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.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Reading - recommendations via Good Reads

I have always been a voracious reader. At school, I averaged a book a day, albeit short fiction titles e.g. Enid Blyton, Nancy Drew etc. Weekly, I visited each of the three libraries within 3 km of my home and I still remember the day, when I turned 15 and I could borrow ‘adult’ literature on my ‘youth’ library card. Meanwhile, I worked my way through my neighbour’s book case. They were both school teachers and their library featured best sellers of the time – Michener, Uris, LeCarre along with a good collection of Agatha Christies. Like many readers, I began with no real planning, just whatever came to hand. As with Oliver Sacks, reading through childhood, gave me a perspective on the world outside of my sheltered upbringing. Also, as with Barrack Obama, books allow us to attain empathy for others who are unlike ourselves. 


For the past 16 years, my reading has centred around books, papers and journals pertinent to my studies and research. Hence, fiction reading has all but vanished apart from the odd science fiction / space opera over term breaks. In an effort to maintain a better work-life balance I now try to borrow one or two non-fiction titles each month from the local library which are not related to work / research. These books are aligned to my other interests – botany, geology, astronomy, travel (especially cycle touring a la Dervla Murphy and backpacking / mountaineering) etc.

Last year, I finally succumbed and signed up for goodreads, which is owned by Amazon - meaning the recommendations need to be taken with some awareness of marketing ploys. However,  I do like the ‘recommendations’. I find many to be useful and now have a rather large list of ‘want to read’ books archived for follow up. Through the goodreads recommendations, I have been able to find a wider range of books within related topics, expanding my reading repertoire beyond the usual weekly browse of the local library shelves. My ‘recreational’ reading has thus become more ‘focused’. I am not sure if this is a good thing or not. Browsing library shelves is a great way to widen ones’ horizon. The movement to ebooks has dampened some of the opportunities to browse as search engines stick to the patterns intuited from your previous searches. In a way, Goodreads is similar but at least the process is overt and one has a choice to move away from the recommended books predicated on the list of books one has read or wants to read.


Monday, August 21, 2017

AI powered humans

Here is a recent article from the BBC on how AI assists with the development of new drugs for humans. I am not sure if I would find the concept reported to be acceptable. However, I am one who also,  since I have a good sense of direction, find GPS a pain. The report focuses on how AI can eb used to bring researchers together with AI to create pharmaceuticals faster. The process is referred to as Benevolent AI. This Ai sifts through the digital literature across a range of disciplines which specialists researchers may not have the mental capacity to become familiar with. So the AI is able to form some conclusions / synthesis the outcomes from chemical libraries, medical databases and scientific papers to find likely new compounds or procedures to be developed by drug companies or researchers. 

Related to the above is recent reports on the use of microchips in workplaces to provide employees with access to company resources. Again, possible need to think through the implications of this occuring in educaiton.


Some interesting predictions including humans being banned from driving as self-drive cars are safer. A computer becoming your boss, who is able to hire and fire you based on analytics collected of your work. The internet of things allowing you to talk to the room, your fridge, the TV etc. - although it is important to keep in mind that advances in voice recognition still has some way to go - see this video circulating around now for some years - of two Scots men trying to get a voice activated lift (elevator) which seems to only understand American accents, to work. 

Other predictions include Avatars replacing dead actors in movies (already happening); continuous health monitoring of individuals; and pilotless planes within 10 years.

Another recent article from the Melbourne Age, extols the rise of automation, saving workers at least 2 hours a day of doing mundane / repetitive work in jobs of bank telling, retailing. Based on recent report on Australian work and the automation advantage. These jobs are seen to then become safer, more satisfying and more valuable as humans are able to do the more interesting and creative aspects of these jobs. So, food for thought here and another call for 'occupational identity' to become fluid. The days of saying ' I am a/n xx' based on the work we do, may be coming to an end.


Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Research Week @ Ara - DAY 2

Second day of staff 6 minute presentations. 

Wei Yu is a visiting scholar from Chengdu University to Ara’s Department of Engineering and Architectural Studies. He is today’s guest Speaker and presents on his institutions research direction. Began with quick overview of his institution - video. Summarised the rationale and objectives of the Institute of Innovation and Entrepreneurship – with cutting edge –electric cars etc. disciplines. University is in close proximity to industrial area which has multi-national IT and engineering companies (e.g Foxcomm, Lenova, Pepsi etc.).  Applied research in environmental technology, intelligent manufacturing and UAV and robot applied technology. Summarised some of his work, with AUT, on smart monitoring and diagnosing of anaesthetic monitoring processes. Mazharuddin Syed Ahmeh – Ara engineering tutor - presents on a collaborative project between Ara and Chengdu University – healthcare precision engineering. Through management of data from internet of things, to help people keep healthy.

Taka Yokoyama summarises a section of his PhD on ‘Should native English speakers complete teacher training before teaching English in Japan’. Overview of the ‘job satisfaction’ section – match = satisfaction and mis-match – frustration. How does having training increase job satisfaction for assistant teachers of English in Japan. Only if completed more than 20 papers or have had practicum, then satisfaction higher.

James Murray from Commerce, presents on ‘equity crowdfunding in NZ’. Summarised definitions of crowdfunding – from charity through to peer2peer and equity (selling shares). Legally available in NZ since 2014 – selling shares of a company on line. Caveats apply as ‘disclosure rules’ do not need to be met. Generally 60% successful, so not guarantees. Used textual (AI) analysis to find out the ways equity crowdfunding work.

Lynda Roberts speaks on ‘problematising youth policy’ which is part of her PhD. Provided rationale and overview of her research question, methods and frameworks. Looking into policies related to policies on youth transitions. Using a bio-political lens to see how educational policy construct and govern ‘disengaged youth’. Framed by Foucoult’s concepts of power.

Then Gwyn Reynolds provides an overview of the ‘Sumo jazz album #2’. Currently in progress and a continuation of work completed 5-6 years ago. Each staff / graduate writes one work and the group performs the work. Played an example. Album now recorded and mixing currently occurring.

Tracy Kirkbride from medical imaging presents on ‘educating MARS’. Detailed what MARs is – adding colour to xray images – Medipix all resolution systems. The systems needs to be taught how to turn signals into colours associated with organic materials. Seeing ‘different’ materials is important – eg. Difference between bone, cancer, gout crystals.

David Hawke presents on ‘detecting lab mistakes in stable isotope analysis’. Presented background and rationale for work. Use ‘control’ (try tea bag for plant samples) as part of sample delivered to lab for analysis and if results return with different result, then need to re-look at analysis. Ways to undertake quality control always important. 

Sam Uta’I – presented by Margaret Leonard - gives us an update on ‘implementing the Pasifika success toolkit with 3 Canterbury tertiary organisations and evaluating its effectiveness in practice’. An Ako Aotearoa Southern Hub funded project (original project here). Detailed the research process. Currently, the project is implementing a tool-kit which is an outcome of the project. 3 areas are in academic – more contextual relevance; student services; and Pasifika visibility. Tool kit includes definition of success from student POV; exemplars for practice; to be put onto Moodle for staff access.

Bronwyn Beatty presents on ‘access radio for the long term’. Used Plains FM 96.9 and experiences beyond 2010 / 2011 earthquakes. Detailed the struggles experienced by staff and volunteers to disseminate information crucial to ethnic communities. No funding availed for information to be translated, checked for accuracy before it was used. Plains sourced funds for off-site capability and timely translation of messages from Council / Civil Defence – Samoan, Tagalog and Hindi. Participated in advisory / advocacy groups – CLING – community language information group / Multi-cultural Strategies into 2018. Renegotiated relationships and forged new agreements to ensure access radio continues. Increase awareness to 12 access radio stations in NZ.

Ryoko de Burgh-Hirabe on ‘the current trend of reasons why tertiary students study Japanese in NZ’. Drop of students 48% over last decade. Some reasons provided but many are beyond teachers’ control. Collaborative across NZ (5 institutions) using on-line questionnaire with 300 plus replies. Reasons include to be able to communicate in Japanese, interest in language, pop culture and travel to Japan. Obtaining work was not a top reason. Japanese majors generally would like to live / work in Japan but students doing Japanese as an elective usually interested in visiting.


Another interesting range of presentations. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Research week @ Ara - 2017 - DAY 1

The annual research week runs through the whole of this week. Over today and tomorrow, staff present short overviews of their work. On Wednesday, there is the popular Great Debate. This year’s topic is “A robot will do your job better than you do!”. Students present their work across Thursday and Friday with ‘Pitch a project’.

Today’s presentations include:

Guest Speaker Associate Professor Craig Bunt from Lincoln University talks about the ‘collaborations between Lincoln University and Ara’. Began with overview of research scene – has 456 undergrad enrolments in Agricultural / Environmental Science. 220 full-time PhD students (75% are international) with 50% in Ag/Env Science. Presented examples from his projects including 3D printed darts to inject steroids into animals; alternatives to 1080 –  stabilisation of a toxin used in pest control now registered for commercial use; electron spun nanofibers that can be holders of fungicides etc. to be used on plants; and analysis of dog biscuits collected from Antarctica to find out how they were made 100 years ago. Each came about from trying to understand a problem, funded in different ways and reliant on networks of other researchers and goodwill across science community.

Staff follow with 6 minute overviews of their work:

Cameron Pearce from the Jazz School shares ‘Symposium X – original works for jazz big band. Provided background on the group, made up mainly of current, ex- Ara staff and graduates, which has been together for 10 years and provided a snippet of the groups’ original work. Described the creative process involved in composing a piece of work. Using a piece of art work by another Ara staff, John Maillard, as the inspiration.

Tony McCaffrey presents an update on his on-going work ‘we will look after you’: the radical promise of the time after’ in a recent theatre involving actors with intellectual disabilities. As usual, reads an eloquent presentation on his work. Tony’s work continually develops through the production, direction and support of actors, not normally seen performing theatre. Tony is currently working on a book to disseminate his PhD thesis.

Mary Kensington then presented collaborative work (with Rae Dallenbach and Lorna Davis) and with the Universities in Aberdeen and Glasgow on ‘rural midwifes making a difference in NZ and Scotland: achieving a sustainable model of rural practice. A quick overview of a larger presentation – see ASL presentations from a couple of months ago for summary.

Allen Hill from Outdoor Education and Sustainability presents on an externally funded project - ‘Policy practice gaps sustaining unsustainability in schools’. How policy gaps have made it difficult to include sustainability into school curriculum – hence ‘Steven’s Gap’ which is difference between rhetoric (Policy) and reality (Practice). We can express in curriculum documents but teachers do not know how to actually integrate into teaching.

Joy Kuhns presents work (with Julia Wu and A. Habib) on ‘living through uncertainties as the norm: lessons from NZ regional family businesses’. Provide overview of rationale – the uptake of accounting and management systems by family businesses. How did they use these systems and why. Used a responsive interviewing technique. Summarised findings – little use of formal use of accounting systems; agile through continual learning required to keep their businesses profitable and sustainable; learnt by doing, from mistakes and through networks.

Kerstin Dofs updates her on-going work on ‘autonomous learning in the world – Rio and Ara’. Presented on experiences as convenor of the conference in Rio. Themes of conference also detailed and Ara’s approach to autonomous language learning. Detailed current work on PhD and how there is a continual need for learners to be even more adept has self-directed learning.

I (Selena) provide a quick overview on ’eAssessments for learning: examples of innovative practice’. Go over the rationale and objectives, detail the 7 sub-projects and benefits for learners and teachers of e-feedback’.

Ian Williamson from engineering presents on ‘how to save money on your electricity / energy needs’. Provided overview on NZ context. Presently, information from various companies etc. is confusing, difficult to access and understand. Not all options available in every part of NZ. Discussed implication of going off-grid (recommended if now building), solar (not recommended in city), install monitoring equipment, check how house is wired to maximise ability to go on specific plans, being efficient and using less power, is the most important achievement.

Then Dorle Pauli from Creative Industries presents a summary of ‘the work of Michael Reed’ – ‘Feeling blue and Seeing Red’. A distinguished printmaker who has just retired from Ara. Presents the challenges on writing a biography of an artist who is still living, including the ‘collaboration’ that eventuates and the voice/ role of the biographer. The biography will be based on conversations. Shared some of Michael’s work archived at Ara.

Brendan Reilly from Broadcasting presents on ‘sports news on commercial music radio: diversity or disappointment’. Why is rugby the main sport covered? Looked at ZM and The Edge to see what was reported. Rugby, league, cricket and netball – made up 70% of stories. Although females are main audience, male sports still dominate. Presented on some of the reasons why.

Heather Josland (with Kay Milligan, Maggie Meeks, Phillipa Seaton and Julie Withington) from Nursing presents a project which is in collaboration with Otago University on ‘do we need to start earlier: undergraduate inter-professional simulation’ in the context of doctor / nurse communications. Introduced various tools used to help students learn the intricacies of communication, the language differences between doctors and nurses and how to work together.

Then Gareth Allison from Commerce, presents on ‘justification in wWOM – Electronic Word of Mouth’. Seeks to find out how consumers make decisions based on what they find on-line. Described how the move to digital has changed marketing. Many of the past methods, now no longer effective. However, e-advertising is fragmented and still relatively new. ‘Word of Mouth’ seem to be a form of ‘informal’ information used by consumers. Studied a website  - as an exploratory study - with discussion forum to see efficacy of product recommendations.

Grant Bennett from Science on ‘Survive on Mars’. A project that arose from his work on finding how to get probiotic bacteria to last on breakfast cereals. One application is to prepare cereal for astronauts travelling to Mars. Set up student project to find the best type of cereal, that will still taste good and last.

As usual, synergies between the work of several of the presenters to be followed up :) 




Wednesday, August 09, 2017

A decade since attaining Supreme Excellence in Tertiary Teaching Award - a reflection

In 2007, I was awarded the Prime Minister’s award for excellence in tertiary teaching. Yesterday evening, the 2017 award winners join the select group of NZ tertiary teachers recognised for sustained excellence in teaching. All awardees automatically become members of the Ako AotearoaAcademy. The Academy is a community of practice for award winners, they have a mandate to  advocate within their own institutions, nationally and internationally, for support of excellent teaching. The Academy also organises a yearly symposium, always a wonderful, supportive and enervating professional development opportunity. This year, the symposium - Talking Teaching - will he held at the end of November in Dunedin. The first two days will be an open forum for all tertiary educators to share practice. 

In 2007, I was on the cusp of shifting from being a trades teacher, teaching baking into a ‘staff development’ position. Since 1999, I had proportional (0.2 or one day a week to 0.4) positions on various ‘elearning’ projects. Mainly supporting tutors in a diverse range of discipline areas, to shift from being f2f to on-line or blended learning facilitators. In 2008, I shifted full-time into a shared role as a teacher educator and ‘staff developer’. When the then CPIT Centre for Educational Development came into being, I was one of 3 other people, horizontally shifted across to be part of the Centre. Since then several internal organisational changes and a change of institutional name to Ara has seen my role morph and evolve over time. My current role as an educational developer / ‘learning designer’ in the Learning Design section of Academic Services Division at Ara Institute of Canterbury includes about 3/5 of programme design / development, 1/5 of supporting staff in a range of teaching and learning and 1/5 as a researcher and scholar in vocational education. The role has its challenges but is always rewarding and interesting.

When I received my award, I was one of very few non-university staff to attain the award. For many years, I have been inspired by the life of Sir Edmund Hillary. He not only was the first, along with Tenzing Norgay, to climb Mount Everest, but also founded the Himalayan Trust.  The trust raises money to assist the Nepalis to build schools and hospitals and through its almost 50 years have contributed to the betterment of the lives of many people in Nepal. Therefore, Hillary made use of his status, to better the lives of others.

My aspirations are more modest but greatly inspired by a need to foster better teaching and learning capability within NZ vocational education. I was lucky with the timing of my award. Ako Aotearoa, the NZ Centre for Tertiary Teaching excellence, was set up at the same time. The award provided me with networking opportunities with the new organisation, assisting me to build sound relationships and to participate in a range of Ako Aotearoa activities. To date, I have been able to garner funding to undertake two Nationally funded projects and seven smaller projects, funded through the Southern regional hub (see Projects page on this blog for list and links to project outputs). My post PhD scholarly journey has therefore been largely ‘learning by doing’ through the completion of externally funded projects which require results. In line with my goal to build capability within the vocational education sector to carry out ‘practitioner-led’ inquiry, both the National and four of the smaller projects involved other trades tutors or ITO staff. For most, the projects were the first time these tutors have had the opportunity to complete an in-depth study into the efficacy of their teaching innovations.


There has now been a decade of contributing to the ‘evidence-base’ to assist the improvement of vocational learning. There is still much to do, and my contribution has been small but hopefully a start at building awareness and capability. The current project on e-assessments brings together many of my learnings from previous projects. In particular, the project also builds capability with a team of tutors who have a mandate to undertake some research as part of their teaching roles. I am hopeful some of this team will go on to lead other projects as vocational education research is still sparse. Modest beginnings are always better than no work at all :) 

In so doing, I hope some of the following quote, attributed to Lao Tzu, has transpired.

“A leader is best
When people barely know he exists
Of a good leader, who talks little,
When his work is done, his aim fulfilled,
They will say, “We did this ourselves.”