New article by Stephen and me rereading NZ creative educationalist Elwyn Richardson

Sturm, S., & Turner, S.F. (2015). The tyre-child in the early world. Educational Philosophy and Theory: Incorporating ACCESS.

In the Early World

The abstract:

This article considers the ‘creative education’ of influential Aotearoa/New Zealand art educator Elwyn Richardson, which is based on what he calls the ‘discovery method’: the ‘concentrated study of material from [students’] own surroundings’. Through a game that his students play with tyres, we explore the role that tools play in Richardson’s classroom and in the imaginary ‘worlding’ of his students’ play. By taking the ‘early world’ of the children’s development to be a product of the tools through which they describe it, we reveal Richardson’s educative process to be essentially technological. His idea of the whole child who emerges through a process of experience and observation – of ‘emotion recollected in tranquillity’, in the well-known phrase of Wordsworth cited by Richardson – conflates the nature of the child and nature of the ‘natural’ world. By this act of ‘natural settlement’ not untypical of settler narratives in Aotearoa/New Zealand, the child’s – and, by implication, other settlers’ – relation to the world of nature is naturalized. Instead, we would argue that the child’s relation to nature is altogether unnatural: it is imprinted by the technological means through which she explores the world and makes it her own – and by which she is made over. The ‘tyre-child’ is no child of nature, but a child of technology (as every settler is a technological settler), for whom creative errors – acts of ‘mis-taking’ like the ones Richardson’s children make in playing with tyres – reveal an imaginary capacity at once theoretical and unsettling.

First fifty reads free for non-subscribers apparently at

Digital Caricature

A new article by Stephen Turner and me about the digitas published in DHQ: Digital Humanities Quarterly (link):

For Vilém Flusser, philosopher of technology, the advent of photography heralded the return of the image from its subjection to the linearity of written language. Here we extend his concept of the “techno-image” (successor of the pre-historical hand-drawn image and the historical printed word), to consider the digital image-text that today dominates reading and writing. Our question: Can we reader-writers think the digitas, or are we doomed to perform its functions in an “automati[c]” or “robotiz[ed]” fashion, as Flusser put it, so that, if anything, the digitas now “thinks” us? The short answer to our question is as follows: we can think the digitas, but only if we consider it, firstly, as a kind of writing (“digital orthography”) and, secondly, as a caricature of thinking, both impoverished and, dare we say it, funny (“digital caricature”).

Sommer, E. "Portrait Vilém Flusser". Vilém Flusser Archive. 2012. Reproduced by permission of Ed Sommer.

Sommer, E. “Portrait Vilém Flusser”. Vilém Flusser Archive. 2012. Reproduced by permission of Ed Sommer.

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.