Distance teaching – getting closer to the core

One of the reasons for delayed reply is actually given by some difficulties to re-register for the health insurance. I am resident in Germany and in China and the German Social Security system requires that people who are residents here, are covered by health insurance. It is a relatively complicated system – on the one hand it is possible not to be insured in Germany – under the condition you have a foreign insurance policy that covers necessary treatment in the country. However, in general it requires that you’re covered by a German health insurance. When I left Germany for China, I cancelled the insurance policy here; when I returned, I wanted for different reasons to re-join. Cutting a long story short, I can only ask you to believe what is unbelievable: getting addresses wrong, not being able to deal with the foreign insurance policy, issuing a temporary insurance confirmation to tell me at some later stage that I have to provide a flight ticket to prove that I returned to Germany … making contradicting statements etc.pp. At some stage suggesting that I never left the German system, at the very same time stating that they cannot formally recognise my insurance status in China which would be necessary to re-join in Germany. – If you do not understand this, don’t worry: nobody to whom I talked from the health insurance itself was able to understand what is going on. What is striking here and why I mention it, is the fact that they work with one central database and nevertheless manage to get different results. Again, why do I mention this here? Obviously, the technological system is used by different units, each of them having a different remit; these different remits are determined by a very narrow goal, defined in administrative terms, by a financial systematique, the logic of legal coherence etc.. In other words these are system-centered instead of focusing on the actual problem of the people involved: the person in need of heath care, the doctors providing this. I see this very much also as one dominant feature of the educational system: we are not dealing with what people really need in order to be able to cope with daily life, we are not looking at their conditions. Instead, at best we are possibly dealing with the integration of people into the system that is alien to them and in the worst case we are dealing with the University system and ways of academic thinking, that are dealing with only one interest: to maintain itself. The most telling example is in my experience the central issue of financing universities – not least gathering finance via fees is one of the main issues. Another experience i made the other day: one of the universities with which I’m affiliated introduced a performance-based payment for teaching-

– Rejecting all this on an individual basis means, of course, that one does not only ruin ones own career, but it is as well endangering the material basis of life: the vicious cycle,  a catch 22 situation – a constellation which one cannot and shouldn’t escape from. At ­the end it means in actual fact that we allow “external”, non-substantial criteria to control our action and the direction into which we lead our students. 

Online teaching being future expectation of my work, I looked a little bit around, registered for a “relevant” Open University course dealing with online teaching. Learning outcome: some trivial results (online teaching is asynchronous – actually this is to some extent also the case for traditional in-class-courses), some general issues (speak the language of your students; do not leave them alone), some, as I think, problematic orientations (learning should be “playful” and topics issued in little chunks, enough to fill a spoon) – no mention of learning as work, using knife and fork, instead of waiting to be spoon-fed, no mention of acquiring knowledge for the sake of “being educated” which should mean: being able to be in control, being able to cooperate, being ready to demand.

Taking this as background, stating that we are all learners means as well and not least that we are facing societal changes that have to be taken as focus on in our tea-learn-ching (sorry, language can be a toy):

  • Social in-equality – those who are lagging behind in the use of “global tools” are in some respect those who are – paradoxically – most advanced in the overall setting of globalisation: the excluded are excluded as result of the inappropriate international division of weal-abour-th (wealth and labour as entity) – Bill Gates would still sit in a garage without the many who are exploited in their huts;
  • Though not to be taken simplistic, much of production in a global-societal setting – production of daily life and the respective development of the productive forces – is a zero-sum game: the fire used in one place to drive the steam-engines of the spinning wheel is missing in another place to produce the energy for the fridge that is needed to keep the groceries fresh – needed due to global warming as consequence of having ignored global warnings, also needed as result of eating habits that are not reflecting the cycle of natural reproduction, needed for harvesting agricultural products of monocultural farming and extraction and not least needed to transport and store pharmaceutical products in(to) regions that are voided from own resources;
  • Relating expenses for health care (https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.MED.BEDS.ZS) to tax payments of the (American) super-rich (https://ips-dc.org/taxes-paid-by-billionaires-decreased-79-percent-since-1980-as-percentage-of-their-wealth/?emci=6084d132-cb80-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&emdi=045dba41-d580-ea11-a94c-00155d03b1e8&ceid=3917100) reveals a striking parallel, also indicating that we are dealing with political choices;
  • Robert Cox differentiated between problem-solving and critical theory (Cox, Robert, 1981: Social Forces, States and World Orders: Beyond International Relations Theory; https://doi.org/10.1177/03058298810100020501) – with this we face in teaching and learning the challenge to work with a dual strategy, reflecting on the one hand the need to secure survival, taking up on the other hand the challenges to find solutions that guarantee the development of own resources. 

From my admittedly limited overview of e-learning programs and tools (including LMS), I found an orientation that is one-sided, providing knowledge (or should we even say information of the ”how-to”-kind?) to build up a personal affirmative strategy, aiming on integrating into the given system instead of mobilising all resources of the learner, in order to go beyond the subordination under the rules of global production- and trade-chains. Learning, as it is understood now, is about adapting to new means instead of understanding the challenge to adopting what is learned to new societal conditions. In actual fact, this is a complicated multi-level process, that has to consider political, psychological, social and cultural intervention. Although we face different situations from country to country, from continent to continent, the principle framework within which we have to locate the different fields of action can be made out as presented in the following:

The foundation is concerned with locating the world in which we live, here presented as the globe, in the tensional field between the given nature (ourselves being part of it) and the build-up environment, here presented as the industrial society, however also encompassing human habitats as cities, estates, nature resorts etc..

A picture containing grass, globe, chimneys

The globe – in the middle of it – is what we can define as society that is condition and result of our action. 

On the second level, we find the processes of creating wealth, here understood as accumulation regime and life regime. We are concerned with the way in which we make money, in which we spend money (as matter of consumption and investment alike) and the class relationships providing the social framework in which these processes are taking place. Seeing this as a definition of accumulation regimes, we can understand the life regime as socio-cultural pattern in which the accumulation regime is located – taken together, we are looking at natural conditions, the geopolitical location, the “national character” of the people and not least the class relationship. And it is in addition important, to recognise this relationship as metabolism in which human beings engage.

While this concerns the general level, we find on top of it the mode of regulation and the mode of living. Here we are concerned with the immediate and concrete ways of regulating those relationships by moral and juridical norms  (as matter of the mode of regulation)  and the way individuals adopt these frameworks to make a living – here making a living is not understood as matter of simply availing of the resources needed, but also on the way in which resources are in actual fact used. It is about resources obtained in terms of material goods, but it is also about resources as knowledge utilising social relationships, the relating to concrete, also local frameworks and the like – without going into deeper discussion we may refer to Bordieu’s theory of different categories of capital.

Breaking this down, we arrive at a kind of “task list” with for instance the following points:

  • Preparing students to deal with major shifts of the productive forces – this, of course, can only be undertaken if the teachers themselves are aware of these changes:
  • increasing meaning of non-material goods
  • with this the possible move towards a “distributive era” as suggested by Brian Arthur (Arthur, Brian, 2017: Where is technology taking the economy?; in: McKinsey Quarterly, October 2017; https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/mckinsey-analytics/our-insights/where-is-technology-taking-the-economy)
  • the emergence of patchwork products, i.e. products that can be increasingly assembled to different end-products and different uses
  • the increasing meaning of multiple use products, i.e. the use of certain goods for different purposes
  • the ongoing falling apart of processes of production and consumption and at the very same time the emergence of prosuming, ie the consumer acting as producer while s/he is consuming and vice versa
  • the factual expropriation of capital at least in the sense of objectively increasing control of products and processes of production by the immediate user (one aspect is the miniaturisation, the office in the hand held device; another aspect is the increasing role of network effects and the meaning of local knowledge – interesting in this context is is the work by Anna Tsing, looking at Supply Chains and the Human Condition (see Tsing, Anna, 2009: Supply Chains and the Human Condition; in: Rethinking Marxism. A Journal of Economics, Culture & Society; Volume 21, 2009 – Issue 2: 148-176; https://doi.org/10.1080/08935690902743088)
  • the re-emergence of cooperative forms of organising production (understood as encompassing manufacturing, consuming, distributing, exchanging).

Taking this together, we arrive at points of teaching with the purpose of managing life instead of making money. We can see this by taking the example of the sharing economy – the origin can be seen in a pattern of over production and the pattern of inequality of  distribution, and at the very same time the distortion of many goods into “bads”.[1] This goes hand in hand with a misled production of knowledge, by and large perverted into information management and reduced on “skills”. Another factor in this overall context is the fact that traditional forms of government do not work anymore in sufficient ways, while structures of governance and the needed knowledge base of using governance mechanisms in democratic ways are not developed (see e.g. for a presentation and discussion Herrmann, Peter, April 2016: From 5 giant evils to 5 giant tensions – the current crisis of capitalism as seedbed for its overturn – or: How Many Gigabyte has a Horse?; Contribution to the Seminar ‘Continuidad y Cambios en las Relaciones Internacionales’ at ISRI (Instituto Superior de Relaciones Internacionales Raul Roas Garcia), Havana; https://www.researchgate.net/publication/301815015_From_5_giant_evils_to_5_giant_tensions_-_the_current_crisis_of_capitalism_as_seedbed_for_its_overturn_-_or_How_Many_Gigabyte_has_a_Horse). The discussion of these allows in my understanding a new take on education, also (but not only) when it comes to distance-teaching/learning. The specificity – and progressive element – of the use of e-methods can be seen in the fact of the enforced decentralisation and with this the increased potential of project-oriented teaching/learning and the potential to immediate adaptability. – If we do not take up this challenge it may end as it is the case with the use of computers: in many cases the users still limits the use on that of an intelligent typewriter which includes a kind of easily accessible dictionary, called internet – in consequence it is too often the case that the user is actually used by the machine instead of being in control of what happens.

It may sound a silly conclusion but it will not be completely ridiculous or naïve to suggest that there is little use in teaching a person how to make money when s/he is in the desert, near to dehydration.

Post Scriptum:

Sure, we may ask if we are somewhat near to any state of desert – being in positions where for many (to be sure, not for all!!) any complain is a complain that is arguing from a very privileged perspective.

Still, can’t we say that we face in African countries (or regions of the continent), in PNG (I refer to my experience of having worked in Oz), The Americas, India a kind of desert? The attempts to catch up had been in many cases ruining the countries and/or causing increasing inequalities, right? And  my thesis is that the result of not talking about the content of e-teaching (taking the challenge up now), will result in one of the following: They will all have computers etc., but will lag behind, having the “previous generation stuff”. OR they will have the next generation, which will leave the now-advanced regions/countries behind. Empirical evidence can be found for both, bottom line will then always be ongoing and increasing inequality.

Now, what to do with the following two different points, for me exemplified by  two different students? The one – I had been teaching economics, his course was “Finances” or “Accounting” – saying one day to me: I do not really like all this – I would prefer to have a pastry shop, selling bread and roles and cakes, making people happy. But my parents …

The other, an extremely bright student, truly a “research nature”, was turning to me one day, saying that she applied for course that she would find rather boring, but she would easily get a job  and her parents …

Change: society instead of parents – skills/money orientation, predominating today’s educational system, is a choice. And having read Wells, and remembering the Morlocks, I am afraid that we as teachers have the responsibility to work “against that”. And I think we did not yet arrive at the grand-father paradox.


[1]           E.g. the development of means of mobility (private cars) to a point where they result in immobility and destruction of the environment.

Once upon a time … – a success story

Once upon a time there were Kings and Queens and the entire feudal fo<it had been said. But …

https://www.frontlinemissionsa.org/uploads/1/0/4/1/104153586/bastille-day-parisianist-6_1_orig.jpg

There had been times when all this would change: the rulers would be chased away, the formerly ruled becoming the new rulers. Or concrete: customers had been appreciated by giving them “royal status”: treating the customer like Kings or Queens had been treated in the ancient regime … And even more so, of course: really radical forces wanted to overcome even these relics of the old system, getting completely rid of the feudal system … and indeed, so often we see they succeeded.

the new kings and queens, the customer-king and customer-queen would now be treated just as dairy cow and fat-stock ….

new princes and princesses … – making themselves known under the title ABC.XYZ

overlooked the valleys of the new age, be they silicon valleys, silicon docks or whatever the emperors new clothes appeared to be – surely not allowing the customer to play a noble role anymore.

Well, the 15th of March is annual World Consumer Rights Day – it surely makes sense to acknowledge this breed of capitalism as mire and different from paying customer, now increasingly as the prosumer, is not only called to the stable to be melken; instead it is about a trend to produce, sell-it to yourself and continue to develop your product ,,, . for free,

never forget: death penalty

The most severe punishment for capital is when the money it represents is used for private consumption.

Even making generous donations is more acceptable as via taxation etc., the money is not declared being private asset. Thus, there is little surprise in the mushrooming of philantrocapitalism as new form of systemic parasite-ism (see e.g. Planck, Kerstin, 2017: Philanthrocapitalism and the Hidden Power of Big U.S. Foundations; in: Momentum Quarterly; Innsbruck )

OoS

Out of sight, out of mind …

… – in preparation of something larger:

out of sight, out of mind – as soon as one turns around …, we see why turning around, being dizzy and becoming mindless is near to synonymous, don’t we?

…. people running around like headless chicken, busy with nothing, with pretensions at most …

While writing this these days demands qualification, experiencing that also today I find the very opposite, people of which I thought more or less in the melancholic mood of “life passes on, we move between places and loose contact and more”, showing up and adding the simple words: “I am there”.It is not only the hard floor that is there to provide hold of we fall …

De-Margin-Alisation

Yesterday we went to an exhibition n the theatre museum here in Vienna, from my side not expected to such an extent: a treasure.

AnnaReisenbichler, 2018: SdB; (Seidenfaden in Papier gestickt)

In fact, much had been written about those at the margin, presenting the ambiguity of the outsider. This “positive side” had been something that employed my thinking the last weeks already, reading about family businesses etc.. It surely will guide my future work, looking more on the margin: victim in terms of having to carry the burden of all the stuff that is externalised by the ruling classes; but also preventing the advantage of having nothing to loose, being already there where not only new varieties int also entirely new plants may grow.

look … said the blind to the seeing

This is as well an expression of the survival of empathy, of humane parts within the entirety of human existence – the words with which Peter sent a link to a piece of music: the survivor of Warsaw.

A Torso

I said.

I cannot see – I cannot walk or talk …, I cannot even hold something

said the torso

Negativity?

I dared to ask.

There is no real life in the wrong one …, and still …

The Torso continued saying

Perhaps I can make you ask, offer you some light so that you can see yourself offer you the missing limb, the imagination of which gives you the strength to stand, holding with a firm grip what needs to be …moved.

laoshi – teacher – hojam

Experience does not teach wisdom, but it shapes character

Perhaps even more so if it is gained in exercises undertaken under conditions, neither having a safety net nor a false bottom

Or worse: under conditions where the bottom is in actual fact the ceiling, and others are trampling with their entire weight on it.

Something that we should keep in mind when it comes to teaching, standing between the lash, the somewhat wise person and the hojam*, wise by way of the very way of being experienced in his or her specific field*

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* a very specific interpretation of the hojam, we use(d) in our university in Ankara, allowing everybody to be hojam, not allowing the establishment of a strict hierarchy