29 October 2009

Organizational Culture Change

From the (emerging) thesis draft:
Effecting cultural change in an organization must necessarily be a discursive undertaking, literally changing the vocabulary of attitudes, behaviours, characteristics, determinants, and ethos that create individual identity with respect to the organization, and organizational identity with respect to its members. The social and psychological location of this change is manifest in the valence relationships, and particularly with respect to enacting (or suppressing) the ba-forms of those relationships. The place of that enactment - the culture change venue - literally creates metaphysical "place" in the organization - basho.

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Bureaucracy, Complexity, and Complication

From the (emerging) thesis draft:
Bureaucracy, administrative control, and hierarchy fragment natural interpersonal interactions, thereby interrupting naturally occurring complexity in human social systems. As in the fashion of a Newtonian clockwork universe, that complexity is replaced by the complication of BAH procedures in an attempt to replicate an organic system of humanity with the equilibrium of non-human machinery.

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27 October 2009

Understanding the Context of Education

It may be news to the so-called Internet generation that history did not begin only fifty years ago. That's why I ground my own research into contemporary organizations in 3,000 years of history. There is also an underlying existential, epistemological, and ontological foundation for the things we do today. That's why I introduce a philosophical frame to provide reasoned guidance to Valence Theory. Together, history and philosophy provide the context that enables meaning to be made, even (especially) in a contemporary context that has been tremendously influenced by the follies of post-modernist thought.

Believe it or not, education as well has a history, and a philosophy that allow today's practitioners to make sense of the circumstances that inform their pedagogical practices. Or, to put it simply, teachers and educators need to understand from whence we came to comprehend where we should be going.

This very simple lesson seems to be lost on the Chief Educators at the largest graduate faculty of education in the world, namely the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education - OISE - at University of Toronto. The Dean, Jane Gaskell, in conjunction with Brian Corman, the Dean of Graduate Studies and Vice-Provost of Graduate Education for U of T's School of Graduate Studies, announced that they are shutting down the doctoral program in the History and Philosophy of Education in the Theory and Policy Studies department at OISE.

Nominally, the Ontario Council for Graduate Studies states their reason for recommending that the program be shut down as:
The staffing levels for the program are extremely low and will be exacerbated by imminent retirements. The Committee was not convinced that a critical mass of Faculty is associated with the program to ensure the necessary intellectual climate for a doctoral program. In addition, there is no commitment for hiring at an appropriate level to ensure program viability.
However, there are no imminent retirements (two professors who are approaching the former mandatory retirement age aren't retiring), and the 7 tenured faculty in the program are augmented by 17 associate faculty who are paid by other U of T departments. What is true is that Dean Gaskell seems to have been starving this program of academic renewal for six years, apparently refusing to hire a new professor even though the TPS department unanimously agreed that the next TPS hire should be for H&P (the unanimity has been since 2007).

How easy it is to say that there is not academic critical mass when the requisite supplementary mass has been repeatedly refused by the Dean. It's not as if there was a long-standing tacit plan to shut down the program, right? After all, it's only 85 students we're talking about.

It may appear that History and Philosophy of Education are not immediately relevant to the corporate view of instrumental education. It may be that H&P don't get the paying bums in the seats - after all, most of us are nothing more than BUs (Basic Units) to the bean-counters on OISE's 12th floor - the same ones that have repeatedly told us there would be no negative impact to increasing enrolment, decreasing tenured faculty, decreasing adjunct stipends, and preventing part-time students from taking more than one course per semester (tell that to the person whose salary depends on completing her M.Ed.). These are the same bean-counters that wanted to introduce the concept of indentured servants to the funded cohort at OISE ("no impact," they said, even though it means that a student would be tied to a professor they have never met for the duration of their degree) because that's the way they do it in many science faculties.

Without doctoral research in History and Philosophy of Education (which, of course, attracts the Master's research before it) the understanding of educational context withers and dies. Thus, that which creates meaning to current practices goes by the wayside, and most important, what fundamentally enables us to query and probe why we are doing what we are doing, and whether it's still relevant, vanishes. Perhaps the status quo is acceptable to Dean Gaskell - after all, people are still paying to be taught how to be good 19th-century schoolmarms, albeit with fancier tech. But (and this is where it gets personal) were it not for a doctoral thesis produced by graduate of H&P at OISE (on Plato, of all things), I wouldn't have been able to state No Educator Left Behind (that has garnered attention among thousands of educators throughout North America), and quite literally, the foundational work that led to Valence Theory of Organization would not have existed, and thus, neither would my thesis. How about that? What I hope will be the Next Big Thing in business had its humble beginnings in the History and Philosophy of Education.

Yes, Dean Gaskell, it is a complex world - what you might perceive as a relatively inconsequential budget saving may indeed have implications far into the future that none of us can yet perceive.

Sign the petition to Save History and Philosophy of Education.

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Contemporary Organizational Effectiveness

From the (emerging) thesis draft:
To change the fundamental premise upon which organizations are constructed necessitates a change in our collective understanding of what it means to be effective. Simply put, to be effective in a ubiquitously connected and pervasively proximate world is to be cognizant of the effects one intends to create, and that one actually brings about in both the social and material - both natural and physically constructed - environments. As effects are substantially distinct from goals and outcomes, an organization concerned first and foremost with its effects must maintain a heightened awareness of its interactions amidst the social and material environments in which it participates. This logic brings an organization to having as its primary concern the relationships it creates, out of which intended effects emerge, followed by the goals, objectives, and outcomes towards which it strives.

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23 October 2009

Zichron L'vracha: Soupy Sales, 1926-2009

Childhood was so different in the 1950s and early '60s. It was a simpler time, and television then was not television now (two distinctly different media). And television personalities were different as well, hearkening from the tradition of vaudeville and the infamous borscht belt that influenced generations of American comedians. Soupy Sales was one of the greats in children's entertainment - not the least for this child. He passed yesterday at the age of 83.

I remember his shtick with the pies-in-the-face, and the mostly off-screen puppets, and the joy of pure silliness. In retrospect, and now seeing some of his clips with the eyes of an adult somewhat versed in media theory and the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, I can see the sophistication and the sly asides to any parents who might have happened to be watching along with their kids (something that rarely happened back then). Soupy Sales was cool - his gags needed the participation and completion of the audience, and he spoke to the child-sensibilities in us all. Even in his latter years of declining health, he always respected and had great regard for his audience and fans. Here's hoping there will be a great big heavenly cream pie waiting for you upstairs.

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22 October 2009

John Willinsky on Open Access

As part of Open Access Week, John Willinsky, currently of Stanford University, regaled a large audience at OISE this noon hour. Open access, according to Willinsky, means free online access to peer-reviewed, published literature. The concept reflects the trust in which the public has invested among academics (particularly, but not necessarily exclusively) relative to human knowledge and the fundamental human right to know. Public education, after all, is primarily about access to knowledge: even in the K-12 system the focus is almost exclusively on basic reading, writing, and 'rithmetic skill-building (although that in itself is somewhat problematic) - all skills that enable access to knowledge.

Currently, only 20% of all scholarly articles are available through Open Access. The good news is that the percentage is going up, and it's going up thanks to three primary mechanisms. First, the major journals cartel (Elsevier, Springer, Taylor and Francis, Wiley-Blackwell) now grants the right for authors to post electronic versions of their final, peer-reviewed (but not copy-edited) draft on an institutional archive or private web repository (like a blog). Willinsky notes that an academic's responsibility to publish is only the beginning: there is also a responsibility to disseminate knowledge for everyone's benefit, especially since all academic research is conducted either through direct public funding of institutions and research grants, or indirect public funding through the tax-exempt status of (American) private universities. He observes that a recent study found that authors who archive their work for Open Access in this way are three times more likely to be cited than those who rely solely on being published in one of the slightly less than infinite number of academic journals that exist "out there."

The second piece of good news is that the number of Open Access academic journals is increasing, and increasing at a startling rate. He estimates that there are now about 5,000 online, Open Access journals covering every discipline in the academy. For example, the Public Library of Science boasts seven medical and scientific journals that publish leading and ground-breaking research in biology, medicine, computational biology, genetics, and others. The third piece of good news is that over 100 academic institutions have adopted a mandate that their respective scholarly production will be either published in Open Access journals, or archived for Open Access. In Canada, CIHR - the federal funding body for health research - requires Open Access publication for its funded projects. This, of course, makes sense: the research is publicly funded; the resulting knowledge should be publicly available. Willinsky calls for more institutions (like, say, OISE) to take a public stand on Open Access and declare a similar policy mandating its faculty and grad students to publish in Open Access journals, or to make drafts of their work publicly available.

The Open Access debate often becomes entwined with the copyright debate, and economics. The argument often follows that of the person who attempts to make a living from their creative output, like the fiction author, musician, painter, composer, or sculptor. However, academics are different in a significant way. Whereas the direct economic value provided by a work of fiction (arguably) diminishes (but not necessarily - Cory Doctorow, for example, argues convincingly against this) when the work is freely available, the value to an academic of her work becoming openly and freely available increases. The value of academic knowledge increases when it is shared: the value of one's learning is only measured by its consequential value to others.

As my regular readers know, I am a firm believer in Open Access. Most of my scholarly production has been posted via my blog under Creative Commons, and even my dissertation draft on Valence Theory is available, chapter by chapter, hot off the word processor. It's very simple, really: together, we're all smarter.

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21 October 2009

Chapter 2 Now Available: Understanding Reality's Production

The thesis writing progresses! For those who are following along, the second chapter, Understanding Reality's Production: On methodology and method, is now posted to my Valence Theory thesis wiki. This chapter explains why I've chosen the particular methodology I'm using (constructivist grounded theory, for those playing along at home), and describes the research method, the participants, and other nitty gritties of what actually happened. Here's a taste:
Law draws on Latour and Woolgar’s seminal, 1986 examination of how scientific facts are produced in the context of “laboratory life” to make the argument that science produces the realities that it describes. This is not an arbitrary, “anything goes” epistemology, but rather the product of a rigorous and difficult process of what I describe as “adding to the cultural compendium of wisdom” (Federman, 2007). Heterogeneous research practices and diverse contexts contributed by both researchers and participants produce heterogeneous perspectives and interpretive realities – both of which are, arguably, imaginary constructs – that nonetheless manifest in multiple real effects and consequences. Law then proceeds to suggest that “perhaps there may be additional political reasons for preferring and enacting one kind of reality rather than another” (p. 13; emphasis in original).

In considering the researcher’s responsibility in his or her knowledge contribution, these “ontological politics,” as Law calls them, loom large, especially in the context of both affecting and effecting human behaviours in social settings. Peter Drucker differentiates between natural laws that operate irrespective of humanity’s often limited ability to understand and describe them, and the basic assumptions held by the particular select group of researchers and practitioners that,
…largely determine what the discipline assumes to be reality. … For a social discipline such as management, the assumptions are actually a good deal more important than are the paradigms for a natural science. The paradigm – that is, the prevailing general theory – has no impact on the natural universe. Whether the paradigm states that the sun rotates around the earth or that, on the contrary, the earth rotates around the sun has no effect on sun and earth. A natural science deals with the behavior of objects. But a social discipline such as management deals with the behavior of people and human institutions. Practitioners will therefore tend to act and to behave as the discipline's assumptions tell them to. Even more important, the reality of a natural science, the physical universe and its laws, do not change (or if they do only over eons rather than over centuries, let alone over decades). The social universe has no ‘natural laws’ of this kind. (Drucker, 2001, p. 69-70)

Don't forget to read the accompanying "Conversation with Nishida" on The Question, too.

PDFs for all chapters are available for downloading from the wiki's front page.

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11 October 2009

Teaching Ignorance

No, I'm not talking about the "good type" of ignorance - the form that enables one to judiciously ignore the irrelevant and distracting. In fact, in Ontario, we're teaching precisely the opposite: how not to think, reason, or be aware. In a recent issue of University Affairs, Alan Slavin writes:
Has Ontario's educational system taught a decade of students not to think? There is growing evidence that the combination of standardized testing with a content-intensive curriculum that's too advanced - both introduced by the Conservative government between 1997 and 1999 - has done exactly that.
Slavin outlines six possible contributing factors to the loss of students' ability to think, reason, and construct knowledge and concludes that the major factors are primarily two-fold:
1. In 1997, the Ontario government introduced a new, content-intensive curriculum for grades K to 8 in mathematics and language, followed in 1998 by the science and technology curriculum. The design of this curriculum was top-down, unlike earlier curricula that had been designed by local teachers and their school boards under general guidelines from the Ministry of Education. Much of the new curriculum in the junior grades is considered by many experienced teachers to be beyond the mental development of students at that level. This encourages blind memorization rather than understanding. Moreover, the new curriculum significantly reduces time spent on the visual arts, and was so content-heavy that it greatly limited the amount of time available for developing analytical and conceptual-understanding skills from kindergarten on, even though the development of these skills was a stated goal of the curriculum...

2. In 1997, the Ontario government also introduced standardized province-wide testing in math and reading/writing in Grades 3 and 6, with a math test in Grade 9. I am told that much of the teaching at the elementary level is now directed to passing those tests, as schools are rated publicly on the results. Students must also pass a standardized literacy test to graduate from high school. This emphasis on passing standardized tests which cover too much material at too advanced a level increases the dependence on rote memorization and takes time away from the development of conceptual understanding and analytical skills.
Politically, the new curriculum is precisely what one would expect from a BAH organization: heavily content-focused, with the measure-of-goodness based exclusively on relatively straight-forward, (pseudo-)objective metrics that are more-or-less commonsensical to a lay public. However, when set against one of my research findings, that BAH organizations are unable to perceive quality, (and especially in an uber-BAH organization like government where metrics are designed to demonstrate the success of the system, rather than the success of those measured), the standardized tests are worse than simply being inaccurate indicators of educational achievement: They actually contribute to the deterioration of educational quality itself. More that that, they specifically encourage they type of curricula that prepare good citizens for the 19th century, rather than teaching the skills necessary in the 21st century.

I agree with Slavin's conclusion:
The indications are strong that we have taught students to memorize and not to think. If we do have such a problem, we must move quickly to determine its magnitude, and deal with its causes. A new Ontario curriculum was introduced for K-8 in Mathematics and English in 2005 and 2006, respectively, and a new high-school science curriculum is currently under review as mentioned above. Let's hope that local teachers and school boards are bringing their expertise to the development of this new curriculum, and will be involved in its monitoring and evaluation. There may be 10 years of students who have been taught not to think, and reversing that effect will be not be easy without a determined effort.
That determined effort will not be easy without a change in the BAH mindset that blocks quality, innovation, and simply knowing the right thing to do.

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01 October 2009

The Agenda with Steve Paikin on The Myth of Digital Literacy

I will be a panelist on Steve Paikin's show this evening, at 8:00 (replayed at 11:00) on TVO. Steve Paikin has what is probably the most intelligent, incisive, and informative panel/talk show on television these days. He is the best moderator I have ever had the pleasure to work with, and every time I have been invited as a guest, it has been a joy. This evening, following a one-on-one between Steve and Professor Andrea Lunsford of Stanford University on her Stanford Study of Writing project, I will be in conversation with Professors Lunsford, Nichole Pinkard from Chicago, and Alice Robison from Phoenix. We will be exploring The Myth of Digital Literacy, and what it means to be literate as we enter the 21st century in the UCaPP world.

If you missed the broadcast, here is the video:

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