Thursday, October 29, 2009

A few thoughts about the ethical, economic and political crisis on campus

It is great to be remembered as someone who looks on the bright side of things. My teacher's heart sings when I learn that I have had some positive impact, however small, on a past student, especially one I remember fondly. I try to live by the principle that we need not borrow worry from tomorrow because we have enough to deal with today. "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof" Matthew 6:34. I resist the hoarding and protectionism and hallway politics that seems to afflict some of my colleagues because I am a living example of there being "more that enough work to go around".

These days, I do find it harder to keep worry at bay. We said goodbye to another dozen support staff last week -- it was an incredible blow to the Faculty of Education, to people who have contributed to the life and soul of this faculty, and these departures have left a gaping pit of sadness and no end of stunned questions in the hallways. It is hard to swallow this loss, and see a bright side to things, when veteran staff are being escorted off of a campus still reeling from a 4.5 million dollar handshake for the CEO.

However, while it feels like the self-imposed, rose-colored glasses have been ripped from my eyes, I do still believe the problems which plague this campus are complex and multifaceted, go beyond any one individual, and that much of the needed information or rationale (if one exists) for such decisions is hidden from line faculty and support staff. I do believe that campus will continue to founder until greater transparency is achieved and faculty are re-engaged in a democratic, collegial and trustworthy governance structure. I believe that I work with some of the brightest minds in higher education and that we can find a way to steer this faculty and this campus in the right direction.

It would be great to have a crystal ball, but unfortunately we do not; there are those in power who are committed to staying in power, and the Academy is not immune to careerists and power players who seriously muck things up. Therefore, I do not swallow Becker's claim that "there would have been a real chance to prevent this perversion of the Academy and change things 6 or 7 years ago when it became clear to some of us what the Pres. had planned". I sincerely doubt this sweeping claim is true. Who is "some of us" and how & what did they know? Who knew what, when, and who did they tell? Where is the proof? The "UofC = bad" and the "MRU = good" claim rings a little false to me.

A sprawling campus of 16 faculties and thousands of faculty and support staff and ~30,000 students is an extremely complex organization that is subject to many social, political, economic and academic influences from both without and within. I cannot help but think that known and unknown events and factors in the last 6 - 7 years have contributed to the current crisis and lack of meaningful engagement of faculty in campus governance; it can hardly be summed up in the nefarious works and plans of one man. We may have a new president in January; at the very least, the present prez will be gone. Who knows what the future holds for the Academy; I am fairly confident that whoever takes on the presidency will have a hell of a difficult job to do.

I keep hoping that the devastating changes across campus and within my own faculty will provide the opportunity for positive improvements, for needed changes, and for re-engagement in faculty and campus governance. I know that I am re-engaged and aim to serve my faculty well as major decisions get made about our future.

This one is for Becker: "When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us." - Alexander Graham Bell. I continue to be proud of your achievements at your new campus and hope for your continued success.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Finding the appropriate blend of online and oncampus

I am at the "The Future of Online and Blended Learning: Strategy, Policy, and Practice Conference" in Vancouver, BC. Today, I will present my ideas about the design of the UCalgary Online Doctorate in Educational Technology, as part of an expert panel that includes Arshad Ahmed from ConcordiaU, Jim Greer from USask, and Karen Swan from UIllinois.

A talk that stood out for me yesterday was presented by my friend, Mark Brown, from Massey University in New Zealand. The title of Mark's talk, Finding Your Own Blend: An Online Scenario for Conversations about Learning Design, gives you an idea of what he talked about. Mark talked about the need to invest in new hi-tech forms of professional learning that challenge traditional ways of teaching to support teachers who are making the transition from stand and deliver to interactive forms of online learning. Mark demonstrated a web-delivered problem-based scenario that was designed for use in either a stand-alone online module or face-to-face professional development workshop on how to design a blended course for distance delivery. He described the early design and development of SBL along with the iterative process of authoring the scenario in the e-tool SBL Interactive.

Key ideas I jotted down from Mark's talk include: 1) we need to add value for learners for any adoption of any educational technology; 2) two key principles to consider in learning design - understand student's needs, and define what you want students to learn; 3) the right blend of online and oncampus is still a vexing question, 90/10 might be right, and also 10/90 - context vital to correct blend.

More on PFLi and the eCDF at

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Safe Air Travel With A Fracture

I have to fly from one end of Canada to another next week (i.e., from Vancouver to Halifax). I have a broken wrist. Should I be worried? Normally, I would think nothing of flying with a broken wing. However, in 2008, I lost a dear colleague who flew back to Canada from New Zealand after breaking his leg. His death was completely unexpected. I believe the cause of death was attributed to Deep Venous Thrombosis (a Blood Clot) in the leg; clots in the legs are not serious in themselves, unless they break off and travel to the lungs (called pulmonary embolism) causing chest pain and shortness of breath, and can be life threatening.

So, I tracked down a bit of information on the Aerospace Medical Association's website.
From their extensive document called, "MEDICAL GUIDELINES FOR AIRLINE PASSENGERS" published in 2002:

Fractures: Most passengers with treated fractures can travel safely by air. The only potential problem is swelling of the tissues under the cast that can occur due to a decrease in barometric pressure at altitude. This could interfere with healing and cause pain. In general, the risk of swelling is greatest the first 72 hours after the cast is set. It is, therefore, advisable to wait 3 days before traveling. However, if this is not possible, your physician can fix the cast in such a way that it can be loosened (by splitting it along the sides and wrapping with an elastic bandage—called bivalving), if necessary. A bivalved cast will probably have to be replaced at the destination.

Okay, then -- given that my cast will have been on for 5 days, I should be A-OK. I hope.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Girlprof hits the ice

Quite literally, I hit the ice hard yesterday while skating with my family. It is a normal Canadian family activity - ice skating together, at the rink or on the pond behind our house. Both of my children are in stick sports, hockey and ringette, and get a few hours of ice time each week. Recently, I somehow ended up assistant coach for my youngest child's team when I mentioned in passing that I was willing to help out on the ice. So, our family has decided to slip another hour or two of skating in each weekend so that mom and dad can get back in fit skating form.

After helping the two kids get their skates and helmets on, I tied on my hockey skates. I really enjoy skating around with my husband and two children; even though my oldest laps me and wins when we race around the perimeter. Not for long!! I chuckle inwardly as the kid wins again... Just you wait, I will catch up!! Then, while executing an elegant stop maneuver while skating backwards (i.e., try to imagine a giraffe on ice skates), my center of gravity shifts and I try to use my picks to stop - Oh No! Too late, I remember I am wearing hockey skates - unlike figure skates, these have no picks on the front of the blade. Down, down, down I go. I reflexively put out my right hand to break my fall. I think I may have broken my wrist. My right wrist. I am right handed. Last night I found that advil & tylenol do little to stop the ache of a damaged wrist.

This morning I showered with a bag over my hand. Right handers: have you ever tried to wash your hair or brush your teeth with your left hand? It never occurred to me how much I relied upon my right hand to do things until I had to wrap it in a tensor bandage and cradle it carefully to prevent jolts of blinding pain. Eating cereal, trying to drink coffee while driving, answering my cell phone -- all new adventures in managing to get through the day! Off to the doctor after a few meetings on campus. I will let you know if I get a spanky new cast.

UPDATE: After a few hours of waiting, I got to see a doctor and have an x-ray. The verdict? Broken scaphoid. Who knew there were eight little bones in the wrist and it was the most complex joint in the body (an ellipsoidal joint that allows all type of movement except pivotal)? I now sport a stylish new cast in my favorite color on my right ellipsoidal joint. I need to wear the cast for a few weeks. Both kids and hubby signed it with love. No more skating for girlprof for a while.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Nothing should be beyond speaking about

Mark Steyn describes how the liberal leader has been curiously silent on the issue of free speech, and has apparently given up his principles while in power. Iggy: "the right to freedom of speech is the precondition for having any other rights at all". In the title of this post, I am quoting Mark Steyn, who is quoting Michael Ignatieff in his latest Maclean's column: "Thinking about the old Ignatieff Speaking of free speech, Steyn speculates about what the Liberal leader can’t say now".

CBC Online: "Writers call for probe into human rights commission"
- a story about the Oct 6th Justice Committee Hearing on Section 13 and the views expressed by Levant and Steyn. More here, in Steyn's Poor Jenny blog post. Earlier this year, in a Maclean's Editorial, "Human rights commissions, as they are evolving, are an attack on our fundamental freedoms and the basic existence of a democratic society,” Stephen Harper said in a 1999 interview with Terry O’Neill of BC Report newsmagazine.“ It is in fact totalitarianism. I find this is very scary stuff.” He went on to complain about the “bastardization” of the entire concept of rights in modern society.

Left and right views on the issue of Free Speech and how politicians appear to voluntarily give up this right - perhaps this explains both the Left and Right's non-action on the corrupt Human Rights Commission.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Eastern Bums and Creeps Raise Crime Rates: Klein Was Right

I have been at the University of Calgary for over 20 years. As provincial funding shrinks, and as central admin "redirects" funding to choice programs on campus, I have watched the gap between spending and income in my own Faculty yawn wider each year. I have written about the budget woes in my own Faculty, and the need for positive changes in Faculty coffers. Lest you think the spending problem is in our faculty -- let me correct your view: our current shortfalls are brought about by the budget two-step across campus. Even though there have been signs of administrative corruption, evidence of a recent crime committed at the University of Calgary by our own president leaves me stunned. While I am being expected to buy my own paper and toner, take on more teaching and graduate students, to seek out new research funding, I learn that our CEO rigged a multi-million dollar golden handshake to line his personal coffers. I am dismayed, outraged and disgusted by the current revelation that our outgoing CEO, formerly of McMaster University in Ontario, who is quitting early, is taking a cool 4.5 million in pension when he abandons this sinking ship. Yep, I am calling him a rat.

I have lived in Alberta my entire life; I am aware of some of the stereotypes associated with my dear province (i.e., rednecks). It is true that our former Premier, Ralph Klein, was known for his colorful language. In fact, many in the East liked to hold their noses and poke fun at our colorful Premier. However, in the case of this Easterner, I am inclined to believe Klein was right when, as mayor in 1982, he told the bums and creeps to stay home. Klein, or someone like him, should have told the imported Robber from McMaster to stay home. Instead, in the last 8 years, the University of Calgary, and the province of Alberta, has been HAD by this creep and bum from the east -- and we do not like it.

In an internal document this week, TUCFA's President weighs in by calling for an immediate forensic audit of the finances of the University of Calgary. One juicy quote: "the widespread belief is that there are all sorts of undisclosed expenditures hidden within the budget – slush funds to support the pet projects of the powerful few within the University administration – while the core programs are left to wither through continuous erosion of funding". In my faculty alone, we have lost over 10 professors and instructors, and several support staff -- and we have been told there will be NO HIRING for the next five years. Thanks, Rat - you have done a great deal to cement the view that many in the East regard Alberta as a ripe plum to be plucked.

More on Eastern Harvey's 4.5 million heist here: Cooper, Pension plan all the buzz on campus . I agree, Barry - the optics stink.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Swinefeld and Thorny Medical Ethics Issues In H1N1 Pandemic

Every year I get a flu shot. As a professor, I work in a very public and populated organization - on campus, I come in contact with colleagues, staff and students. In my work in schools, I come in contact with hundreds of teachers and thousands of children of all ages. My husband and I are parents to two school age children who also play organized sports. So, my family is in regular contact with a great many people, from whom we could get a bug and to whom we could spread a bug. Each year, my whole family has gotten flu shots. This year, however, the decision to vaccinate, or not to vaccinate against seasonal flu is complicated by the onset of swineflu / H1N1 and the fear of a pandemic.

I have been doing a bit of reading and research about the current flu vaccination programs and policies. In Canada, while the seasonal flu vaccine will be administered to seniors and to people in long-term care facilities, most people are being advised to wait for the H1N1 flu vaccine, rather than getting two flu shots. The World Health Organization, the Public Health Agency of the Canadian Government, our Alberta Government, even my own campus has an emergency plan for Swine Flu. Government and Public institutions are warning their constituents about the swineflu / H1N1 season and how to try to protect themselves. So, why hesitate? As a good mother, as a responsible public professional, why would I even think about skipping the H1N1 flu shot?

What complicates my decision about automatically getting the swine flu vaccine for me and my family is what I have learned from one Canadian doctor, who suggests that the current panic about a swineflu pandemic is much ado about nothing and more about profits for pharmaceuticals and researchers, from another team of Canadian ethicists who ponder whether the government should mandate vaccinations, and a news source that identifies potential safety risks with the H1N1 flu vaccine - see the CTV News FAQ site on Swine Flu.

On Sept 19th "Swinefeld" episode of White Coat, Black Art on CBC, Dr. Brian Goldman talked about the thorny economic and ethical issues to do with the global pandemic of swine flu (also known as H1N1). Here is part of the tagline: "We've heard a LOT about the global pandemic of swine flu in recent months. Experts are predicting a deadly second wave of the illness this fall. Accordingly, Canadian health officials are scrambling to put plans in place to handle the expected health crisis. It's costing us millions and millions of dollars. But not everyone believes it's necessary. This week, we ask the question: could this be a pandemic about nothing?". Goldman suggests that there are a host of ethical and moral issues to do with pharmaceutical companies (who stand to benefit from widespread vaccination policies) pushing the pandemic panic button, and government (who has to be seen to be doing something) investment of millions of public dollars into a possible swineflu pandemic. Subsequently, on the WCBA blog: handwashing hogwash (Goldman suggested that getting people to cough into their sleeve to stop H1N1 transmission was a bit like asking school kids to "duck and cover" to save themselves from a nuclear blast).

After listening to Goldman's "Swinefeld" episode, and reviewing the CTV News site, I wondered if getting the H1N1 vaccine for my family was (1) worth the effort, or even (2) safe. Like any concerned parent, I want to do what is best for my children; as a professor, I have been vaccinated for seasonal flu each year. However, as an educated consumer, I wonder if I am being sucked into the fear flu factor by savvy pharmaceutical companies at the risk of safety - Canada / GlaxoSmithKline is using an adjuvant as part of its H1N1 vaccine regimen; adjuvants are chemical additives used in some vaccines to ramp up the response the immune system generates to a vaccine (GSK, Canada's pandemic vaccine manufacturer, has said its vaccine will contain its own proprietary adjuvant system, called AS03). So, serious questions arise about the "rush to approve" and the safety of the adjuvant-H1N1 vaccine for mid-November release.

A brand new Science Daily report, published Oct 4th, entitled "Medical Ethics Experts Identify, Address Key Issues In H1N1 Pandemic", summarizes key issues from nine papers published by the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics. Topics include duty of health care workers to work during a serious flu pandemic; government restrictions on individual freedoms and privacy and their responsibilities administering vaccination programs; how to allocate limited medical resources; and the obligation of rich countries to share such resources with those less fortunate. The report cites findings from the UofT Joint Centre for Bioethics telephone survey of the views of 500 Canadians and nearly 100 more via a series of town hall meetings, using seven topic headings: Duty to care, Priority setting, H1N1 vaccinations, Restrictive measures, Global issues, Risk communication and Vulnerability. One comment in particular caught my eye, "Coercion in vaccination policy could range from aggressive marketing campaigns, to introducing policies that exclude unvaccinated individuals, to introducing mandatory vaccination". Just wondering, would the aggressive marketing campaign to vaccinate be paid for by the pharmaceuticals (who stand to benefit financially) or government? Interesting "quick fact" from the GlaxoSmithKline website on fluvirals: "GlaxoSmithKline is the leading Canadian influenza vaccine manufacturer and will supply the majority of the Canadian government’s seasonal influenza vaccine purchases from 2005-2011."

Finally, there is ample descriptive media on what to do about Swine Flu / H1N1 (CTV for parents), and who should vaccinate: PBS here, CTV here and here, and CTV MedNews (for more, do a google search on swine flu latest news), and also a whole host of other media here, (GSK) here and here.

I will need to make an H1N1 vaccination decision for me and with my family in the next month - some estimates suggest the vaccine will become widely available in mid-November. From the CTV site: "There are still questions about whether everyone will want to be vaccinated. Keep in mind that H1N1 causes only mild flu in most people; in fact, some Canadians may have already been immunized through natural exposure to H1N1 during the spring's "first wave". Determining who has been exposed already is a scientific challenge at this time. Others might choose to wait until vaccine manufacturers gather more safety and effectiveness data".

Is the H1N1 flu vaccine safe? Is it even necessary? I am reading all that I can to make this important decision for me and with my family.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Free Speech Curtailed for the Sake of a Pluralistic Society

When I opened up the latest SAFS newsletter, I ran across a reprint of Jonathan Turley's column in the Washington Post, April 12, 2009: "The Free World Bars Free Speech". Aside from learning about Dutch, Italian, British and Indian cases of repressing speech, a most chilling quote hit close to home: "History has shown that once governments begin to police speech, they find ever more of it to combat. Countries such as Canada, England and France have prosecuted speakers and journalists for criticizing homosexuals and other groups. It's the ultimate irony: free speech curtailed for the sake of a pluralistic society". It is well worth reading Turley's entire column. Turley is a law professor at George Washington University. More about SAFS involvement in current Academic Freedom issues / cases in Canada here - the ongoing discourse is archived online.

Canadian Human Rights Commission Appeals Recent Ruling

Debate over the role of Canadian Human Rights commissions continues to heat up. I have written about the tensions between online free speechers, citizen bloggers and journalists, and advocates of the human rights industry, and try to follow the debate over the impact of the Canadian Human Rights Commission on freedom of speech and expression. Turns out, The Canadian "Human Rights" Commission has decided to appeal the Warman versus Lemire decision of Sept 2.

A few other developments:

1. Mark Steyn is going to Ottawa: The House of Commons Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights will be considering Section 13 on Monday afternoon, October 5th.

2. Macleans column by Mark Steyn, "The case for the seeing-eye horse" in which he writes, "tyranny is always whimsical" in further study of the complaints reviewed by Human Rights commissions.

3. UofC's Barry Cooper has recently published a report on "Canada’s “Schauprozess”—Show Trials" in the Frontier Center Policy Series [Nice review of report here by Kathy S]

4. Brian Lilley on why "Harper Won't Touch the human rights commissions" and why we should actively question each MPs and Party leader's stance on the CHRCs.

It will be interesting to follow this appeal, the standing committee's deliberations on Mon, Oct 5th and the vigorous debate in the blogosphere.