Monday, March 12, 2018

Vocational Education reform - New Zealand

The coming few years will be interesting times for NZ educators across all sectors from early childhood to tertiary. The new Labour government has launched discussions into an overhaul of the NZ education system. The Minister of Education, Chris Hipkins, announced late last year, sweeping reforms of the sector, including review of National Certificates in Education and scraping National standards at primary school level.  There will also be a study into the funding model for the 16 NZ Institutes of Technology and Polytechnics (ITPs).

The last major reform in NZ of education was 30 years ago when the then Labour government devolved centralised control of schools through the 'tomorrow's schools' changes. As with all reforms, there have been pluses and minuses and winners and losers. The National Centre for Educational Research NZCER has a series of reports on impacts through the years.

It is timely to look into how NZ's education system is coping with the advent of 'future of work' impacts and 'Industry 4.0'. As will all reforms, there will be compromises and people with strong opinions along the right / left continuum.

One of the initiatives into seeking opinion on how to go forward with vocational education in NZ, was a workshop convened in Manukau a couple of weeks ago - the Voices of Tertiary Education forum. The workshop gathered representatives from the teacher unions, students, and ITP leaders to produce some recommendations for the NZ VET sector. There was another workshop for the university sector as well.

The outcomes from the workshop include:

·        - Work with staff, students and sector leaders to develop a new funding model
·        - Ensure a new funding model guarantees the regional provision of tertiary education, so all people can access learning opportunities in their communities
·        - Take the immediate step in Budget 2018 of changing the Student Achievement Component funding under-delivery figure to a more reasonable level
·        - Host further forums dedicated to discussing the future of the vocational education and training sector
·     -    Build a system that recognises and provides for diverse learners – including, but not limited to, Māori, Pasifika, second chance learners, sole parents, mature students, students with disabilities, and LGBT

In general, responses from the sector have been positive, to need to re-vitalise and re-evaluate IPT funding systems. For example, Toi Ohomai CE was mostly optimistic. TEU also collected responses from Kirk HOpe who is CE of Business NZ - who called for better alignment between qualifications, educational outcomes and industry and Sandra Grey, National TEU president response of a call to action to make the NZ educational system better. Chris Whelan, Executive Director of Universities NZ, provides the university perspective.

All in, there is a need to keep up with what is happening as the sector submits proposals and various committees are convened to discuss and feedback on recommendations. Exciting times ahead :)

Monday, March 05, 2018

Industry 4.0 - challenges and implications to education - NZ context

The term Industry 4.0 was coined in Germany around 2011. It has roots in the manufacturing industry and the term is based on societies move into the 4th industrial revolution. First one being the use of water power and steam to drive machines, second the shift into mass production and the use of electricity, and the third being the info. tech. computer and automation revolution. The fourth industrial revolution is premised on 'smart technology' with the leveraging of AI and robotics, the internet of things (IoT) and integration across machines and devices.

The principles driving Industry 4.0 are interoperability, information transparency, support of human work by cybernectic / cyberphysical systems, and decentralized decision making (i.e. AI).

In NZ, Callaghan Innovation convened a meeting of industry leader to discuss the impact of Industry 4.0 on NZ manufacturing and wider industries. Industry 4.0 is envisaged eventually to encompass all aspects of manufacturing across the supply chain. For example, NZ primary industries have been working for many years on a 'farm to fork' system to better meet customer needs but also to maintain sustainable practices. Industry leaders across NZ have had many occasions to catch up the implications to their businesses - including this article (2015) and this conference on the internet of things. (2017).

The impacts on education are many. Firstly, there is the push towards STEM as Industry 4.0 hinges on the interface and interconnections between machines, materials and digital technologies. However, understanding the implication to humans, the society at large and being able to see the big picture, requires a high degree of critical thinking. The humanities need to be proactive in representing the 'human' in how industry 4.0 evolves. Secondly, there is the need for all to understand the promises and possible threats of IoT, in particular, the pervasive effects across future lives. Education needs to prepare people for collaboration not only with others but to include 'non-human' entities. Included is the need to be able to work across a networked world, whereby cultural competency includes others who view the world with different perspectives. Thirdly, there is a need to help all individuals become savvy about how to proceed in a world which changes rapidly and where 'careers' across a lifetime, shift constantly. This NZ Herald 2016 article calls for the need to prepare 'kids' for the robot revolution and recommends an optimistic approach to meeting the surge of change. As the new Minister of Education announces reforms in the NZ education system, it will be important to contribute to the discussion as this is a crucial time for how countries shift their education systems to cope with the challenges of Industry 4.0.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Microcredentialling - overview

Microcredentialling is one of the ‘buzz’ items now rapidly becoming a ‘must have’ within formal institutions’ portfolio. In NZ, there have been growing interest in, see this and this, and the NZ qualifications Authority (NZQA) is undertaking a series of pilots – edubits – to work out how micro-credentials could be implemented.

However, there are many interpretations of what actually are micro-credentials, see here for one.

In general, microcredentials belong within established suites of qualification options. They may be useful in the following segments of learner journeys:

As a precursor to entry into a programme, or shift to slightly re-configured job etc.

Within a formalised programme of learning to enable greater flexibility – i.e. through ‘stacking’, RPL or recognition of ‘soft skills’ etc.

For continual professional development – e.g. programmers up-skilling to new programming language.

An established case study distilled some principles for development and implementation of micro-credentials within a teacher professional development programme.

Within the NZ context, Mischewski from E2E completed a report for the Tertiary Education Commision to find out how micro-credentials can be used to improve engineering as an educational option, in particular at diploma level. Figure 5 – page 23 provides an example in engineering – for how microcredentailling may be useful for beginning, developing, upskilling and expert engineers and the types of learning including micro, work-based and formal that can be credentialed. The report also summarises pros and cons within the NZ engineering industry and education contexts.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Future skills for work - NZ context

The NZ Heraldreported last week, that NZ education came up tops with regard to preparing people for the world of future skills. These skills include:

  • interdisciplinary skills
  • creative and analytical skills
  • entrepreneurial skills
  •  leadership skills
  • digital and technical skills and
  • global awareness and civic education.

We need to move from thinking about employability skills etc. to focus more on preparing people for being able to understand, navigate and survive the coming challenges wrought by AI and robotics on work – see one example Frey et al.

Many exponents of solutions promote the adoption of Universal Basic Income (UBI), including the current NZ government on 'the future of work' summarised in a previous blog. However, the UBI only goes part way. Individuals still need to be proactive and have the wherewithal to work out for themselves, their aspirations and carve a career 'pathway or trajectory' for themselves. The provision of UBI may be seen as a soft landing cushion for individuals seeking to or are forced to re-evaluate their work options

See two previous book reviews summarising the need for individuals to be assisted - Book by Gratton on the shift to the future of work and Thompson on 'smarter than you think'. Both, along with this paper by Dr. Gog Soon Joo, advocate for a shift in thinking from the current model of education to skills to employment to one which is centred more around the individual being prepared to take ownerships of their trajectory – the entrepreneur to professional to leader career.

Dr. Gog's context is Singapore, which is mentioned in two recent reports prepared by the World Economic Council on the future of work. The first report - future of work - accelerating workforce reskilling fro the fourth industrial revolution - features the Institute of Adult Learning (IAL) and the second report - a white paper on reskilling - uses the Skills Future as one of the case studies of a whole government initiative to provide citizens with information, incentives and advise on continual professional development.

With the Labour party forming the current government in NZ, some of the recommendations proposed from their future of work project, will no doubt inform some of the ways forward. Over the last five years, career pathways (see vocational pathways) and careers information through careers NZ (which was recently res-structured) have improved markedly. However, there is still a focus on the 'education to skills to employment' approach with some modicum of preparing the individual with skills to move their own career on - the role and agency of the individual, still needs to be made more overt though. See this 2011 paper by Vaughan on shifting the NZ system to enable individuals instead of concentrating on skills development. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

SEED (Sharing Educational Experience and Development) - Ara Institute of Canterbury

Here are notes taken at the first Ara’s annual SEED (Sharing Educational Experience and Development) for 2018.

The theme for this session was technology in the classroom.

First up is Melissa Barber, programme leader for LevelCertificate in Study and Career Preparation for pre-health and medical imaging pathways. She presents on ‘the use of technology to enhance teaching and learning in the pre-health programme’. Began with background on the programme and focus of the presentation – to improve students' on-going engagement and revision as the programme progressed. Implemented a series of summative on-line quizzes on 2 courses, to increase engagement. Six quizzes in total, usually held every 2 weeks and with each having 15 items. Time limit for students to complete the quizzes and best score of 5 out of the 6 used to calculate final mark. Replaces a high stakes 90% exam. Still an exam but lower weighting (40%) and the progressive quizzes provide feedback on progress so students are able to access support with weak areas.  Second iteration being run this semester and will be evaluated to obtain feedback on efficacy of this approach. Included will be monitoring beyond this programme of students as they move across to degree programmes. To ensure there is authenticity of student undertaking the quiz, the time frame is over weekends and questions and multiple choice options are randomised. Each student then goes through a different version. The quiz is open book but students only have 30 minutes to complete. Questions ensued on robustness of our LMS and challenges of running summative assessments on it. Keeping to short quizzes and time delimitation helps. Need to ensure students are provided with proviso that they may have to resit if LMS fails.

Nathan Walsh provided a quick overview of OneNote Classnotebook and how it can be used to support learning.

Secondly, Dr. Isis Carter from Applied Sciences on ‘the use of Moodle forums for engagement and formative assessment in applied science’. Used forums for level 5 course on Industrial biomolecules. Was keen to improve students' ability to communicate and collaborate to prepare them for work in science – which is premised on high levels of collaborative work. Important to also provide formative feedback to students. Used forums (weighted at 10%) as the tool to encourage students to communicate clearly in writing on complex content. Students commented (at least to two peers) on each other’s postings to help each other refine their ‘final’ submission. Has run for two years (but with small number of students) and adjusted assignment to match learning outcome. The forum provided a means for the tutor to model good writing practice and scaffold students to the level of writing expected. These then useful for completing written report as students could use initial work from the forum and also from other students (but credited). Students needed confidence to undertake feedback, they had to learn the language of science and for feedback. Student feedback indicates need to build student confidence and student engagement increased when grade added for timely responses.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Smarter than you think – book overview

Here is an overview of the book - Smarter than you think; How technology is changing our minds for the better - by Clive Thompson. Published 2013 by Penguin Press.

Positive review from nytimes.

The book proposes humans are innately wired up to learn. AI/ robots / AI agents etc. are only as good as their programmes. When both machines and humans work together, they are better than all human or all AI efforts. Therefore, it is important to leverage off the potentialities of AI etc. rather than fearing the coming onslaught.

Additionally, the way we perceive the world and ‘knowledge’ has changed with the widespread availability of information and the ubiquity of ‘smart devices’. Instead of being passive consumers, large numbers now create and share their efforts. People who would not have written / shared experiences beyond their friends and families 30 years ago, now upload opinion pieces, instructions, reflections etc.

The book has 10 chapters and is written in an accessible prose. Notes (30+pages) and index round off the book.

By way of introduction, chapter 1 ‘the rise of the centaur’ sets the scene. The chapter uses the well-known late 90’s batter between chess master Gary Kasporov and the IBM Deep Blue to introduce the concept that both humans and computers have their own strengths and weaknesses. In 2005, ‘free-style’ chess tournaments saw two relatively lower ranked chess players, who were able to ‘collaborate’ with a chess computer, win the tournament against teams made up of grandmaster chess players or chess computers only. The ability to integrate machine assistance into the decision making process of chess, is argued to be the defining factor. This chapter also presents how the author has shifted positions, from being pessimistic about the future digital future, to being optimistic about how humankind has been able to leverage off the many opportunities afforded.

The second chapter, ‘we the memorious’ overviews the ways people remember and discusses the pros and cons of recording ‘life blogs’ or ‘video blogs’ of daily happenings. Technology allows us to have ‘infinite memory’ but too much is perhaps not always good.

Chapter 3 is on the theme ‘public thinking’ summarises the rise of ‘citizenship journalism’. How some ‘accidental bloggers’ became conduits for information when dictatorial regimes imposed news blackouts and the ways this form of communication has changed our lives forever. For large segments of society who never really did much reading or writing, the advent of blogging has shifted many into becoming much more literate to cope with a mostly text based internet. There is evidence first year students write longer pieces and more complex pieces when compared to two decades ago.

Of interest to educators, the chapter on ‘new literacies’ overviews the shift from the focus of literacy on reading and writing to encompassing multiliteracies. These include all the usual needs to become digitally fluent but also the visual literacies and ‘3D literacies’ which new tools and platforms bring.
Next chapter extends to the previous with discussion around ‘the art of finding’. Opens with a discussion on how being able to google, helps us surmount the ‘tip of the tongue’ syndrome but also may cause some to lose confidence when the internet goes down or their smart phone is unable to connect with the internet. Discusses how access to anytime/ anywhere information changes the way we prioritise what we learn and how dependence may affect our creativity. Too much information is a distraction but selected digital memories can amplify our access to brain functions.

Following is a chapter on ‘the puzzle hungry world’ which tracks the rise of digital games and the shift in how games are used by people. In particular, how games which require collaboration and harness collective thinking changes the way people play, work and learn.

The next chapter is also useful for educators as it discusses the potentialities digital technologies bring to the ‘Digital school’. Khan academy is used as an example of how primary school children learn advanced mathematics when they are allowed to become self-directed and learn for their own fulfilment. Uses example from NZ school on how blogging improved reading and writing for students as their work was being read by others beyond their own community. Also discusses the pro and cons of teaching children to code.

The chapter on ‘Ambient awareness’ adds another technology assisted capability / potentiality. The digital trail collected across our lives lead to data patterns, allowing analysis to reveal our routine life flow. Included are the networks we are part off and our perspectives on life. Collection of ‘self-talk’ and broadcasting these, help understand the perspectives across a team. The pros and cons of ambient awareness are discussed.

‘The connected society’ is the penultimate chapter and brings together the ideas from the previous chapters. Uses citizen instigated protests against the state in China / Egypt / Azerbaijian as examples of how technology, tapped through the expertise of a few becoming mainstream practice, is able to create social / political change.

The epilogue returns the discussion to AI with Watson, an IBM programme able to play Jeopardy - requiring AI to take intuitive leaps based on experienced living. At the moment, Watson runs on a supercomputer but predictions are for supercomputer processing speeds will be available within a decade on a laptop. If Watson is a precursor, that some of the quirks and idiosyncrasies humans are capable of, may no longer the sole domain of humans. 

Overall, the book can be seen to be counter to other books on a similar vein. For example - The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains. My thoughts are than humans have survived due to their adaptability. Adaptations can go either way and most people will experience, learn and adjust. Not to the polar opposites of technology will make us all become subservient or we become part cyborg, but a sort of middle ground whereby some will have to work through 'addiction' to the less advantageous aspects of technology and other will overly embrace the perceived advantage. Education has to play a role in assisting people to understand the pros and cons, attain the literacies to make use of the aspects of technology which will enhance their lives, and continue to be vigilant as to how AI develops (i.e. the ethics of AI). 

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

The Shift: The future of work is already here - book overview

The Shift: The future of work is already here by Gratton, L. Published in 2011 by Harper Collins.

Briefly browsed through this book a few years ago when it arrived at the Ara library. Over the summer, completed a deeper read of the concepts proposed. In part due to the paucity of literature proposing solutions beyond UBI (universal basic income) as a panacea for the implications wrought by AI / robotics / globalisation / neoliberalisation etc. on the future of work.

Generally positive reviews from aidnography blog, management today magazine and financial times. The tone of reviews indicate the book to have a business / organisational management slant.

The book is readable to a lay audience and written in a conversational style. There are 11 chapters plus preface and introduction with 5 parts dividing up the book into themes. Due to the rapid movement in this area of research, the bibliography is already dated. At the end of the book, there is also a ‘follow up’ section with author contact etc., acknowledgements and comprehensive notes for those keen to explore various items further.

The introduction details the rationalisation and the ‘how the book came about’. In particular, the metaphor of quilting is used to illustrate a way forward. The introduction is a caveat in part, outlining the challenges inherent in predicting the future and the ways the used to try to circumvent some of the pitfalls. Two assumptions are used to anchor the various themes, firstly is that generalised skills may not be the panacea, instead there is a need for specialists to constantly ‘reinvent’ themselves; secondly, individualism is replaced by collaboration and networks.

Chapter 1 makes up the one chapter in Part 1 ‘the forces that will shape your future’. The five forces are: technology, globalisation, demography and longevity, society and energy resources. Each of the forces is discussed and extended to provide deeper detailing to make a total of 32. Nothing new in these but the thematic collation is useful. Suggests individuals need to craft their own future by discarding items no longer required, embroidering the items of importance, discovering and collecting new pieces, sorting to prioritise and continually looking for patterns.

Part 2 is made up of 3 chapters which summarise the ‘dark side of the default future’ with the increase in fragmentation as we experience our world in sound bites, facebook likes and random wanderings around the web. Of importance is the effect on how we learn and progress as our lives becomes challenged by having to deal with a deluge of information and expectations. Our concentration to allow for the building of mastery is compromised, our capacity to observe and learn is reduced and the opportunities to ‘play and create’ are removed.

The flip side is the isolation individuals then feel as actual social interaction declines. In part due to the erosion of ‘the family’, the neighbourhood/ village, and opportunities for ‘easy friendship’. The economic consequences of exclusion through the rise in the ‘new poor’ is covered in chapter4. There is a widening gap between the haves and have nots due to a shift to ‘the winner takes all’ syndrome and the celebration of the individual.

Part 3 then takes on a proactive slant with ‘the bright side of the crafted future’ Each chapter proposes a solution. These include, co-creation, social engagement and micro-entrepreneurship.
A series of narratives gives life to these three chapters. The examples provided are contemporary and describe live, as it is now, for many. In summary, these three chapters discuss how the forces can be used to make life better and how individuals need to be aware of how to leverage off the forces, instead of being overwhelmed by them.

The fourth part spells out ‘the shift’. Each shift is defined and extended. The shifts are: from shallow generalists to ‘serial maser’; from isolated competitor to innovative connector; and from voracious consumer to impassioned producer. Here, solutions offered are argued through. Firstly, it is important to build deep mastery in a discipline, but the caveat is to ensure the discipline has potential for future career development. Deep mastery requires investment in time and effort to attain. Affinity, passion, and resilience are important. Serial masters constantly ‘rework’ themselves by sliding and morphing’, as work shifts and mastery increases. Then ensure there is an emphasis on connecting with others, organisations, etc. and making use of technology to crowdsource, network and self-market. Importantly, becoming a ‘producer’ / crafter/ maker so one becomes a contributor, not just a consumer.

The last part consist of a series of ‘notes’ which summarise the recommendations to targeted audiences. The notes are to children, CEOs and governments. In conclusion, the book advocates for individuals to be proactive and to take control of their working lives. However, agency on the part of workers is fraught with social / economical / political obstacles, sometimes difficult for individuals on their own, to navigate or get around. Therefore, some support may be a key to empower individuals to think through, plan and realise goals to ensure they are able to continually adapt to the challenges.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Learning through social media - becoming part of a learning community

In an effort to attain better work / study / life balance, I have started to bring some organisation into one aspect of my informal learning, which is of New Zealand flora and fauna. Having tramped (hiked) around most of the South Island for almost forty years, I learnt, through a process of osmosis, some of the common plants, birds, insects and lizards/skinks commonly encountered in NZ's diverse natural landscapes. As I near retirement, I am in need of an intellectually challenging hobby and my long standing forays into ‘naming things’ may become an avenue to take up time released through retirement from work.

My initial attempts to bring structure my botanical instruction began by collating photos of plants taken on various tramps / walks. To date, after 2 years, almost 300 plants archived on Picasa, now Google photos, with identification sought through references to a range of books on my shelves, library books and then an increasing array of digital resources found through Google. Of which botany has extensive resources, with this site a good one archiving the myriad links.

All the above makes use of my current research skills, albeit in a more visual medium. I also sought out botanically trained, or inclined walking companions, many of whom patiently explained the nuances of identifying the rather large corpus of plants in NZ. Including a wide range of small leaved shrubs - with this book by Hugh Wilson and Tim Galloway an essential reference.

Several months ago, on advice from one of these ‘teachers’, I subscribed to Naturewatch. The contribution of networked learning has increased my learning several fold. I have also been able to observe how the on-line community on Naturewatch interact and support kindred spirits. So now, I try to upload photos a day or so after I have recorded the specimens. I usually attempt to identity the plant/s as I upload them, so would have made an effort to find the plant in my ‘hard-copy’ or digital resources first or use the nifty visual matching facility on the site. Then, usually within ½ a day, my sample would either be confirmed, or alternative identification would be offered. Through this process, I have learnt to be more careful with my initial identifications and to especially take note of seminal identification features and regional aspects.

Remembering the names of these plants is a major challenge. However, I have found associating the plant to the place where the photo was taken, provides a good initial anchor into my neural framework. Then, repeating the plant name when I encounter another sample, helps to reinforce the memory and lead to better recall on following occasions. Plants which have been contentious and have led to a discussion on Naturewatch have also been helpful. The experience of interacting with others and discussing the rationale for identification, again assists with future recollection.

All in, a good foray into the realm of possibilities opened up by the internet. When I shared the above with a good amateur botanist friend of mine, who is in her eighties, she was impressed by the ease of information sharing. Replacing the time honoured method of snail mail correspondence and asynchronous interaction. So, my learning is work in progress. 

Monday, January 22, 2018

How we will earn money without jobs? Will robots, enabled by quantum computing, take those jobs?

Three connected readings from last week.

1) Had a look at the TedTalk by Martin Ford which summarises his book - The rise of the robots: technology and the threat of a jobless future (2016).

The book summarises the challenges NOW and proposes ways to support workers through the transition. In short:
  • Jobs will be taken away
  • Jobs will change – new jobs created – see Today online for similar
  • jobs will become more interestin as robots remove the mundane, repetitive aspects
  • Jobs will disappear – e.g. horses at the turn of 1900.

There will be and already is an encroachment of machines on to things that make humans unique, including the ability to think, learn and create – some machines can now do these things.
Advances in technology now undergoing exponential change, increase in cognitive capability with an improvement on the ability to learn (e.g. winning at Go)
Proposes the result will be a  lose of jobs, stagnant wages and precarious job. However, the global economics hinges on consumerism / market, therefore, if no one has money then economies decline.
Rationalises basic income (UBI) as a solution to decouple work from income.
Basic income is not a panacea but a start. UBI needs to be followed up with incorporation of incentives into basic income so people still thrive to achieve social, individual, community and meaning and fulfilment in our lives. Therefore, it might be more politically acceptable if some differentiation allowed in basic income. 

2) Article last week in the NZ Herald on 'don't be afraid of robots taking your job'. 

Proposes, more automation = more opportunity to develop high-value service or products especially in relationship based services. Time saved in not having to do boring and routine tasks can be diverted to development of niche premium products; personalised services; ability to be nimble and adaptive to market changes and to be the disruptor, not the disrupted.
Encourages jobs in the trades, personalised assistance type roles and the importance of continually developing excellent communication and relationship-building skills.

Provides examples in retail of how above already being put in place. - American context. 
  • Robotic shopping carts – or no carts at all
  • Digital mirrors to visualise new outfits, lipstick, sunglasses etc,
  • Prices that change by the hour – digital tags on shelves
  • Technology to help you find better fitting shoes and coordinating outfits
  • Robots that restock shelves and guide you to what you need

3) Then a NY Times article providing a background and summary to quantum computing.
Proposes quantum computing to be well on its way, with use of quantum with ‘normal PC’ via cloud and processing speeds improve up to 100,000 faster than now.
Implications include the importance of ‘life long learning’ so everyone able to keep up with changes. Quote from article:
“Therefore, education needs to shift “from education as a content transfer to learning as a continuous process where the focused outcome is the ability to learn and adapt with agency as opposed to the transactional action of acquiring a set skill,” said McGowan
“Instructors/teachers move from guiding and accessing that transfer process to providing social and emotional support to the individual as they move into the role of driving their own continuous learning.”

All the articles concur there WILL be major impacts on how jobs are constituted. There needs to be leadership and direction from governments to cope with the coming social impacts. For individuals, it will be a time to ensure one does not keep one's head in the sand but to be aware of what is coming and to try to plan ahead. Individuals with the literacies and wherewithal to be flexible and continually able to keep up with shifts in the job market, will be the ones who will survive the coming challenges. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

A day in the life of the brain - book overview

Book by Professor / Baroness Susan Greenfield, A day in the life of the brain: the neuroscience of consciousness from dawn to dusk, published in 2016.

Read this intermittenly across the summer break, and wrote this up, in snatches across last week from digital notes taken after reading each chapter. I have tidied to provide continuity and have added the book into my list of 'need to read through another time' as the book deserves another read to pick out the applicable information to teaching and learning.

For the moment, this overview is a work in progress. 

There is review of the book from the Guardian which is mostly positive. The book has 9 chapters plus notes and references – 66 pages or about one third of the book.

The main thread of the book is the identification of what actually makes up consciousness from the perspective of images taken of the brain as it is active. The various aspects of what makes up consciousness is unpacked through the various routines in a ‘typical’ day.

The first chapter is titles ‘in the dark’. This introductory chapter tries to define ‘consciousness’ by summarising the various approaches taken thus far to understand the concept. The chapter argues that although there has been much progress, we are still some way to understanding how consciousness works. There is still no distinct brain area, or network of brain cells / neurons or clusters of brain cells in which consciousness can be found. Recent advances in neuroscience has concentrated on identifying the various contributions of different brain cells, parts of the brain etc. See connectomeetc.  The book tries to come up with a model or conception of what is consciousness and how it works, to provide some grounding for further work in neuroscience to validate the idea. The model promoted in the book relies on unravelling how ‘neural assemblies’ work. Theses assemblies are posited to be ‘deposits’ from which consciousness ripples forth.

The book then works through a series of explanatory chapters, loosely tied to the ‘day in the life’ theme. Chapter two delves into states of consciousness when we sleep and undergo anaesthesia. There is discussion on what is consciousness and the variability of this state of being. The concept of neuronal assemblies is then introduced through its historical evolution and a summary of present hypothesis which come through advances in MRi. The analogy of stones thrown into a pond and the ripples that occur is then used to provide a visual anchor for neuronal assemblies.

Chapter 3 explores consciousness in non-humans and uses this to further expand on the details of neuronal assemblies. For example, the variables and effects – using the analogy of ripples on a pond – of a bigger / smaller stone and the force / angle of approach etc. when thrown in. A useful diagram is introduced, explained and discussed. This diagram tries to unpack the ‘differences’ between mind (the personalised system), the brain (consisting of neural networks) and consciousness (the subjective experiences – sensory and cognitive). A continuum of ‘scholarship’ is also designated to each – philosophy studying the mind, psychology and neuroscience concentrating on the brain and consciousness and theology with focus on consciousness. Neuronal assemblies are proposed to bring some order and holism in to how we can understand the links between brain plasticity, neurogenesis, exercise and conscious thought.

The fourth chapter explores the five senses, and the neuroanatomy challenge. Essentially the chapter argues that the brain works in an all-inclusive manner. Even though one part of the brain may be the main site of activity for an individual sense, the way organisms perceive the world, is holistic. We do not just see, but seeing also includes tactile, aural and other senses. The VAK – visual, auditory, kinaesthetic – learning styles approach – is debunked as learning requires interconnection of various parts of the brain to achieve new learning.

Chapter 5 ‘at the office’ is used to mop up the many other ‘sensings’ we need to undertake to perceive our world. Physical features like how we sense, feel, be emotionally affected by colour; our spatial sense; and subjective reactions to the environment are discussed.

Chapter 6 ‘problems at home’ looks into the way the brain develops (adolescence); mental issues (depression; demetia); how the brain deals with pain, to further develop the argument for the existence and function of neuronal assemblies.

Dreaming is the focus on chapter 7. A summary is made of the function, history, phylogeny, neuroscience foundations of dreaming. Chapter 8 brings the argument together with a discussion on whether neuronal assemblies are the rosetta stone for bringing the fields of physiology and phenomenology together. A possible mechanism for the generation of consciousness is proposed and summarised in a diagram.

The last chapter closes the book with how space and time may be traversed through understanding on how ‘assemblies’ improve our understandings of how the brain and consciousness work. As per usual, questions are posed for further investigation and study.

Overall, a readable book without too many parts which are dense and difficult to unravel. Most of the time, the argument put forward is clear. Based on reviews - whether the concept of neuronal assemblies withstand the test of time, remains to be seen. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Plans for 2018

Looking forward to another busy and productive year. The year will require good planning on my part as there will be quite a bit to get through. We will be down 2.3 educational developers (. 0.5 and a 0.8 = 1.3 through retirement and another moving to a different role in the schools sector). One of us is also working for another part of the institution. Therefore, the shortfall will need to be shared amongst the educational developers left.

To start the year, I will need to support the programme development process for two degrees. Both are reviews of degrees with long histories at Ara. The computing degree should be off to NZQA by the end of summer. The midwifery degree to be away by Easter.
A priority through the year is to analyse the data and findings from the 7 sub-projects which make up the eassessment project. The project report is due in the middle of the year. 5 of the 7 sub-projects have now completed their participatory action research cycles and have or are writing up their reports.

In anticipation of the above curriculum development activities, I have worked on several articles near the end of last year and have already submitted two journal articles for publication in 2018. However, will also need to make a start on articles for publication in 2019. There should be 7 articles generated through the e-assessment project. I will be working on submitting 3 to 4 across 2018.

This year, NVCER ‘no-frills’ and the NZ VET research forumwill be held in August, in Sydney. My initial plan was to support several of the eassessment projects to be presented at each. Now, we will need to work on presenting a few of the sub-projects in Sydney instead. Also, the annual AVETRA conference is now ‘re-branded’ to be a practitioners research conference. It is to be held in Melbourne at the end of April. I will be putting in a paper for this conference around the outcomes of the eassessment project as well.