Thursday, July 24, 2014

Women as firefighters in Australia: how far have we come?
I've enjoyed a long history of involvement with the fire services, and with women and fire fighting, in Australia.  I was fortunate to win an Edna Ryan Award in 2005 for this work, Life Membership of the Women and Firefighting Australasia (WAFA) at the 2012 Conference, and in 2013 was successfully nominated by WAFA in the Diversity Category as one of the "100 Women of Influence" in Australia. 

Now and again something happens to inspire me to make comment, hence this post today. A number of triggers have happened. The first trigger was that @UN_Women tweeted the following story about a Bronx female firefighter who has become the first woman featured in FDNY Calendar of Heroes.The second trigger was the release of the Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review by the Australian Human Rights Commission, offering " indisputable evidence that pregnancy/return to work discrimination continues to be widespread and has a cost - not just to women, working parents and their families - but also to workplaces and the national economy,” she said (Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick). 

The third trigger is that I will I soon facilitate a plenary session at the biennial conference of WAFA. This event is significant to me personally and professionally. Nearly a decade has passed since I convened the first Women in Fire Fighting Conference in 2005, and eight years since I published Counting Women in the Australian Fire Services. As the WAFA Conference won't happen next year, for me the 2014 Conference is a significant milestone.

When the @UN_Women tweet first landed in my feed, I felt two simultaneous things. I felt tremendously proud of the achievements of Firefighter Danea Mines. I don't want to take away from her in any way. I also felt frustration and annoyance over three underlying issues that have nothing at all to do with Firefighter Mines. 

Firstly, it took 11 years for the NDNY to stop telling this firefighter, who is one of only a few female firefighters in this city, that the Calendar was for men only. Why was the media not gobsmacked about this ongoing evidence of sexism? Secondly, Firefighter Mines is referred to as "Miss March" by the Daily News, as if she is a winner of a beauty pageant. She deserves respect for her uniform! Thirdly, and most infuriating and complex, is the fact that firefighters continue to produce sexualised calendars portraying "hot and smoking" male firefighters- and presented in a way that finally, begrudgingly female firefighter has "made it" because she has joined calendar raunchiness. In no other proud uniformed or military service does this muscle-bound-hero-worshiping happen. It says to the world: to be a firefighter is to be buff young male and a hero. Melt. Swoon. 

I love the many firefighters I count as friends. I don't love aspects of firefighting culture that is at times misogynist, and continues to fall short of much needed cultural change. A modern fire services is about incredibly well trained fire fighters, making good decisions that aim to achieve no fatalities and no injuries. 

I don't love the persistent and continued use of firemen. Or phrases like you climb that ladder like a girl. I don't admire that I am supposed to be proud that one woman was allowed to make it. It's rubbish. 

In the Australian context, some important changes have happened recently. In 2014 the Department of Fire and Emergency Services in Western Australian released a brilliant campaign specific to women and Indigenous Australians. In NSW it is no longer unusual to see media images of female firefighters. 

We have grounds to be disappointed however. While the Australian Defence Force (ADF) partnered with the Human Rights Commission to investigate the treatment of women in it's ranks in 2012, we don't have a national picture of the treatment of women in the paid fire services [unlike the ADF fire services in Australia have state-by-state jurisdiction]. Like the ADF, military tribalism exists in the fire services. Unlike the ADF, this is not being studied, outed publicly, nor has a Commissioner come out, as Australia's Chief of Army Lieutenant General David Morrison did when he said: If being civil toward female soldiers and respecting their contributions to the service does not suit you, "then get out." 

The fact is, no state jurisdiction has publicly reported the state of affairs of the treatment of female firefighters. We also lack insight, and a national picture, of the treatment of male fire fighters - for example, the experience of bullying regardless of gender.

We lack insight from the perspective of the inside of jurisdictions. What we do know from my early studies, and those more recently, that some female firefighters (paid, volunteer and retained) tolerate, put up with, sometimes endure, mistreatment, sexism, marginalization and trivialization rather than calling it out. It doesn't matter if only some women are poorly treated because of gender. It should be a zero tolerance situation. We don't know in 2014 how many; nor do we know what those experiences are like. We can't congratulate progress in the absence of this information. 

There are things we do know. Dr Christine Eriksen is currently doing great work looking at gender and fires. McLennan (2008) considered issues associated with gender and volunteers. A gender stream exists in Emergency Management Conference, and Tamika Sharad is doing a PhD at the University of South Australia focusing on a gendered analysis of work organisation and culture in Australian fire services. Branch-Smith & Pooley reported concerning the WA experience in 2010. Since 2005, research has been done - but it is disconnected, and fallen short of the creation of a connected body of knowledge, even after the Bushfire Research CRC became involved via the 2013 work of Tyler & Fairbrother.

It is possible to point to positive recruitment campaigns that attract female firefighters. It is possible to identify, through annual reports, that some fire services have successfully increased percentages of female firefighters, but also possible to see that last year the lack of female firefighters in the Northern Territory was creatively obscured in statistical reporting.

We should not feel grateful if the numbers of paid female firefighters are somewhere above 5%. We should congratulate those fire service agencies that have clearly tried to recruit more women by asking questions like: 

"What else can you do?"

 "How many of female firefighters have been promoted?"

 "What are you doing to ensure the next Commissioner, or the one after that, might be a distinguished female firefighter who made it through the ranks?" 

We should be asking "What message have you given to firefighters who treat women poorly, that they are not welcome in the fire services - that they are the problem?"

In 2006 I gave the keynote address to the 2nd Women in Fire Fighting Conference. I made a joke at the start of the keynote- I imagined it was 2016, and I had been called back from retirement, everything was changed, and I was there to celebrate the diversity of the fire services.

There are 2 years to go.

Badges for the 3Rs: Rebel, Resist, Rethink

In the weeks following former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s now famous “misogyny” speech on October 10th 2012, I asked a friend to design me a digital image that I could use to celebrate my contribution as a woman to public life. The image - let's call it a digital badge - in part showed solidarity with the Prime Minister, and in part validated my role as a woman making a feminist difference. Standing up, and shouting out, is part of a vibrant democracy. Resisting oppression, arguing and acting against racism and sexism, caring about social and environmental well-being are all valuable to democratic participation as are social protest, political rallies, unionism and other forms of social and industrial participation. Critical thinking of the non-compliance-rebellious-and-resistance-kind are as important to a just world as is compliance, obedience and alignment. Indeed, many Universities have validated these aspirations to build a better world as graduate qualities or attributes through notions of global citizenship

As #digitalbadges take their place in Higher Education, they have tended to focus on institutionally approved tasks, qualities and characteristics of ideal HE student learning, for example:

Or validating the ideal educator, for example, as under development by Robinson College of Business for Badges for Executive Education. I have no argument with these badges ecosystems per se. I do have a problem with what is being left out. What about a different badges ecosystem that validates skills and capabilities related to graduate qualities often touted by Universities, but taken from the angle of rebellion, resistance, rethinking and even revolution? [A word and idea now replaced by the much weaker and very popular "disruption" or "disruptive innovation"].

What about the student who "Asked Revolutionary Questions", or "Challenged Received Knowledge", "Championed Climate Sciences", "Acted With Humanity", "Made The Road By Walking", "Protested Food Insecurity" "Did Democracy", or quite simply: "Transgressed". [Or if one wanted to provide badges that might seriously reflect aspects of University experience you might award ones that really do prepare students for some workplaces: "Lived Beneath The Poverty Line Effectively" or "Un-Dauntingly Faced Casualisation".]

Many "critical thinking" badges have emerged since digital badges were popularised, often showing brains or  cogs as brains, lightbulbs. Here is the DeakinConnect critical thinking badge:
  • Critical thinking global learning objective icon Critical thinking - evaluating information using critical and analytical thinking and judgment.

What about "critical pedagogy"? Or even "progressive education" as described by Dewey? Critical-thinking-in-action. Education-for-social-action. For example, evidence of questioning injustice and doing something about it? As badges are designed, do they value evidence that might capture the untidiness of working on, rather than thinking about? Is there an implied set of approved contexts and actions? As badges are developed, what do they construct, what do they exclude? What is silenced?

What about badges that validate through evidence an academic who "Championed Casual Staff", "Fostered Radical Practice" (now there is an outdated idea), "Challenged Bullies", "Made a Feminist Difference", "Creatively Questioned Change", "Constructively Aligned to Social Justice", "Everyday Hero", "Listened", "Defended Democratic Processes" or "Humanised"?  Do we value these workplace actions, or take them for granted as the annoyingly necessary in an otherwise compliant world?

In a thought provoking article, after the shocking images of Abu Ghraib, Giroux (2004) asked "What Might Education Mean After Abu Ghraib: Revisiting Adorno’s Politics of Education?" He proposed that "As a political and moral practice, education must be engaged not only as one of the primary conditions for constructing political and moral agents, but also as a public pedagogy - produced in a range of sites and public spheres - that constitute cultural practice as a defining feature of any viable notion of politics, education after Abu Ghraib must imagine a future in which learning is inextricably connected to social change, the obligations of civic justice, and a notion of democracy in which peace, equality, compassion, and freedom are not limited to the nation state but extended to the international community" (pp.20-21). 

If this is the case, then #digitalbadges could be seen as a cultural practice "inextricably connected to social change, the obligations of civic justice, and a notion of democracy". This is not a nice and tidy space of compliance, but an argumentative space of resistance, socially just actions, critical thinking within/against, and acting against oppression. 

Protest badges - 1981 Springbok tour .
Putting a challenge out there to link #digitalbadges ecosystem
to social change, the obligations of civic justice, and to notions of democratic participation,
There is a whole world out there of protest badges that might inspire #digitalbadges of the non-scouting- model-type. Perhaps these might inspire a new way of thinking for validation of the socially non-compliant, the radical nay-sayers, the dialogue-builders, the rebellious-troublemakers, the-fighting-for-social-justice-huffers-and-puffers, the-civic-protesters. [Or the students using iPads because the lecturer is boring. Good choice! "Can Manage Boredom Creatively"]. So what do we value? How do we think society, universities and other workplaces really work? Is it through a mono-dimensional view of utility, or a dialectic that respects the tensions and contradictions that make all of us work daily on building a fair and equitable democracy? When we think about designing a badge, how do we design it's criteria, evidence and standards to ensure they are inclusive of actions at the margins, motivated by the 3Rs?
Some have tried to align badges with socially just learning, for example, the UTC Global Citizenship Program. The "Sustainable Agriculture" example above, also has co-curricular badges for learning. This example shows the positive use of badges for three levels of co-curricular volunteer community services learning - an interesting model, and depending on how it unfolds in practice, potentially an example of progressive education. (Although I am unsure why it is additional to mainstream study, and not part of, but that's another story).

I hope this post generates interest, action, and happy to collaborate.

[See the original 1966 Adorno article "Education After Auschwitz" upon which Giroux based his article.]
More about digital badges and here.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

What is the future of Credit Transfer in Australian Universities in the era of private providers?
The Scan has reported analysis by Professor Leesa Wheelahan that “recent VET statistics shows that TAFE’s share of publicly funded in Australian students is now 55.6%. In Victoria TAFE’s share of publicly funded students has fallen to 37.4%, while in South Australia it has fallen to 52.3%.” Read the original Wheelahan post.

It’s my view that one of the important consequences of this decline will be the flow through effect on credit transfer arrangements between local TAFEs and Universities. I have argued previously that research indicates that the predominant model of Recognition of Prior Learning in Australia is via credit transfer. Although the Australian Qualification Framework provides a framework for credit transfer through identified levels of qualifications, in practice individual Universities have tended to develop pathways between local TAFEs and local University courses - or at least with providers of specific benefit to the institutions involved. This has been one way of marketing a course locally or internationally, as well as ensuring students who access these pathways are supported through transition programs. Many a Memorandum of Understanding has been signed to sustain these agreements. Dual-sector arrangements also exist within which credit transfer arrangements are fostered. At the good practice end of credit transfer arrangements, substantial educational partnerships have been fostered. For example, where TAFE-Uni pathways have been used as a social equity and inclusion strategy, see Hosken et al 2013Hosken et al 2013, and Ambrose et al 2013; or  where such relationships reflect a historic rural or regional partnership. 

Credit transfer arrangements are generally advertised on University websites, and some universities provide online searchable “credit banks” for students. For example, Charles Sturt University has developed comprehensive credit packagesfor TAFE students”, Griffith University provides a searchable Credit Precedent Database “for previous TAFE studies”, and the University of Newcastle provides a search tool, with arrangements with providers shown below.
University of Newcastle Credit Transfer Search Tool, July 2014
It’s common for Universities to provide information to TAFE students, such as the RMIT TAFE-RPL kit the USQ TAFE student’s page. In addition, many TAFEs have negotiated credit pathways for their students to individual Universities, such as TAFESA’s University Credit Pathways and Sydney TAFE’s Pathways to University. There are some Universities, like UNSW’s Credit Transfer search tool that only advertise packages that are university-to-university pathways, although UNSW Social Sciences Faculty does have TAFE-Uni packages and makes special mention of “TAFE Community Services Training Package”. In fact this refers to a training package approved by the National Register that can be offered by any training provider who has gone through the necessary processes to have it on their scope.

The growth of private providers means that specific arrangements such as these, as well as specific mention of “TAFE” will come under increasing pressure. The vocational sector has been reregulated through contestability for many years - indeed I wrote my PhD concerning the casualisation of the adult education labour market partly due to this re-regulation (2001). As Wheelahan points out, the infrastructure that once was TAFE is being destroyed. TAFE is now positioned as one competitor in the vocational marketplace, with increasingly lower market share. Some universities have made the shift to language that reflects the re-regulated vocational education sector. UTS for example, advertises a “VET entry pathway” that recognises a pathway “coming from a TAFE or private college”. CSU does provide credit arrangements for non-TAFE providers, with a search tool that allows students to access information concerning these pathways – although “TAFE” features largely.

Privileging “TAFE” is increasingly at odds with the rise of the private provider.  As I noted above, training packages on the National Register can be taught by approved providers, and “TAFE” as an institution is increasingly only one of these providers. The AQF, taken together with the contestability of the vocational market and its privatisation, means the future of credit transfer lies within mandated national qualification levels, rather than intimate or privileged TAFE-University pathways, even if Universities have yet to make this shift.
AQF Qualification levels, July 2014
The hesitancy Universities have shown in embracing RPL, including credit transfer may well return, as questions concerning the proliferation of private providers for profit in the vocational space surface. It won’t be possible to broker hundreds of credit transfer agreements, nor will it be possible to maintain a precedents data-based based on specific institutional arrangements. The focus will need to shift to guaranteed AQF pathways regardless of provider. This will be an interesting sector wide challenge. The commitments made to TAFE-Uni transitions, research concerning these transitions, and inter-institutional resources to support them, has slowly grown through careful work between TAFE and Universities. How will these commitments fare as TAFE declines and "teaching only" providers increasingly take market share. How will Universities shift to accept prior qualifications achieved via the National Register, regardless of provider, and outside the mandates of Memorandum of Understanding and locally grown and controlled arrangements? This question is one of many regarding credentialing in the digital age - in an open learning era; as a consequence of what Connell (2013) called "the neoliberal cascade"; the open education market, and the decimation of TAFE.

Dialogue about blended learning

Visit a project I built using Wix in 2010 where colleagues and I explore the meaning of "blended learning"