Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Why TAFE as an institution matters

A few weeks ago I went to work as usual and bumped into a colleague in the foyer of a metropolitan TAFE here in Adelaide. We had a vibrant 10 minute conversation about life, education and work and then we both went on to deal with the rest of our normal work day. It was one of many occasions in the last few months where I've been aware of being part of an large organisation like TAFE, and the incidental value one accrues from simply being part of it. I am on the verge of being offered (though I may not be) a handsome sum of money to walk away in the relentless drive to reduce the cost of TAFE on the public purse. If I leave TAFE such vibrant incidental conversations with colleagues will become a thing of the past.

In an interview with Leesa Wheelahan in the Australian TAFE Teacher magazine this month she stresses the importance of TAFE as an institution, and how this is being neglected in the rush to reduce TAFE to just another competitor in the Australian Vocational and Education Training (VET) sector. When you work or study at TAFE you typically come to a large campus with impressive buildings and well-kept grounds that signify value. A student may well feel that they have come to a place of importance because obviously a lot of money has been spent on substantial infrastructure. I imagine that it is an easy jump for a student to conclude that what they have signed up to do - a course of study at TAFE - is a worthwhile pursuit because the scale of the organisation and the quality and variety of facilities on offer signal its importance.

Even on the mundane level the idea of having a canteen or cafeteria that is relatively cheap and comfortable and that caters to basic human needs conveys subliminal messages that TAFE matters, and so therefore does the course you're doing. And in the canteens and corridors of TAFE campuses you can't help but notice the diverse range of people that TAFE attracts - migrants, women, tradies, quasi-academics, etc and I'd argue that this incidental contact with a broad spectrum of society provides a valuable and vicarious experience of the pluralist society we live in.

All TAFE campuses typically have a reception area that is central and hints at an institution that is organised. You can always go to this main area if you're lost or for all manner of general enquiries. That is, there is a central area that is staffed with people who are there to support you. And over time you might get to know the staff who work in the reception area and acknowledge them as you walk past each day.

All TAFE campuses have a library. It contains resources to help you with your study, and staff whose job it is to find suitable resources and advise you how to use them. You can work on any of the many banks of computers available, and as with the canteen, you can't help that notice the diverse cross-section of people who share the library with you.. And if you're a regular visitor to your campus library staff can become members of your regular support team, or even friends. These kinds of encounters might give students the chance to develop the soft skills of communication, negotiation, and problem solving.

Though it seems TAFE in South Australia is determined to remove the Student Services part of the organisation, this arm of the organisation was another level of support beyond the classroom teacher who could offer you extra support with your studies, provide counselling on personal issues, and even help you find work.

These kinds of services - canteen, reception, library, and student support - are the services that are often associated with institutions. And they are there to not only offer support in a student's studies, but to also ensure that a TAFE student's basic needs are met, and show that the organisation cares about you as individual and will provide all the resources necessary for you to succeed. And it is these same kinds of services that are being slowly eroded in the new TAFE where the focus is only on a student coming to class and passing as quickly and cheaply as possible.

So the trappings of TAFE as an institution - a place that offers multiple levels of support and has as part of its mission a commitment to providing an enriching study environment that is not solely focused on the classroom - seem to have gone. And as Leesa Wheelahan notes, this would never be tolerated in the schools or Higher Ed sectors because those sectors produce social elites that will defend the integrity of a fully supported and enriching study environment. TAFE is not in the business of creating social elites so there are no such champions willing to defend it from becoming a place where people are pumped in and pumped out as quickly as possible, and where market forces and reduced funding are at the root of EVERY decision.

In conclusion, Leesa Wheelahan once more:

"...since the 1980's we've had the transformation of society from a society in which the market supported the broader society, to a society where the point of society is to be a market. And so the point of education is to produce people who can operate in the market, and we've had a narrowing of what education should be about because we've had a narrowing of what society should be about. And that has led to a narrowing of what TAFE should be about."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

RANDOM NOTES FROM IDEA13 CONFERENCE - Collaborating for next generation learning

RANDOM NOTES FROM IDEA13 CONFERENCE - Collaborating for next generation learning (MCG, November, 2013) 

Keynote Day 1

 Mark Pesce - the Network Takes Over

  • computer = connection 
  • new gens embrace connectivity (of devices/people/knowledge) 
  • librarians have won - knowledge is everywhere 


  • $79 Target tablet Indian 
  • dept of Ed sells tablets to students for $29 (Aakash
  • we will (ALL) be soon connected;what will we produce?? (Wikipedia +) 
  • knowledge = transforming facts > knowledge networks = capacity amplifiers 
  • at what age do we connect kids? (danger of obsession/distraction) 

SHARE THE LOVE (and assessment)

  • children need to be educated into the culture of shared knowledge > digital literacy/netiquette, etc 
  • HOW DOES ASSESSMENT WORK IN A WORLD OF SHARED KNOWLEDGE?? currently assessment involves separating student from the tools of knowledge construction 
  • "assessment is intrinsic to the act of sharing" 
  • how well do you relate? share? mentor? ie collaborate 
  • students will be members of peer networks based around history eg, Or Maths...; they may or may not be part of a 'class' 
  • repeat: "the culture of shared knowledge" 


  • connect, share, learn... 38% of schools now allow BYOD (which means BYO network) BUT sharing = cheating!!!! 
  • Future: lease/license instead of copyright/ownership dissonance betw classroom and outside world (which is connected); so classrooms just need to catch up with current reality 
  • people need to be scaffolded into networks 


  • Embedding Innovation - the tech does not make it innovative; it's about what you're doing with them
  • Makey Makey
  • kids reading from a script about the wonderful things they do - meh; but now they show vid they have made - yeh!
  • Skype conferences betw local schools on deforestation project. (One of the schools was Dallas Brooks PS in Melbourne)

Dror Ben -Naim - the Personalised Learning Future (Smart Sparrow) 

  • adaptive intelligence/tutors; adaptive learning: the new breed of ed tech tools? 
  • AI = artificial or adaptive intelligence; governs feedback and sequence 
  • B 2 B - brain to brain! In the neuro - electric - friendship dept 
  • future: everyone has an individually tailored course (with the help of intelligent courseware) ?? 
  • 1-1 has always been the best way of teaching; we can now scale it with technology 

Mark O'Rourke (Vic Uni) - Education and Training Games
NBN funded: the White Card Game - no dig literacy skills needed; a familiar environment (workplaces) 

Mark Dreschler - The Vendor Perspective

  • "All of us are teachers/students in a collaborative environment." (Moodle.org) 
  • talking about Moodle as the product of collaborative endeavour 
  • "vision of success - with flexibility on the specifics" 

DAY 2 

Keynote: NELSON GONGALEZ (Declara - an intelligent social learning platform)

automated knowledge work projected to be #2 disruptive tech
which 6 of my my network can help me with this task?
1) we're living in perpetual now "neuronification of the web"
2) "the intersection of neuroscience and social collaboration"
Declara does the analytics (searching) for you...so you can start work with the data you need without having to look for it. What is the effect on us when we are now slaves to the analytics - ie not involved in the search?

RAJU VARANASI (ESA) Digital Learning- Platform Thinking Disruption 

2 types of platforms:
1) content intensive (eg YT, Amazon)
2) communication intensive (FB)
pipe thinking (pre-Internet) v platform thinking (post-Internet)
3 industries that survive via copyright: books, music, film; these are the 3 areas most experiencing disruption


Jo Norbury 

  • What's Driving VET Content? 
  • VET Commons not yet available; may promote/enable community creation? 

Andrew Hiskens (State Lib, VIC) 

  • curate became a verb in the 1980's in music festival context 
  • (good speaker but ignoring topic - why???) 

Steve Midgley (keynote) Making Education Internet Compatible 

  • Big Data.... 
  • Air BnB implements changes every day!! This is a contemporary trend in software. (Why?) 
  • YouTube: now 100 hrs/min; 
  • 2013: 40% mobile Twitter: 75% mobile 
  • You need concept thinking + mechanics (ie understand why you do things like quadratic equations)

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Flipping Learning - How to Ensure Your Flip Doesn't Flop!

Presentation given for the National VET elearning Strategy in Blackboard Collaborate on October 8th, 2013. Recording available HERE. (About 1 hour)

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

Mobile and Wearable Technologies - Panel Discussion


Recording of a panel discussion with:

Stephan Ridgway - Manager Learning and Innovation, TAFE NSW - Sydney TAFE

Michael Coghlan - Elearning Coordinator TAFE SA

Helen Lynch - Senior E-learning Consultant, Curriculum Renewal Project, Charles Sturt University, School of Policing, Goulburn, NSW, Australia

Facilitated by Alexander Hayes

Recorded at the mTech: Mobile and Wearable Technologies forum exploring the likely impact of mobile and wearable technologies in an educational context. held at INSPIRE Centre University of Canberra 16 August 2013.


mTech 2013

Thursday, September 19, 2013


The Radisson Blu Hotel on Dubai Creek is a great hotel - that's why I went back a second time. But the Duty Manager on the night I checked out (Sept 12th) - Rahul or Majul? - clearly doesn't believe the customer is always right. I felt I had been misled by information hotel staff had given me on my previous visit. I had been encouraged to book directly with the hotel - something I rarely do - and it ended up costing me considerably more. Consequently I thought  it reasonable that my bill be discounted a little. Rahul wasn't having any of this, and persisted on telling me how hotel bookings work - something I know a bit about! - and only begrudgingly in the end acknowledged, after much prompting from me, that 'he got my point.' He did eventually discount the price and I was grateful for that, but I was annoyed at his stubborn refusal to concede that his hotel staff had erred. Most unusual for front of house staff to be this stubborn in my experience. The money wasn't really the point for me. I just wanted acknowledgement that I had been misled. Rahul - I just don't make up stories to get $30 of my bill, and I think you need to come down a peg or two if you want a long career in hospitality. But, as I said, a great hotel. Right on Dubai Creek with wonderful  views , mostly very friendly staff, and excellent breakfast. Reasonable free wifi. (Sorry if I got your name wrong 'Rahul' - but you know who you are.)

(The above posted to Trip Advisor.)


DO take an abra (traditional wooden water taxi) across the river (1 dirham)
DO visit the Dubai museum. Excellent reconstructions and model displays of Dubai's past.
DO go to Dubai Mall at sunset and watch the sound, light and fountain show for some sheer fantasy.
DO go to Jumeirah public beach for a swim. Taxis come by frequently to take you to your next destination, Metro, or hotel.
DO take the Metro to anywhere. There's a brand spanking new airconditioned city underground that is fantastic relief in the summer.
DO visit the spice section in the grand souk. Great sights and sounds. And if gold is your thing you can ogle wealthy tourists shopping  in the nearby gold shops.

bother with the aircon tourist water taxi on the creek unless you're desperate for a cool break.
DON'T bother with the Burj Al-Arab. You can't get any further than the gate and you can see it well enough from other places.

DUBAI MARINA - DO or DON'T? If you want to see first hand the excesses of rich Dubai give it a visit. Its opulence is impressive. But if this kind of thing offends you stay away. (it's also quite a long way from central Dubai.)

Population Profile
If you get the impression that Dubai is full of young men who are on their own without family and not particularly happy, consider:
·         75% of the population is male
·         50% are from South Asia
·         the largest cohort are the 16-29 year olds

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Changing World of Education

"The dominant culture of education has come to focus not on teaching and learning, but testing...this...leads to a culture of compliance rather than creativity." (Sir Ken Robinson) TED Talk at http://www.ted.com/talks/ken_robinson_how_to_escape_education_s_death_valley.html

Thursday, March 28, 2013


Event: Unsound Adelaide. Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin (aka Oneohtrix Point Never), Robin Fox, Raime and Trinity (Biosphere, Lustmord, MFO)

Queens Theatre, Thu Mar 14

It began without introduction or fanfare. Two shadowy figures huddled over keyboards, mixers and other assorted gadgetry launched an electronic fanfare of their own that enveloped every square centimetre of the Queens Theatre. It was quite literally an assault on the senses: volume was something you felt not just heard. Often quite beautiful ethereal sounds were disturbed by sonic rumblings that seemed to come from deep within the earth to shake the building and vibrate your organs. A sound and light show followed that just took the concept to a new level. Sound driven beams, waves, arcs, and swirls radiated above and around us in a science fiction fantasy. Except of course it is not sci-fi - it is now. Much excitement lays ahead for those who dabble in the digital arts. *Unsound Adelaide part 1 was a stunning, if a little scary, entree into a field that could blow peoples' minds.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Murder (Queen's Theatre, 6/3/13)

Billed as a meditation on our culture's obsession with violence Murder is surprisingly beautiful. Murder brings people together. In previous ages murder was an accepted public spectacle and drew big crowds. Our contemporary world has been forced to find other ways to indulge our fascination with death, and Murder displays several alternatives in a dream-like narrative. The subconscious realm is represented by puppets with a form and elegance so convincing you forget they're not real. Reality itself however is presented as a blend of dreams, sex, death, subconscious and fantasy - all with overlapping boundaries. Nick Cave's songs provide a suitably ominous soundtrack, and visual media offer clues about location, and the state of mind of the production's only human character. There are macabre moments but they are softened by a trance like atmosphere that teases the subconscious - humans aren't like this on a conscious level are they? Are we? Am I?

Monday, March 11, 2013

DirtDay! - Laurie Anderson

DirtDay! is a remarkable piece of performance art. The stage is lit with candles as Laurie Anderson begins a musical journey punctuated with spoken thoughts on the role of women, evolution, religion, politics, philosophy, economics, death - with superb dramatic timing and plenty of humour. This show has so many levels - a visual feast, a philosophical treatise, an entrancing musical performance, and at times a profound literary event. While Anderson reveals her depth as a serious artist in choreographing the multiple facets of this performance, it is also liberally sprinkled with opportunities to appreciate both the absurdity of existence, and her own art. Her dog gets a cameo role as a guest artist! There were shades of Pink Floyd and Nick Cave in the hypnotic feel of the musical score but the mastery of electronic keyboard, violin and other assorted gadgets produces an overall sound that is uniquely hers.

The Saints of British Rock

The Saints of British Rock tells the tale of a mythical rock band that rise to stardom during the sixties. Using the format of a celebrity chat show, supplemented by slides, movies and animation, they relate stories of their success before disappearing into a time warp that is connected with Camelot and King Arthur. Somehow they are converted into eco-rock warriors and re-emerge as musical campaigners for the natural environment. So far so good. The dialogue from the two main characters however just seems childish and pointless. The intent presumably is to satirise the phenomenon of vacuous rock stars being thrust into the limelight and forced to be spokespersons about things they know little about, but the writing is tedious and lacks punch. Musically the show holds together and has some nice moments. It would work better if they just told the story with music and multimedia and drastically prune the dialogue.

4 Voice - Review

4 Voice are four local lads who promote themselves as Adelaide's premiere acapella group - good on 'em for aiming high! Happily we were encouraged to keep our phones and cameras ON - at least someone understands new media. We were then treated to a high energy, humorous, lively and engaging show of original arrangements of mostly golden oldies, complete with dance routines, and a couple of excellent originals thrown into the mix. (Big tick!) Their infectious stage presence easily gets the audience involved on several numbers. Highlights: the song they use to pick up girls, a zany impromptu restaurant scene, and the vocals of their bass man Tom. A fun show.

Monday, March 04, 2013

Again Amazing - Nicholas Tweedy

There's magic and there's mentalism - Nicholas Tweedy's preference is mentalism but he offers both in this extraordinary show. Lots of card tricks and non-threatening audience participation in an informal and relaxed presentation. It almost feels like you're at home with friends. With each 'trick' the stakes are raised and it becomes harder to believe what you're seeing, but every time Tweedy manages to prove he knows what we're thinking. It's the second time I've seen this kind of mentalism in action and despite my cynicism (apparently Australian audiences are among the most sceptical) I'm now a convert - I believe that mentalists can control what we think! There is no other rational explanation for some of the things that happen in Again Amazing. Presentation could be slicker but my guess is 'Nick' wants to keep it down home and cosy. Treat yourself and go test out your own cynicism.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Inside- Frank Woodley and Simon Yates

This is theatre rather than comedy; art rather than entertainment. Comedy and tragedy are different sides of the same coin, and Inside clearly demonstrates this paradox. Brothers Vasili and Viktor are confined in a dark place, and have been for a very long time. Their symbiotic relationship is endearing and sometimes uncomfortable for the audience. It goes way beyond the fraternal as they struggle to maintain their sanity. A five minute window of sunlight each day allows them to dream, and entertain hopes of escape. There are funny moments and they come as welcome comic relief. Often people laughed at what I found sad - I was searching for the symbolism - while others needed to laugh. Plenty of physical comedy and clever musical moments, but clearly Frank Woodley is trying something new, and it worked for me. But it was much more than just a laugh. 

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Tim Fitzhigham - The Gambler

Some would argue that betting is in the Australian blood. An hour with wide-eyed Tim Fitzhigham makes it quite clear that our obsession with betting has ancient roots in the mother country. Tim has done some very strange things in his time, all in the name of a good bet. Pushing wheelbarrows across London, challenging the world's best in chess, rowing a bathtub across the English channel, long distance Morris dancing - and he re-enacts these crazy adventures with the skills of an engaging storyteller. And if his stories seem a bit far-fetched he has photographs to back them up. The appeal of this show is the weirdness of the tales and the humour and infectious energy of the storyteller as we relive his oddball adventures and take our own bets on their outcome. Like a bet? Take a chance and go and see this funny, enjoyable, and instructive show.


  I recently created a book of this blog. I must confess part of my desire to do this was based on the assumption that it might be of intere...