disturbing signs (#ranting) part 1

I need to say some things about the experience of a parent with a child attending school for the first time but in order to get to that some backstory is required.

I already have a blog where I can contribute, in a very small way, to the ‘conversation’ about ‘higher’ education. A conversation in ‘critical university studies’ where we use the metaphor of the zombie to step back from the edu-speak that dominantes – not run wildly down the street with paranoid proclamations of apocalypse – but to return to an imaginary conversation about the potential for universities to do more than research and churn degrees. It’s meant to remind and encourage debate and new conversations between ourselves and others about ourselves as academics and the university’s role in enlivening individuals, communities and institutions – public and otherwise – to spark conversation, learning and change at the local, national and global levels.

Sometimes ignorance is an important and strategic defence and this is often how innovation works: in competitive multiplayer games new players unaware of the language, responses, limitations and tactics of the established way of doing things, can inject innovation and create new playing styles and strategies by experimenting and exploring, and through a cloud of ignorance produce creativity – and if they can tolerate being dubbed as ‘noobs’ – new ways of doing things emerge. The majority are of course indoctrinated into the appropriate social behavioursalong the way, but part of the original unbounded creativity comes along with it.

One of the ways I use ignorance deliberately in my job (I’m still new in my current role, so I can get away with it) is to ignore acronyms. Australian higher ed policy speak is plagued with acronyms and this has been noted elsewhere. Even if I do have a rough idea of what you are talking about (and I can fake it) there is a peverse pleasure in an acronym filled meeting to lean across to a bored-looking colleague and ask, just a little too loudly, what an EEFT or ATAR is. I’m saying I am here to work with you, but we are not on the same page and we don’t have the same frame of reference when it comes to being part of the conversation.

Perhaps it’s read as naiveté ( and that’s when I say ‘Boom Headshot‘) but I really couldn’t give a tinkers cuss about entrance scores, completion rates, student and staff surveys, accreditation’s and reviews. A Media and Communications degree that’s making students write essays – when and where are you calling from? I was writing grading rubrics before it was a thing, because I thought it was the only fair way to assess student’s on an equal footing but throw in some committee-agreed on graduate attributes, learning objectives and some skills/competencies evaluations and suddenly I see why a pass/fail system works.

Sincerely I love all you guys having the current conversation, especially the ones trying to administer and advocate change, and I really appreciate what you are up to but the hard work you putting into the conversation is widening the division between what academics do and what universities do, and what we should be doing.

Any time you see a university hire a consultancy (effectively attempting to reprogram administrative and managerial staff having long defeated its academics through workload models etc) and recommend that we go LIVE, CONNECT or EMBOLDEN (yeah I made that last one up … see why I don’t make the big $$$) feign ignorance – ask what it means – make them explain and still say “I don’t get it” even when you do. Academics rarely acknowledge their own ignorances, fearing them as an anathema to their status as ‘experts’.

Next time your university updates it’s online environment ask them why and what it does, ask everyone and anyone and don’t let the boundaries of the conversation stop you from experimenting, breaking it or ignoring it if it doesn’t suit you, your students and the way either of you learn, produce knowledge and communicate.

Standardised assessments, tests, polls, exams and quizes? Burn them, burn them with fire (the tests that is) and let them call you the heretic. You don’t need them, it’s ‘make work‘ and you are tying the chains around your own feet (and theirs).

Next time a tele-marketer calls you ask them what the weather is like, how their day has been, just do anything to change the conversation, let their creativity and not their script speak.

Ok rant over I will save – the actual stuff I wanted to talk about for the next post.

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