26 June 2009

One Less Angel on Earth; One More in Heaven... As For Zombies...

Requiescat in Pace, Michael Jackson, 1958 - 2009
Requiescat in Pace, Farah Fawcett, 1947 - 2009

Two icons, one clearly more prominent than the other judging by the news coverage, have tragically departed - both before their time. Farah Fawcett and Michael Jackson, each in their unique way, defined a time in pop culture history that was post-psychedelia and pre-UCaPP. It was time of cultural intermezzo, as the fogey generation's peak influence on pop was in decline, and the UCaPP generation was yet more than a decade away. And out of that arose both fluff and brilliance, Charlie's Angels as a counterbalance to Thriller. It makes boomers feel their age as they realize that one of our archetypal pin-up girls succumbed to one of the thousand ills that remind us of the frailty and fragility of our mortal shell. It makes all of us stop to realize that the perpetual child, a true Peter Pan of Pop, was middle-aged as are so many of us, and vulnerable to something as seemingly ordinary as a heart attack.

The Michael Jackson YouTube channel has disabled embedding, but to watch the complete Thriller music video is to witness genius, as crazy, perhaps, as genius often is.

[Technorati tags: | ]

23 June 2009

An Adult Educator's Manifesto

I'm still looking for a job - preferably a tenure-track position in which I can both inspire and guide students, and continue my work on the Valence Organization and its implications for society-at-large.

But I am also an Adult Educator, and that brings considerable depth and context to what might otherwise be just another business school prof doing organization behaviour - especially since Valence Theory is, at its heart, fundamentally subversive to the foundations of conventional business schools. On the other hand, it is ideal for other faculties (e.g., public administration, workplace learning in faculties of education) that might be looking for a contemporary approach to organization theory. But I digress.

One of the key considerations these days in professorial hiring is one's teaching philosophy. I call mine, An Adult Educator's Manifesto (make sure you click on the full-screen toggle button at the top right of the linked page). Here's a taste:
I respect my students’ abilities to become actively engaged and committed to their own process of knowledge-building, bringing Marshall McLuhan’s sensibility to the learning environment that, as an educator, “I don’t want them to believe me; I just want them to think.”

Therefore, adhering to the credo that “education is what remains after you’ve forgotten everything you’ve been taught,” I incorporate five guiding principles into my teaching, whether situated as formal, informal, or non-formal learning.

1. People will learn when they are ready to learn, and thus will acquire their lessons in the places in which they will learn most effectively. These places and circumstances are most often not a classroom. Therefore, it is incumbent on educators to invite our learners’ experiences, circumstances, histories, contexts, and cultures into our classrooms in combination with our sources and syllabi to enable the collaborative construction and emergence of complex and diverse knowledge.

This means that:
2. Learning should concentrate on context and process; specific content – as important and relevant as it might be to any particular undertaking or discipline – is, nonetheless, indifferent to the credo of education. In a time of unprecedented complexity, enabling adaptable and continual learners ultimately serves the as-yet unanticipated and unknown future needs of our contemporary world.
You can download my Manifesto-cum-Statement-of-Teaching-Philosophy in its entirety here.

And if you happen to know of an appropriate department - perhaps even your own - anywhere in North America that is hiring, please pass my name along. Much obliged!

(Thanks, Anne Urbancic, for inspiring me to write this.)

[Technorati tags: | ]

Best. T-Shirt. Line. Ever.

Is it solipsistic in here, or is it just me?

[Technorati tags: | ]

Unions Have No Place in the Classrooms of the Nation!

CUPE, the union I love to hate, whose collective stupidity knows no bounds, has done it again. The National Post reports on a successful grievance launched by CUPE at University of Toronto against
psychology professor Steve Joordens [who] was using specially designed software to have students grade and comment on one another's written work. Professor Steve Joordens said he wanted to have his 1,500-student, first-year psychology class write and think critically, but there was no money to hire teaching assistants required to do the extra marking. Before he introduced his peer-marking system, all class assignments were written on multiple choice sheets and marked by a machine.

"What you can't do with a multiple-choice exam is really push students to think critically and to answer open-ended questions," Prof. Joordens said in a telephone interview from his Scarborough home. "You also can't assess their ability to actually communicate clearly."
CUPE's argument is that the students were doing unpaid marking, and that violates the collective agreement for Teaching Assistants. "In the words of spokesman Mikael Swayze, "If students are doing marking, then they're in our bargaining unit and must be paid." " As today's National Post editorial points out,
in the case of Professor Steve Joordens' psych class, the alternative to having written assignments peer-marked was not to have written assignments marked by unionized TAs, but to have no written assignments at all. He will now have to return to the same traditional practice followed in most introductory psych classes: basing grades entirely on machine-readable multiple-choice exams. ... The very possibility of bringing about change to the factory-like environment of undergraduate survey courses was a major breakthrough for Joordens, who developed PeerScholar with his grad student Dwayne Pare. Peer grading may sound like a loopy idea, but early research by Joordens and Pare showed that for a simple assignment involving a written reaction to a set text, peer grading is statistically indistinguishable from "expert" grading by trained graduate students -- if you have enough peers. ... The Ontario Superior Court's support for CUPE's grievance means that the Joordens/Pare research will be very difficult to reproduce scientifically, under real-world conditions, inside Ontario. It also means that PeerScholar, as a made-in-Ontario software application, will be hard to sell to colleges and universities where teaching assistants are unionized. And the potential for PeerScholar to improve the quality of large first-year survey classes may never be realized. How often does a labour union, with one single action, harm science, education and business all at once? What an astonishing hat trick of ignorance and greed.
The union, which frames everything as a class issue of labour vs. management, sees only exploited workers among the students. The polarization of its particular lenses prevents hard-core unionists from seeing the world any other way: it's us - beleaguered workers - against them - fat-cat capitalists. And "us" is always entitled to our entitlements, be it the exclusive "right" to usurp professors' prerogative to introduce an additional pedagogical exercise in critical judgement and content review, or the "right" to bank sick days as some sort of end-of-career bonus for showing up to work that is bedevilling the city right now. (Oh yeah, that's CUPE, too.)

I typically use some component of peer-marking in my courses. It has pedagogical purpose to enable students to think critically about the issue of evaluation and rubrics, and therefore to think critically about their own submissions. It prepares those who would pursue a future academic career for the pervasive practice of peer review. And, it helps to create organization-ba within the class culture. The union's interest is not pedagogy. Nor is their interest coincident with that of all students (it took years before non-TA grad students were able to arrange a dental plan because CUPE members kept blocking referenda that would have enabled it). CUPE cares for CUPE. Won't somebody please think of the students!

That would be the professors, now, wouldn't it? Hey CUPE: Stay the hell out of our classrooms!

Update (24 Jun 2009): Professor Anne Urbancic writes to tell me that this happened to a group at Victoria University at University of Toronto. Students put in place a peer mentoring program and CUPE went after VIC for the same reasons. It seems that if you organize study groups among students, you may well find yourselves targetted by a union that increasingly seems to be anti-education. Then again, why would a union want to encourage clear, rational thinking, logic, and benefit for all of society?

[Technorati tags: | | ]

17 June 2009

The Revolution Will Most Definitely be [Social Media'ed]

Five years ago, Mother Jones did a riff on the famous ode, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, be declaring, "the revolution will not be blogged." Mother Jones missed the point, of course, seeing social media as an extension of broadcast. The author of that particular polemic did not anticipate the incredible role that social media are having in both mobilizing the Iranian public, and revealing the corruption of the recent Iranian election. Clay Shirky chalks one up for Twitter in particular on this one, but it was SMS (how soon we forget thee) before that for the election of the late, former President of South Korea, Roh Moo-hyun, and mobilization of the populace to oust ex-Philippine President, Ferdinand Marcos. And, thinking way back to Tiananmen Square, the "social media" of choice (not to mention availability) for Chinese student dissidents was fax.

The revolution will be blogged, Facebooked, Twittered, and whatever-the-next-cool-way-to-connect-will-be-ed. And it's not just revolutions that will be revolutionary. The entirety of politics has already been revolutionized with the election of the first UCaPP President. Contemporary politicians view social media as merely another channel of broadcast at their peril.

In the meantime, my prayers and hopes are with the people of Iran, who truly deserve an honest democratic process to realize their aspirations as a free nation to be welcomed back to the global community.

[Technorati tags: | | ]

09 June 2009

BAH to Baird

A friend of mine once noted, "you're never a complete failure, you can always serve as a bad example" (He wasn't referring specifically to me - he was speaking in general). Which brings us to John Baird, the federal Minister of Transport who yesterday told Toronto to fuck off in an "unguarded moment" at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities convention. The Star reports that Baird chided Toronto for not properly completing its application for federal stimulus funding. It seems that Toronto's request for funding the production of the Bombardier LRT cars that would be used to enable the proposed Eglinton line, part of the Transit City plan, doesn't qualify, because one-third of the money wouldn't be spent to create new jobs in the next two-years.

Not surprisingly, this is a clear demonstration of the BAH-ness of the federal government, and why an understanding of Effective Theory is so important. Effective Theory essentially focuses on the intended effects - both direct and indirect - of a decision or action on the constituencies affected by that decision or action. It's the "measure of goodness," if you will, of an organization's Tactility Statement.

The objective of the federal stimulus funding is to distribute money to municipalities to pay for infrastructure projects, and for the Harper government to take credit for that money. Among the intended effects (in addition to garnering favour with the electorate) is to put people to work throughout the country. While it may be true that Toronto's application may not technically achieve the objective - I don't see Toronto digging up Eglinton Avenue within the next couple of years - it does achieve the intended effect. And, it achieves the intended effect wonderfully well, creating ripple jobs throughout the province.

Providing the money overcomes a serious hurdle in giving the overall go-ahead to the Eglinton line. It can immediately put people to work in high-paying manufacturing jobs in Thunder Bay, which will provide tremendous economic spin-off in that community and the surrounding communities (more jobs!) It will enable some of the preliminary and preparatory work to be done in Toronto (jobs, jobs, jobs), and set the stage for the massive construction project (long-term jobs, and more spin-off jobs), not to mention accomplishing the long-term goal of significantly improving public transit.

As regular readers know, I'm not a great fan of Toronto City Council and some of Mayor Miller's recent decisions. However, I'm with him on this one. In this case, Miller does understand the intended effects of stimulus projects, and realizes the importance of collaborating with other cities (like Thunder Bay) to achieve long-term benefit for all citizens. Rather than cursing Toronto, John Baird should take a lesson in collaboration.

[Technorati tags: | | | | | ]

08 June 2009

The Jazz of Social Media

And speaking of metaphors, Jeneane has a great post on the jazz of social media:
The problem is that while traditional marketers and MBAs and HR folk understand what it feels like to “broadcast their message,” they don’t know what it feels like to “jam,” to play with micromarkets in an already-in-progress composition, an evolving melody, on the market’s own stage, in the customer’s own house.
It's all Birdland, man.

[Technorati tags: | ]

Revealing the Networked Audience – Dr. Bernie Hogan @ U of T

This morning, I decided to take some time out to hear sociologist, Bernie Hogan, who is now a Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute speak about his current investigation, Revealing the Networked Audience. He’s a smart guy. Even danah says so, and I take danah’s endorsement in such matters. Hogan frames the now popular problem of “how do we think about people and social media?” in terms of “how do we think about the problems of our social networks on Facebook without necessarily resorting to Goffman (except as a standpoint from which to depart)?”

Rather than the popular sociological metaphor of (not to put too fine a Goffmanic point on it), "all the net’s a stage and all the men, women, teens, kids, and trolls merely players on the front stage, while their real lives go on backstage," Hogan frames the need for a different metaphor. He observes that the asynchronicity that characterizes environments such as Facebook create spaces that are different from Goffman’s concept of presentation of self. We don’t directly confront out audiences online. We often don’t even know who comprises – or will comprise at some future time – that audience. This creates a tension in an individual Facebook user between what s/he might wish to reveal in the context of a particular social subnetwork and what might be considered taboo or reputation-damaging to another. Thus, Hogan suggests that a more useful metaphor for Facebook and its ilk might be that of a museum for which we each are our own curator and private tour-guides for individual visitors, putting up and switching out various artefacts depending on what he calls the lowest common denominator of an “alter reference group.” This is sociology-speak meaning, “who among those that will judge us by what we reveal on Facebook, will be the most easily offended by any particular potentially embarrassing artefact.” Often, he suggests, this lowest common denominator might well be the actant with whom the individual shares the greatest power asymmetry, like one’s mother or employer.

It’s not a bad departure from Goffman, but one that I think is fundamentally limiting for several reasons. First and foremost, the metaphoric notion of museum suggests a curator that is separate and distant from audience. Moreover, it suggests an authority-power relationship between curator and audience, as if the curator has some measure of control over the meaning that is made as occurs in the various interpretive mechanisms that characterize museum. I would offer that in the very delicate matter of constructing self, the issue is not who is in control – or even in charge (nominally the would-be curator) – but rather, that the putative curator is also, simultaneously and reflexively, part of the audience. In fact, there are many curators to any cyber-incarnation of self – the idea of digiSelf that I once played with, lo those many years ago at the McLuhan Program. I create my own artefacts that I can, more-or-less control (as much as anything placed online can be controlled). Others create and display artefacts in which I am “tagged” and identified. And perhaps most important, there are the diverse, ever-changing emergent contexts provided by those with whom I am in social relation. All of these combine and mash together in the process that I call collaborative construction of identity.

I think the museum metaphor lends itself well to the complications of life that are the sociologist’s stock-in-trade. However, it doesn’t do so well relative to framing the phenomenon of people-and-social-media in complexity terms. I think we are beginning to realize – at least I am beginning to realize – that identity and its contributing artefacts have a complex multiplicity to them that defies the relatively straight-forward, dare I say simplistic, characterization of replaceable museum exhibits. As much as sociological empiricism might capture behaviours that appear to reflect “taking down the pic of me at the last kegger because I’ve got a job interview coming up” as a means of (attempting to) control identity, it cannot contemplate the very simple, yet exceptionally complex notion of simultaneous, multiple, emergent identities, most of which are collaboratively constructed, that are occupied by that pesky digiSelf that autonomously dances among the electrons in cyberspace.

One is left with the question of how to proceed. I’m sure Bernie Hogan will happily pursue his transformation of Goffman from theatre manager to museum director. But I would suggest perhaps a different, somewhat more mystical path: that of shaman. The collaborative construction of identity, largely out of our control, is probably better modelled by the notion of shamanic identity, as for example, how the Tibetan shamans of Nepal consider identity: In Himalayan Dialogue, Stan Mumford describes how “shamanic identity remains embedded in the world of relations, even accepting spirit penetrations into the self” – not a bad description of begin tagged at that kegger. Another possible path of exploration might begin at the guidepost set by Eric McLuhan in his 1998 book, Electric Language, in which he describes the “electric crowd” whose attributes include infinite density (arbitrarily large numbers contained in zero space), and an aesthetic directly derived from manipulating the state of being. And complex manipulations of states of being is, I think, what we're trying to understand here.

So, again departing from Goffman, it’s not the role I adopt, nor the exhibit I display, it is the complex, existential morphology of self, a Philip K. Dick take on Cartesian redux: “I blog, tweet, and post, therefore I am.”

[Technorati tags: | | | ]

02 June 2009

Virtual Students = Poor Instructors

On Sunday, the Star reprinted a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education, describing how some professors teaching cyber-ed courses pose as so-called virtual students, acting as online agents provocateurs to stimulate student discussion and participation.
Professors who use these puppets argue they have a serious purpose. Barbara Christe, an associate professor of biomedical-engineering technology at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, invented "Bill Reed" because she felt disconnected from her online students. Other proponents say fake students can bridge the isolation that students feel sitting alone at their computers. They stimulate participation. They build learning communities. And the ultimate hope is that they help keep students from dropping out, a serious concern of distance educators.
It's easy for fogey-generation professors to feel disconnected in the cyber world. As I talk about in many of my keynotes, we in the fogey generation have had to adopt and adapt to those technologies that create ubiquitous connectivity and pervasive proximity. For us, it's a disconnection from the world in which we were socialized and acculturated.

But there's something else at stake here - something that may well be many professors' dirty little secret: They don't know how to teach. Many will assume that reasonable benign course evaluations, or even those that laud the course material, are signs of being a good teacher. If professors rely on their physical presence and being able to, as the article describes, "invite students in when you hear them grumbling in the hall," then perhaps they haven't got the skills to truly promote conversations in their classes, as opposed to transactional monologues from students to teacher. Such professors may relish the role of "sage on the stage," but that's not what adult education - and arguably higher education - is all about.

The minority opinions in the literature on cyber-ed support this position. Most of the cyber-ed literature - and often the so-called best practices - call for more enforcement through coercive marking schemes, and laud short-essay formats for what should legitimately be conversations. The highly touted online discussion forums can be shown to promote anything but discussions. Rather than participating in anything that resembles true collaborative knowledge creation, students effectively state their own opinion for the benefit of the instructor (not to mention the benefit of their marks that are assigned by the instructor), without drawing from the collective knowledge and views of their cyber-classmates, as would often happen in face-to-face engagement in a physical classroom. Writing in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning in 2002, Matthew Thomas sums up these observations by stating:
There was little on-going development and exchange of ideas in any of the discussion themes. Rather, the disjointed and fragmented individual contributions were abstracted in space and time from other students’ contributions. … This incoherent structure of the discussion threads is not compatible with a truly conversational mode of learning. From this analysis it is evident that the virtual learning space of the online discussion forum does not promote the interactive dialogue of conversation, but rather leads students towards poorly interrelated monologues.
Other authors describe how most threads die out with no responses, and that the vast majority of responses in their respective studies were, in fact, single interactions between student and teacher. (In a forthcoming chapter on cyber-education that I co-authored with Marilyn Laiken, I argue that the threaded forum technology itself has a lot to do with encouraging bad teaching practice: the medium is the message, after all.)

Hiding as the wolf-in-sheep's-clothing of storybook fame is not the answer. Professors learning how to become co-learners in the enterprise of collective knowledge construction, rather than being the sole purveyor of golden words of wisdom, is the sustainable and ethical answer to disconnected professors, be they online or in physical presence, among students who seem to be more interested in Facebook than face-to-face with a droning prof.

[Technorati tags: | | ]