Bill Scott's blog

Thoughts on learning, sustainability and the link between them

Monthly Archives: August 2011

Re-think, Redesign: Survive & Prosper

📥  Comment, New Publications, Talks and Presentations

I've been watching the latest video from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation on You Tube.  Good stuff.

I liked the idea of biodegradable glasses (24 seconds in) and wondered if this is a genuine innovation, or just wishful thinking.  More seriously, as one of the EMF's key points is that biological components keep their nutrient value as they are consumed or die, I think it a shame that we seem to be stuck with the word biodegrade, when degrade is just what they do not do.   Time for a campaign, maybe.

How about biocycle?

Well, this gave 338k hits on Google (or thereabouts), and evidently there are websites, conferences, magazines, bulletins, journals, etc. devoted to nothing else, but how many of these hits relate to ' biocycle ' as a verb?  Indeed, do any?  I confess I have not looked at them all.

Along the way, however, I have picked up lots of wise advice.  The following stand out:

Manure is not a four letter word

Waste is a verb not a noun

Just remember where you heard these first.  Time for some composting ...


Cosmic Ray Education, anyone?

📥  News and Updates

There have been news stories in the past week about one of CERN's less obscure experiments, but with one of the most contrived acronymns around: CLOUD [ Cosmics Leaving OUtdoor Droplets ] – quite ridiculous, but then these are physicists.  The CLOUD website (and the Economist) are good places to pick up the detail, but with only the latter dealing with the controversy emerging in relation to climate change.   CLOUD, you see, "offers [a] new explanation for global warming" – well, according to comments, for example, in TUCONE, the Telegraph, and the Financial Post.

Nigel Calder's comment on the pleas of  Rolf-Dieter Heuer, CERN's Director General, for its scientists to steer clear of politics (that is, the stick to the physics and not mention what it might mean for us all) is here.  Phew!  So, August has ended with a bang – but mercifully, not a big one.  And the Higgs boson still keeps its watching brief on events, well out of sight.

What, I wonder, will all those beavering away at Climate Change Education make of all this.  I suspect that, as with so much of the global warming debate, it may well prove too hot to handle.  Pity.


In and out of the Top Ten

📥  News and Updates

Before the Blog had a short break, I had planned a post to celebrate my success at getting one of my papers into EER's top ten downloads chart.  The journal keeps track of those of its papers that are most downloaded, and also most often cited, and I found myself with one in the top ten, and another in the top twenty.  I was over the moon, so to speak, at having such success thrust upon me.  The editor did his best to inject reality into my nascent celebrations, noting that "download" does not imply "read", and that, even if read, this does not imply "impact".  No matter, I thought, the top ten is the Top Ten.

Imagine my chagrin, therefore, to discover that the mere passage of a week or so had resulted in my slipping out of the top ten as the recent downloads show.  Indeed, I am almost slipping out of the top twenty with the papers in question at 17 and 18.

Success is so ephemeral, I mused to myself.  Hardly worth blogging about ... .  Except that I note that of those in the top twenty, one of my papers [ Environmental education research: 30 years on from Tbilisi – 15(2) 2009 ] is in the top five (well, fifth) of those cited by others in those 20.  A straw, then, definitely to clutch at.

Mind you, reading on, it seems I now also have two jointly-authored papers in EER's top ten papers cited by others, which I'm sure were not there last week.  I'm feeling better already ...


Partnering with CERN – but not yet the IPCC

📥  Comment, News and Updates

The Simon Langton grammar school in Kent has shot to national consciousness recently with its cosmic ray monitoring experiments that are soon to be above the earth on a satellite.  NASA, it seems, is embarrassed.  Clearly, monitoring earth-bound high energy radiation is not the only way that this school interacts positively with the world of science and scientists, as the school's website illustrates.  As such, its tangible ambition for itself and its students seems a far cry from the grammar school that I attended, albeit in what was a very different time, and in what seems now almost a different country.

It is certainly hard not to disagree with the Head's comments about the cruel deception explicit within the 'faux' experimentation that has passed for much of school science over time, and which has made it so subfusc and off-putting.  Hard, also, not to applaud the schools refusal of the handcuffs of the national curriculum – something that was open to every school to do, had it vision and courage.

Given their presence at the [ please insert the cliché of your choice ] of science, I hope that it's only a matter of time before the school turns its considerable talents to helping out the IPCC which remains in greater need of support than even NASA.


Toll Barriers

📥  Comment, News and Updates

This week's THE has an informative article on the differences in university funding across the UK, and the emerging issues around the flow of students throughout the UK.  In "Toll Barriers", David Matthews writes:

Increased tuition fees could dramatically alter the flow of students around the UK, with many choosing not to travel outside their home country.  … When their tuition fees almost triple next year, English students are expected to begin a mass scramble in search of the best-value degree.  As they are unlikely to stop at England's borders, the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments plan to raise their fees to stop students from the rest of the UK scaling Hadrian's Wall and pouring across Offa's Dyke in search of a cheap education. Northern Ireland has yet to make a decision, but already it is clear that there will be a bewildering range of fees across the UK.  Although it is impossible to say how everything will play out, observers are already highlighting some likely consequences. These include: confusion for students; less diversity on campus; a fall in the number of English students studying in Scotland and a collapse in the numbers going the other way; a threat to the teaching grant for Welsh institutions - and even more turmoil for universities already reeling from the pace of change.

The effect is likely to be particularly sharply felt in Scotland.  Currently, English domicile students pay significantly less than in England if they study in Scotland (£1820 as against £3375), but this sharp differential will vanish next year as all the devolved administrations look to match the fees charged by English universities – for English students, that is, not for their own, or other administrations', or those from other EU states.  Matthews' article includes a clear table on what the position is now, and is likely to be.

Whilst you can see Scottish policy-makers' fear of a mad rush north if this differential (which is partly of their own making) is not removed, I'd be surprised if there were not another thought in their minds: that a cross-border flow of funds would be useful, thank you very much, to help off-set some of the huge funding gap now being experienced by Scottish universities because of Scottish policy on fees.  As Matthews notes:

According to a report published in February by the Scottish government and Universities Scotland, if universities in England had set their 2012-13 fees at an average of £8,000 a year, Scottish universities would face an annual teaching funding gap of £263 million by 2014-15 compared with their counterparts south of the border. Given that the average fee announced by English universities (before fee waivers) has turned out to be £393 higher than the £8,000 on which those figures were based, the gap could be even wider.

... and it's clear that not all Scottish universities think that the gap is actually as high / low as £263m, some seeing this as a significant under-estimate.

Either way, thus it is, that subsidy hides in the wake of liberty – the twin moral virtues of a greater independence.


EAUC and Staffordshire to take over the world – official

📥  Comment, News and Updates

In this week's (informative as ever) Higher Education Academy Education for Sustainable Development e-Bulletin we find news of another ambitious EAUC initiative to set alongside its LIFE project.  This is the Sustainability Exchange which is a 2 year HEFCE-funded project led by Staffordshire University in partnership with EAUC .

The Exchange promises to

"facilitate the sharing of information, best practice and resources through online communities, online learning and an interactive repository, in as many appropriate formats as possible.  The site will use emerging and innovative ways to reflect the changes in how we now work and learn.  This includes: webinars, downloads, online CPD, podcasts, videos, process development, e-learning, forums, ask the Expert and other interactive mediums.  The focus will be on interactive, flexible and accessible information and communication systems."

... with all this to be accomplished through a website, it seems.  It is certainly ambitious:

  • "It will be a powerful one stop shop for the English HE sector ... on sustainability, to aid cross organisational collaboration, co-ordination and a more efficient and cost effective approach;
  • It will be a repository and gateway of knowledge, information and contacts which will improve access to sector resources and expertise;
  • It will be an online community (and sub communities) that communicate and share information on sustainability;
  • It will be an online tool providing best practice advice and support.
  • In the first instance the Sustainability Exchange will benefit institutions in England but it has the potential to grow UK wide and meet the needs of all in the tertiary education sector.
  • It is the sector stepping up to meet [its] current and future needs ..."

In terms of links to externally held resources, the website specification makes it clear that the this is more than about mere signposting with the repository having to:

  1. be fully taggable and searchable enabling users to filter with advanced searches
  2. enable access to content held externally by third parties without additional logins / passwords by users (the SE will need to enable access of some third party content, i.e. through an automatic hidden login/password system)
  3. enable third parties to upload and share their content through the SE repository, securely (with third party control over Copyright/Creative Commons Licenses)
  4. provide content providers with a promotional interface that acknowledges their provision of content, includes contact details, links and an automatically updating list of repository content provided by them
  5. enable content to be scored in terms of number of views/downloads and be simply rated by viewer i.e. ‘Like’, and
  6. have RSS feeds to notify of new content.

Wow!   I think my earlier use of "ambitious" now looks wholly inappropriate.   Actually, I am unsure what to make of this (and whether, indeed, to welcome it), and I certainly wonder what the effect will be on existing organisations and activity.  I also wonder what success criteria Hefce have demanded for such a huge initiative.

My last point is to note  that there seems to be no aim to capture blog activity and don't know whether to be relieved or affronted.  Ah well, such existential dilemmas pale into insignificance compared to the problems EAUC will have in getting all this to work in a meaningful, comprehensive and useful way, and that's before working out what to do when Hefce's ready cash runs out after 2 years.


Stonehenge fights back

📥  News and Updates

News this morning from BBC Wiltshire that Stonehenge was "the most visited paid for tourist attraction in the South West" in 2010, beating the Eden Project into second place.   This must be doubly galling for the never knowingly over-sold Eden, to lose out to an untidy bunch of old rocks that have no focus whatsoever on climate change education (not to mention the terrible toilets), and to be mis-labled as a mere "tourist attraction".  But what foresight those Neolithic types had building it in Wiltshire, so close to London, Oxford, Bath, Winchester and Stratford, so very much on the beaten track.   I should declare a disinterest here as I maintain a strict neutrality in these matters, never going to either.


HRH on Harmony

📥  Comment

I confess that I have been slow to acknowledge that the Prince of Wales, with significant others, has penned a fat book on Harmony: a new way of looking at our world.  This is a text which, I am told, is now available at well below Amazon prices in Bath's better cheap book stores.

Having been slow off the mark, I have now managed to read a Guardian review and a funny, if rather cruel, digest and feel as if I know the essence of its partial (in both senses) arguments.

The Digest begins ...

This is a call to revolution. Though obviously not the sort of revolution that seeks to get rid of a hereditary monarchy, because the Earth is under threat and Nature is very keen on royalty. That's why we have Queen bees and Emperor penguins. And if I've learned one thing in the more than 30 years I've been faffing around waiting to be king, it's that we have to listen to Nature. It's no good just talking to plants if you aren't willing to hear their replies. So this book, which has been dictated to me by Tony Juniper-Berry, Peter Penstemon and Diana Daffodil, is Nature's plea to us to save the world before it is too late.

Personally, I'm very sceptical about the idea of harmony as applied to human – nature systems, seeing nature as involving a dynamic and necessarily very edgy co-existence, and that it is this which gives it its resilience and diversity.  I have written about this before, rather too obliquely, perhaps, and shall probably do again.

Turning around leadership for sustainability in higher education

📥  Comment

Turnaround Leadership for Sustainability in Higher Education is a project funded by the Australian Learning & Teaching Council which involves the  University of Western Sydney (Lead), the Sustainable Futures Academy (Salzburg), the Australian National University, and the University of Gloucestershire.

A brochure which provides a summary of the context and intentions of  the project says:

The Project Team is seeking contributors to this international study. If you are an effective university leader in ESD or know someone who is, please contact a member of the Project Team. Leaders could be a Vice-Chancellor or President, a Deputy Vice Chancellor or Pro Vice Chancellor or Exective (sic) Director who has taken a lead in promoting or facilitating change towards Education for Sustainability.

We are also keen to identify Directors of Sustainability, Heads of Schools and Student Leaders who have influenced how a University addresses Education for Sustainability.

I note here that it is only very senior staff (Brigadier and above, as it were) who lead change.  Everyone else (junior officers and other ranks) can only "influence" it.  This is a distinction which I find very odd and one that seems to fly in the face of what one finds on the ground.  Indeed, it seems to go out of its way to valorise senior staff-led change which offers a peculiarly top-down view of what universities are actually like.

A distinction might be made between inspiring / stimulating change, and  managing / consolidating it.   However, there is no mention of management at all, which is odd given that universities are stuffed of managers of all kinds (many of whom think, quite erroneously, that they are leaders).  For me, leadership is about co-creating and jointly realising a vision of something better, more appropriate / effective, etc, whereas management is often only about shuffling resources one way or another.  It is obvious that the project is about the former, but this is not clear.

The project seems to imply that it is sensible (and helpful) to think of “an effective university leader in ESD” as opposed to an effective leader who understands that it is crucial to focus on sustainability (and knows something of how to do it).  Further, it implies that there are capabilities (that can be identified) which mark out such leaders from those who are merely effective leaders in universities (ie, run of the mill effective leaders).  But is this really the case?  I have to say that I'm sceptical.

Anyway, wouldn't the HE system as a whole (and societies at large) be much more effective if existing "effective leaders", everywhere, (together with their institutions) successfully addressed sustainability?   I hope that is the vision that the project actually has.  But does it?


Disabled Animal Agency – Ofscoff comments

📥  News and Updates

A press release dated 10th August 2009, from the Office for Strictures and Control on Fodder and Food (Ofscoff), welcomes the government's promised new regulations on disability in the food chain (England).

A spokesperson for Ofscoff, Dr Isabella McTarry-Wilson, is quoted as saying:

"This is welcome news; for too long now disabled animals have been excluded from playing a full role in the provision of food.  This is an equal opportunities issue, and we're pleased to see Defra's taking a stand.  From next year, it will no longer be acceptable for an animal to be excluded just because it isn't perfect.  After all, the number of legs a sheep has doesn't affect the quality of its meat."

Dr McTarry-Wilson added,

"We welcome Defra's affirmative action, and we're particularly pleased that, from 2011, farmers will have to have at least 25% of their animals registered disabled.  We look forward to the industry's co-operation with the proposed Disabled Animal Agency as it tours farms to ensure compliance".

McTarry-Wilson denied rumours that a decision had been taken in principle to extend the scheme to plants, although she said that, over the last few months, there had been intense lobbying from Plants Rights activists.