What makes a university?

February 20, 2018

  I’ll work this out as I type. It’s a variation on thoughts I have presented to people around me but to which I haven’t really found anyone to listen. It starts by talking about teachers.

  Every teacher has two things: subject knowledge and a subject skill of some kind.

  Subject knowledge? What you find in textbooks. Any teacher will have some grasp of the subject, built up over time, acquired from different sources.

  Subject skill? This one varies according to teacher. But each teacher will use or manage their knowledge in some way. That use or management will be, broadly speaking, either technical or academic. Both types of teacher, the technical and the academic, will be involved, more or less, in production of whatever their subject relates to, and in transmitting awareness of that kind of production to students. I believe the technicals will be involved in the production of things and in refining productive methodologies. I know the academics will be producing and transmitting concept.

  For teachers and schools everywhere, there’s a tremendous focus on subject knowledge. With “education” available to all for purchase, subject knowledge can’t not be a focus. I suspect then that the use and management of knowledge is taught a whole lot more in its bastardized form – test passing – than in its academic form, because after all if you teach the academic form, you’re creating academics, and how many of the population really are that?

  But anyway, what makes a university is first of all, there’s a style of lesson available called tutorials. And that’s important because lectures only ever transmit subject knowledge. It’s in tutorial where subject skill is generated. In tutorial, students, to pass, must enter usage situations. They’ll have a guide of some kind, usually the teacher, and they’re not primarily given subject knowledge but instead required to use or compare with others what subject knowledge they already have. They grow in skill. (Or fail.)

  And the difference between a college with tutorial teaching and a university is in the university, the subject skill being generated is academic. One builds in the student the ability to use, manage, and create ideas within the relevant discipline.

  So, what makes a university? It’s a place where people are taught the disciplined production of ideas.

  It seems like therefore there are not a lot of universities in China. There might be room for saying the transmission of tremendous amounts of technical information onto a passive cohort does achieve an education of sorts, and that somewhere in there people will be learning by association how to generate and manage new ideas, but I don’t see new knowledge being celebrated. I don’t see creation being valued. I don’t see anyone knowing why or how this country does or doesn’t get Nobel Prizes.

  And I don’t see my institution ever truly wanting to be a university. They might achieve it by accident in the future, but not for ten years at least. Maybe not even twenty. I wish it weren’t so. I wish there were an environment of discovery. There is a lot of change going on, and it has been for the decade and a half I’ve known of this place. But not that change. Not yet.


ε/̵͇̿̿/’̿’̿ ̿

February 19, 2018

The last 4 years…

February 19, 2018

  And beyond?

  Well for Business Studies, since 2013 I’ve been using more professionally organized materials. The textbook, obvs. But also the various statements of grading rubrics you can find online for past exams. (And also sometimes using the past exams too.)

  The textbook provides the content, but also a structure for organizing the content. I have followed it pretty closely in creating the syllabus. We have been offering three semesters worth of classes, the first being Business and its Environment, aka chapters 1 to 7 of the 2010 textbook. (Book’s getting pretty old, yo.)

  Second semester is People in Organizations + Marketing. I call it the people side of business. People in Organizations is about people inside your business, and Marketing is about the people outside your business, at least the ones outside that you want to pay attention to.

  Third semester is the impersonal part of business, at least as compared to the previous semester: Operations and Project Management + Finance and Accounting.

  Way it’s worked out, I’ve stuck to the AS material. None of these students really would be studying this stuff if they didn’t have to, and to be honest they don’t really have to even when they have to. I teach it like Business Studies, they (and the administration) deal with it like it’s Business English. Which is to say, no one really studies. (That, btw, changes in this coming semester….

  This coming semester I’ll be handing out a content schedule at the beginning of class. It’ll describe which pages are needed for which week, which case study will be approached in class, and which of the Over To You question sets at the end of each chapter will be used that week. In fact, I’ll likely approach the class via the Over To You questions. They’re review questions that appear at the end of the chapters and I’ll pose them as participation questions. They’ll set up discussion of cases. And that’s how we’ll do the classes: initial review of purported pre-read material followed by discussion of one of more cases, with me sometimes guiding that discussion and sometimes prompting, and the students get scored according to participation.)

  So, as of now, we’ve completed nearly three cycles of the program. This coming semester I’ll be doing BS3 (OPM+FinAcc) with all the junior classes, and starting a fourth iteration of the program with two of the sophomore class groups.

  The first classes, way back in 2015 (and in fact there was one instance of BS1 offered in early 2014), were lecture heavy. I did already now about having students work in groups. (And would you like to know the real reason the group names were recorded and the students kept in those groups? Because it cut down grading time by two thirds….. you’ll see.) Discussions occurred in class time. They were mostly teacher-driven. And from time to time, the groups, and sometimes the individuals, would write case study answers. The main method of giving grades related to those writings. The students would produce at least five case study answers over the course of the semester, and they’d get scored based on how well they used the four skills methodology to produce their answers. More exactly, they’d get grades one each of the four skill set expressions – how well they deployed a given skill was usually more important than how relevantly it was deployed, especially for Analysis….

  This coming semester? Enough with the writing. Last semester and the semester before I had quite the extreme range of class responses. Class 4 for instance produced remarkable papers. They used actual pad paper, almost like they’d all chosen sheets from the same pad. (And that was remarkable because what almost always happens in these kinds of classes is the tiny scraps approach…. students use whatever scraps of paper they have to hand, and they keep on doing that until they work out how heavily it impacts on their scores……. the buttheads…) Class 3 was also very active in discussion. Even from the beginning, they were able to take over discussion if I stepped away from my leading role. And that’s very remarkable. Especially considering this was their second language. And then there was Class 1. Those fuckers worked out very quickly how little work they really needed to put in. Essentially, they called my bluff. They maintained the tiny scraps approach to writing for much longer than any other class, and they stalled discussion even if they didn’t have to. It led to me grinding a lot of my own teeth. So this coming semester, it’s Not My Teeth time….

  This coming semester the students will chose groups to work with, and each groups will be required to “participate” at least twice each week. That is, they need to score two participation points each week if they are to get the 30 participation points I’ll for real be awarding this semester. In the past I’ve concentrated on written answers (five papers, first semester you need 6 points per paper to pass, second semester 7, third semester 8, and the rest of your 100 points is made up by “participation” that I never for real measured because all the for attempts to measure – like requiring Presentations – failed) but this semester students will get class scores for case study discussions (whole of class discussion graded just like a written submission, with scores for each of the four skills) and group participation scores. And those group participation scores are gained according to what your group adds to the class – some comment in discussion, some textbook reference, some useful interjection, etc and so on.

  You know what’s not Participation? Addressing the teacher will not be Participation. Participation is going to be defined as some kind of contribution to class. If only the teacher hears it, no P. If only the teacher understands it, nul participatione. If you can get your classmates to hear, understand, and interact with it, then that’s bonus participation points. And each team needs two of these per session.

  How it can backfire….

  Awarding scores for skill expression to the class as a whole is a tricky business. In the past, like in the last four years when I’ve done scoring like this (usually only in the third semester after everyone’s gotten a handle on expressing these things in writing), I’ve tended to allow that if one person got it right loudly enough, then the class can be considered to have shared the answer, and the score goes up. And you kind of have to play it that way because what’s the right answer if not the right answer, right? And if you do put in a shared understanding requirement, you undercut those people who have been willing to speak before. Shared understanding means telling those individuals who do understand, and who did express that understanding, that they haven’t done enough yet to get a good score, and well, that blows for them, man.

  So, class scoring may tend to be higher than usual, and the importance of Participation scores will tend to diminish. Meaning, the buttheads can stay sitting on their heads just as they always would have. And I get to see them doing it while I’m up here doing my monkey dance to try and attract their attention.

  There surely has to be a better way…

  And there is actually. Either get some professional training in how to manage larger classes (hahahahahhahaha, no, I don’t have that kind of money to spare and no one’s going to give me extra money for it, are they?) or do what I know how to do excellently well, tutorials. And exactly why that will not happen here in this school is not clear to me – some combination of entrenched practice, academic laziness, political environment, and just not believing in the necessity – but unless some surprising about face happens, no one’s setting that up soon. Every teaching room’s a lecture hall, all class groups are thirty-plus and will not be separated, and I don’t know that any other teacher even knows what a tutorial is….

  So, screw it?

  I’m still aggrieved by how hard it is to gain the necessary permission. I mean, look at all the stuff I have introduced over the years. I have almost never been denied opportunity to innovate. And every semester has included some kind of change to what I do chosen by me. But “tutorials” ran right into a concrete wall and won’t get up again any time soon.

  Anyway, lots of classroom talky time this coming semester, and a whole lot less grading and preparation time by me. Unless you count the friggen seven years preparation I put in to get to this point of nowhere, eh?


٩( ᐛ )و

February 18, 2018

Whole lotta nothing going on

February 18, 2018

  Why work here? I don’t like it. They don’t like me. We’re in a state of relatively amicable disinterest. Which is fine for them. But it doesn’t support me in much. What was I supposed to do, get close to people? Make networks? Then living in a borrowed house, doing a dull job, and getting paid too little would be fine?

  Unfortunately, this is what I chose.

  For my next trick: the grand unchoosing and the step on to something better. It’ll definitely be some kind of magic trick because I don’t know what bridge gets me there. I do have some idea of what that better situation is, but one doesn’t know if that better is objectively better nor where that better is.

  One bridge is money. Which I don’t have in suitable quantity. Another bridge would have been some kind of network, but once again, nope. And who cares anyway because the real bridge is… no, I don’t know. What I’m thinking of just now isn’t a bridge but the end result: work worth doing.

  I spent my morning chasing pigeons, by the way. I have a slingshot and pebbles collected while out bike riding. (Protip: you want pebbles in China, find a road construction project, the pebbles are literally right there, lying on the road.) So I go from window to window trying to locate the fuckers in the trees and buildings outside. Then firing in their general direction. (Slingshots are hard to aim. And with pigeons, you can sling stones literally right past their heads and they’ll just start strolling along the branch to some more shielded spot, the fuckers.) I just want them to shut up.

  Also by the way, other birds are fine. It’s just the pigeons and that moo-cow bellowing they do.

  I find this to be a sign that all is not well in my circumstance. After all, who puts energy into shifting pigeons away from where they live? I surely have better things to worry about, right? It seems to me if I did have a real job or some good, rooted, substantial thing to do, what the fuck would I care about pigeons. If the small things are assuming such large importance, then the real supposedly larger things aren’t having enough real importance for me.


  What is going to be of real importance to me? What’s going to be both sufficiently compelling and satisfyingly circumstantial that it’ll take my mind off even pigeons?

  Pretty much anything, I’d guess. I must be doing a whole lot of nothing right now.

Seeing the trees

February 17, 2018

February 17, 2018

Can’t pay

February 17, 2018

  My strong sense, and it’s been with me for a while, is I can’t pay for whatever comes next. I can’t pay for my old age. I can’t pay for better things. This sense is of course being impressed more upon me right now because here it is, Spring Festival, and I’m living in a borrowed apartment, one that I have to goddamned clean too. And I have just finished cleaning enough of the stupid surfaces that I won’t be too bothered by the preponderance of matured cooking oil, even on the goddamned windows ffs.

  I can’t pay.

  In two weeks I’ll start again another semester of the same dead end job I’ve been working at for, well, if you put all those dead ends jobs together it’s fifteen years, thereabouts. And let’s call them all the same job, shall we. They can be distinguished in the CV version, but they all have me working at the same level, none of them amounting to any kind of leveling up. Right now I’m working on how to complete that semester with the right balance: not too much of myself put in but not too little either, I want someone to learn something but I don’t want to be cutting off my own leg to do it. Or to put it less operatically, I want to make student efforts equal or exceed my own. That’ll be a neat trick.

  It’ll also be a wasted trick. Very little coin will be banked relative to what I shall be needed in years to come. Very little influence will accrue. And I don’t even know what serious consequence any of my actions could have. Few people will listen to me.

  I’ve been watching maybe a little too much of that Amber kiddie from f(x). She has those various Youtube channels and exists in the kpop ether as well, but you can see her gaining ground in what she does. Kpop is a notoriously harsh world too, so the way she makes being present in that world seem so effortless is quite a trick in itself. But – and here I’m just going to go out and be that amateur commentator because hell it’s Youtube and who isn’t doing react blurbs these days – she isn’t there yet. And I mean, duh, of course. She still has to come into her own. She’s talented and she’s learning. And she’s getting a lot done in public. What I relate to though is that sense of frustration she express sometimes. The idea of just not having done even twenty percent of what she wants to do. And you can see her getting stymied too. I don’t know if I project here but in her own work as a director, and maybe sometimes as a writer, you can see the noob mistakes. (Like, in Borders, why is it “eyes down”? Or, how did the visual narrative in Lower stay so ambiguous that it distracts from rather than tells the story, huh?) And she wouldn’t be making those if fuckers would unbend and show her first. Or maybe she would, but it likely wouldn’t make it into final production. She’d be able to learn about polish and choosing direction.

  Good lord, I so am projecting.

  That sense of losing out through uncorrected mistakes or an inability to get moving… that’s all me. I just see it there. A lack of fruition. Struggle that doesn’t resolve into movement. Too far from home.

  I hope that’s not it, that I have to find a way home. I’d rather be able to make a home than to return to some home. Too foreign for either, maybe.

  Pffft, sue me. I rambled.


February 15, 2018

Where to next?

February 15, 2018

  Spring Festival begins. So a new year is on the way. Imma need some resolutions. The big one is going to be where to next. Can’t really go home. I’ve been home. It doesn’t work. So where?

  Home doesn’t work because there are no jobs. Not for someone who hates every job other than intellectual work and who has no qualification other than instinct and unmeasured experience. I could be a teacher there. I have been. But who wants someone to teach just the value of knowledge? Actual teachers have a collection of skills beyond just an appreciation for their subject. They can mind children. They can navigate bureaucracy. And in the classroom they can do a whole lot more than just like their subject. It is not beyond the realm of possibility at all for me to learn all that – give me a job I like that needs it and I’ll learn it faster than anyone, whatever it is – but I don’t believe anyone’s paying people to learn like that anymore. It is how I learn, and it is what I do, but these days you’re supposed to get all that at university with your education degree and your Master’s in teaching….. yeah, I am overdramatizing the difficulties…. I’d just like a hint, you know? A clue. Some sign to head this way or that. But I don’t see them.

  So, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand even? How about Korea, boo? Somewhere in Europe? In the developed world I guess maybe Pomlandia, the UK. The US seems outlandishly unlikely though.

  And not China.

  Why go anywhere in China? How would it be different from the part of China I’m in already? If the key aspect of working in China is how few genuine standards are applied to what I do, how does any other place differ in terms of what I can do? In the relevant collection of accidental freedoms in each locale, maybe. But not in the scale and quality of achievement available.

  Seems like, anyway.


  But that’s something like the resolution to make over the next few days – where to next.

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