29 July 2016

Learning analytics, even student dashboards, are they the wrong way round?

In a recent session discussing a learning analytics project, I seemed to be the only person in the room who was anxious about the whole idea again. I've been this way ever since George Siemens started the Google Group some 10 years ago. That anxiety culminated in a presentation I made to the University Analytics forum in Melbourne in 2012, which I'm sad to say, along with my posts to the forum, has generated little to no response. Is it just me and my tin foil hat, or is there a general reluctance to talk about an elephant in the room with learning analytics?

The best I've seen from the over all movement is a general agreement that it is ethical and progressive to develop analytics as a "student dashboard", that is to say that the effort is first and foremost about collecting data so that the individuals that the data is about can see and reflect on their own patterns, and in relation to the demographic groups that seem relevant to them, presently and historically. The antithesis of this is the collection of data for teachers and administrators to roughly calibrate their behaviouralist experiments - what most learning analytics projects are about.

But in this session recently, it occurred to me that even the projects that describe themselves as "student dashboard" projects, seem to be allowing themselves to be drawn a very long way away from the principles of why they are developing that way. Most of these projects that I have seen seem frustrated by the difficulty of obtaining useful data, and end up narrowing scope in on a single environment like an LMS or a handful of online social platforms, within a single course. They accept that this then renders the project an unscalable proof of concept, and acknowledge that they leave far too much out of a person's wider context to really get any useful insights. Is there another way to try and uncover insights about learning? A way that better fits the principle of student dashboard, and potentially encompasses that wider context that seems impossible to account for?

I'm suggesting a closer affiliation with the field of QuantifiedSelf. Who in the learning analytics world is investigating the large range of mobile applications designed to assist with time management and task completion, for example? It could be that one of these, or a combination of them, offer students an optional way to record and manage their own data, and to even pool in with an online community or collection for comparison and bigger pictures. This seems to be an approach that would inherently deal with many of the ethical concerns of a university gathering data on students - often without even a research ethics application!

It seems to me that this suggestion is to at least qualify the data currently being collected in the more top down approaches, if not control for it. But I suspect it's more than that. With the right additions, the voluntary and guided use of such apps and methods might be the very idea that "student dashboard" projects set out to achieve. The outcomes of projects that take this approach might be a range of suggested apps and guided activities to help participants make the most of logging their lives around learning; how to pool data for comparisons; and how to better design course curriculum to help students manage time and task completion.

A search for "time management" in Google Play reveals quite a few useful candidates to try out, many with data export ability. Learning designers could design weekly time management schedules around a course for example, for participants to run in something like TimeTune to stay on task. We could suggest that participants try using an application like Working Time Management, that tracks the time spent on projects, including communications with people in the project, similar with aTimeLogger, and simple activities where the group compares records. These are just the first few apps available in a search for Time Management.

I've recently started using the application Headspace, a charming application which isn't a life logger at all, though it has some optional features that could be used like that. It's primarily a 10 step course in meditation and mindfulness. It's pretty popular it seems, and interesting as a format for a course. The various tools and techniques for managing time, focus and headspace could conceivably be combined into one, as layers around a course on any topic, where students (if they like) can turn off and on those features, some of which offer guidance in time management, others an opportunity to measure, manage and compare their engagement with topics and projects.

Does anyone know of a learning analytics project that takes this approach? Such an approach would alleviate some of my anxieties about the field and its elephants, especially if they were to dgo as far as to investigate the source of the applications and determine what the companies do with the data collected. 

21 July 2016

Brexit and the urgency of open access and usability

A very interesting perspective on Brexit in relation to open access has been shared by Stevan Harnad in a discussion with Richard Poynder on the Open Access ePrints blog.

But one would have thought that the mature democracies would serve as a civilizing bulwark against that. Yet no, Brexit has shown that the same primitive, sinister, shameful inclinations are alive and well in the United Kingdom (and Trump is rallying them in the US too). 
No, freedom-of-information and open access did not serve as an antidote, as hoped. Disinformation profited more from the power of open media than the truth did. And the proliferation of destructive weapons is only beginning to be exploited by the genetic and cultural heirs of our most barbaric roots.
Perhaps both democracy and liberalism were always doomed; perhaps it was just a matter of time before the law of large numbers, the regression on the mean, would bring out the meanest in us.

The idea that the collapse of the 20thC socialist idea allowed market fundamentalism to grow unchecked, which has inevitably caused base populism and inhumanity to thrive, is a summary that rings true enough to me. But we can't yet know if this populism and inhumanity is leading to - as Harnad would characterise it - an apocalypse of humanity. Perhaps instead what we're seeing is a strange wisdom of the masses, bringing the collapse of 20thC capitalism.

The characterisation of Brexits, Trumpies, Hansonites as racist xenophobes doesn't ring true to me. It may be true that darker elements exist within them (as they do us all), but a more generous characterisation would pay attention to their better arguments, from the more thoughtful voices.

Here's Richard Boyd Barrett speaking about Brexit.

Bringing about the collapse of the EU - or more specifically the super rich and the corporate elites that lobby it, or voting for Trump is largely an expression of disillusionment with the political class and economic elite.

Here's the same argument that Barrett succinctly put out, but from the very people he spoke for - Why we voted leave - voices from northern England.

It is a worry that these arguments and perspectives are so quickly and easily dismissed by the "Progressive Left", and allowed to be characterised as racist, nationalistic and xenophobic.

There have been more hopeful phenomena that I would include in this general movement of resistance. There's the swaths of people that Bernie Sanders appealed to (as likely as it is that Sanders simply contains and ultimately controls opposition). There's the dramatic rise of Jeremy Corbyn, re-energising the socialist principles. There's some justice about to be served via Chilcot and The Killing$ of Tony Blair (to my knowledge, the first feature length documentary to be crowd funded). There's the fresh and progressive ideas of the PirateParty, the disruption by Wikileaks and Occupy, and the various inquiries and possible trails for the ongoing financial fraud and economic mismanagement globally.

How does this relate to open access?

I think the open access movement should focus on these sorts of hopes, and radicalise accordingly.

More than access, we need usability

It is not enough to lobby for educational media, academic research papers and data to be made openly accessible in the formats and customs that they are. Right alongside all that needs to go an active alignment to the issues of the day, and development of novel ideas around popular usability. Not just format usability, but designed usability.

Summaries and takeaways

If we consider the function of an abstract that goes with an academic paper - that it serves as an effective summary to the whole paper, then we should be willing to recognise similar devices in popular media and consider such designs for usability generally. Executive summaries, infographics, synopsis and trailers.

Partnerships with major information highways

Why is it still the exception to the norm, that the multi lingual Wikipedia, the media rich Wikimedia Commons, or the wonders of the Archive and Way Back machine are not entirely in the discourse and workflows of the public service information, research and education sector? Quite the opposite in fact, ignorant and disengaged snobbery prevails toward those bold projects. Why isn't it normal practice for people in those same public service information, research and education services to make bite-sized video abstracts of information and knowledge and distribute them on Youtube and Facebook? Why do they still insist on creating unreliable websites that block the Waybackmachine from archiving them, that will go offline when the funding dries up and have no distribution or communication plan through popular media channels? Why do the so-called professions of instructional and education design still obsess over how to use a learning management system, or how to work within the narrow band of restricted user-pay access, and pay little to no attention to ideas and methods for instruction and education in an open distributed network of society? In that area, the darker professions of advertising and public relations are far more advanced.

Open access is little c conservative

In my opinion, the open access movement has been cobbled with conservatism while the PirateBay, Wikileaks and Aaron Schwartz have been trail blazers. There have been global issues that the open access movement could have been part of - taking relevant openly available information and distributing derivatives with usability in mind. More importantly, this workflow would have been made self evident by now - as getting information in multiple languages on Wikipedia and Youtube is self evident by now. Open access would not only be a matter of course, but creating usable versions of it would be expected as well. But we in the public service information, research and education sector generally seem happy to sit by and let popular debate degenerate into private public relations.

The defeat being discussed by Stevan Harnad and Richard Poynder, should be answered with radicalisation. I thought the very foundation of why we work toward open access and use was to prevent the world that Harnad and Poynder are resigning to. Can we now redouble the effort in linking up the research, information and education sectors with the radical open access and use movement? The justification for it would seem as urgent as ever.

Unless of course the masses turn out to be substantially wiser than the anxious experts give them credit for. In which case, they don't need them.

03 June 2016

No LMS - an argument for when your institution comes to reviewing their Learning Management System

It's amazing to me, that after all this time, this argument still needs to be made. But of course it does, the struggle it falls under is ages old.

Train wreck at Montparnasse Station.

Have you ever wondered if there is an end to the list of contradictions between university rhetoric and actions? At best, I guess, they are a result of well meaning change efforts, presenting perfectly reasoned argument against a cultural institution that has a large population and political magnitude that simply can’t accommodate even the most well meaning efforts to change.

  1. One size doesn't fit all = we all must (which is implied) use the Learning Management System to teach, learn and assess
  2. Accessible, relevant and engaging learning = digitised and locked in a system that resembles nothing like the rest of the Internet, or what you might experience in life after school.
  3. Looking for efficiencies and putting an end to the silly stuff = we pay huge amounts of money to license, train in, and manage a system that locks us in by design, when perfectly good and reasonable systems and alternatives exist for far less cost and far more gain.
  4. We need to personalise learning to individual student needs = we subscribe to systems that offer little to no opportunity to achieve this, that are designed to reinforce the paradigm we'd like to change.

The list goes on, and I'm not even sure I’ve picked the best examples. Safe to say, there are many more examples just a search, or conversation with the right contrarian, away.

Best arguments for LMS

The “best” arguments I've seen for using an LMS are:

  1. When used well…
  2. When used well, they provide the sorts of data we need for internal and external auditing.
  3. When used well, they offer students a reliable, one stop, private and secure online environment for learning

When used well…

I’ll leave the questioning of what “when used well” means for the reader's imagination, but I do suggest criteria around relevance and transferability - beyond the relatively short time we offer “learning” to people we tend to class as “students” or worse, clients, customers or consumers.

Data for auditing

If arguments that wag their dog don't frustrate you, then open a conversation with someone in student services. Those poor meats in the sandwich play a big role in gathering the information needed for audits. Aside from not being familiar with the term “LMS”, the person I spoke to recently wanted to tell me how complex audits are. The Student Management System naturally plays a very big part in audits, as do systems like a Course Repository (meaning the systems that store the course and program descriptions, requirements and sometimes curriculum and assessment types and descriptions). What I’m trying to suggest is that it's highly doubtful to me that the LMS plays much of a role in auditing at all, not least because it is hardly ever used well - even after all this time and money. If you find that it does, then ask does it need to.

The one stop, reliable, private and secure

This argument generally comes from people who know and use an LMS well, because they’ve complied. I haven't met anyone who makes this argument who then says that a one stop convenient, reliable, private and secure online learning environment can’t be achieved using common every day online systems. Gaining this perspective is really just a simple exercise in removing the LMS from the equation (in thought only, if action is too radical) to begin imagining how all these elements can be achieved without it. The skills gained immediately transfer to other areas of academic work, such as community and industry engagement, and other contact groups that typically have no need for an LMS and much more need for people who expertly know and understand the Internet.

The No LMS argument is well over a decade old

But people have been making this argument for more than 12 years! (not counting the early resistance to the LMS when it was first introduced by central administrators and like minded people in the late 90s, early 2000s). The most cited article that I have written on the subject from that long ago is: Die LMS Die, You Too PLE!

Thankfully the PLE developer community seemed to listen to arguments like that and ended their attempts to bring personal learning into one system. They switched focus to articulating and demonstrating it as a concept, a framework, a keyword to counter the idea of system-managed learning. It became Personal Learning Network.

It was too late for the LMS however, having by then convinced most institutions to sink millions/billions into LMS licensing, policy and support. No escape plan was ever devised, and we keep paying the exorbitant price of that poor leadership to this day.

But if my style of argumentation puts you off, or if you think I'm merely alluding to substance without offering much directly, just do a cursory search for debates over the LMS yourself (keeping in mind that there are an awful lot of people whose only source of income and self esteem is from supporting an LMS). You should hopefully see that almost no one thinks they are a good way to teach and learn. Disregard feature comparisons between different LMS, that side track is futile and small minded. The disagreement is whether or not an LMS is necessary! Anyone in the field not entertaining that debate is just being overly pragmatic under muddleheaded leadership.

In 2009, Educause published an article that summarised the anti LMS position, and suggesting an already abundant alternative: Envisioning the Post-LMS Era: The Open Learning Network. My link to that goes via a blog post I wrote about the article - a shameless and demanding act of self aggrandisement.

The LMS is in the way

The ideal in my mind at least, and if we are to persist with our simplistic ideas and designs for how people teach and learn, is that it ought to be a seamless and richly useful experience between the stages of becoming inspired, finding a topic to learn, learning it, and if necessary demonstrating knowing it or doing it. If we can agree on that very broad ideal, then we might begin to see that the LMS (and the perspective that enables it to exist) is a massive obstacle to approximating that ideal today, or building toward it for tomorrow.

I'd just like to acknowledge at this point that there are some areas of knowledge, some ways of knowing, that are not conducive to this ideal of technically accessible and seamless learning and knowing. But I would say that these areas are an exception, and that the LMS, or even the Internet, may not be good ways to facilitate learning in these domains...

Here's a proposal for escaping the LMS. It applies at any stage, but most obviously if or when you're migrating from one LMS to another such halfway house. If you’re already outside the LMS, good for you! Keep it that way. Help others out.

More for before, or later - a time that never was

If for some reason you're interested in what I've done, written about or referenced in regards to the LMS and the Internet over the years, I primarily use the tag #InternetAsThePlatform to organise my contribution to all the wonderful noise.

01 June 2016

Staff profiles

Not a bad little video introducing how to set up a personal learning network

The ideal

When I look up a teacher or academic, a rich array of images, videos, presentations, publications, websites comes up in the search results. Top of the list is either their website or the staff profile for their primary place of work.

The reality

Most often than not, no images, no videos, no presentations, a few inaccessible publications, and no websites. Top of the list is an very empty staff profile page in the website of the place they may or may not be working.

What to do

RMIT's HR, Marketing and Academic Developers need to come to a common understanding on the above, reflecting on the fact that more than 70% of teachers and researchers are causally employed, and pool their resources to support people who are willing to generate substantial online profiles, and recognise those who already have one.


Digital Learning DSC has been working in the online identity management space for a while now, under the umbrella concept of networked learning. Some of the Schools in DSC have taken to the idea that "A Google search result is your portfolio". Some teachers are entering into discussions around the idea that by supporting students, teachers and researchers to develop rich and connected online identities, their various accounts become valuable learning networks to each other, and valuable professional networks to a range of central entities, including RMIT, its Colleges and its Schools.


So we're gradually designing learning activities that help build those substantive learning networks, to gradually have an impact on the ideal described above. Invite us in for a chat!

Can we teach the machine to teach?

Analog Computing Machine By NASA on Wikimedia Commons

When Michael Wesch published the short video The Machine is (Using) Us in 2007, he was summarising a long discussion about digitisation and hypertext, search engine algorithms and optimisation (SEO), The Singularity, The Semantic Web, Crowd Source, Open Source, Peer to Peer (P2P), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and many other ideas all within four and a half minutes.

The core question Wesch was asking was whether these machines are using us, or if they are us. Most people I talk to about this tend to focus on the idea that the machines are simply enticing us to their front end web services, so as to collect data, our media, our interactions, our interests, our responses, our location and movements.. to create powerful demographic and individualised profiles for marketing and other intelligence gathering purposes. But perhaps the machines are also offering us a reflection, using the collected data to then make recommendations and associations that can be both surprising and useful and also meaningful in a reflecting sense - showing us what they make of us.

Some people go further than Wesch's questioning, and ask if we could in fact use these machines more deliberately, if we could teach these machines to connect and teach us? Could we input data and information more consciously, to get the sorts of recommendations and associations we need? Would the machines start offering us even more unexpected and useful connections? Might our research improve, might our networks widen and grow in value? Would our knowledge and productivity exponentially increase?

Take the simple action of using a hashtag for example (or tag more generally). These people-generated metadata identifiers are a way to connect with potentially vast repositories of similar information, are information in and of themselves, and perhaps more importantly - connect to people. The potential of this was first captured to video in 2005 by Jon Udel looking at Delicious (an early and very popular social bookmarking service).

About here is where the theme folksonomy started to emerge as a serious alternative to taxonomy. Related to this was the idea that flat, non-hierarchies and comparatively anarchic ways of organising online, were proving successful.But tagging (and hypertext more broadly) is significant but simple technology in comparison to our current questions around digital identity management. And the relatively recent webservice called Pinterest offers a tangible experience of machine connections and associations. It users socially bookmarked images, text and weblinks to make its connections and recommendations, and as almost anyone who uses the service will testify, with impressive effect. Certainly the field of SEO and social media marketing have long been interested in these ideas, but are teachers, students and researchers?

When I started the Wikipedia entry for Networked Learning, I was interested in the people-to-people and people-to-content connections that the socially networked Internet was facilitating. Later, I wanted to look into the plausible history of Networked Learning and discovered a range of related ideas from as early as the industrial revolution - when railways and telegraph lines were being erected across vast distances, through to post industrial ideas in the 1970s such as Ivan Illich (Deschooling Society) and Christopher Alexander et al (A Pattern Language) - who were seminal in imagining a more dis-intermediated, post industrial arrangement for teaching, learning and education.
The operation of a peer-matching network would be simple. The user would identify himself by name and address and describe the activity for which he sought a peer. A computer would send him back the names and addresses of all those who had inserted the same description. It is amazing that such a simple utility has never been used on a broad scale for publicly valued activity.” Ivan Illich (1971). Deschooling Society - Chapter 6
Now we have an Internet that is more socially connected, might we explore Networked Learning for ideas on how to make better connections, associations and recommendations for teaching and learning?

So the questions for me become: can we teach the machines to teach us? Are there certain activities and methods, projects and assignments, identities and roles we can use that will help us input more exacting and impact-full data so the machines will make the sorts of recommendations and associations we need to advance our access to information and people, and ultimately our knowledge and understanding? Can I use commercially orientated machines like Youtube in such a way that it will start recommending more and more useful videos, and start connecting me to more and more valuable people? Can I do the same with Facebook? Can I do the same across Google? Can it be done through Wikipedia? Can I do this differently with multiple identities? Or will marketing, mass news, propaganda and advertising prevail? Will xenophobia and surveillance disrupt and distort the potential?

I've been experimenting with these ideas for 10 years now. In 2013 I attempted to quantify some of this with a research project called Defining Networked Learning, where I analysed a trail of data from my own efforts to self learn a reasonably technical body of knowledge and skills relating to biomass heating. This work was published in 2014 through the IEEE in a paper called Identity Awareness and Re-use of Research Data in Veillance and Social Computing.

Others have done much better work, looking at human to human interactions of networked learning before the Internet. Work such as Entienne Wenger and Jean Lave's well known Communities of Practice and Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Such work was used by people in the Education sector to expand and develop ideas around Student Mobility and Life Long Learning. To my knowledge, few if any have updated these ideas with experience of a socially networked Internet and the deliberate use of it to generate connections and associations.

We're looking at this form of machine teaching and learning, in various places around the College of Design and Social Context at RMIT.

  1. We've actively challenged the University's current practice of offering Google accounts to staff and students and then suspending those accounts when a staff member or student is no longer active with RMIT.
  2. We've coined the tag "Bring your own account" working with people in ITS to discuss ideas around what it might look like if the university was to accept and use a person's preferred account (online identity) when they join, and to shape that account in the time they work with us. These sorts of ideas have big implications for things like Learning Analytics (currently focused narrowly on data gathered in an issued account within an extremely limited timescale).
  3. We advise teachers in the Schools to help students to think about the consequences of building an RMIT issued account - only to have it suspended. Implied in this advice is to encourage people to bring their own accounts and shape them instead, so what they build can go with them, after they graduate (or conversely - what they've already built comes in, and is shaped over the time they use the account with us).
Now we're looking for ways to develop, quantify and measure this approach to online learning. Our current ideas are to look at both the RMIT issued accounts as well as the own accounts brought in. We're looking for how we might quantify these accounts over time, as their users undertake activities specifically designed to teach the machines to teach - to build rich online identities so that professionally relevant recommendations and associations are being made by the 'machines' by the time a student graduates, and hopefully able to take their account/s with them.

If you're interested in working with us on these questions, or to simply join in discussions relating to them, please make contact. Leave a comment or email us directly. There's potentially exciting work to be done.

16 March 2016

Artistic Thinking

A few months ago I attended a new media arts forum at RMIT. This triggered ideas in me to explore art thinking as a framework for educational development. Last week I flew up to Brisbane to meet the Ars Electronic people who are partnering with Queensland University of Technology on a range of projects.

I met Gerfried Stocker the Artistic Director to Ars Electronica. He was in Brisbane to give a presentation to Queensland University of Technology executives about artistic perspectives and approaches in science and innovation.

Gerfried makes the case that artists can help ensure more humanistic determinants on technology, to help counter technological determinism and its unintended consequences. Gerfried was in Brisbane to support their Future Lab's exhibition Shared Space Bots at the World Science Festival, as well as the growing relations Ars Electronica is forming with QUT.

The Shared Space Bots exhibition was a performative presentation delivered by the Future Lab's Director of Research and Engineering, Christopher Lindinger, who's team has been working with Mercedes Benz and their Driverless Car Project.

Mercedes Benz commissioned AE's Future Lab to explore different cultural responses to the ideas and questions of the Driverless Car project. Specifically, 'how are humans going to communicate with the self driving car of tomorrow?'

At the exhibition opening was Lubi Thomas, a digital and new media arts curator who has been working with AEs Peter Holzkorn and QUT's Jared Donovan from the Creative Industries Faculty to develop educational programs about artistic approaches to innovation. Our conversations centered around art thinking, and I'm looking forward to recording these conversations, as I did recently with Kris Minski - also working at the Future Lab.

The conversation turned to how expensive it was to facilitate physical educational arrangements between Australia and Europe. We discussed whether more emphasis on the online interaction would be viable. Initially, the discussion agreed that face to face interaction was critical for the beginning and end of the program, but we challenged that presumption a little longer. We considered how many people we each knew who had met and married someone that they had met and got to know online. With that in mind, could we conceive of such online connectivity in an educational arrangement? And if it was a stretch, why was it.

As an aside, I met a fascinating fella named Nathan Hayes earlier in the day, who threw out a verbal manifesto at the Shared Space Bots performance earlier that afternoon. Nathan had this remarkably optimistic outlook for the future, but not a futurist I had experienced before. His main website is http://alphainfinityfoundation.com/ its stimulating reading. I rate his work as a type of artistic imagining, and it would be very interesting to apply his conversational priorities into a technological project. On Nathan's site he embedded this Shots of Awe video: Hacking the Flow State. Its a video talking about that mental zone we sometimes feel ourselves in, where barriers dissolve and synchronicity seems to take hold in an effortless flow of action... art thinking.

Back to the dinner conversation and the challenges around online learning, we discussed each of our experiences in networked learning, observing that our most notable experiences were informal and not within a university experience. We decided that we have not yet seen a good example of online educational experiences from the university sector. Furthermore, we discussed the apparent blindspot universities generally have toward significant knowledge creation projects like Wikipedia, and other similar work that follows over arching principles of open source governance, research and development. I mentioned my open research project, Defining Networked Learning

The discussion seemed to be of interest to the group, and I like to think it was an example of art thinking on a micro scale. Counter ideas, alternative perspectives, being pushed into a conversation space to see what might emerge. It risks offending people, particularly in cross cultural discourse, so such efforts probably need to be overt, if maintaining collaborative relations is important.

I've started compiling a video playlist for Art Thinking, and for now, will attach the longer discussions I record with people to that playlist.

05 February 2016

Universities are not a democracy

A while ago, I was attending meetings with a new executive group tasked with consulting, proposing, communicating and managing a university-wide change plan.

So far these meetings have revealed that people from the marketing profession dominate the change management group, and their language and approach presents some difficulties to people who believe a university is (historically perhaps) anchored in the idea of a "social contract"; it being a public good, an arm of the Fourth Estate, a collegiate of intellectuals... etc. That conservative view seems antagonistic toward the relatively recent neoliberal ideas that give rise to the likes of powerfully resourced marketing departments in universities - running with the assumption that comodification of knowledge, measurement of practice, academic capitalism and economic rationalism more broadly, are appropriate ways to conceive of and direct practice within a university.

I have tried to avoid speaking into these tensions at such meetings, but when the group leaders project such unswerving confidence in themselves, without so much as an acknowledgement of other ways of knowing and doing, I feel it necessary to at least hint at the tension for them.

So I asked about the #shapermit campaign - a considerable effort on the part of the University executive, to "crowdsource" comments, feedback and suggestions toward forming a new strategic plan.

When the resulting first draft plan was put out, I did a simple analysis of the contributions made to the #shapermit hashtag and the resulting draft and final Strategic Plan. Predictably there were two things observable:

  1. The apparent effort to facilitate public deliberation online had failed
  2. Of the few counts where contributions of substance were made, they did not receive a public response and were not reflected in the strategic plan.

A snapshot of the use of the #shapermit hashtag in Twitter between August and September 2015 (around the time the draft strategic plan was distributed)
With the engagement level in #shapermit campaign in doubt, I ran a word search over the draft and final plan, looking for keywords for the the world I live in:

  • Open Education: 0
  • Open Academic: 0
  • Open: 9 (but no substance)
  • Online: 2 (no substance)
  • Internet: 0
  • Inequality: 0
  • Equality: 0
  • Equity: 0
  • Indigenous: 2 (Our approach includes implementing learning and teaching of Indigenous Knowledge systems.)
  • divestrmit: 0
  • occupy: 0
  • student debt: 0
  • Youtube: 0
  • Google: 0 
  • Blackboard: 0 
  • LMS: 0

Trying a few keywords that potentially bridge some of my world:

  • Digital: 27 ("We fully embrace the digital world in all its dimensions and possibilities.")
  • Innovation: 31 ("We are champions of innovation and inclusion.")

It's an interesting way to read a strategic plan - by word search. I think it helps avoid being lulled into its constructed narrative, allowing you to jump around the decontextualised soundbites - and see them in a different light and with different (possibly more honest) meaning.

Despite assurances that research to inform the plan had been done, including an ethnographic study (not seen, not published, not reviewed) I've so far concluded that the group in charge of forming the plan has, for various reasons, been disconnected from the world I work in. The online consultation process of #shapermit did not get a quantitative response; and the quality reveals a concerning absence of issues and ideas that are important to me. There are two ways of reading this it would seem: my world has diminished or the university world is not my world. To be honest, senior executives and their teams have seemed very distant to the things my peers, friends and family hold to be important. There are many reasons, but three big ones:

1. Severe workforce casualisation (now approaching 70%) and extreme wage disparity (now at 1:20) not accounting for secretive executive salaries
2. A deep distrust for rotating Vice Chancellors and their consultants borne out of their direct involvement in the first issue over the decades, and their lord-like status over the resources of a university
3. Dense hierarchies and systems all with mixed, conflicting and hidden agendas

The meeting where I was raising some of this questioning of #shapermit started getting warm, and the last serious word said before we defused the situation with pleasantries was from one of the marketing people:

"A university is not a democracy, you may like it to be, but it's not. There is a senior executive that makes decisions and forms plans. Our [your] job is to implement those plans".