By Deb Whittington


December 28, 2011

Hello James et al.  A very interesting and thought provoking commentary on our ever changing quest for knowledge, albeit Canadian.  I suspect that most teachers in western countries feel much the same. I pondered responding directly to your Tar Pit piece James but thought that an introduction was in order.

Before commenting, I would like to first introduce myself, mainly to contextualise my response.

My name is Deb Whittington and I am a Lecturer in vocational studies in the Printing & Graphic Arts Training Package at Central Institute of Technology in Western Australia.  Training Packages have been created for all core industry groups at a National level in Australia in a partnership between Learning Providers, Industry and the Federal Government, and constitute minimum knowledge and skills required by industry.

They are at once both simpler and harder than traditional curriculum, and contain units of competence, each with their own elements of competence with criteria.  Students are assessed both on-the-job and/or in a simulated workplace, as competent or not yet competent.  There is no pass mark.  Pure and simple – you can either do it, or you can’t.  You either have the knowledge, or you don’t.  The acquisition of knowledge, understanding and competence is overseen by workplace trainers and assessors with significant, high level experience and knowledge.  I occupy that position with tenure.

Training Packages do not replace traditional high school, though many schools are now opting to deliver simulated workplace training and assessment as a vocational alternative to traditional, academic studies.

I must first say that I am by no means a traditional academic!

People talk about life long learning.  I have been blessed with a moderately high intellect, and have been greedily learning all that I could on subjects that have fascinated me since I was 3 years old.  I am now 57 and I still feel that I am in a lolly shop full of knowledge and there is not enough time to explore and learn all that I would like.  But like many young people today, I need a better reason to learn than that it is “what is required”.

I’m fascinated by Jungian type theory and it’s role as a potential tool to understanding and nurturing aptitude and talent, with particular regard to left-brain/right-brain balance skills such as graphic technologies.  In terms of MBTI and Keirsey’s Temperament Theory, my own preferences are towards INTP with balanced I/E, moderate preferences for T over F and P over J, and very strong preferences for N over S.  I have no S preferences on testing.

With your indulgence I will later post some of my observations, hypotheses and discussions over the past 10 years relating to learning, technologies, design and type (as in typology) preferences.  I believe there are some very interesting correlations between the epidemic, modern diagnosis of AD/HD and Dyslexia, and aptitude for learning, technology and creativity.  This has been supported in discussion with a number of learning gurus.

In response to your piece James, there is a plethora of information available as a result of the technologies of today, BUT I believe our role as educators and trainers is to provide guidance through that minefield of often insufficient or inaccurate information, to teach students to question everything, have faith in themselves, to have the joy of curiosity (or as noted Nobel physicist, Richard Feynman’s book suggests – “The Pleasure of Finding Things Out”), and to synthesise and provide context for their learning rather than pursue the old rote learning those of my age were often subjected to at school.  We need to teach them to make informed decisions from a sound understanding.

At the beginning of each semester I ask my students who is there for the piece of paper, and who is there for the knowledge and understanding.  Interestingly, to me at least, those who say they want the piece of paper, frequently do not achieve it.  Those, however, who aspire to the knowledge and understanding, are often their own worst taskmasters, and rarely fail at achieving the piece of paper.

We must return I believe to where knowledge and understanding, and provision of sound reason for methodology, are again the prime target of we educators and trainers.  The other will follow.


  • By Jim Kinney - 1:38 PM on January 5, 2012  

    Deb. Thank You for taking the time to read and reflect on my post. Thank you, also, for taking the time to provide a hermeneutic key to provide context for your response. I look forward to hearing from you. On your point about guidance, however, I hold that it is difficult to provide adequate guidance for domains that have just emerged. This has a flattening effect on traditional hierarchies of authority, to my mind. At best we can provide anecdotes about when we went off wandering into the unknown and what challenges we faced. We can show them what we mapped and how we mapped it and then, as you say, encourage them “to question everything, have faith in themselves, to have the joy of curiousity…” The fact that we are there to tell our story of our leap into the maelstrom is an assurance that they too can do the same if they have faith in themselves and believe in our account of the way things were. For me, technology is one of those things that sets us apart from the natural order: the homo faber argument comes to mind. It has been around since the emergence of homo sapiens sapiens. Rather, it is the hyperbolic pace of change that is unprecedented in its effects on our ability to adapt and thrive that is at the root of the issue that I am exploring. On an ecological level alone we should eschew this mad cycle of innovation (Manufactured Landscapes by Ed Burtynski comes to mind:
    But I am not that naive and I recognize that there is no going back, as it were. I am asking us to use it but use it not in consonance with a consumption model but to hold it to account to deeper humane and sustainable values on one hand while trying to harness its natural turbulence in a more effective manner. I have done a lot of work on developing RISK based learning (which we now call crowdsourcing) over the last 8 years that strives to harmonize the activities of organizations, be they businesses or institutions, etc. with the innovation cycles of the hardware and software companies that churn out innovation. The challenge, to my mind, can be put thus: If the software/hardware industry can organize their activities in such a way that they are producing innovation/obsolescence on a 12 to 18 month cycle, how do we organize our activities too coincide with that reality? I am finding that the answer lies in how software companies are organized and how that organization is built directly into the frameworks of the things they build that allows them to transcend space, time, organizational patterns and priorities, etc. I have been learning a lot from looking into how object oriented programming has been structured in order to facilitate widespread collaborations that can rapidly prototype, deploy, maintain and revise products on the fly. I am currently trying to simulate these conditions in a design lab and I have witnessed the production of quality learning materials go hyperbolic. To me, this points the way for responding to this challenge. We call this collective response/resource The Knowledge Garden. You will be interested to know that I have 3 students currently building an interactive History of Visual Communications/Typography App that will supplement in-class learning on typography.

    Again, Deb. Thanks for your reflection and I really want to read more from you.

  • By Deb Whittington - 1:31 AM on January 11, 2012  


    my apologies for the delay in answering your response. I had surgery to remove a disc in my neck last Tuesday. I will recover a little more before I respond to your response with the thought it deserves.