth.
  5. Global emissions currently exceed the IPCC ‘marker’ scenario range. The Climate Change Act 2008 has made the -80%/2050 target law, yet this requires a national mobilisation akin to war-time.
  6. Probably impossible but could radically change the direction of HE in terms of skills required and spending available.
  7. We need to talk about this because education and technology are folded inside this narrative, and because education and technology are tied into narratives of economic growth.

We might then begin to discuss futures and the role of innovative learning in a disrupted world. Facer and Sandford wrote about four principles that underpin futures thinking.

Principle 1: educational futures work should aim to challenge assumptions rather than present definitive predictions.

Principle 2: the future is not determined by its technologies.

Principle 3: thinking about the future always involves values and politics.

Principle 4: education has a range of responsibilities that need to be reflected in any inquiry into or visions of its future.

We are trying to engage with these on our DMU Commons, which serves as an idea of what the University might become in public. This includes thinking about how to situate technologies within critical pedagogy and the communal activities of the institution. This is important because institutional planning needs to focus upon the provision of secure core institutional spaces that enable staff and students to position and become themselves, and to act in the world. Strategies like a programme-of-work that aligns key events, data, processes and technologies may help to develop a blueprint. Such a blueprint needs to reflect institutional values, and legitimise the activities of ‘mavericks’, or those on the boundaries or edges of engagement with institutional services.


Forking the University: legitimising deliberation in physical and virtual space

The theme of the place and politics of the Academic Commons crops up often in my writing and work. In particular I am taken with ideas of how and where academics and students as scholars can resist and then push back against the enclosure of the spaces and places for academic practice and critique. At DMU this has led to two inter-connected ideas: the virtual DMU Commons; and our new, physical Speaker’s Step in Magazine Square.

The Commons apes those other examples of virtual common-land, for instance at Lincoln, and CUNY, and BCU, and which our student DMU Commons Gardener is documenting here. Our Commons connects to a deeper history of protest, negation and refusal, and stories of custom-in-common that define a shared, collective identity, which I wrote about here. So our Commons is:

a shared place for the production of learning and research that is personally and socially transformative. Our DMU Commons will connect the social world of DMU to the resources, artefacts, networks and conversations that emerge from our thinking. The DMU Commons will nurture, stimulate and enhance respectful and generous learning conversations, within and beyond the University. It will help us to realise our ambitions through co-operation and our shared labours.

This connects to a second strand of thinking about hacking or forking the University, which is being developed nicely as a research project by Joss Winn at Lincoln, and which embeds ideas of craft and skill and tradition and production, and then links them to personal and social identity. I see this as a position from where the negation of ourselves as subjects inside the University might be fought. Moreover, it offers a way to connect with Christopher Newfield‘s desire for Re-Making the University in the face of austerity.

Thus, at DMU we might take the idea of craft and re-making or re-producing, in order to develop an idea of commonality around which we might also offer-up, create or carve out spaces for local/University developers, like the Leicester Linux Users’ Group, to engage with users, like the DMU Mashed group. This might then enable those new partnerships to use gizmos (Arduinos, Pis and drones) and sandboxes (part of a private cloud) to engage with real data (OpenAccess, OAuth and Big), in order to give a forked DMU community the opportunity to re-create/re-produce the University, and to solve problems inside enterprising, politicised, open spaces. In part this re-making depends upon the engagement of multiple and disparate groups in a set of shared problems, worked out in common or on a commons. Thus, the DMU Commons might become important as a place where research groups, developers, students, external friends of the University, alumni etc. might meet or see or review or hack or fork each other’s work.

However, we are now moving towards the idea that a DMU Commons might also need a physical place where ideas might be catalysed and problems identified and solutions debated. The need for a physical, communal spaces that also serve as ciphers for administrative or juridical or political groupings has a long tradition: from wapentakes/hundreds in English political administration; to the histories of general assemblies in, for example, student struggles; to workers’ councils; to the history of political reform meetings; and the recent histories of political struggles in Syntagma Square in Athens and Tahrir Square in Cairo. As spaces become enclosed the risk is that our opportunities for deliberation and free debate are stifled. The need is then for the courage to reassert in common our rights to deliberate in shared spaces.

At DMU we have begun to open-up just such a communal, deliberative space in Magazine Square, and we are reclaiming its use for the University-in-the-City. The space was first co-opted by Nick Clegg at the 2010 General Election and then, in response, by Ed Balls in 2011 in the run-up to the Leicester South by-election. Both Clegg and Balls stood at the same point on the same concrete podium, which serves as a seat in the Square, in order to make their election pitches. This is important precisely because it invested the square as a political space, but it is also important that the Square itself is centred on one of Leicester’s most historic spaces, by the Castle Magazine, Castle Park, St and Mary de Castro Church, and with a resonance through the University’s name to Simon de Montfort’s first Parliament.

It is also important that the seat, or step, sits very near to the the DMU/Leicester City Council boundary line. The demarcation is clearly marked by metal studs in the ground, and two brick square studs in the grass behind the speakers’ step. The deed lines for the land ownership are fascinating as they move along the front of DMU’s Hugh Aston Building and across the Magazine. This rudimentary sketch of the DMU/Leicester City Council Boundary shows this a little more clearly. Although the step wall where Clegg and Balls spoke technically belongs to Leicester City Council, there is no permission required given that speaking there will be an open public forum, taking place in an open public space. We are going to mark what we now refer to as Speaker’s Step with a plaque inscribed with Nelson Mandela’s quote that:

Sometimes it falls upon a generation to be great, you can be that generation”.

We have already held Student Union hustings on the Step, and on Thursday 8 March, to coincide with the Queen’s visit to DMU, we are hosting a series of speed lectures, hopefully complete with heckles and interruptions and questions, which will further inscribe Speaker’s Step as a space where we might reconnect the University with the public and the City. The idea for these speed lectures is to discuss the idea of the University as a public good, and Executive Board members, academic staff and students will be deliberating issues that matter to them around: local governance; creativity; open education; the NHS; software design and the history of computation; why we need another inquiry into housing; management information, universities and £9k fees; language development and education for the multicultural learner; and the cultural importance of Margaret Atwood and Florence Nightingale. We hope that this will be the beginning of a recapturing of this public space by the staff and students of DMU, as a way to re-create and re-produce the University as a public good deeply connected to the politics and place of Leicester.

As important will be our attempt to catalyse the use of the space for hustings, meetings, general assemblies, rallies and so on, as a legitimate form of re-imagining the University-in-the-City. Legitimising ways and places in which people can colonise and develop ideas and problems, and hopefully then re-produce or hack or fork the University, in order to solve those problems is central to this project. It is in the legitimation and interconnection of our DMU Commons with our Speaker’s Step, and the wider University/City, that we begin this political process.