There are standards that professionalise teaching and standards that simply manage teachers. While standards which professionalise create cultures of collegiality, expertise and pride among teachers, standards that manage can leave them feeling brow-beaten, untrusted, and demotivated.
While the article refers specifically to the primary and secondary teaching context in South Africa, the principles are relevant for a wide range of international higher education and professional contexts as well. The article differentiates between two types of standardisation; professionalisation and management.
Standards that aim to professionalise an activity invariably lead to virtuous cycles. From the article “…teaching [in Finland] is a prestigious and attractive profession which recruits the brightest and most motivated school graduates, who don’t require continual monitoring and oversight. Teachers instead enjoy professional autonomy; they are trusted in key decisions about their teaching and professional development.” You can easily see how this applies to any other profession as well when professionalisation standards are being applied i.e. the standards open up spaces and encourage autonomy as part of trusting relationships.
In contrast, management standards (especially when presented under the pretext of developing professionalism), can lead to vicious cycles. In these situations “…governments take it upon themselves to hold teachers accountable. Standards are used to manage teachers, and to protect students from the worst educators through supervisory surveillance and control. Invariably, the relationship between teacher unions and governments becomes antagonistic and generates feelings of fear and mistrust.” You can see how this could play out in the context of professional organisations tasked with developing cultures of professionalism. Instead of opening up spaces by trusting and supporting people who can make their own choices, organisations may use management standards that aim to close down space and control the people within them.
We need to ask if the standards we’re being asked to meet are aimed at developing cultures of professionalism, or whether they’re simply being used to manage us. One way of determining which standards are being used in your context is to ask how much autonomy you have to make decisions about the work you do.
Many people think that “ivory tower” intellectuals make little difference in the world. But some of the highest impact people in history have been researchers, and if you have good personal fit with academic research, we think it can be one of the highest-impact paths…In this article, we’ll cover why we think a career in academia has the potential to be very high impact in the right circumstances, how to figure out whether this option is for you, and how to maximise the impact you can have as an academic.
This article is an incredibly deep dive into the relative benefits and disadvantages of an academic career. Whether you’re in the early stages of thinking about starting on an academic career or are already a full professor, you may find some very valuable context for planning your next move. If you think of your career as something that happens to you, then this article may be a good place to start thinking differently about the rest of your working life.
80 000 hours is an organisation that aims to help as many people as possible lead high impact careers. The idea is that you have about 80 000 working hours in your career, which means that your choice of career is one of the biggest decisions you’ll ever make. Therefore, it’s worth spending a bit of time figuring out how to use that time for good. Their About page has links to many more resources that I’ve found very useful for thinking about my career as an academic.
In an effort to boost academic productivity, [South Africa’s] education department launched a subsidy scheme in 2005. It now awards roughly US$7,000 for each research paper published in an accredited journal. Depending on the institution, up to half of this amount is paid directly to faculty members… There is no guarantee (or expectation) that a researcher will use this money for research purposes. Most simply see it as a financial reward over and above their salaries.
In general, this is a good article that makes several useful points, especially about the perverse incentives related to the publication subsidy, which are addressed later in the article. However, there are a few things that I take exception to in the opening (and title), and I’ll just list them quickly before following up with a few additional thoughts:
It’s not a payout. It’s a subsidy aimed to top up research funding especially for early career researchers who don’t have access to bigger allocations. Calling it a payout has negative connotations that immediately position the system in a certain context, which is disingenuous.
While there has been an increase in article publication in predatory journals by South Africans, this is not a South African problem. The increase in publication in predatory journals is global and may be correlated by the subsidy without being caused by it. For example, more researchers publishing more articles in an ecosystem with more predatory journals means that it’s likely we’ll see an uptick in publications in those journals that would have nothing to do with the subsidy.
While some institutions may give 50% of this publication subsidy to the researchers, in most cases it is far less than that. At the University of the Western Cape, where I work, authors receive 10% of the subsidy (about R12 000 per article in an accredited journal for a single author publication). In other institutions, it is even less.
Most researchers (to my knowledge) are expected to use this subsidy to fund research-related activities. In my own institution, academics don’t even have access to these funds, which are disbursed via the Research Office. I use my subsidy to fund postgraduate student bursaries, pay article publication fees, and attend conferences. The author actually suggests this later in the article but doesn’t acknowledge that it can be done within the subsidy framework too.
It is most certainly not a financial reward over and above our salaries and I know of few researchers who see it that way.
Maybe the opening of the article was aiming for provocation rather than accuracy, which is fine. I just wanted a record that those points are simply not correct in their current form in the article. Now I have a few thoughts of my own.
Many novice researchers do see the publication subsidy as an important aspect of building up their funding allocation, and for early-career researchers who don’t have access to larger grants (for example, because they don’t yet have PhDs), this is an important way to develop themselves. But as researchers start developing and getting access to larger funding allocations, the publication subsidy becomes less important; who cares about the R12 000 when you have R500 000? The subsidy is also a valuable form of assistance for those who fall outside of registered projects. In my own department, we often use our subsidies to fund conference and course attendance for junior staff members who don’t have their own research funding and who aren’t involved in our own projects.
I have some sympathy with the point related to the perverse incentive of avoiding collaboration because of the negative impact on the subsidy. However, the NRF rating system referred to by Mr Henning looks for evidence of the growing influence of researchers as a proxy for research quality. This means that researchers and authors who avoid collaboration solely to get the full subsidy are adopting a short-term view that will make it highly unlikely that they will get rated (or that their research will be published in high-quality journals). Authors, therefore, need to make the transition from single author, single-site studies of the kind done by early career researchers, towards more collaborative work across multiple institutions and countries. This move opens up opportunities for things like rating, international publication, and access to larger grants. So the publication subsidy, rather than driving academics towards predatory journals, is really an engine that aims to kick start the research careers of novice academics. This is especially important for historically disadvantaged institutions that lack the resources to provide funding to researchers in their own capacity. The subsidy allows for the government to support institutions in developing young researchers. And while there may be bad actors who abuse the system, this will be true no matter what incentives you develop.
Finally, I especially disagree with the closing comment, “…if South Africa hopes to drive innovation, it must stop publication payouts — they are the enemy of research quality.” This implies that our researchers are either stupid (because they’ve been duped) or corrupt (because they are making a choice to reduce quality in order to get the subsidy). I don’t believe that the publication subsidy inherently drives down the quality of South African research (every rated researcher at my institution – myself included – receives the subsidy and I like to think that we’re doing OK on the quality side). I think that almost all South African researchers aim to produce high-quality research and while the publication subsidy scheme is certainly far from perfect, I would bet that it has done more to enhance research in this country than not.
Also, I’m going to start appending my comments on other articles with “Comment” (or something like that) in order to distinguish them from the original titles that may come up in search results. It’s probably not a good thing for my own posts to have the same titles as the posts I’m commenting on.
Those who work really hard throughout their career but don’t take time out of their schedule to constantly learn will be the new “at-risk” group. They risk remaining stuck on the bottom rung of global competition, and they risk losing their jobs to automation, just as blue-collar workers did between 2000 and 2010 when robots replaced 85 percent of manufacturing jobs.
As I mentioned in my Plans! post from a few days ago, I’m trying to make more space in my day for reading. It’s partly because I enjoy reading more than almost anything else and partly because of my growing conviction that reading is one of the most important things I could be doing with my time. Reading is also a pre-requisite for being able to write well and I’d like to improve my writing quality and output during 2019. This post is really just a writing exercise where I expand on one of the points that I made in the post I just mentioned, providing some background and rationale for why I want to read more (this may become a short series of posts where I unpack my thinking around my plans).
In the early stages of your career, you want to focus on building what Cal Newport calls career capital, which is a shorthand for the kind of credibility that you can only get through hard graft. It’s the characteristic that makes people trust you because you’ve demonstrated a track record of consistently good work. It’s not just about showing up on time; it’s about how you show up. While career capital can be turned into financial reward, it’s really unlikely (unless you come from old money) that you can have money without first putting in the work. So it seems to me that you should make choices, especially early on in your career, that increase your chances of learning something new rather than looking for a bigger paycheque. Promotions are fine things to aim for but they won’t always lead to better opportunities in the long-term if they’re not associated with a high level of career capital (and yes, it’s possible to promote without having done the work).
Kevin Kelley said that you should “move into spaces that increase your options” but you can’t do this without first having a solid foundation of broad and deep knowledge of the world, or at least in your domain of interest. There are few opportunities available for those who are left behind and in the second decade of the 21st century, it’s become increasingly clear that many professionals are at risk of being left behind. Automation and machine learning are likely to make many tasks that we consider routine, redundant. Imagine if 25% of your daily work was automated away; what would you do with those extra 2 hours? Will you simply work fewer hours (at lower pay)? Or will you be ready to fill that time with meaningful tasks that machines can’t automate?
I started this post by saying that knowledge is more important than money because a high salary is a poor indicator of your ability to adapt to automation, whereas knowledge is the one thing that can help you to move quickly. The only way to plan for an uncertain future is to keep learning and one of the best ways to learn is to read.
Instead of setting New Year’s resolutions I’ve decided to instead make plans. Unlike resolutions, which feel like a big commitment, plans are adaptable, flexible and fluid. And also I’ll feel like less of a failure when my plans change (because, life) than I would if I break a resolution. So, here are the professional and personal plans for 2019.
Three years ago I deleted my Facebook account and have not missed a single thing that I care about. Late last year I deleted the Twitter app from my phone and tablet and as a result, stopped checking Twitter every day (I’ve been back once in the past month). I thought that I’d just probably continue to visit in the browser but now that it’s not on my phone I find that I just don’t think about it very much and, contrary to what I expected, I don’t miss it at all. Posts from this blog will keep being sent to Twitter for the time being but I may switch that off as well. Deleting an app from my phone seems like such a small thing but it’s really a thread that, when pulled, causes everything else to move. At some point, I’ll write about my reasons for moving away from social media. In the meantime, I’ll be experimenting with using this site to share the things that I find interesting, as well as more personal stuff.
My writing plans include putting aside an hour and a half every day during the week, usually from 08:30-10:00, which is just for me to write. Obviously, this will need to adapt to the requirements of teaching and admin but that’s my plan. I’m hoping to do a lot more writing both formally (i.e. academic papers) and informally (e.g. writing for The Conversation, and blogging). I currently have 11 articles under review, which I hope to get published during 2019 along with a few more ideas for papers that I have in the pipeline. These are mostly the result of clearing a backlog of papers arising from several projects that came to an end during 2017-2018. Since I don’t have any data from projects that are currently up and running my 2019 articles will most likely be more position/opinion papers that I’m using to build a foundation for my thinking around AI in healthcare and education. Once I’ve used those papers to consolidate the vocabulary and establish a few lines of inquiry, I’ll build a research agenda that should see me through the next 3-5 years.
I have two research projects that I’m busy spinning up; one on internationalisation with student exchange and another on the social implications of AI. The internationalisation project has been funded and includes a 2-week visit to Oslo, along with 5 of our undergraduate students. We’ll also be hosting 3 OsloMet colleagues and 5 of their students in Cape Town as part of the exchange programme. The implications of AI is something that’s been on my mind for the past year or so and I feel like I’m comfortable enough with the topic that I can start building a research plan around it. I’m really excited about these two projects and will share more of the details once we’ve nailed them down.
In May I’ll also be travelling to Geneva for the WCPT conference after having had two abstracts accepted. As part of that visit, I’m working with Ben Ellis,Joost van Wijchen and Guillaume Christe to plan the first In Beta Unconference, which will most likely take place in the days following the conference. If you’re interested in physiotherapy education then watch this space for an announcement in the next couple of weeks. This is part of our bigger plans to develop the In Beta community, which I wrote about during a reflection on 2018. This will most likely be my last time attending WCPT and in future, I’ll be looking at AMEE as my biennial international conference. I’ll also try to attend our local SAAHE conference, although that may not be possible given the significant expense of travelling to Geneva.
I’m going to try and expand the SAAHE podcast conversations that we started last year to include conversations with leaders in health professions education, in addition to the PhD graduates who I’ve been talking to so far. The idea is to talk about the development pathways of academics who have done a lot to drive growth in health professions education. I recorded three conversations near the end of last year and have another few planned for the next couple of months. However, like the In Beta podcast, the biggest challenge is getting the audio edited.
A few years ago I did what I called my 365 project, which was simply taking a photo a day for a year. I’ve re-started the project and have been reminded of just how many things I see every day that are quite beautiful. This is something that I’m really looking forward to, as the collection of a year’s worth of daily photos is both inspiring and wonderful to look back on.
I’m going to try and get back into playing Go, which I did for a few years and then dropped. I really enjoyed it and can’t remember why I stopped. Last year my wife bought me a Go board (I still need the stones) so hopefully, that’ll be a big enough push to get me started again. Maybe I’ll teach the girls to play.
It’s a bit cliched but I’d like to get more exercise in 2019, especially on the moutain bike. It takes me 10 minutes to cycle to the Tokai mountain bike trails and it’s ridiculous that I don’t go more often.
I try to read for about 3-4 hours a day and in 2018 I read 30 books (including Neal Stephensons Baroque Cycle trilogy, and Stephen Pinker’s Better Angels of our Nature, which are huge monsters) and 5.1 million words in Pocket. My daily reading time includes the minimum of 2 hours I spend commuting during the week, during which I mostly listen to articles I’ve saved in Pocket. I’ve now done a bit of re-shuffling of my daily schedule in an attempt to carve out a little bit more time for reading academic papers, which I’ve realised has been neglected since finishing my PhD.
During the last few weeks of the holidays we spent quite a bit of time spring cleaning the house and doing a bit of work in the garden. Even though we moved in 3 years ago there were still boxes and cupboards that were essentially the same as when we first arrived and dumped stuff into them to get it all off the floor. We did a huge cleanup in the garage, hung some pictures on the walls, donated a ton of stuff to charity, and finally moved an armchair into the study, which I’ve been wanting to do for at least 2 years. The change in my headspace has been amazing and so I’m planning to do more work around the house and garden in 2019. Related to this is the idea that we’d like to go away more for short breaks rather than having a single holiday at the end of the year. We spent 3 days in Greyton earlier this month and it was wonderful to get away somewhere quiet. So we’ll try to build in a few shorter breaks during 2019.
I’m going to continue my “No working in the evenings and on weekends” policy, which seems to have gone well in 2018. It means that I need to be really intentional during the 8-9 hours when I’m at work but then when I’m at home I’m mentally not at work, which has been great for my mental health. Speaking of which I’m going to reboot my attempts at daily meditation, spurred in part by the fact that I now have free access to the Waking Up app by Sam Harris as a result of being a paid subscriber to his podcast.
If I get through 2019 having achieved some of what I’ve described here, I think I’ll be pretty happy. If you read this far, thanks and all the best to you for the year ahead.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is gaining high visibility in the realm of health care innovation. Broadly defined, AI is a field of computer science that aims to mimic human intelligence with computer systems. This mimicry is accomplished through iterative, complex pattern matching, generally at a speed and scale that exceed human capability. Proponents suggest, often enthusiastically, that AI will revolutionize health care for patients and populations. However, key questions must be answered to translate its promise into action.
The questions and follow-up responses presented in the article are useful, highlighting the nuance that is often ignored in mainstream pieces that tend to focus on the extreme potential of the technology (i.e. what this might one day be like) rather than the more subtle implications that we need to consider today. The following text is verbatim from the article:
What are the right tasks for AI in healthcare? AI is best used when the primary task is identifying clinically useful patterns in large, high-dimensional data sets. AI is most likely to succeed when used with high-quality data sources on which to “learn” and classify data in relation to outcomes. However, most clinical data, whether from electronic health records (EHRs) or medical billing claims, remain ill-defined and largely insufficient for effective exploitation by AI techniques.
What are the right data for AI? AI is most likely to succeed when used with high-quality data sources on which to “learn” and classify data in relation to outcomes. However, most clinical data, whether from electronic health records (EHRs) or medical billing claims, remain ill-defined and largely insufficient for effective exploitation by AI techniques.
What is the right evidence standard for AI? Innovations in medications and medical devices are required to undergo extensive evaluation, often including randomized clinical trials and postmarketing surveillance, to validate clinical effectiveness and safety. If AI is to directly influence and improve clinical care delivery, then an analogous evidence standard is needed to demonstrate improved outcomes and a lack of unintended consequences.
What are the right approaches for integrating AI into clinical care? Even after the correct tasks, data, and evidence for AI are addressed, realization of its potential will not occur without effective integration into clinical care. To do so requires that clinicians develop a facility with interpreting and integrating AI-supported insights in their clinical care.
Google offers an option to download all of the data it stores about you. I’ve requested to download it and the file is 5.5GB big, which is roughly 3m Word documents. This link includes your bookmarks, emails, contacts, your Google Drive files, all of the above information, your YouTube videos, the photos you’ve taken on your phone, the businesses you’ve bought from, the products you’ve bought through Google.
They also have data from your calendar, your Google hangout sessions, your location history, the music you listen to, the Google books you’ve purchased, the Google groups you’re in, the websites you’ve created, the phones you’ve owned, the pages you’ve shared, how many steps you walk in a day…
I’ve been thinking about all the reasons that support my decision to move as much of my digital life as possible into platforms and services that give me more control over how my personal data is used. Posts like this are really just reminders for me to remember what to include, and why I’m doing this. It’s not easy to move away from Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple and Twitter but it may just be worth it.
It’s been about a year and a half since Ben and I started the In Beta community (see my first post in July 2017) and I wanted to reflect on what we’ve achieved in the past 18 months or so. Here are the major aspects of the project with some statistics and my thoughts on the process.
Website: We’re hosting our website on a server provided by the University of the Western Cape and use open source software (WordPress) to build the site, which means that the project costs Ben and I nothing except our time and energy. A few months ago I made a few big changes to the site, which hadn’t been updated since it launched, including a new theme and layout, new per-episode images, and an embedded media player for each episode. This is also going to be more important as the site becomes more central to our plans and needs to do more than simply distribute the audio for the podcasts.
We’ve had a fair amount of traffic since we launched the site in October 2017; far more than I expected. The numbers are obviously quite low relative to more popular sites, but consider that this is a project about physiotherapy education.
Most of our visitors came from the UK (where Ben lives) and the Netherlands (where Joost lives). I’m not sure if that’s a coincidence or if the two of them are just uncommonly popular. Incidentally, Joost has been a major supporter and promoter of the project through his connections with ENPHE and we hope that this collaboration continues to grow.
Podcasts: We’ve released 8 episodes including our first one in October 2017, so we publish about one episode every 1.5 months. We have another 3 episodes recorded but which we haven’t finished editing yet. The audio editing is, by far, the most time-consuming part of the process. We’re hoping to limit the hassle of this component by improving the quality of the initial recording, through 1) getting better at moderating the conversations and so having less to cut, and 2) making more of an effort to record better audio in the first place. Here are the 8 episodes we’ve published so far, along with the number of times each has been downloaded. These statistics exclude the first 50 or so downloads of the first episode, which was hosted on Soundcloud before we moved to our own distribution platform.
Here are the top 10 countries by number of downloads:
Projects: One of our original ideas was to use the website as a way to share examples of classroom exercises, assignments, and teaching practices that others would be able to use as a resource. The plan was to describe in a fair amount of detail the process for setting up a learning task that others could simply copy, maybe with a few minor tweaks. The project pages would include the specific learning outcomes that the lecturer hopes to achieve, comprehensive descriptions of the learning activities, links to freely available resources, and examples of student work. This aspect of In Beta hasn’t taken off as much as we would’ve liked but the potential is still there and will hopefully continue growing over time.
Google Docs: We started with Google Docs as a way to plan for our podcast recordings, using a templated outline that we’d invite guests to complete. The idea is that guests on the podcast will use the template to establish the context for the conversation, including the background, the problem they’re trying to address, and a reading list for interested participants. We then take some of that information and incorporate it into the show notes for the episode and leave the Google Doc online for further reading if anyone is interested. The process (and template) has remained more or less the same since we initially described it but I’m uncertain about whether or not we should include it going forward. It seems like a lot of PT to ask guests to complete and, without statistics for Docs, we can’t be sure if anyone is going there. On the other hand, it really does seem to be good preparation for us to have a deep dive into the topic.
Membership: We had about 100 people join the Google+ community but saw little engagement on the site. I think that this is understandable considering that most people have more than enough going on in their personal and professional lives to add yet another online destination to their lists. Most people are already on several social media platforms and it’s not reasonable to expect them to add Google+ just for this project. So we weren’t too upset to see that Google is planning to sunset the consumer version of Google+, so in some ways it’s a bit of a relief not to have to worry about managing the community in different places. We’re in the process of asking people to migrate to the project website and sign up for email notifications of announcements.
Conference collaborations: Ben and I worked with Joost to run two In Beta workshops at the IPSM (Portugal) and ENPHE conferences (Paris) in 2018. We based both sessions on the Unconference format and used them as experiments to think differently about how conference workshops could be useful for participants in the room, as well as those who were “outside” of it. While neither of the workshops went exactly how we planned, I think the fact that both of these sessions actually happened, in large part due to the work that Joost and Ben put in, was a success in itself. We’ve recorded our thoughts on this process and will publish that as an episode early in 2019. It’d be nice to have more of these sessions where we try to do something “in the world”.
Plans for 2019: Our rough ideas for the next 12 months include the following:
More frequent podcast episodes, which should be possible if we can reduce the amount of time it takes to edit each episode. It’d also be nice to get assistance with the audio editing, so if you’re interested in being involved and have an interest in that kind of thing, let us know.
Work on more collaborative projects with colleagues who are interested in alternative approaches to physiotherapy education. For example, it might be interesting to publish an edited “book” of short stories related to physiotherapy education. It could be written by students, educators and clinicians, and might cover a broad range of topics that explore physiotherapy education from a variety of perspectives.
Grow the community so that In Beta is more than a podcast. We started the project because we wanted to share interesting conversations in physiotherapy education and we think that there’s enormous scope for this idea to be developed. But we also know that we’re never going to have all the good ideas ourselves and so we need to involve more of the people doing the interesting work in classrooms and clinical spaces around the world.
Host a workshop for In Beta community members, possibly at a time when enough of us are gathered together in the same place. Maybe in Europe somewhere. Probably in May. Something like a seminar or colloquium on physiotherapy education. If this sounds like something you may like to be involved with, please let us know.
It’s easy to forget what you’ve achieved when you’re caught up in the process. I think that both Ben and I would probably like to have done a bit more on the project over the past 18 months but if I look at where we started (a conversation over coffee at a conference in 2016) then I’m pretty happy with what we’ve accomplished. And I’m excited for 2019.
A good question to ask yourself when evaluating your apps is “why does this app exist?” If it exists because it costs money to buy, or because it’s the free app extension of a service that costs money, then it is more likely to be able to sustain itself without harvesting and selling your data. If it’s a free app that exists for the sole purpose of amassing a large amount of users, then chances are it has been monetized by selling data to advertisers.
This is a useful heuristic for making quick decisions about whether or not you should have that app installed on your phone. Another good rule of thumb: “If you’re not paying for the product then you are the product.” Your personal data is worth a lot to companies who are either going to use it to refine their own AI-based platforms (e.g. Google, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) or who will sell your (supposedly anonymised) data to those companies. This is how things work now…you give them your data (connections, preferences, brand loyalty, relationships, etc.) and they give you a service “for free”. But as we’re seeing more and more, it really isn’t free. This is especially concerning when you realise how often your device and apps are “phoning home” with reports about you and your usage patterns, sometimes as frequently as every 2 seconds.
On a related note, if you’re interested in a potential technical solution to this problem you may want to check out Solid (social linked data) by Tim Berners-Lee, which will allow you to maintain control of your personal information but still share it with 3rd parties under conditions that you specify.
Can health entities collaboratively train deep learning models without sharing sensitive raw data? This paper proposes several configurations of a distributed deep learning method called SplitNN to facilitate such collaborations. SplitNN does not share raw data or model details with collaborating institutions. The proposed configurations of splitNN cater to practical settings of i) entities holding different modalities of patient data, ii) centralized and local health entities collaborating on multiple task
The paper describes how algorithm design (including training) can be shared across different organisations without each having access to each other’s resources.
This has important implications for the development of AI-based health applications, in that hospitals and other service providers need not share raw patient data with companies like Google/DeepMind. Health organisations could do the basic algorithm design in-house with the smaller, local data sets and then send the algorithm to organisations that have the massive data sets necessary for refining the algorithm, all without exposing the initial data and protecting patient privacy.