Monday, 23 June 2008

Terry Pratchett Understands Gullibility

image credit

Three great quotes.

The trouble with having an open mind, of course, is that people will insist on coming along and trying to put things in it.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.

They say a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, but it's not one half so bad as a lot of ignorance.

Thanks to brainy quote

Shopping For A Degree? Try Our BA in Consumerism

A colleague of mine opens his introduction to first year students with the announcement that they all have "his permission to fail". This is part of the 'bucket of cold water' that is needed to wake students up to the fact that need to take as much responsibility for their learning as the lecturers and tutors.

Once again we are seeing the undigested lifting of a managerialist notion called 'The Customer' and squeezinging it into an alternative context. The issue of whether students should be regarded as customers or learners is receiving alot of attention as students (and their parents) believe that they are 'buying' a qualification rather than the opportunity to study for one.

I feel that I'm qualified to criticise the unthinking and frequently half baked understanding of both the Marketing Philosophy and Higher Education Philosophy that we see around us having spent a significant portion of my career in Competitive Strategy roles at board level in commercial organisations and more recently as a lecturer, (students learning) researcher and consultant (managers learning).

Frequently Marketing is mistaken for customer worship i.e. giving customers whatever they ask for just because they believe they think know what they want. It is also a 'commercially' conceived notion whose dark side is manifested in rampant consumerism and waste. Often the fact that it is deeply concerned with value, what is valued, how it is valued and who values it is missed.

Higher Education is frequently mistaken for 'teaching' a mere extension of high school but in a bit more subject detail. Educationalists do themselves a dis-service by failing to 'market' themselves effectively because the underlying purpose and rationale of transformative adult education is not explicitly expressed in ways that the 'educationally inexperienced' can appreciate.

The problem with the term 'Customer' is that it is a generic idea, a level of abstraction or categorisation that is too large for specific meaning. Students are a particular type of user of services, in the same way that patients are patients, passengers are passengers, and sports fans are sports fans. These labels are in fact the peitomy of 'marketing' because they more precisely define the consumer and user in ways that the term 'Customer' can't!!

Having participated in an organisation wide initiative to introduce the principles and practices of CRM (customer relationship management) in a university it is daunting to see how superficially and tritely many people see the idea. Lets look at students as customers comes the mantra! and lets get everyone who has cared for the student experience for most of their professional live 'customer orientated'. Something might be broken so lets fix it before we find out what it is! Students are now customers is the simplified utterance of the simplistic mind. The term 'customer' in the educational context is simply a 'metaphor' and like all metaphors it has helpful parts and unhelpful parts.

Helpful because it sensitises people to the needs of others and the possibility of competitive alternatives, unhelpful because when left unchecked it reinforces the irresponsible mindset of the consumerist that drives a whole raft of unhelpful behaviours and ignores anyone asking the question 'what part do I play in this situation'

Students (and having been one and being one yet again too I feel I have a valid opinion)have a particular and unique role. Yes they can expect good guidance, and a good learning experience. No they can't set the agenda for what is learned and how to learn it because they lack the knowledge and experience to make a qualified judgement.

So, forget 'customers' To try another metaphor,what if students prior to their qualification (undergraduate, masters and doctoral) can be thought of as auditionees in a talent show. Imagine the stage...some performers are uniquely gifted and don't even know it, some are utterly deluded about their capability. If the consumerist bandwagon gathers greater momentum then more and more of the deluded performers will be arguing with the adjudicators about their ability to judge their performance...and of course Nellie Frump singing to her mirror in the bath is better than Madonna simply because she thinks so and has no idea what the standards are.

Would The X Factor, Britain and Americas got Talent charge for an entry? I don't think so, because then the people with the None Dancing Ferrets might think they have a right to win!!

Friday, 20 June 2008

UK Candid Camera Classics - Goldfish Delicacy

I am suprised and annoyed at myself for not being aware that Jonathan Routh Master Practioner of the Expert Dupe passed away on June the 4th.

If ever someone was able to model exactly how we suspend critical thinking Jonathan was surely one of the best.

I have a vivid childhood memory of this Goldfish sketch on the UK version of Candid Camera which was co-hosted with Peter Dulay

Tuesday, 17 June 2008

Plagiarism Is Simply Cheating

Plagiarism is simply cheating. It's the academic equivalent of lying or stealing. In this case the perpetrator lies about their capability and originality of expression or thinking, and they steal the insights of others and claim them as their own.

Students enter into a relationship when they join a university, and plagiarism is a betrayal of that relationship in exactly the same way that adulterer cheats on their spouse. Students also commit to developing original thinking and plagiarism is no different to schools kids stealing sweets and candy from the local store.

What could be worse than a qualified Doctor and TV celebrity setting such a poor example? Sub-consciously his behaviour runs the risk of making plagiarism seem like scrumping apples

Academic qualifications depend entirely on integrity. As soon as this is undermined the whole pack of cards collapses. Notions such as 'assessment FOR learning' is like saying to a Police officer that doing 34 in a 30 limit was evidence of being able to drive at 30 because it is less than 35 mph!

There is a serious threat to the credibility of UK European degrees due to the 'forgiving' stance encouraged towards overseas students. They should be applauded for studying away from home and in a foreign language AND they should be judged by a consistent standard. There a many examples of incoherent and conceptually muddled work being 'forgiven' as the 'sense' is read between lines by the marker. Native English speakers are NOT afforded this leniency. And as for 'explaining away' the tendency to copy vast tracts from books and other papers as an example of cultural differences where its 'really showing deference to more learned people' Just how gullible are we?!

The nature of learning, study, critical thinking and research differs as soon as you move from undergraduate study to masters and beyond. You are expected not only to know and understand what others have said in your field, you need to discuss and manipulate abstract concepts that use subtle and precise language. This is a challenge for a native English speaker, so it is hardly surprising that the pressure to perform and succeed tempts none -native English speakers to 'over rely' on the words, ideas and expressions of others.

Being confronted with fact that 'conceptual capabilities' and 'critical thinking' matter more at post graduate level than 'evidence of hard work (extensive descriptions and appendices) comes as a real shock to some.

Diamonds hold their value because they are scarce and hard won. All things of value are. As soon as the standards for the quality of a qualification are undermined the qualification is meaningless to potential employers and the recipient will be living in the delusion that they have achieved a 'standard' that was never there.

Thursday, 12 June 2008

Pluto Plato and Plutoids

How spooky is this...
As you probably know a few months back Pluto lost its status as a planet.

Today its has been announced that Pluto should belong to a new category of astronomical object called Plutoids

Scientists love the task of categorisation its a pastime of philosophers too. Mind you that is hardly a surprise since the word science means knowledge.

a key figure in the art of categorisation was Plato. So what could more apt than a philosophical question...

...has Pluto really changed in anyway at all? (cue Twilight Zone theme music)

Monday, 9 June 2008

Consumerism : A New Low

Anybody who has done Marketing 101 will know that one of the basic tricks of advertising is to call something 'NEW'

By tapping into our basic curiosity and the false assumption that new is equivalent to better we are sub-consciously being told that our world is progressing and improving.

So you can imagine the irony of the claim by the British Retail Consortium that we have hit a NEW low in consumer confidence.

Does this mean that we now have a better 'LOW' than the one we had before? Does this mean we can expect newer lows in the future as we progress to the best low ever?

New is slapped on products to get us try things. The double irony therefore is that the BRC are actually instructing us to try having even less consumer confidence than we had before with the consequent effect that the situation the BRC is whining about can only get worse!! DOH!

Now, the BRC would suggest that there is doom and gloom on the high street wouldn't they. That's the job of Trade Associations They portray a particularly skewed view of reality that endorses their only ever so slightly 'hidden agenda' AND...

What if the drop in high street sales indicates that consumers are wising up to the tricks and techniques deployed to get us to buy things we WANT rather than NEED? What if a mind -shift is taking place (originally triggered by tighter credit) that breaks our habit of shopping addiction? Consumer Cold Turkey is the real fear of retailers, a fear that they project onto us as fear that the supply cheap goods will end if we stop buying.

Instead of a New Low what if we are actually witnessing a New High in the awareness and general level of consciousness of the consumer that means we are less gullible about the consequences to the planet and ultimately our survival as a species of unfettered wasteful consumption?

Friday, 6 June 2008

University Degrees : The Clue Is In The Title

What do you think the aim and purpose of a Higher Education is? For me the clue is in the title of the awards that can be achieved.

A degree implies evidence of a 'degree' of thinking, knowledge, and application that has been formally assessed by legally & professionally recognised assessors and institutions.

A key issue to consider however is whether degrees should be designed towards what the university believes is important or whether they should they be designed towards what society and more specifically the techno-commercial system needs.

The academic process has historically been designed from what marketers would recognise as a 'production' orientation. That is to say the university has determined what it believes to be 'a good product'. This line of thinking is evident in the concerns expressed by academics over diploma courses intended to replace current UK high school qualifications A primary concern is that they will not 'prepare students for university'

Now, depending on your philosophy you might get a bit hot under the collar about that claim. For those who have been through the system you will know what is meant by this because in order to gain a degree you have to become adept at the 'university' way of thinking and writing. Much of the educational philosophy that underpins this approach remains tacit and for a majority of students they don't really 'know' much about the process they have been through in that regard, they only really know that they have studied 'subjects' in depth.

Ironically much of this approach is actually 'student', dare I say 'consumer' centric in the sense that degrees are designed with the development of the individual in mind. This doesn't necessarily mean giving the consumer what they think they want though! To polarise the argument between 'product' orientation' or 'market' orientation (meeting the needs of the techno-commercial system) is really a gross over simplification.

The upside to the benign 'production orientation' of universities is that they are able to guide their consumer from their unconscious incompetence through to unconscious competence (and hopefully critically reflective practice which is essential to avoiding gullibility. It is a fact that students do NOT necessarily know what is good for them. In this way universities avoid the mistake of 'consumer worship' which is 'market orientation' done badly.

The downside to 'production orientation' is that universities think they know best on everything and this limits their thinking to designing and producing products (degrees) that exclusively suit their framing of the 'need'. That's why the Buckinghamshire academics anticipate a problem, they are worried that students aren't being groomed for their interpretation of what they believe is needed. They have a myopic version of the 'need' because the time at university is only one staging post in the journey of life and the majority of people will go on to be employed in non academic professions. The biggest criticism of 'degree design' must be the way in which they are tacitly developed to craft people with an 'academic mind'. i.e. they are implicitly (sub-consciously?) 'training' people to be professors, and guess what not all of us want to be 'academics'!!

For universities to operate from a more rounded version of 'market orientation' they need to build on the strong points of the 'consumer orientation' they have historically been excellent at. This means thinking about 'value and lifestyle' segments in the market for their services. Other stakeholders have different needs and yes the techno-commercial system is one of those, in the same way that a 'non-academic' student is too. That's why ideas such as Foundation degrees are a good idea.

This is certainly not a call for 'dumbing down' as higher education should always ultimately be about individual development in terms of thinking and knowledge. That goal doesn't necessarily mean that you have to become an 'academic' A degree nevertheless should involve a degree of personal challenge higher than the individuals current level of experience and beyond merely what 'I think I need or is needed'. It should certainly demand rigorous and justified thinking and applicationand involve the constant testing of prior assumptions whether in the natural or social sciences.

University Choice resource:
Choosing A British University

Thursday, 5 June 2008

Barak Obama : The Promise of Change

When somebody makes a promise they are asking us to believe in the manifestation of some future event.
and the only way have of knowing if our faith has been misplaced or not is our experience of delivery on that promise.

As a result it is only in the moment of delivery that we ever find out if we have been gullible. In social relationships we are never more vulnerable to gullibility than on the promise of a change. Think about it...the errant lover 'I promise it'll never happen again', the workshy employee 'I promise I'll be here on time in future', the bad payer 'i promise the cheques is in the post' our lives are cut through with promises from 'if you are are good then I promise to take you to McDonald's through to 'if you are good I promise you a place in heaven'

In marketing management there is a model called the Promise Concept It is associated with the notion of Services Marketing and is made up of three elements that all need to come together for a promise to be upheld. These are:

Making the promise
Delivering the promise
Enabling the promise

Much of the criticism of tactical marketing stems from the fact that marketers are usually pretty good at making promises, you know, the stuff of dreams, and Obama has certainly done that! And, of course it is no mistake that his meta-message is a parody of Martin Luther Kings' famous speech. What really matters now is delivering and enabling and that's where real-politik comes in.

There are always real world constraints that conspire to break the promises we make. Capabilities, resources, time, ambitions of others etc.

Just how gullible American voters have been will only ever be known at the point of delivery, and then we'll see if Obama's promise is concept or reality

Monday, 2 June 2008

Masters Degrees : Advantages Disadvantages and Expectations

If you are considering embarking on a Masters Degree in any of the Social Sciences you might be wondering what is involved and what you will be committing too. Several factors may have combined to encourage you to take the plunge and much of the marketing blurb from universities home in on those needs and reflect them back to you such as:

i) a competitive edge in an employment world where more and more people have first degrees
ii) acquisition of specialised 'know what' & 'know how' to be gained from course content
iii) the achievement of a personal goal through stretching academic endeavour

What is particularly interesting about the ways in which Masters degrees are positioned is the disconnect between the 'instrumental', 'vocational' and 'course content and structure' benefits that are presented to prospective students to get them to enrol and the 'transformational effect' and 'academic demands' that are the reality of the experience.

The crucial difference to grasp is that Masters education is not simply about absorbing 'given' knowledge. It is a process through which the student is expected to become a more independent, critically reflective individual. You mustn't expect tutors to 'tell' you things that you need to simply memorise and understand. In order to 'master' your subject YOU need to engage with it and STUDY it and this means READING. Of course you will be signposted to key texts, key ideas and key thinkers but not independently investing a significant amount of time in subject research and you'll find yourself struggling.

It should also be borne in mind that a Masters degree is an ACADEMIC endeavour, and whilst many subjects will have practical applications and relevance, the achievement of the qualification relies on demonstrating fluency and ability in the academic arts of:

i) extensive research and evidence gathering
ii) synthesising and making sense of diverse,and complex ideas
iii) formal structuring and referencing of cogent academic writing
iv) clarity of informed and persuasive argument
v) conceptual thinking and manipulation

Do not expect tutors to tell you how to structure assignments and what to include. Do not expect them to tell you what is a 'correct' answer and approach to an assignment. Do expect to be left to your own devices after contact time.

Do a Masters degree for you not necessarily for a job.Many people who job interview you will not have had a Masters experience and will not be able truly understand how your thinking skills are different. You are being trained to be a heretic and a questioner and sadly in many organisations today that is still a dangerous occupation.