Friday 19 April 2013

Network, Kraftwerk and craftmanship

Today I went to The Quality Challenge: An Inconvenient Truth About e-Learning, a presentation at Aston University by visiting New Zealander Mark Brown from Massey University.  It was a great opportunity to explore the challenges of delivering 'quality' elearning.  It was also a stark reminder that we are delivering 'elearning' in institutions where 'quality assurance' does not necessarily lead to 'quality enhancement'.  

He outlined Massey University's successful approach which (my summary) is something like Massively Online Boutique Learning - with over 18,000 distance learners.  That is, keeping focus on 'quality culture' rather than assurance, where emphasis is placed on professional trust, making teachers more responsible for their own quality assessment, with effective peer reflection, leading to a supportive environment for critical and reflective analysis.

He made reference to cheese quite a bit, which always helps, but I couldn't get Kraftwerk out of my head.  Last night I deleted a few old emails I really should have acted on a while ago.  I found a starred reminder that Kraftwerk were playing live in London in February - a truly rare thing, and probably something that even if I had got my act together, probably wouldn't have been able to get a ticket for:

Kraftwerk are one of those bands everyone refers to be 'influenced by' - they are a band which most commentators agree, 'changed the landscape of music' (see Kraftwerk, the secret history)  The music press labelled them secretive because they shunned their approaches, spending much of their time in 'Kling Klang Studio', obsessively experimenting.  They are clearly great 'craftsmen', and their fascination with machines, in particular the ones they use to make music, dominates their music.  They take very much a 'boutique' approach to music, taking great time to deliver a product which may not be to everyone's taste, but inspires dedicated followers prepared to go literally around the world to see them.

What I think is striking in the approach of Kraftwerk, and Massey University to distance learning, is a strict adherence to a 'quality culture' which has little to do with 'quality assurance', but everything to do with experimentation and reflection in a trusting environment.

Mark Brown highlighted that 'elearning' can be used to entrench 1950s style teaching on 21stnetworks, and that 'quality assurance' could be the means to control knowledge and academics, which is beginning to sound rather like Foucault's power and knowledge - see 2 min presentation I made Ed Tech Learning Forum at UoB).

Alan Moore in 'No Straight lines' talks about 'a new reality of living, working and organising' - the beginning of a new post-industrial dawn, placing emphasis on 'craftsmanship' - an informed approach able to respond flexibly and with greater market understanding through effective networks.  How different is this to the 'art and craft' movement of William Morris et al at the turn of the last century, where craftmanship was much valued?  Or how different is it to Birmingham's Lunar Society of the 18th Century, where a network of scientists conducted experiments and discussion together, or 'renaissance man', with wide ranging knowledge and a sophisticated network  of associates from centuries before?

I believe elearning can also be used to develop more effective learning and research, through the development of a 'quality culture' which supports effective use of peer networks and reflection.  Foucault examines the history of 'knowledge' and takes a cynical view that where power and knowledge exists, so does a desire to discipline and control it. I hope dlearning, elearning, and other uses of our new technologies, will help make a small step towards a more open and informed world.

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