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There is a game that university academics play. The game has a strict selection process and the chosen must play by the rules.

However, like casinos, the house always wins, the players think they win, and the players’ stakeholders tend to lose.

Casino Velden Panorama by geek7, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  geek7 

 
The game is called research and publishing. It is a game that academics play because they are expected to. Very few seem to challenge its rules and the ethics of playing the game the same old way.

Anyone can conduct research without getting a grant or by paying out of pocket, but why would they? They get more points in their appraisals if they successfully apply for grant money.

The money comes from a corporation or a government body or the university itself, and there are often stringent demands when applying for funds. That is a good thing because the money ultimately comes from the taxpayer and layperson.

What might be less clear is how the money benefits these stakeholders even if researchers have to justify their research. Leaders and managers of universities and funding agencies recognize this ethical issue and take administrative and policy measures to address it. There are strict review processes, rules to protect human subjects, regular reporting processes, expectations of social responsibility or scaling up, etc.

But with the way the game is played in reality, the benefit to stakeholders seems tertiary, if at all. The research money primarily benefits researchers and journal publishers, and secondarily benefits a research ecosystem.

Research money helps some academic staff publish papers and get promotions. If enough of them do these, they raise the profile and international ranking of the university. Research outputs go to journals and publishers profit from the work of researchers. These are the primary beneficiaries.

In order to conduct research and publish, academic staff need to buy equipment, hire staff, outsource some services, arrange for conference travel, and so on. This could benefit some stakeholders by providing employment and creating a demand for assorted services. These are the secondary beneficiaries.

But research is typically funded over only two or three years. This means that funding cycles are tight and a researcher needs to be creative with resources and/or apply for multiple grants if s/he wants to sustain the research.

Sustaining a study is particularly important in educational or social studies type of research because of the subjectivity and complexity of human factors. Such studies also might have interventions like technology use which take time to develop, implement, and revise.

Sometimes researchers move from one grant to another (and therefore from one research topic to another) like slash-and-burn farmers move from plot to plot. Both leave damage in their wake. In the case of educational research, it might be schools, teachers, and students who have no support after the study team pulls out.

Closed circles are created when researchers team up with one or a few partner teachers or schools. If there is harm, it is contained. If there is good, it is highly contextualized and difficult to generalize.

The process of publishing the results or impact of research is also closed. More thoughts on that tomorrow.

 
During my vacation in Vietnam, I managed to read parts of the Innovating Pedagogy 2014 report by the Open University UK.

The report cited an author who wrote:

There must be an ‘industrial revolution’ in education, in which educational science and the ingenuity of educational technology combine to modernize the grossly inefficient and clumsy procedures of conventional education. Work in the schools of the future will be marvelously though simply organized, so as to adjust almost automatically to individual differences and the characteristics of the learning process. There will be many laborsaving schemes and devices, and even machines – not at all for the mechanizing of education, but for the freeing of teacher and pupil from educational drudgery and incompetence.

The quote sounds current, but it was written by Sidney Pressey in 1933. That is just over 90 years ago. He was pushing for technology-enabled change then just as we are now.

The pushes for change will persist because of the inertia of governors and the governed. But as technologies evolve to become more powerful, connected, and intuitive, I hope that pull factors drive change instead.

The messaging then changes from “This is why and how you must change!” to “We want this change. What is stopping us?”

I tried watching the Apple event ‘live’ stream on Sep 9 (it was 1am on Sep 10 here in Singapore), but it did not go smoothly.

I could only watch the video using the Safari browser. The video would freeze ever so often. When it played, I could hear three voices at once as there were least two simultaneous audio translations of what was being said on stage. The brief text and photo updates at Gizmodo and TechCrunch were less media rich but clearer.

The last time the video stream froze, I tried reloading the page. I received a cryptic message informing me that I had done something illegal. I did not realize that watching an Apple event broadcast by Apple on my iMac using Apple’s Safari browser was illegal. Perhaps it was illegal to expect the quality and reliability of YouTube.

Some folks who experienced the same problems watching the event online took to Twitter and their blogs to vent [example]. I am not using this blog to vent. This is not because I am an Apple fanboy (I own Android devices and a PC in addition to my iOS devices and Macs).

I just sighed and thought how much the experience was like using most learning management systems (LMS).

The ‘live’ stream only worked on Safari. Most LMS rely on proprietary systems that often do not play well with others. This helps LMS companies control their processes and products, and create lock-in among their clients. They might tell you are are compliant to SCORM or some other standard, but the fact is that it is very difficult to move from one system or platform to another.

If you used some other browser like Chrome, you received text updates and no video of the Apple event. The updates were much slower than the ‘live’ pages or tweets from tech blogs. LMS tend to be inflexible that way. Most providers have little choice but to open themselves up to social media and Google Drive in order to stay relevant, but their core is based on giving IT folks and conservative policy makers a false sense of control.

It is very reassuring to the people who are not actually designing and/or teaching courses to hear how “feature-rich” or “secure” the LMS is. Those who need to design and/or teach are forced to learn the LMS ropes instead of relying on good instinct, educational research, and reflective practice. Learners just go with the flow because their grades ultimately depend on compliance and they might not know any better.

But more and more educators and learners do know better. They are fed on diets on cloud computing, social media interaction, YouTube videos, and Google Doc editing. The sands are shifting, but LMS providers will have you believe that their castles will stand.

They will not. Most LMS providers will refuse to admit they are wrong (has Apple apologized for their streaming gaffes?). Just like Apple is unlikely to admit that the other more open, more social streams were also more reliable and just as accurate.

LMS are unlikely to admit that providing feature-rich options (like Apple’s simulcast translations) are actually distracting, noisy, and harmful. They dissuade risk-taking, good pedagogy, and deep learning.

Let us not kid ourselves into thinking that LMS are about learning, much less managing it. Take e-portfolios for example. They could be about alternative and progressive forms of assessment, platforms for reflection and career-long learning, and students taking ownership of their own processes and products of learning. An LMS provider can tell you that because someone else has done the research or critical pedagogy or distilled that wisdom at a keynote. There are some LMS providers who will incorporate e-portfolio tools because it means more accounts, storage space, training, and maintenance.

Apple and LMS providers are entitled to make money off of you. They do not force you to buy-in and buy outright. Instead, they skillfully convince you what value they bring.

The difference is that when you buy an Apple consumer product, it is typically for your own or your loved ones’ use. When you buy an LMS, you are affecting hundreds or thousands of people. Can you claim to know what they all struggle with, need, or wish to be? If you cannot, you should go where they already are. They are using solutions that are social, open, and mobile.

 
One of the things that an academic has to do (whether s/he wants to or not) is attend conferences. Conferences are a good way to get a trial paper into a conference-linked journal or a journal proper. It is part of the “publish or perish” adage that academics live by.

Whether academics like to admit it or not, we choose conferences not just as opportunities to network and catch up with friends, but also to travel to cities we have never been to.

Today is the deadline for submission of proposals of one of my favourite conferences. This conference introduced a practitioner track and I was keen on sharing a more elaborate version of my three dimensions of flipped learning. But something stopped me.


Video source

It was not the fact that I will be leaving my job as a university faculty soon. It was more about the fact that most conferences are run more like businesses and cost a lot to attend. I questioned the need to pay airfare, accommodation, and conference fee in order to share something of value that I created that will benefit only a relative few (the few that pay to attend and get the documents).

I did not have to play the usual academic game anymore. I decided that if I am going to share an article, it should benefit those it is meant to reach (practitioners), an in order to do this, I should do it openly.

OPEN by mag3737, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  mag3737 

 
I have had a draft of this reflection sitting in Evernote for such a long time I cannot remember exactly why I wrote it. 

Let us say that you have a complex problem to solve. Some will lock down while others will open up.

One benefit of being strategically open is that it can create more transparent processes. This in turn can build trust.

Being more open with problems, ideas, or policies can result in greater feedback and critique. While doing this might result in slower implementation, you are more likely to get better inputs by crowdsourcing.

I think one reason some people do not like being open is that they fear that others will not understand the complexities of the issues at hand. But how are others expected to understand if you are not open in the first place?

Other times people worry that the process is messy and that being transparent is a sign of discord or weakness. But I think that it takes trust to build more trust.

You have to share some information that you might have withheld in the past. This leads to a more informed group that now knows the context, background, or the reasons why.

If you manage the situation well, it creates trust whether you succeed or fail during implementation. That trust is more important than the problem you tried to solve because it helps with the next problem.

Now I remember why it remained a draft. I was just rambling mentally.

I shared the link of my open course in iTunes U on Flipped Classrooms last Wed. Here is a quick update.

Two issues have emerged.

The first was that the course seemed to be available only to those in the USA. Even I received this message when I subscribed to it to test it out. This seems to be a transient issue that happens in the first few hours the course is released online. Subscribers should not get that notification now.

The second is that the course is accessible on iOS, but not on iTunes with a Mac or PC.

This is my fault. I have not actually uploaded anything to the iTunes U servers. I have created links to existing resources with guiding notes here and there.

Somehow this is OK with iTunes U in iOS, but not with iTunes on a computer.

I will remedy the situation over the next week or so. Stay tuned!


Video source

This is a model TED Talk.

Let me rephrase. This is a TED Talk where a runway model, Cameron Russell, shares what it is like to be a model.

It is an honest look about what must surely be a first world problem.

I am certain that while she will get some plaudits, she will also face some backlash. People who speak about or speak against their professions sometimes get vilified.

The thing I admire about the sharing is how open it is. The cultural expectation is that you say what you need to say and you deal with what results.

Elsewhere you keep things to yourself or share within very closed contexts. The former only leads to frustration and the latter often leads you to group-think.

If individuals and organizations are to learn and grow, they must be more open. Open to change, open to risk, open to feedback you would rather not hear.

Then again, you might just appear to be open. Looks can be deceiving. Only the consistency of your actions will show if you have an open mindset or not.


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