Erratology and the Ill-Logic of the Seismotic University

Garden of Forking Paths

A new essay by Stephen Turner and myself, “Erratology and the Ill-Logic of the Seismotic University”:

With the tertiary education mantra of creativity, critical thinking and innovation in mind, we consider the critical-creativity of error. Taking the university to model social orthography, or “correct writing,” according to the norms of disciplines, we consider the role of error in the classroom. Error questions the norms governing norms and the instability of disciplinary grounds; it involves a mis-taking, or taking another way. By tracing the origin of error, we are able to reconstruct the social world in terms of which it is conceivable for a mistake of any kind to have been made. The university, we find, withholds worlds which are not new but are sources of creativity, and constitutes a pluriversity or poly-versity.

In short, we learn by making mistakes.

Download here (subscription required).

Invisible ties: Finding learning as it happens

This essay is available at ATLAANZ ( An excerpt:

My question is: how can we assess learning as it happens, to find the learning that goes on seemingly invisibly in the classroom? We teachers are past masters (and mistresses) at assessing learning in hindsight — through some sort of examination; assessing learning in action is new to us.

Why is finding the learning important? Because as teachers we can feel when a class is going well and think we can explain why: we’re getting our content across — and all (or enough) of it and in an order that makes sense; we’re making sense; we’re feeling in control or challenged, depending on our preferred style; we’ve plenty of questions or dialogue; we notice that the class is busy and noisy — or the opposite, depending on the discipline. If we feel that a class is going well, most of us would say that there must be learning going on. We don’t know, of course, because students might just be playing along or they might be good at pretending, that is, they might be playing at being good learners. It’s hard to know (most of us teachers are, of course, just playing at being good teachers; we’re just “muddling through,” as Stephen Brookfield (2006, p. 1) puts it. [1]

So, how to assess what’s going on in the learning situation is one problem.

Finding the learning is also important because we currently assess learning — in fact, we tend to define learning — in econometric terms.2 For example, what is considered best practice in assessment, namely, the “constructive alignment” of aims, objectives and outcomes theorised by Biggs (1996) in the ’nineties and now orthodox in higher education is often destructive because it is practiced less flexibly and educatively than it might be. (Biggs himself describes “trapp[ing]” learners in a teaching system as if this were a good thing [2003, p. 2]). [2] I call this end-stopped teaching and learning, or “teaching [and learning] to the test” (Sturm & Turner, 2011, p. 19). We decry this in schools (well, some of us do), while lauding it in universities. [3]

In other words, what to assess in the learning situation is another problem. Not only, then, does this kind of assessment fail to account adequately for learning, but it counts the wrong things (of course, whether we want to count to right things, if to count them is to control them, is questionable). [. . .]

It is through a formative assessment cycle of five actions: notice, recognise, respond, record, revisit (N4R), a.k.a. “planning on our feet,” that we can positively feed back on the learning attributes at work in students’ learning behaviours as they happen by prompting, acknowledging or rewarding them, and feed forward into their future learning. [4] [. . .] Through the heuristic of the formative assessment cycle, I notice learning happening, recognize it as an instance of learning, respond by acknowledging it and recording it (saying something affirmative and writing it down, for example) and revisit the moment in discussion (or writing) later.

Reference list

1. Brookfield, S. (2006). The skilful teacher: On technique, trust, and responsiveness in the classroom (2nd ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

2. Biggs, J. (1996). Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment. Higher Education, 32, 1-18. Biggs, J. (2003). Aligning teaching for constructing learning. York: The Higher Education Academy. Retrieved from

3. Sturm, S., & Turner, S. (2011, April-May). The idea of the university. Arena, 111, 16-19. Retrieved from

4. I am indebted to Jacqui Sturm of the Education Leadership Project for alerting me to the idea of a “cycle of planning” and “planning on your feet” (see Ramsey, K., Breen, J., Sturm, J., Lee, W., & Carr, M. [2006]. Roskill South Kindergarten: Centre of Innovation 2003-2006. Hamilton, New Zealand: University of Waikato School of Education, Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research).

Workplace: The New Academic Manners, Managers, and Spaces

Check out Workplace 20 (2012): The New Academic Manners, Managers, and Spaces (link).

Workplace is a refereed, open access journal published by a collective of scholars in critical higher education promoting a new dignity in academic work.

Stephen Turner and my “Cardinal Newman in the Crystal Palace: The Idea of the University Today” appears here.

Learning Drawn and Quartered

(With Stephen Turner.) From We Are the University, vol. 2 (Auckland: WATU, 2011) 6 (slightly edited here).

See also Excellent Universities, Here, There and Everywhere, The Idea of the University, and “Built Pedagogy”: The University of Auckland Business School as Crystal Palace.

The corporate university makes knowledge a matter of product and patent, performance and measure, technocracy and templates: a matter of knowledge marketing and management. The league tables that ensue make every university’s vision every other university’s vision; critical thinking and creativity become generic and fast-following. Accordingly, the University of Auckland positions itself at the hub of Auckland City’s Learning Quarter (LQ) as “open for business,” “actively commercialising research,” and part of an “innovation ecosystem” that unites “innovators,” entrepreneurs and investors in a capital consensus — or consonance [Learning Quarter Plan].

The real university is not so easily marketable or manageable: it is noisy and problematic. Critical thinking and creativity (those buzzwords of technocapitalism and immaterial labour) cannot be auto-tuned. Critical thinking problematises the world “as it is”; creativity constructs new worlds. They are divergent and dissident, and the dissonance they cultivate is the very basis of public life — of democracy. Thus, “[d]issensus,” as Jacques Rancière argues, “is not a confrontation between interests and opinions. It is the demonstration (manifestation) of a gap in the sensible itself,” the demonstration of a possible world (Dissensus: On Politics and Aesthetics [38; read]). Democracy lives in the gaps.

The reduction of the university’s “mission” to entrepreneurial investment in innovation will “create,” if anything, a social deficit. For-profit, for-credit knowledge suppresses the university’s critical-creative capacity to generate a social surplus in the service of a public or political good, in other words, to educate (from the Latin educare: literally, “to lead forth”). What we see in the corporate university is an abdication of the responsibility to educate all for a shared future, to provide a place of learning for all. We in the real university do not teach and learn for profit or for credit; we are not about skills and competencies or about producing portfolio people for a global market. We are about creativity and critical thinking, which for us is being public (see Negt and Kluge, The Public Sphere and Experience: Selections”).

The LQ needs to be occupied and the University’s mission reshaped by those who care about teaching and learning. Recovering the University’s critical-creative capacity is a matter of engagement in two senses: engaging other people in the noise and problematics of being public — not simply acting privately in public; and engaging the powers that be as guarantors of the order of things — what Rancière calls the “police” (Dissensus). Dissensus — real politics — resists consensus as “the reduction of politics to the police” (ibid. [42]). This is not politics or protest as usual, but calls upon the logic, says Paulo Virno, of jokes, which for him represent the “capacity [for] innovative actions, that is, actions which are capable of modifying established habits and norms” (“Anthropology and Theory of Institutions“; see also “From the Third Person Intruder to the Public Sphere“). What he calls jokes we call critical creativity. Such critical creativity embraces problematisation and construction, but also irony, mockery, contradiction, and so on. It is this that makes us “dangerous” (ibid., after Carl Schmidt, The Concept of the Political 58); it is this that makes us look like criminals to the police order of the LQ. But we would argue that the dissenters, the occupiers, are the University.

Teaching as Letting Learn: What Heidegger Can Tell Us about One-to-Ones

Here’s a paper on Heidegger and one-to-one teaching: Teaching as Letting-Learn: What Heidegger Can Tell Us about One-to-Ones (from the ATLAANZ Proceedings).

Students learn on the basis of what they know but don’t know that they know: the “unknown knowns” of their learning situation, as it were . . . [to quote Donald Rumsfeld — see Žižek, Organs without Bodies: Deleuze and Consequences 95]

Teaching as Letting Learn: What Martin Heidegger Can Tell Us About One-to-Ones

Just finished Teaching as Letting-Learn . . .

The teaching and learning that happens in the individual tutorials, or one-to-ones, of learning advisors is unpredictable and hard to measure — incalculable even. Here I reflect on my experience of one-to-one teaching through the lens of Heidegger’s thinking about teaching and learning to reconstruct the idea of co-construction

The Idea of the University (Again)

Something Stephen Turner and I wrote for Arena (June 2011): “The Idea of the University”: “Out of the shadow of the neo-liberal academy . . .”

What isn’t captured by academic econometrics, and the managerial culture that administers them, is the simple idea that community is a non-countable good. This is the value, we think, of talking face-to-face — the supreme value in a Maori place of kōrero kanohi ki te kanohi. A contemporary Muldoon or VC might well ask that this good be counted like any other, but the real problem we confront is the machinic nature of neoliberal capitalism, and no particular person. VCs, after all, can be perfectly nice — and well-meaning — people.

It can be downloaded from my earlier post: “The Idea of the University”.

Badiou on education from “Art and Philosophy”

In “Art and Philosophy” from 1997 (Handbook of Inaesthetics [Stanford UP, 2005] 1-15), Alain Badiou rejects both Plato’s ostracism of artists as mad counterfeiters of truth and the Romantic poets’ worship of artists as prophets of truth in favour of “artistic apprenticeship as the key to education” (1).

He posits that the 20C has inherited three schemas of art — the didactic, the romantic and the classical:

  1. didactic (cf. Plato, Brecht/Marxism), i.e., cognitive: “all truth is external to art” (2), i.e., art does not produce truth, though it pretends it does (it dissembles truth). Philosophy produces truth. Art must be controlled (or banished, according to Plato).
  2. romantic (cf. the Romantic poets, Heidegger/hermeneutics), i.e., revelatory: “art alone is capable of truth” (3), i.e., it produces truth (it incarnates truth). Art is glorified. Philosophy merely reproduces truth.
  3. classical (cf. Aristotle, Freud/psychoanalysis), i.e., therapeutic: “art . . . is incapable of truth” (4), i.e., it does not produce truth, because it is mimetic (it resembles “reality”) and cathartic, i.e., aesthetic. Art is about likelihood and liking. Philosophy is about “unlikelihood.”

In modernity, these schemas are “saturated” (7):

Didacticism is saturated by the state-bound and historical exercise of art in the service of the people. Romanticism is saturated by the element of pure promise — always brought back to the supposition of a return of the gods — in Heidegger’s rhetorical equipment. Classicism, finally, is saturated by the self-consciousness conferred upon it by the complete deployment of a theory of desire.

He argues that the 20C’s “new” schema of avant-gardism was, in fact, a synthetic blend: a “didacto-romanticism” (it is didactically anti-art and romantically absolutist).

So a fourth genuinely new schema must be found. The clue lies in different relationships of art and truth the inherited schema share, that is, vis-à-vis immanence (whether truth is inside or outside of art) and singularity (whether the truths of art are its own):

  1. didacticism: truth is not immanent in art but is singular;
  2. romanticism: truth is immanent in art but not singular;
  3. classicism: truth is not immanent in art and not singular either.

The new fourth schema is the inaesthetic, which is both

  1. immanent, i.e., “[a]rt itself is a truth procedure,” thus: “[a]rt is rigorously coextensive with the truths it generates”; and
  2. singular, i.e., “art . . . is irreducible to philosophy,” thus: “[t]hese truths are given nowhere else than in art” (9).

By “inaesthetics” I understand a relation of philosophy to art that, maintaining that art is itself a producer of truths, makes no claim to turn art into an object for philosophy. (epigraph)

The role of philosophy, then, is to manifest truths:

Philosophy’s relation to art, like its relation to every other truth procedure [viz. love, science and politics], comes down to showing it as it is. Philosophy is the go-between in our encounters with truths. . . . So it is that truths are artistic, scientific, amorous, or political, and not philosophical. (9-10)

Art and philosophy (can) work together:

[t]his question of the existence of truths (that “there be” truths) points to a coresponsibility of art, which produces truths, and philosophy, which, under the condition that there are truths, is duty-bound to make them manifest (a very difficult task indeed). Basically, to make truths manifest means the following: to distinguish truths [the new] from opinion [the status quo].

(For Badiou, the status quo has as its art, culture; as its science, technology; as its love, sexuality; and as its politics, management [St Paul: The Foundation of Universalism, Stanford UP, 2003, 12].)

How does this relate to education? Education readies us for truth to happen — in art (or any other of the truth procedures):

Art is pedagogical for the simple reason that it produces truths and because “education” (save in its oppressive or perverted expressions) has never meant anything but this: to arrange the forms of knowledge in such a way that some truth may come to pierce a hole in them. / What art educates us for is therefore nothing apart from its own existence. (9)

Or, to speak more radically:

the only education is an education by truths. (14)


See Jan Jagodzinski on Badiou’s somewhat heavy-handed appropriation of Lacan’s four discourses: “Badiou’s Challenge to Art and its Education: Or ‘art cannot be taught — it can however educate,’” Thinking Education through Alain Badiou, ed. Kent den Heyer (Blackwell, 2010) 33-35 (26-44). For most of their history, there has been a tug-of-war between art and philosophy. Once art played the Hysteric to philosophy as Master; when the Master failed to provide answers for her, she became his mistress and muse, inaugurating the hermeneutic discourse of the University (1).

  1. the discourses of Master and Hysteric see art as cognitive or therapeutic (didactic or classical);
  2. the discourse of the University sees art as revelatory (romantic);
  3. the discourse of the Analyst sees art as truth procedure (inaesthetic).

Workshop Teaching

Workshop teaching, because it is not-for-credit and often one-off, involves a combination of learning prompts (LPs) and classroom assessment/evaluation techniques (CATs) that are mnemonic and/or formative in nature:

prebrief — introduce yourself (and signal the inclusive and interrogative nature of the workshop), survey the room (about the learners and what they already know)* and on that basis prompt an agenda for the class

teaching — mini-lessons as LPs (asking questions as you go) → templates and mnemonics

practice — individual and collaborative CATs like

  • minute papers — writing a brief response to questions like “What was the most important thing you learned during this class?” (constructive) or “What important question remains unanswered?” (deconstructive).
  • muddiest point cards — jotting down a quick response to the question “What was the muddiest [most unclear or confusing] point in the workshop?”
  • classroom polls
  • chain notes — passing around an envelope with a question on it into which a written response can be placed.
  • directed paraphrases writing a lay person’s “translation” of something from the workshop, aimed at a specified audience.
  • one-sentence summaries — writing a single sentence that answers the question “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?”
  • focussed lists — listing ideas closely related to a term, name or concept from a mini-lesson or elsewhere in the workshop.
  • what’s the principle problem-solving — clarifying the problem at hand and deciding what principle(s) to apply to solve it.
  • application cards/articles — writing down a real-world application for a concept — or a short article about it.
  • memory matrixes — filling in a table where the rows and column headings are given but the cells are left empty to categorize information and illustrate relationships (similar to categorizing grids, where a table is given with two or three superordinate categories filled in and we are asked to fill in the gaps by unscrambling a list of subordinate elements that belong in one or another of those categories).
  • empty (or half-empty) outlines — filling in an empty or partially completed outline of a workshop.
  • learner-led test Qs — writing mock test or exam questions and model answers.
  • suggestion boxes.

debrief — summarize and prompt further action

N.B. Don’t just think about

  • what you will teach (content) and
  • when you will teach it (sequence, duration), but
  • how you will teach, i.e., your
    • mode (teacher- or student-led, co-constructed; content- or task-driven) and
    • means of delivery (telling: lecturing, talking, or showing: performing, modelling; powerpoint, images, document camera, whiteboard, flashcards, etc.), and
  • where you will teach (the room and how you use it), not to mention
  • why (although you need to decide how much you want brief the learners on the aims and objectives of the class — some learning can remain beneath the surface).

* This is known as a background knowledge probe: a short-answer or multi-choice questionnaire given to students at the start of a workshop, designed to uncover students’ preconceptions.


See Classroom Assessment Techniques at Iowa State and Hawaii.


  • Angelo, T.A. & Cross, P.K. Classroom Assessment Techniques. 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.
  • Davis, B.G. Tools for Teaching. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993.