Monday, April 03, 2017

Actor-Networking with dead people.

Invoking a dead language I draw on the past to give meaning to where we are now,  nanos gigantum humeris insidentes.  While  attributed to Bernard of Chartres of the 12th century, the more familiar expression provided in English comes from a 1676 letter of Isaac Newton:

If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants.
Acknowledgement is then given to those on whose shoulders we have stood ; those who inform our gaze, and through whose learning, we might begin to learn even more.

Channelling knowledge drawn from a past, from those spatially and temporally challenged, is not new. Stevenson (2007) argues:
[in] the postmodern period....Traditional literature has been found to have been written by "dead white males" to serve the ideological aims of a conservative and repressive Anglo hegemony....disguised in literature and other discourses as positive ideals and objective truths – but they slant our sense of reality in favor of power and privilege. (pp. 9-10)

Accepting new research is situated on a body of knowledge that informs it is one aspect of this. Informing futures from current times is not a new phenomenon and despite the disparagement evident, in the  example above, a Euro-centric wisdom of patriachs is not the only wisdom that might be accessed.

There are alternate realities that might be explored:
 Literally a paving one's path to heaven by looking after the dead.
A reminder then that we live in differing realities.

Another example is the very recently passed legislation that has positioned the Whanganui river in New Zealand as having personhood status.
An ingenious approach consistent with the people of this place to grant legal rights to a living ancestor. This spiritual ancestor is not to be insulted by being placed under human control. Instead there is open acknowledgement of the one with the other.:
 "I am the river, and the river is me"

In actor-network theorizing,  the literature reviewed is not only providing a body of knowledge that provides a space on which to stand, or to speak from, enhancing perhaps on a current body of knowledge by "filling a gap" the literature is an actor that is also open to interrogation. Worth considering is how the literature maintains a status quo.

In the telling of an actor-networked account, the actors are human and otherwise,  and the human ones might be dead or alive. In addition there is no necessary seperation of what was that informs what is, the writer is implicated through and through.
As said by Mulcahy(1999),
Over the course of these accounts, I came to understand that the tale I was telling of my network was complicit with the tale it was telling of itself.

Where 'I' am in a study as Latour describes it, is situated and positioned.
" I insert my gesture in a ‘garland of time’ as Michel Serres (1995) has put it, which allows me to insert myself in a variety of temporalities or time differentials." (Latour, 2002).

The"gathering garlands in time"  metaphor used by Latour and attributed to Serres, relates to how networking is not just about geographically, spatially positioned networks. We have tendency to attend to what is geographically and spatially close. However, networks have no top nor bottom, left or right, no close or distant, big or small, but that thinking makes it so.
A network study needs then to be recognised as a moment, or clotting in time as Helen Verran has suggested:

'Given spacetime framed context' and 'clotted/clotting context' are metaphysically distinct, juxtaposing them recognises that the seemingly innocuous and helpful work of contextualising is a form of ontic politics. My aim here is not to promote one form over the other; the claim is that the stories express alternative forms of empiricism and that we need both forms to be explicitly held in tension.

Time; a necessary consideration then.

It is all too easy to criticise with the wisdom of hindsight, but what if instead we look at something in terms of how it was in its time,  when an idea is in its moment, the hopes inspired... a

"Always assume people are right, even if you have to stretch the point a bit. A simple rule, my dear pupil when you're studying a project. You put yourself at the peak of enthusiasm, at the apex, the point when the thing is irresistible. " ( Latour, 1996, p. 36).

Latour, Bruno. (1996). Aramis: Or the love of technology (C. Porter, Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Latour, Bruno. (2002). Morality and technology. The end of the means. Theory, Culture and Society, 19(5/6), 247–260. doi: 10.1177/026327602761899246
Mulcahy, D. (1999). (Actor-Net) Working bodies and representations: Tales from a training field. Science, Technology and Human Values, 24(1), 80-104. Retrieved from
Stevenson, J. (2007) The complete idiot's guide to english literature. Alpha Books

Verran, H. (2007). Telling a story of a tender bids hearing and considering researcher responsibility. Paper presented at the Lancaster University STS Students-University of Melbourne Education ANT group. Video-conference 

Please dont get picky about the fonts, the grammar, the incomplete thoughts. Its a blog; a space for raw thoughts and playful writing.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Bean counting in academia; a position informed by leaders in education and some management wisdom.

Changes in the fiscal envelope, for reasons beyond local control* have created a need to get acutely cost efficient in academia. 
*unexpected high dollar, a drop in full fee paying overseas students, changing immigration patterns,  government changes to funding study... changing government approaches on super-annuation /pension eligibility has impact on international student choices... through to building purchases, construction costs... and an election year when promises to cut taxes get made but which always comes at a cost to services such as education...

This blog post addresses fiscal prudence in education as a factor care and thoughtfulness. 

Drawing on the wisdom of leaders in education,  I begin with an invocation for thoughtfulness and a refusal to accept the all too easy approach being that of a sinking lid.
When you know you work with complexity, then you know (or should know) a single solution is unlikely to address complex concerns.

1. Get a moral compass

There's no app for that!
As Simone de Beauvoir said of ethics, it doesn't lend itself to recipes.
Work out your core business, and what's bottom line.
If you took everything out and then were thinking about what needs to be in, knowing you had a limited budget, what would you put in?
Then consider what can be kept, and what might be dropped?
Differentiate between what's essential and what's nice to have.
What's really at work here is to have a pedagologically driven curriculum, albeit an efficient one.
What's not ok is a fiscally driven curriculum where the pedagogy is secondary.

2. Value added, rather than value substraction, and the problem with bean counting*
*Bean counting is the consequence of a view of the world as consisting of “things” to be counted and then manipulated, rather than accepting that those involved are people to be interacted with and conversed with and responded to.

Small erosions over time eventually add up and accumulate, as was the goal on the one hand, but on the other there will be an accumulative erosion in brand, a loss in quality, a subtraction from something that took years to add up.

If I was in the business of coffee making and made coffee with a little less coffee in it everyday, in the short term this could be ok, but do it with the number of rivets holding a plane together and a serious irreversible condition evolves.

Any subtractive method needs to be mindful of the longer term aim for enduring greatness (Fullan). And as expressed by Hargreaves,  depletion should not occur in the value base.

Not replacing staff when a position becomes vacant (sinking lid) is an easy option, but can be destructive. It's an uneven redistribution of work and can risk profound gaps as well as being a recipe for lowering staff morale.
The alternative is to nurture relationships.
If relationships improve, schools get better. If relationships remain the same or get worse, ground is lost (Fullan).

3. On how to get from here to there

Informed by one and two above:
Revisit what's wanted and needed: the shared vision
Map out the steps required.

Value adding is also about improving on underperforming staff.
Other alternatives to sinking lids include offering options for leave without pay.

4. Gain control over the miscellaneous
aka shuffling the deckchairs on the titanic...

This is am extension on the concept of bean counting where the activities are ultimately less than needed to address a much more systemic problem.
I once worked in a hospital that took out every second fluorescent tube AND gave the dimwit a hundred dollars for this less than bright idea. 'Snuff said?
In regard to admonishments to cut the catering budget, its probably unwise to cancel the end of year function, the cost to morale is not worth it.

Nov-Dec at a time when where my workplace has no students,  photocopying was in excess of $2500... 0.05c per black and white; 0.25c per colour
We could go paperless really fast.
BTW One ream of paper (500 sheets) uses the equivalent of 6 percent of a trees It takes approximately 4 tons of wood to  make one ton of paper (there's a lot of water in trees) and a single mature tree can release enough oxygen to support  2 human beings. Green Facts

In an educational setting, time is money - people's time is bought and paid for and therefore saving time, saves money.

The cost in my workplace of hourly paid teaching assistants, comes in at about 1.5 fulltime salaried staff. BUT these people are employed just as and when needed...they collectively mark something like 7000 (!) pieces of work a year. No full-time equivalent staff member can do that. Cutting this already fiscally prudent measure is not easy. Any tweaks might be restricted to being really clear with time spent on marking or the pre/mid/post marking meetings.

On the subject of meetings:
Are they needed for as long as they are? Do they need all those present?
Imagine a meeting of about 16 exceptionally well paid people. discussing cost savings, They discuss for 2.5 hours the need for the organisation to save money.
16 people x $45.00 an hour = $720
AND they do it all again a week later... $1450...
What I know is that's not working.

Exploring resistance to the needed changes:
An ANT informed analysis
For change to occur, an appreciating doe what's maintaining the current systems is needed.
While ANT can inform this aspect, it does not provide directions; a network is never fully known and there are always going to be unintended consequences. (The example from Edwards and Siddharta in the opening paragraph points to the perverse that can occur when we think we are designing for other ends. See also Latour on Design Cornwall).
First, design is not ex nihilo, there is always something already in existence, and that existence has multiple activities sustaining its current shape.
Bruno Latour: "we are enveloped, entangled, surrounded; we are never outside without having recreated another more artificial, more fragile, more engineered envelope. We move from envelopes to envelopes, from folds to folds"
When we bring our best intentions we do not come empty headed or handed.
There are 'settled controversies' 'black-boxed' as it were that  have a tendency to not be questioned, they are instead treated as standard and not noticed.
But of the settled controversies that we might pull apart, we might also consider that nothing is good or bad but that thinking makes it so. 
Untangling others from what they do may require untangling thoughts and emotions and relationships  (with things both human and otherwise)  that are maintaining what currently is.
It takes work to keep things in the shape they are, just as it takes work to change such  shapes and what is shaping.

Things done:
Value adding:
We mapped a paper that had gone from 3hours a week face to face to four hours a week face to face to five hours a week face to face.
What was shown was no increase in student success on the paper, if anything there was a small downwards trend: Doing more of the same when there's a sense that what is currently being done is not enough didn't lead to the anticipated outcome. We are cutting the course back to four hours, but also doing a content review- what do we really want and what's the best way of getting there. This saved 20% of salaries, implemented through non replacement of a staff member being on leave (saving anticipated of $120,000 in form of salary saving as well as alteration in course components).

We are going paper minimalist:
We wont be printing paper booklets, these are accessible online (saving anticipated $12,000 annually).
The mapping of grades over time will continue, in appreciation of the best intentions in design can sometimes have perverse consequences.

Attending to pull rather than push:
Sharing the dilemma and inviting solutions but with a focus on what it is we collectively aim for,  shared approach in how to  implement this with concern for prudence and care, and with concern for pace. The changes made are done in our smaller semester.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Improving communications and workplace culture with a five finger meme. Rules of engagement.

Rules of engagement in a workplace renowned for herding cats...Simple rules.

Some simple rules for engagement based on an easy 5 finger mantra:

1. Thumbs up:
Bring your positivity

Engage with shared purpose: we are all in this for a shared reason, improving on what is, or will be otherwise.

Be respectful, polite, assume the best of others.

And give attribution where it is due >^^<

2. The index, pointing finger, or trigger finger.
Don't point at others.
Dont. Point. Fullstop.

 Make "I" statements rather than "you" statements.
Practice assertiveness skills:
The Desc script:
Describe with concrete data not with judgements
Express your concern regarding this
Suggest alternatives, seeking agreement
Convey the consensual consequences of such an approach.

3. The middle finger
Don't be rude.
image via

4. The ring finger
Engagement and commitment

Be on time
Use other's time respectfully
Follow through, accountability and responsibility matters.

Image by luv2laff(2014)

5. Small things matter:
Everyone plays more nicely when fed, watered, and get toilet breaks.
Treat people well, relationships are the only way we have to collectively move forward.
And remember other lives outside of a work-place also matters.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The last 5 minutes of a lecture

Do i spend the last 5 minutes of a lecture going backwards? Recovering the learning objectives, pointing out the route taken?
 Ive always cnsidered this the worst part of an essay to revisit the signposts instead of the takeaway points.
But its even worse when there is a rush to be heard above the sounds of of people packing up and leaving.
And its also ineffective use of time to be telling students about the assessments due at such points, this just creates a sense of panic if not doom.
On reading James Lang's article in  The Chronicles of Higher Ed on the last 5 minutes I'm amused by the story telling, my experience of reading Lord of the Rings was just as described. It had finished, but wait, there's more. And its a let down for the next umpteen pages as every loose end unravelled in the previous thousands of pages gets tightly tied off. No finish on a high, no curiousity left. Its all been sucked out.So how to put the curiousity back in to the closing spaces?

My preferance is to prompt a question.
I might have prompted an answer, but  possibilities need to be opened up.
Closure on thinking is such a horrid thing.
And, I would have thought an obvious thing in an educative setting where at least one of the challenges is to teach thinking. Albeit, this is a contested outcome of education- some would think our goal is to assist in the acquisition of content. 

Unfortunately in being eclectic magpies where we pick what works from other sectors such as selling and marketing, we conflate  education with buying and selling products. It is so much easier to say at the end of the day that I now know this and this and this, and it is also so much easier to measure such acquisitions. So we come to a Dale Carnegie way of thinking- tell them what your going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what youve told them. A process surely for treating a person as a content repository rather than someone with thoughtfulness.

Avoiding closure I take heart instead from philosophers of education such as

Rancière, with provocation to thoughtfulness, to emancipation rather than dead ends.

The last 5 minutes then I dedicate to thouughtfulness, curiousity, piquing wonder...


Thursday, June 09, 2016

The first five minutes of a lecture

I'm writing this because of the article in Times Higher Ed about the
the first five minutes
 Its a great attention seeker, but IMHO article does not deliver.

Nonetheless,  its a great provocation. So just what do you do in the first 5 minutes?
Do you, as this article suggests, return to the last session?
Personally, that does little for me.
I would rather have my attention grabbed and run with it. Given alarge part of my teaching has been about human growth and development  I am more inclined to think about what wa slife like for you when you were  5..6...7 etc
And from such imaginings just what do you 'imagine' the theories say of such times. Are they right? wrong Somewhere in between?

Up until now Ive tried to set a scene using music that relates to what is typical af the age  group discussed;
 for example
Barney and the I love you, you love me etc song for early childhood,
You have a fast car with Tracey Chapman   for early adulthood...
24 by Taylor Swift for early adulthood...
Ed Sheeran lego house for later stages of early adulthood
etc etc

 but this has tended to produce a mellow start to the session. I think the provocation to thoughtfulness may be better.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Interprofessional education; some research in progress

Building a Safer Health System (2000) documents risks associated with adverse events in hospitals in the USA. Such adverse events are not new. In 1976 Illich named such adverse events as iatrogenesis, the preventable harm that people experience in association with health practitioners. In a New Zealand study, Davis, Lay-Yee, Bryant, Scott, Johnson, and Bingley, (2002) reported an iatrogeneic rate 12.9% for those hospitalised. This involved a retrospective study of documented incidences across 13 NZ hospitals. The undocumented adverse event rate can be presumed to be much higher.

Evans (2007) reified the staggering size of these preventable events by providing the following provocative illustration: These 1500 deaths are equivalent to four Boeing 747’s crashing in New Zealand every year, a rate that is three times the road traffic death rate, and double the deaths from both homicide and suicide (Evans 2007, p. 16).[Computer generated photo of the collision. Photo/]
This study set out to investigate the concerns raised with regard to communications being implicated in the preventable harm caused by health practitioners in New Zealand in current times. The safe provision of health and disability services in New Zealand is overseen by the Office of the Health and Disability Commissioner(HDC).

Miscommunication is a significant contributor to iatrogenesis in healthcare practice in New Zealand.

In studying this, our analysis of complaints made to the HDC (100 complaints lodged with the HDC between February 2012 and May 2014) we found miscommunications implicated in 99 out of 100 case notes reviewed. Of particular note expanding on earlier research into communications related iatrogenesis is the multi-model nature of health related communications in current times. One third of the cases analysed involved technologically mediated communications, these included telephone calls, text messaging, faxed communications, and computer mediated communications such as emails.
However, while the technology is recognised as having influence, miscommunications do not occur in any of the reported discussions and case notes without there also being human involvement. While media representation tends to conflate what is new with also being causative, this is an attribution error.

Our findings provide irrefutable evidence of the need for healthcare practitioners to have well-developed interpersonal communication skills. The analysis also identified the need for health practitioners working with emergent technologies to understand how these technologies enhance or hinder practice. Of further significance is the amount of error that occurs involving communications between health practitioners.

Conclusions: As has been previously reported in the literature, the incidence of miscommunication within the health sector remains a serious and critical concern, one implicated in preventable deaths, as well as in the development of significant and ongoing disability, delays to treatment and the development of needless distress.
What is reported on here is an uncomfortable truth. However, there is scope to alter how communications are taught and learned by health professionals. Shifting the acquisition of communication skills from mastery of content to instead sharing a common skill set and practicing these inside of processes where we as health professionals learn to talk with each other,is but one step forward on this much needed path. This argument supports providing greater opportunities for interprofessional education, of having diverse groups of health professionals learning with and from each other rather than within siloed curricula.


Davis, P., Lay-Yee, R., Briant, R., Ali, W., Scott, A. J., & Schug, S. (2002). Adverse events in New Zealand public hospitals I: Occurrence and impact. The New Zealand Medical Journal, 115(1167).
Evans, S. (2007). Silence kills--challenging unsafe practice. Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand, 13(3), 16-19.
Illich, I. (1976). Limits to medicine; Medical nemesis: The expropriation of health. London, England: Marion Boyars.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Interfering in Hinterlands of Discontent: Making a difference, differently

Given youth work is frequently entered into with the intention of making a difference in young people's lives, this article has been undertaken with the intention of making a difference differently. Drawing on actor-network theory, and the concept of hinterlands, influences shaping the practice of text counselling at a youth oriented helpline are discussed. This is however a contested space. There is no evidence base for such practice; but for new practices there never is. How then does novel practice come into being and become accepted? And how does this occur for people whose ways of engaging involves being neither seen nor heard? In presenting stories of practice as it is shaped there is opportunity to consider whose stories are heard and perhaps whose should be. In uncovering relations that would hold this particular practice more and less stable, scope is also provided for considering how making a difference might also be done differently.

Realities get made for better, or for worse, in practice. That some people’s realities might be made better or worse through the provision of a helpline service draws attention to the practices provided. Taking Law’s stance that practices always demand effort (Law, 2009) and therefore that such effort might be channeled otherwise, I argue for making a difference differently in the lives of young people.

Haxell, A. (2015). Interfering in Hinterlands of Discontent: Making a Difference Differently. International Journal of Actor-Network Theory and Technological Innovation (IJANTTI), 7(2), 30-40. doi:10.4018/IJANTTI.2015040103 New Zealand (hereafter referred to as Youthline), provides a 24/7 crisis helpline for young people, and has done so since 1976. With recent changes in mobile telephony their helpline hardly rings anymore; young people still have problems, and Youthline continues to provide help through this helpline, however, to a large extent, this now occurs silently. Mobile telephony provides us with more options than making a phone call, and as with any technology, those who would make use of a technology as well as the work that would be undertaken, are simultaneously being reconfigured. That work predicated on talking therapies would shift to a near silent medium, and one that places extreme limits of brevity on each interaction, was not an anticipated outcome in the provision of a text messaging service. The expectation that was described in the launch of this service by Youthline, was that this service would be a portal to the telephone helpline or to the face to face counselling services Youthline offers (Simpson Grierson, 2004).

There was no planned roll out of this innovative practice such as diffusion of innovation studies might suggest (see for example Rogers, 2003). Nor was it the result of reflective practitioners actively seeking a solution to named and framed problems (see for example Argyris, 1997; Argyris, 2004; Schön, 1990; Schön & Rein, 1994). And while a community of young people could be described as having influence on the changes that occurred and which continue to occur, this was not the outcome of a group of people coming together to effect change; the young people making use of this helpline never met to share ideas on the shape of the service. For these reasons it would also be wrong to name this as a user-initiated consumer innovation (see for example van Oost, Verhaegh, & Oudshoorn, 2009). The use of text messaging was initiated by Youthline, albeit, with an expectation that texting might provide a means for young people to contact the service when they might not otherwise. Texting for young people, at least in New Zealand and at least in these times, is very much the commonest way of reaching out when at a distance (Office of Film and Literature Classification and UMR Research, 2010). Youthline’s provision of a text service at least in the form of texting being a portal to other services, was a considered response to the ways in which young people were relating. To attribute such changes to a disruptive technology (see for example Bower & Christensen, 1995) would, therefore, also be wrong. While this change has occurred for Youthline, the technology has not resulted in texting being widespread in similar services, not even by other helpline services that this organization helps to staff. Attempts to explain this in terms of contextual determinants (see for example Schatzki, 2002), are similarly flawed. With the context of same staff and same building, and even same-target population, the unique phenomenon of a silent helpline is accordingly worthy of further exploration.

However, more than curiosity is at stake here; the practice of providing a texting service is one for which there is no evidence base for practice (EBP). How then does an organization justify new practice? How might it be known as to whether new practice is “doing good” or at least that it does no harm? And if a practice is to make a positive difference for people, what might be needed to support such difference making? While there is no evidence base for this particular practice it is also worth noting that for new practice there never is. This provides a conundrum: how can practices evolve when tied to measures developed in a past? In wanting to be responsive to current demands how is this space of past and present to be traversed? The current article explores these concerns through use of the metaphorical construct of hinterlands.

This article is available at

Haxell, A. (2015). Interfering in Hinterlands of Discontent: Making a Difference Differently. International Journal of Actor-Network Theory and Technological Innovation (IJANTTI), 7(2), 30-40. doi:10.4018/IJANTTI.2015040103