#election #nz: a vote for change

Most of us like “smaller government” until the government is too small for us personally. The reality is that for most of my friends and colleagues, another 3 years of National-led government won’t create hardship. We own our homes, have well paying jobs, have completed our educations, and live in communities where we can draw on the assets (or capital, if you prefer) of others when in need.

We are, alas, atypical. Now is a good time to remember this.

When I vote in today’s advance poll (I’m flying out to Canada tomorrow so can’t vote on election day) I will not be voting only for myself. I’m also voting for those men in the south who will needlessly die from prostate cancer (after waiting almost a year for surgery), those kids in Mangere whose school keeps losing science teachers (because of the cost of living in Auckland and the meagre wages of teachers), for the person in Christchurch living with PTSD after the earthquakes (but who cannot find or cannot afford mental health care), and for the young couple in Auckland having to choose between having children or owning their own home.

Unsurprisingly the National Party is now rolling out policies to address these issues. Issues this government, have had 9 years to sort these things out. I remain unconvinced they will do so.

I could say “a thousand bucks in lower taxes” would be nice. But I’m not saying that. I don’t need that $1,000. And I am convinced that those “savings” are resulting in higher costs for healthcare, education and the criminal justice system, as yet another generation of poor Kiwi kids grows up hungry. No child in this country should grow up hungry, whatever their parents have or have not done. This government’s obsession with “benefit fraud” while blithely ignoring tax avoidance and tax fraud says a lot to me.

I’m voting two ticks for New Zealand Labour Party. I’m voting for change. I’m voting for the chance to address

thoughts on Anderson’s theory of online learning (2008)

It seems I owe Prof. Anderson an apology:

“A learner-centered context is not one in which the whims and peculariaties of each indivdual learner are unqiuely catered to. In fact, we must be careful to recognize that learner-centered contexts must also meet the needs of the teacher, of the institution, of the larger society that provides support for the student and the institution, and often of a group or class or students. For this earson I have argued elsewhere that this attribute might more accurately be labeled ‘learning-centered'” (2004, p. 35)

Glad we agree. Still don’t understand why Anderson persists on using learner-centered rather than learning centered.

Earlier, in the same chapter, Anderson attributes to Wilson three functions of robust learning theory: it/they allow us to envision new worlds, help/s us make things, and keeps us honest.  I would add a fourth: lacks any obvious internal contrictions in relation to key terms.

Anderson also highlights knowledge-centered (automacy at the expert level and self-reflection), assessment-centered (with assessment for learning as well as measuring performance, and community-centered where the de facto individuated experience of a learner is purposefully embedded within a space where interactivity is not merely available but positioned to maximize learning.  These concepts–particularly of the learning community–are reflected in the design for my course–hence their emphasis in my research design.

I also find his differentiation between student-student, student-content, teacher-content, content-content, and student-teacher interactions of great value. (pp. 43-48). Here’s where I see these occurring in my course:

Student-student: comments on blogs, iterative discussions each week, one small group task, offering learning technologies that facilitate synchronous interactions

Student-content: We don’t “go through” the readings; instead students are tasked with a situation or problem that is relevant to the readings of a unit or module. The onus is on the students to ask for clarification–from anyone in the community.

Teacher-content: I have written much of the course materials, including many learning activities. Thus every single piece of content in my course is aligned with one or more aspects of the course design.

Content-content: There is a self-directed Elearning Toolkit for the course. Students elect which aspects of the toolkit to explore, but substantive engagement with the toolkit seems to correlate with student performance on summatively assessed assignments. All readings align with at least one other learning activity.

Student-teacher: I provide timely and substantive feedback, though I’m more inclined to use a Socratic approach (questions and validation more than answers), and I try to avoid “ping pong pedagogy”: every student question is answered by me so students sit back and wait for me to answer everything rather than offering answers to their peers.

I’m enjoying the opportunities here to drill down deeper into material I’m ostensibly expert in!


Anderson, T. (2008). Towards a Theory of Online Learning. In: T. Anderson & F. Elloumi (Eds.), Theory and Practice of Online Learning. Edmonton AB: Athabasca University. Accessed online October 10 2010 http://www.aupress.ca/books/120146/ebook/02_Anderson_2008_Anderson-Online_Learning.pdf

confessions of an educationalist supremist

A few years ago I was at a dinner party, at which the host introduced me to a colleague. Said colleague was a great teacher (Killam I believe) and was finding their feet in educational research. I politely listened to their work, made a few toothless comments about how interesting it sounded. While I quietly seethed.

It’s true, I had–have, to a lesser extent–a chip on my shoulder about those not trained in educational research doing such research because of their subject matter expertise. I see this significantly differently now; reflecting about this has been rather useful to my practice as a researcher. Including a smidge of hypocrisy on my part…

Dedication, industriousness and planning are attributes of most excellent teachers…but not all teachers who are dedicated, industrious, and who plan well are excellent teachers. A minority probably are mediocre teachers–or worse. Of those that are good teachers–or great teachers–the ability to teach effectively doesn’t also make one a good educational researcher. In terms of staff development, too many subject matter experts are abandoned when they begin their teaching careers (“you’re an expert; you’re ready to teach”). So why would we encourage instructors to engage in SoTL work without an appropriate amount of training? Suffice to say Heather Kanuka’s (2011) article resonated with me.

Which speaks to the value of the FCP.

Ah but then…I have a PhD in education–but in adult education. My research areas of expertise are in health promotion, community education, and social justice education. You’ll notice there’s no mention of course design, pedagogical methods, evaluation or assessment. Because they were not part of my doctoral studies. They were, however, part of my practice as an educator–higher education most recently. My magistral studies included coursework on program planning (curriculum design) and learning theory though. And I’ve certainly planned, delivered, and evaluated all sorts of courses and programs.

But trained in SoTL research? No. Trained in social research methods? Oh yes: ethnography, surveys (correlational design), mixed methods, discourse analysis. Thus in terms of research paradigms, I’m not finding the materials of the FCP challenging–they’re the world I’ve lived in as a researcher for years. It’s the transfer of knowledge to its new application that presents the challenges for me.

On principle SoTL is important and of merit; it needs to be done well though: with rigour, using solid methods. Or, what Kreber (2007) calls “authentic practice”.


Kanuka, H. (2011). Keeping the Scholarship in the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 5(1).

Kreber, C. (2007). What is it really all about? The Scholarship of Teaching and Learning as an Authentic Practice. nternational Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 1(1).



Oh if only I’d saved ’em!

I’ve done the TPI before. The first was in Dan Pratt’s learning theory seminar during my MA. It was one of the last courses I completed and always look back at that time with a cringe: I was your archetypal “critical” (snarky, in other words) new post-graduate student. Dan, thankfully, seems to have forgiven me. I recall that the domain I expected to score highest in–social reform–was lower than a couple of others.

Fast forward almost ten years and I completed the TPI again. This time I was a post-doc supporting Gary Poole in managing the educational program of a CIHR Strategic Training Program on collaborative health research. Nothing stands out in my mind from that go at the TPI.

Last week’s score fairly floored me–though as I went through the questions I expected that I wouldn’t have many dominant or recessive perspectives. But no dominant and only one recessive perspective Had you given me the five perspectives I would have ranked mine (with the most important at the top) rather differently than the TPI says. here’s a wee table to contrast my results with my own assumptions:

Self-predicted Actual Score
Nurturing Nurturing


Social Reform Developmental


Apprenticeship Transmission


Developmental Social Reform


Transmission Apprenticeship


*Recessive perspective

I suppose getting Nurturing right is a good thing. What’s particularly striking to me is that Nurturing, Developmental and Transmission are so closely clustered together. Having ruminated on this for a few days I think I can (somewhat) articulate why my score are so…middling.

Purpose of education: I’ve taught in private post-secondary, non-profilt and community organizations. Since 1998 I’ve taught almost exclusively at universities, save a brief stint in workplace learning at the 2010 Olympics here in Vancouver (for which I developed the customer service training. Which is pretty cool thing to be able to say). When I started in community education I was solidly in the “learner driven” camp: adults should determine what they learn and when; my role was to support and facilitate this. Nurturing, in other words.

But I found that sometimes learners were sometimes inclined to sell themselves short. Their expectations of themselves were meagre; often their materials circumstances were too. So I rather quickly felt that part of my job was to nudge–sometimes push–people to work past their self-imposed limitations. In particular, working with persons with persistent mental illness or addiction and those who experience racism on a daily basis inspired the Social Reformer in me. Inspiration is needed to remake society; sometimes it comes extrinsically. I tried to–try to–be that inspiration at times.

I also encountered a fair number of learners at the private college (a vocational program for travel and tourism) were there based on HRDC funding: long-term unemployed or new Canadians. Some had language skills that were barriers: others living with PTSD. Paradoxically it was the folks facing the greatest challenges who more often wanted to work the hardest. Inspiring! But I left with a sense that imposing education on some people is a waste of everyone’s time and money. A minority of people though–1 or 2 per course, or about 10 a year, out of 200+ learners.

At the college and the Olympics I encountered a transfer of learning (Caffarella, 2004) gap between classroom sessions and real-world practice. Folks would leave a session smiling and confident that they “got it”, but the emails and phone calls would start coming in a few days: “Can you come by and show me this again? I thought I understood it but…” For the Olympics this was not great news: there’s no way a training team of 15 could provide that level of service to a workforce of 25,000+ people at Games time.

So I integrated an Apprenticeship model within a hierarchical structure. We spent a lot of time working with team leads in their workspaces. First we got them skilled up to the level needed to do the jobs of their team; next we skilled them to deliver the training–and follow-up–within their own teams. The structures for all of these sessions were:

Description to Demonstration to Role play to Simulation to Dry run to Go live
Some divisions compressed this a bit, depending on the skill and workforce. But it’s very much dependent on Apprenticeship to work.

Transmission? Well I would almost rate it a zero, but for two facts. First, we live in a world of things created in learning cultures dominated by transmission : lecture and test, or what Freire (1971) calls the “banking method” of education. And there are any number of professional bodies that need to manage licensure and continuing education enterprises, for which things like multiple choice testing is a huge labour and time saver.  But in my educational world, such approaches would be used for establishing a foundation knowledge, and for providing formative feedback to learners. I only use integrative assignments in my teaching.