Monday, September 25, 2017

Ako Aotearoa 2016 annual report - resource for tertiary education research in NZ

Annual reports are perhaps not the most enervating of reads. However, Ako Aotearoa's 2016 annual report is more than just a bland overview of Ako Aotearoa activities and financial reporting for last year.

Caveat: I have received funding from Ako Aotearoa for several projects and have small mention in report as part of Ako Aotearoa Excellence in Tertiary Teaching selection panel.

It is a 'one stop shop' summarising some of the recent Ako Aotearoa funded projects - both the Nationally (usually $100,000 plus) and hub funded projects (around $10,000). The report begins with a Highlights section consisting summaries of 12 recently completed projects – both National and Hub funded.

Then, the report moves through to the reporting of the strategic themes which guide their work. The 'flavour' of the unique NZ tertiary system, with it's emphasis on biculturalism is captured well.
Of most use are the summaries of strategic direction and projects which align to each theme.
There is good information on Maori / Pasifika projects and the fostering and acting on the learner voice. These projects presently focus on building capability with student 'union' and associations to allow them to be able to better represent the needs of tertiary students. 

There are also summaries of submissions – especially to the recently completed Productivity commission report on new models of tertiary education. Ako Aotearoa supporting the need to ensure tertiary teachers are supported in their professional development as teachers.

The various national and regional projects were then summarised along with international linkages.

So, overall, not just an annual report but a good resource for anyone keen to find out more about the NZ tertiary educations system beyond statistics and policy statements. The report celebrates the uniqueness of NZ tertiary education as being more than just the learning of occupational skills but a contribution to the nation's social fabric and the building of a bi-cultural national ethos. 

Monday, September 18, 2017

Transition to technology / AI driven world

I have been following with some interest, the reports over the last couple of weeks coming out of Asia on collisions between US Navy ships and other vessels.

As a consequence of the latest collision a couple of weeks ago, the fourth accident this year, the UN Navy relieved its commander of the 7th Fleet.

Today online had an interesting article on how the collisions may be an outcome of an over-reliance on technology. The article surmises this over-reliance on technology, may be have led to a decline in basic seamanship and other competencies.

One of the seminal readings on workplace on workplace learning is an article by Edwin Hutchins on ‘learning to navigate'.

Hutchins, E. (1996). Learning to navigate. In S. Chaiklin & Lave, J. (Eds). Understanding practice: perspectives on activity and context (pp.35-63). Cambridge, Mass: Cambridge University Press. also see his book - Cognition in the Wild.
An overview and more up-to date (2002) analysis and discussion on distributed cognition is provided by Karasavvidis.

In short, the article presents how the knowledge and expertise required to run complex machinery, organisations, processes etc. are shared amongst workers. The context for Pea’s study was a naval ship. The 'technology' 20 plus years ago, still required sailors to manually trace the ship's trajectory on nautical maps. Each seaman added a task / piece of knowledge and the collection of all of these activities ensured the ship reached its destination safely.

Of note, in Hutchin's work, and also the work of Pea, is the notion of 'distributed intelligence'. See the seminal readings for these:

Hutchins, E., & Klausen, T. (1998). Distributed cognition in an airline cockpit. In Y. Engestrom & D. Middleton, Cognition and communication at work (pp. 15-34).. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Pea, R.D. (1993). Practices of distributed intelligence and designs for education. In G. Salomon (Ed.), Distributed cognitions: Psychological and educational considerations (pp. 47-87). New York: Cambridge University Press.

When we add Artificial intelligence into the mix, the need for greater levels of understanding amongst the 'users' of the information being generated, takes on a whole different connotation. In short, the human 'overseers' will require some way to 'see the BIG picture'. Otherwise, decisions made by humans and AI, within already complex systems, become even more complicated. Especially given two recent examples for caution: AI robots are sexist / racist given their programmers tend to come from perspectives of privilege (often WASP) and 'killer robot' warfare is closer than we think.

Therefore, education for all humans, requires a BIG picture focus. The ability to be skilled in occupational tasks will also require an understanding of WHY the task is required, WHERE the task fits into the larger scheme of things and understanding of the implications if any parts of the whole, become compromised plus HOW to correct, re-develop, re-configure etc. if something does go wrong, in a timely manner. Simulations will need to ensure these big picture focuses are embedded to provide for authentic learning by novices and others requiring upgrading or updating. There is therefore also a need for learners to understand HOW AI may work and the algorithms underlying decision making. The human brain, may make decisions which are going to differ, due to the individualised nature of human learning. Hence, we not not only need to be empathetic to the needs of others when we work in teams etc. but also be aware of what AI brings into our work processes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Disobedient Teaching - reflections on book

While away, catching up with my aged parents, I read the book ‘Disobedient teaching’ by Welby Ings. I read the book while awaiting my connecting flight from Melbourne to Singapore. The long flight across, provided me with some reflecting time. Over the last few days, I dipped in and out of the book, to better savour the many messages, woven through the narrative.

I have had the privilege of listening to several presentations provided by Welby over the years. Most have been whilst at AkoAotearoa Academy symposiums, a gathering of tertiary educators who have been recognised through an excellence in tertiary teaching award. Welby was the first winner of the Prime Ministers Supreme award in 2002. Welby’s presentations are always looked forward to, as he is a storyteller par excellence. He never fails to connect to my emotions as he talks about a topic, usually around the need to be a teacher, who is true to one’s self.

In 2007, when I attended at the first symposium, I was rather overwhelmed to be in such illustrious company. In hindsight, I was afflicted strongly by ‘the imposter’ syndrome. I was wondering where I fitted in as almost all the other academy members were university professors. Welby encouraged me with his gentle welcome, to be myself. In particular, he was a good listener and empathised with new members to the academy.

I have been looking forward to reading Welby’s book and needed to do the book justice by setting outside some dedicated time to read it. The book is written in a very accessible style, filled with stories to illustrate the recommendations made through the book. There are also techniques sprinkled through the book, of how to teach creatively, bravely and disobediently.The book is a clarion call to educators - to not be bowed by pressures from administrators, politicians and ministries. Instead to hold to the principles of good teaching and to uphold the prime objectives of being teachers. In short, to ensure learners' needs are advanced and the learners' voices are not subsumed.

I think all teachers who are any good, who care for their students and want to help them learn, should read this book. Teaching is, and always will be, about relationships. Not about how to ensure students only ‘pass a test’ but to help students learn more about themselves. How to help learners go about learning and becoming who they want to become.