Driving from Melbourne to Uluru

Uluru is a massive rock in Central Australia. Some say it is the biggest rock in the world; some say many things. I was a bit sceptical to see Uluru at first as it reeked of ‘’ínstrumental tourism’’, a place defined by the outcome rather than the journey (in teaching we call this “constructive alignment”).

So, I started the ‘’unaligned’’ journey in Fitz-Roy (the illegitimate centre of Australia), rented a car in Coburg, strapped in my wonderful co-pilot Paul Sebastian Garate Peralta from Cuenca in Ecuador, and set off for The Rock. I had done some superficial research before I left, so I knew it was a very long way, and that it was hot, but both these things are comfortably intangible until you actually live them.

Day one: Port Fairy

The first day we drove along the coast to Port Fairy, a bucolic, old village a few hours from Melbourne. We didn’t want to overdo it on the first drive; to ease our way into the dawn-to-dusk driving essential in the never-ending Outback.  The Victorian coast along the Great Ocean Road is gorgeous; long white beaches, sandstone cliffs, and roads languidly winding through the forest. The problem is that the Great Ocean Road attracts many ‘’urban modernists’’ that find anything other than straight-lines confusing; 60 KMH becomes 20 KMH, break lights gleam through corners, and turn-out bays for slow-drivers are ignored in favour of a robotic industrial rigidity that holds everyone back.

Thus, a 300 KM journey took most of the day, and we didn’t arrive in Port Fairy until early in the evening. We pitched a tent in a well-serviced caravan park (caravan parks n Australia are usually pretty high standard with lush grass and free bar-b-ques) and took-off to the local pub for beers and pool.

Settling in to a pub in Port Fairy, Victoria

Day two: Adelaide.

We perhaps drank a little too much on the first night, and I had a restless sleep, so I was tired, grumpy, and thus worried about how well-equipped I was for a full day driving. Still, after a bucket of espresso and some breakfast, I felt a lot better, and the stretch of road from Port Fairy to Adelaide was again gob-smacking with a lot less timorous urban modernists attempting to drive so we covered a lot more kilometres.

The Coorong National Park

The highlights of the day were the township of Robe, and Coorong National Park, a thin strip of coastline with untouched beaches and an abundance of sea-life including Pelicans and giant fibreglass lobsters. We stayed in an Air BB this evening, in a rambling, dilapidated house in a no-where suburb of Adelaide and had a good nights sleep, but I was a little nervous about the long drive ahead to Coober Pedy, the start of the Australian Outback.

Giant Lobster

Day Three: Coober Pedy

From Adelaide to Coober Pedy is a very long way and fortuitously our eccentric Air BB host gave us a large flask of black coffee, which was effortlessly drunk by the first stop in Port Germein. The road out of Adelaide hugging St Vincent and the Spencer Gulf is pretty grim, a sort of battle between provisional Australian modernity and arid desert flatland.  Still, Port Germain had a dignified sense of decline, and the longest pier I have ever seen. And it was beginning to get hot, very hot, a harbinger of the apocalyptic Christmas heat-wave we were driving into.

The pier at Port Germein

We arrived in Coober Pedy early in the evening to witness the sun-set over the hotch-potch Opal mining town with the ant hill landscape beyond. Like many hotels and houses in Coober Pedy, our accommodation for the evening was under the ground to escape the Martian heat. Our motel keeper was straight out of Wolf Creek (a reference lost on my Ecuadorian companion). We had to wander around a few dark mine shafts before we found our room, which was literally a hole in the ground. But still, we had a wonderful nights sleep, and I would recommend sleeping in holes to anyone.

Underground motel. Coober Pedy

Day four: Uluru (Xmas Day)

This was the toughest day of driving as it was the longest distance across the somnambulant plains of the Australian Outback.  The highlight of the day was nothing, thousands of kilometres of nothing, the happiest place on earth as there is no need to compare yourself to anyone else (except that Wolf Creek bloke in Coober Pedy, he was a bit scary).

Co-pilot Paul Sebastian Garate Peralta from Cuenca in Ecuador

We stopped at a rustic, deserted truck stop for Xmas dinner of ham and salad wrap and a bottle of red. It was apocalyptically hot, around 42 degrees Celsius, but this didn’t seem to matter as our first Outback Xmas was pretty special, a long way from Santa Claus.

Xmas day truck stop

We arrived at the Uluru resort early in the evening, pitched a tent, and drove the twenty kilometres to The Rock.  Seeing Uluru for the first time is dreamlike; most world icons are pretty banal once packaged by consumers, but not Uluru, there is awe-room for the instrumental tourists as well as everyone else. We got as close as we could and had a picnic of supermarket roast chicken and red wine and met a cute young couple from France and Ireland and watched The Rock change colour at sunset (from bright orange to ochre to brown).

Uluru or Ayres Rock (trippy)

Day five: Uluru

This day was a rest day, at least in terms of driving. We had found ourselves in the middle of an extreme temperature heat-wave in one of the most inhospitable places on earth. Thus we were up at 6AM as the temperature was in the 40s Celsius by 11AM (and the park rangers close many of the walking  tracks because of the heat). We did the four-hour walk around the rock which was pretty special as there are lots of informative signs about the importance of certain aspects of The Rock to various aboriginal peoples. I particularly liked the way in which climbing The Rock hasn’t been completely banned by the Aboriginal owners, even though it would be easily achieved. It is left to the individual to decide; thus it becomes  a reflective choice and ‘virtue ethic’ which is a much more powerful learning  experience than merely banning Modernity.

The Rock

Day six: The Olgas

The Olgas are another weird rock formation close to Uluru. Today was hotter than hell, so we were up early morning to do the Valléy of the Winds walk (or the Valley of heat with no wind walk).  I liked the Olgas even more than Uluru, there were fewer people, it was more scruffy, and the few tourists that were there mysteriously knew where to stop on the track; their leash only stretches so far I suppose. We sauntered past them and did the complete Olga circuit with my broken hiking shoe flapping, aggressive blow-flies buzzing, and the big-heat sucking at my body. It was one of the best short walks I have ever done.

The Olgas

In the afternoon when the Venus temperature reached  462 Degrees Celcius, we went to a unimaginative bar called The Outback and drank beer, played pool and chess, and sat in front of a giant fan that didn’t help in the slightest.

Day seven: King’s Canyon

The drive to King’s Canyon from Uluru is a long one, about four hours of arid, shrubby land. The Outback is not really a desert, it is dry and scorching, but there are many forests and shrubs and waterholes for animals to quench their thirst.  The moving sand-dune type of desert in South America and Africa is quite rare in Australia, with most of the vast interior of Australia covered in sparsely wooded and grassed planes.

The Outback

We pitched our tent at the King’s Canyon campground that was virtually deserted; the Outback is too hot for most people this time of year.  We spent the afternoon in the one and only pub for about 500 KMS and escaped the heat with chess, pool and beer into the early evening. During the night some Dingos decided to have a howling-match, metres from our tent (and I wondered if Dingos only take babies).

Day eight: King’s Canyon

Today we woke at the crack of dawn and made our way to King’s Canyon. The circuit walk was challenging in the heat, but spectacular; the track has an initial steep climb and then meanders its way around the canyon edge with rich ochre outcrops of rocks and desperate plants clinging for their life. When it rains, waterfalls cascade into the gorge, which seemed hard to believe in the height of Summer. Deep in the gorge is a long, dissident waterhole that attracts all sorts of in-the-know bird-life whose calls echo on the steep walls of the canyon.

King’s Canyon water hole

Day nine: Alice Springs

The next day we went to Alice Springs. There was a shorter route to Alice Springs from King’s Canyon, but like many roads in the Northern Territory, it required a 4 Wheel Drive vehicle and our city car may have fallen into a pothole and disappeared. So six hours later we arrived in Alice Springs, to a cute 1970s caravan in the desert about 14 KMS outside of the Alice. The caravan was a welcome reprieve from camping for the past 5 nights (thanks Air BB). In the evening we explored Alice Springs which is an ugly Modern town wrestling with the environment (it is no Palm Springs). Still, it has some pretty good supermarkets and air-conditioned malls where most of the population congregate to escape the heat.  We purchased some steak and beer and went back to the caravan and settled in for the evening.

Accommodation in Alice Springs

Day ten: Alice Springs (New Year’s Eve)

Today was one of the few days on the trip that didn’t involve driving (or so we thought). Our Air BB host had suggested a water hole for swimming, the fabulous Ellery Creek Big Hole, which ended up being 80 KMs away (a short distance in these parts). The drive to the hole and swimming in it took most of the day, which didn’t seem to matter as the hole was worth the drive and a welcome reprieve from the relentless heat.

Ellery Creek Big Hole

In the evening (N.Y.E.) we went to the nasty Lasseters Casino (only because I had seen it in the movie, Priscilla Queen of the Desert), and then a cheesy Western Style bar, which was the only two options in town it seemed.  But as we were staying 14 KMS outside of town, we didn’t drink much alcohol, and instead got some takeaway beer and went back to the caravan which seemed the sensible thing to do given the hostile appearance of the local constabulary.

Day eleven: Coober Pedy (again)

The drive back home seemed daunting, and for the first two days, we were covering the same territory. But 10 KMS effortlessly turned into 100, and 100 turned into 1000, and before we knew it, we were in the same underground room in the same motel.  The same Wolf Creek bloke greeted us, and in the evening, we explored the Mad Max town relishing in the post-apocalyptic future.

Coober Pedy

Day twelve: Laura

The road from Coober Pedy to somewhere else is tough; it is flat, dull, with few distractions except for moments of lucid self-reflection (and horror).

But if there was one thing that made the long-drive home worth it, it was the pleasant town of Laura in South Australia.  It has a grand, broad, and laconic main street straddled by shops in various degrees of decline. We stayed in a stately old stone house with tastefully decorated rooms (and air-conditioning). We bought a bottle of wine from the local pub, some fish from the supermarket, and cooked up a feast. This was the first genuinely comfortable place we had stayed in the whole journey (again, thanks Air BB).

Laura, South Australia

Day thirteen: Dimboola

The drive from Laura to Dimboola was a leisurely one, the B-roads along the Clare Valley are winding and uneven, passing through many towns with slow speed limits (and places to buy coffee and cakes). It took most of the day to get to an A road and back into Victoria.

The Victoria Hotel, Dimboola

We arrived into Dimboola in the Wimmera region of Victoria early evening and pitched a tent under a tree and a noisy flock of cockatoos near the Wimmera River. We then sauntered to the legendary Victoria Hotel. This vast expanse of Victorian splendor  has an overly friendly front bar and a dining room in the rear along with a warren of rooms bursting with Victorian bling. It has a huge veranda overlooking the town claiming its place as the most essential institution for miles around.

The Victoria Hotel Dimboola

We had a shepherds pie with chips and salad and a beer or two or three before we made it back to the cockatoos.

  Day fourteen: Fitzroy

The last three or four hours back to Fitzroy were tough as I was tired and the driving had lost its adventure. It was an A to B sort of a drive, instrumentalism again wasting my time.  We arrived back home to Fitzroy (the centre of Australia) in mid-afternoon.

Overall, it was a great introductory adventure to the Outback, and I would recommend it to anyone who likes litres of coffee, and I am looking forward to driving the Oonadatta Track or Birdsville tracks one day soon.  

Beware..

Driving from Melbourne (Fitzroy) to Uluru (Ayres Rock)

Over the Christmas break, I plan to drive the immortal distance from Fitzroy in Melbourne to Uluru, Central Australia. I have never driven this far in Australia before, and luckily I will be with my dapper co-pilot, Sebastian from Cuenca in Ecuador (who I met during that other monumental road trip).

From that famous Australian road trip movie…

 

Thankfully we will be in an air-conditioned car with an icebox full of Coopers beer, and not on a moto, that wouldn’t be wise in the Australian desert during the height of broiling Summer.  We only have 14 days, which is relatively tight given the distance to The Rock, so an itinerary is obligatory.  Here it is (and I will blog along the way).

  1. Port Fairy, VIC (22/12)
  2. Adelaide, SA (23/12)
  3. Coober Pedy, SA (24/12)
  4. Uluru, NT (25/12)
  5. Uluru, NT (26/12)
  6. Kings Canyon, NT (27/12)
  7. Kings Canyon, NT (28/12)
  8. (somewhere in the desert) (29/12)
  9. Alice Springs, NT (30/12)
  10. Alice Springs, NT (31/12)
  11. Coober Pedy, SA (1/1)
  12. Laura, SA (2/1)
  13. Dimboola, VIC (3/1)
  14. Fitzroy! (4/1)

If anyone has any suggestions, I would love to hear from you.

Would you like to chat?” The Ethics of AI in Higher Education

I recently led a session at the eResearch Australasia conference on the ethics of AI in higher education. It is a big topic to handle, and I’m pretty new to this stuff, but the conversation went pretty well, and the awareness of both AI and ethics is high in this community.  The ethical challenges posed by AI are significant, but the benefits are also great, and it is vital for educators and citizens to be aware of both.  Here are some of the key points made by the audience (and I am pursuing the topic, so will post some more later on).

  • Off the shelf solution of AI can influence the decision making of research
  • There need to be transparency in machine decision making (or avoid certain decisions).  And we need to avoid a dependency on machine decisions
  • Perhaps a certification of AI products from a regulatory body
  • AI may have a negative impact on the job market

eResearch Australasia Conference, 2018

After many false dawns, AI may be gaining traction. Chatbots, Natural Language Processing, robots, autonomous vehicles, and the combination of big data and AI are all findings applications in a myriad of commercial, educational and other contexts.  AI was once about explicit commands; what you put in is what you got out, but now it is largely about machine learning and big data, about machines that not only learn, but also make decisions. This is behind a number of new and emergent applications in medicine, transport and education that hold great promise but also ethical challenges.

In particular, it is an ability to ‘make decisions’ that poses numerous ethical dilemmas; can an autonomous Volvo car chose to collide with either a pedestrian or a dog ‘ethically’; can a Google chatbot impersonate a human for nefarious purposes, and can an autonomous military drone decipher images of illicit activity and then take autonomous action?  These are not dystopian projections of a sci-fi future, rather these ethical issues that exist now well within the province of AI and its applications.

Whilst ethicists have provided critique, debate, and numerous ethical frameworks for an AI future, (indeed the Australian Government has just proposed a “technology roadmap, a standards framework and a national AI Ethics Framework”, and regulation in the space), higher education has been relatively quiet in terms of debating the impacts of AI on teaching and research and the broader HE education system.  Indeed, while AI applications are not yet fully realised in research, this could opportune time to think about them, before they are (and this change could occur quite rapidly as did the use of data in research across both the humanities and the sciences).

Some of the ethical issues posed include the stalwart of IT ethics, being privacy, but also new issues arise, particularly around transparency and the interpretation of data using machine learning and how these interpretations may influence later research findings, be credited as research work, and indeed impact upon broader society.  This is a particularly difficult issue as AI does afford many benefits in terms of the researcher’s ability to deal with the scale and complexity of big data, but there are things that machines are good at and things that people do better, and this intersection of machine and people intelligence, including ethical decision making, needs to be considered from the very emergence of AI in research.

This Birds of Feather session proposes to discuss the ethics of AI, big data and research, with the purpose of providing a basic ethical framework for emergent AI and in broader research practice.  This framework could be used as a stand-alone guide for researchers or as an addendum to existing research ethics, privacy and data processing guidelines

Reference:

  1. Anthony Seldon, “The Fourth Education Revolution”, University of Buckingham Press, 2018
  2. Rose Luckin, “Enhancing Learning and Teaching with Technology: What the research says” Institute of Education Press (IOE Press), 2018
  3. Bostrom, Nick. “Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies”, Oxford University Press, 2014
  4. Pollit, Edward.  “Budget 2018: National AI ethics framework on the way, Increased regulation signalled as part of $30m investment” Australian Computer Society, https://ia.acs.org.au/article/2018/budget-2018–ai-boost-with-an-ethical-focus.html (Accessed 13 June 2018).

https://conference.eresearch.edu.au/

Is there a beyond in Constructive Alignment?

Next week at the ASCILITE conference, I will be conducting a debate about the pros and cons of ‘Constructive Alignment’ in higher education, especially as it relates to digital learning tools.  Debates are a really good pedagogy in terms of outlining the pros and cons of a topic and building the soft and hard skills of participants.

The great debate at the ASCILITE Conference 2018. Beyond Constructive Alignment

Constructive Alignment has been with us for quite some time. From its origins in education theory in the 1990s, partly as a means to address some of the pedagogical challenges of scale in mass, higher-education, it has now become the dominant pedagogy in Australian higher education. Originally intended as a means to consistently and holistically design syllabi around learning outcomes and delivery and assessment methods (Biggs, 2003), it is now—as claimed in a recent book on the subject—an overly mechanistic, industrial process that may stifle innovation and creativity, some of the key skills of a 21st Century workplace and society (Nelson, 2018).  This is because of its slavish, uncritical application and lack of imagination regarding refreshing and building upon its significant legacy. Is there a Post-Constructive future and what may this future look like? And what does this mean for digital education, in its various guises, one of the more transformative areas of higher education? In this debate, we will survey the various applications of Constructive Alignment and perhaps imagine a Post-Constructivist future!

The great debate at the ASCILITE Conference 2018. Beyond Constructive Alignment

Significant efforts have been made to integrate constructive alignment principles in all aspects of the learning process. From writing the subject outline, the inclusion of subject content to align with the learning outcomes, the methods used to engage with the students and communicate the subject content, and the methods used to assess students through rubrics and fine-grained quantification. As a means to explicitly delineate the architecture of learning, it is, at times, a useful solution; however problems arise when this architecture becomes too rigid, reductive and pragmatic, as it engenders conformity, passivity, and a strategic, instrumentalist approach to education that undermines the independence, judgement, curiosity and creativity of both educator and student (Nelson, 2018).  

Digital mediated education, one of liveliest area of innovation in higher education, has a lot to lose from the uncritical embrace of Constructive alignment as computer technology can easily be co-opted for instrumentalist, industrial processes. It is rigid architectures that we must resist in designing our education as it was flexibility, creativity, risk, and imagination that brought us computing technology in the first place.

The great debate at the ASCILITE Conference 2018. Beyond Constructive Alignment

Is it possible to imagine a Post-Constructivist future, one with fewer rubrics, fewer criteria; with fewer pre-packaged learning outcomes and with more independent learning and creativity? Is there a limit to the extent of ‘constructive alignment’ that a topic may bare; the more fine-grained the rubric, it seems, the more it privileges the actual creator of the rubric, rather than the creators of knowledge that it seeks to quantify. Can we imagine something beyond Constructive Alignment; a scaffolding of the learning process in a less mechanistic, less prescriptive, and less reductive manner? Constructive Alignment may become the uncritical and unimaginative deference for an emergent generation of followers rather than leading creatives and innovators.

Can we revitalise Constructive Alignment or can we imagine a Post-Constructivist future?

References:

Biggs, J.B. Enhancing teaching through constructive alignment, Higher Education, 32(3), 347-364.  1996.

Biggs, J.B. Teaching for Quality Learning at University. What the student does. Second Edition. Maidenhead: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press 2003.

Mimirinis, Mike. ‘Constructive alignment’ and learning technologies: some implications for the quality of teaching and learning in higher education, Seventh IEEE International Conference on Advanced Learning Technologies (ICALT 2007)

Nelson, Robert, Creativity Crisis: Towards a Post-constructivist education future, Melbourne, Monash University Publishing, 2018.

Black Cat Fitzroy

Black Cat Fitzroy

I’ve been visiting the Black Cat Fitzroy for as long as I can remember. The first time I came to this bohemian dive was sometime around 1988. It has managed to reinvent and reinvigorate itself, perhaps a little more than I have. It was one of the original cafes in the district that helped build the artsy Brunswick Street of today. I come here every Sunday and chill and listen to some good Sunday arvo music. A legendary institution.

Returning to South America

Late last year, I returned to Ecuador in South America on snug annual leave to revisit that agreeable country. I was there for just over a week, which was admittedly, a bit ‘loco’ considering I spent about a similar amount of time on aeroplanes getting there.

Flying over so much rich geo-cultural context like a Modern, instrumentalist corpse in a cheap-tin-coffin aeroplane was almost worth it to visit Quito, Cuenca, and my Ecuadorian mates again. I say almost worth it because it was frustrating not being able to explore and unpack some of the curious cultural layers and geography in Ecuador. I was restricted to the urban areas and did not see the jungle nor the coast, two regions of Ecuador I have yet to explore.

Plaza de Armas Quito

And, in Ecuador, a country where over 90% of the population has some degree of indigenous heritage, they celebrate Columbus day as a national holiday 600 years after contact. Sure it has been “indigenised”, but they do not deny this history, it is what they are, contradictions and all.

As one of my favourite Australian historians once said, it is as though Australians cannot hold two (contradictory) ideas in their head at the same time; especially regarding our national ‘Australia Day” holiday it seems (which is held upon the date the first fleet came to Australia from ‘Modernity’ in 1788).

Many Indigenous South Americans have appropriated ‘Spanishness’ and utilise it as a form of identity and resistance in a world dominated by slavish consumer conformity.  Perhaps Captain Cook could also become a symbol of resistance to a much more pervasive and destructive form of contemporary Modernity.

Bullet proof moto

I have been riding a perfunctory and rather average Suzuki GS500 for close to 10 years now. In fact, I like them so much, that this is my third one. I rode a GS every day in London for three years, which was some of the best bus-dodging moto-riding of my life, and I have had two in Melbourne.

They are robust, nimble and forgiving of bad riding, they hardly ever need servicing, they are skinny enough to negotiate peak hour traffic, and big enough to escape the city on weekends (unless there is a headwind).  They aren’t particularly powerful, but as a daily beat-the-city-grind bike, you can’t go wrong.  You could possibly do a circuit of Australia on one of these things, at least this is what I tell myself as I manoeuvre the Benthamite grid of humanity as I ride home each night.

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