Personal and Professional Blog 9th January 2015

Two weeks between my last blog of 2014 and my first one for 2015.

In the last one I reflected a bit on AEA (Association for Education and Ageing. I’m pleased to say that our efforts to get a bid together for a small grant from BSG (British Society of Gerontology) have been successful. We are looking at a date in June to have a seminar on later life leaning with a view to seeing up a special interest group focused on this area. AEA has been thinking about how to develop closer links with BSG for some time and I think this could be a useful way to do that.
In the last day or so I have booked my ticket for the joint MICRA,AEA, Manchester Metropolitan University event on sexuality in later life. The details are here:

Older people and sexual wellbeing: research, practice and educational issues
From MICRA, Manchester Metropolitan University, the Association for Education and Ageing (AEA) and Age UK
Friday 6 February 2015
• Seminar 2.00pm-4.00pm, free networking lunch from 1.00pm
• G306B, Jean McFarlane Building, The University of Manchester M13 9PL
Speakers:
• Dr David Lee, Age UK Research Fellow, The University of Manchester – ‘Sexual health, quality of life and well-being among older people in England’
• Professor Josie Tetley, Professor in Nursing, Ageing and Long Term Conditions, Manchester Metropolitan University – ‘Let’s talk about sex – what do older men and women say about their sexual relations and sexual activities’
• Dr Sharron Hinchliff, Senior Lecturer in Social/Health Psychology, The University of Sheffield – ‘Sexual health and well-being in middle and late adulthood: current knowledge and future directions’
Human sexuality is a universal part of living but stereotypes of older adults continue to ignore sexuality, and the question of how important sexual health and fulfilment is to overall health and wellbeing has been largely neglected. Questioning whether sexual decline is an unavoidable consequence of growing older reflects changes in the ways in which we view ageing. There is a view that the sexual health of older people, particularly in terms of defining ‘normal’ versus ‘abnormal’, has become overly medicalised, focussing on the physiological mechanisms of ‘dysfunction’ and neglecting the potential importance of social and behavioural factors. This seminar will explore some of the current issues around sexual lifestyles and ageing, examining how sexual health issues contribute to wellbeing in later life, what factors older men and women specifically identify as impacting on their sexual activities and relationships, and future directions for research and practice.

I hope this is one of a number of conferences that AEA will be involved with. AEA has made a conference booking for the first annual ForAge/AEA conference. It will be held at the Open University (OU) main campus in Milton Keynes. Dates are Wednesday 23rd to Thursday 24th September 2015 (advised arrival date 22nd September).

I addition to this I am hoping we will be able to have a conference to follow up on the first one we had that looked at older workers and work transitions and have one about positive ageing.
I also need to get cracking on developing the programme at the Open University in relation to informal learning – the next step of which will be a journal club meeting – probably in March, as this would give a month’s break from a writing group that takes place on 5th February. I might what synergies there are and approach a couple of people to talk about their writing in relation to informal learning.

As this blog has developed a conference theme, I will add that Colin McCaig, Marion Bowl, Ann-Marie Bathmaker and I now have a symposium proposal in for the BERA conference on Belfast this September, Prospects for equity and differentiation in a marketised Higher Education system with my paper called, ‘Contesting the imaginary market in HE through an exploration of the implications of the marketisation for equity and differentiation’. The paper will analyse some of the economic jargon that forms the discourses of marketisation but I had to smile to myself that I had managed to pack so much jargon into the title. The plan is that developing this symposium will help develop the co-authored book proposal we are planning.

I’ve decided that I will go for 1200k as a running target again this year , and (early days I know) nicely on schedule. I will also aim to maintain a (more-or-less) weekly blog. it would probably help if I identified a regular slot to do this – in the past I went for Wednesday morning, might try this again.

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Personal and Professional Blog 23rd December 2014

Just over two weeks since the last blog on 7th December 2014 and I’d like to think that the gap is an indication of how busy I have been. In my last blog I mentioned about putting in a bid to the British Society of Gerontology from AEA to run a seminar and possibly develop a later life interest group within BGS. Thanks to some great team work from the AEA exec. This bid went off in time. Fingers crossed!
I also had a very interesting meeting with AEA member Hilary Lindsay who is also an Open University colleague. Hilary completed her EdD last year (with the Open University) and has used her research as the basis for a fascinating book, called Adaptability. It is fascinating because of the way it links thinking about CPD (Continuing Professional Development) with learning at work, informal (and formal) learning and lifelong learning. Hilary talks about the difference between learning as acquisition and learning as participation. She suggests that this may be a more useful way to think about learning than seeing it in terms of formal and informal.
Learning by acquisition involves” individual acquiring, storing and using knowledge” and contrasts with learning by participation when people learn “from interaction and relationships” (Lindsay, 2014, 20).
I think this way of seeing learning has all sorts of implications some of which are directly relevant to much of the work I have been doing this year. It certainly applies to the Badged Open Courses (due to go live in the New Year). The BOCs show how learning can often include elements of acquisition (for example on the Succeed with Maths BOC, it is clear that knowledge about maths will be acquired). But the BOCs also include elements of interaction and reflection to try and ensure that learning also occurs through participation. I also think that thinking in terms of acquisition and of participation is useful when it comes to assessing learning that is at the informal end of the continuum. It also is a good way to think about assessing reflective tasks and activities.
I also think it is a helpful way to think about learning in later life. Much of this learning focuses on the participative aspects. This was very apparent when we looked at the European projects that AEA has been involved with (Memory, Wellbeing and ForAge). What emerged very strongly is that there is a fundamental assumption that participation is not just beneficial but will also lead to learning (although quite what learning has occurred is not always clear).
I think it is to the credit of the effect of AEA input to these projects that the untested assumptions of participation have been highlighted. I think this has been brought about because there has been a balancing of learning by participation as knowledge has been acquired by participants. This is perhaps most evident on the Memory project where new knowledge has been acquired – captured in the excellent project handbook developed by Keith Percy.
It’s been a very full year for me personally and professionally. I’ve said in previous blogs that I think the boundaries between personal and professional are permeable ones for academics and I think that’s increasingly so for what Martin Weller describes as ‘digital scholarship’. This applies particularly to my involvement with AEA which straddles the personal/professional boundary.
It has been a busy year as far as AEA is concerned. In 2014 in addition to our annual conference in Milton Keynes we have organised a seminar about later life work transitions and one about memory. In addition we have been actively involved in the three European projects I have just mentioned which has involved a great deal of work for Sasha Anderson and Keith Percy, especially when a disgruntled former Forage partner waged their own cyber war on the Forage website. AEA has an on-going commitment to Forage and we are already planning a two day international conference in Milton Keynes (Learning in Later Life: Well-being, Development, Memory) on 23rd and 24th September 2015. This event will be the culmination of events to mark the 30 years since the foundation of AEA.
That’s one date for your diary, another is 6th February 2015, in Manchester when AEA working with Manchester University (thanks to Chris Phillipson)and Manchester Metropolitan University (thanks to Josie Tetley) is organising a seminar focused on later life sexuality.
I hope that all these events will be opportunities to learn both by acquisition and by participation. I also hope to see you there.

Personal and Professional Blog 7th December 2014

Another weekend blog, although it’s nearly two weeks since the previous blog (23 November 2014).
In that blog I wrote about a number of targets and deadlines that I was juggling. Some of those were self-imposed and other arose from work deadlines. In particaulr I mentioned my personal running target, the Annual Quality Report for my unit at the OU, Reading the first draft of a new Badged Open Course and giving feedback to a two of my doctoral students. I’ve also had to get a pre-viva report in for a thesis I’m examining next Friday.
I’m quite pleased that I’ve managed to do all these on time, although I think I would have been more dissatisfied with myself that anyone else would have been if I had not finished any of these. I guess that’s the thing about personal targets-they are personal.
The main casualty on the target front has been the running schedule. By today I should really be on 1125k but in fact I’m only 1111k, so I’m hoping to get a longer run in today to get within touching distance of that target.
Having to prioritise also means that I’ve had to forego a couple of seminars that looked interesting, particularly one on London about adult learning. I’ve also had to delay getting on to mother things including the work to pull an outline proposal for a co-edited book about the interactions between market forces, diversity and equity in higher education.
However, some things survived. We had an AEA executive committee meeting on 26th November which I thought went really well and resulted in the committee ‘signing up’ to a campaign to increase membership. There as also a lot of subsequent email discussion between AEA committee members about putting in na bid for a small bid to the British of Gerontology for a seminar/workshop with a view to setting up a special interest group around later life learning.
Both this excellent and the exec committee meeting itself led to new thing to do; as did the meeting that discussed the quality report, so I need to balance these with those other things that I haven’t done yet. Just checking in my diary, and I see that I have a fairly clear week with only a couple of meetings. So I’ll have no excuse not to be able to tick off a few more things.

Personal and Professional Blog 23rd November 2014

What began life as a mid-week blog seems to be turning into a week end blog. Perhaps that makes more sense if I want it to be more reflective and there is a bit more time at the weekends.
I’ve also been invigorated to do this by having gone out on a 10k run out into the nearby countryside. Although a dull November morning it was great to be out. I had read (in Running Bug I think) about a breathing technique that is supposed to do all sorts of marvellous things including increasing core stability, minimising joint injury and making you go faster. Basically you breathe out for 2 paces and breathe in for 3. This means that you alternate striking foot at various points in the breathing cycle. it took a little getting used at first but I did think it helped me to go faster, possibly it’s the psychological effect of counting 1-2 and then 1-2-3. Anyway, the 10k today took my 2014 total to 1080 – 0.8k ahead of my self-imposed schedule.
I’ve said before that I never quite know what I’m going to write before I write it and the words self-imposed that I’ve just written made me stop and think.
Self-imposed – why do we set ourselves targets? Personally, I feel good if I do what is said I was going to do (and feel disappointed in myself if I don’t). A good example of this is this blog. I don’t think many people read it but that’s not really the point. I’ve set myself the target of doing a weekly blog, so I feel satisfied when I’ve done my blog and twitchy if I haven’t. That’s exactly like my running. I feel good that I’m on schedule to do 1200k this year but begin to feel slightly irked if I get behind.
These thoughts lead on to a realisation that there have been quite a few targets to meet this week. Some of them have been mundane – like making sure I’m on time to catch a train. Others are perhaps a bit more significant such as those that involve reading through a first draft of the next Badged Open Course that will come on stream early next year. I need to have this done by tomorrow or the day after so that the authors can revise the draft, again with a view to meeting target dates. Another that has been around this week was finalising the rationale (‘business case’) for the Open University Ageing Societies module I’m working on. I also wanted to finish a review of a paper for the Widening Participation and Lifelong Learning Journal. Next week I need to finish my draft of the Annual Quality Report as well as finishing comments on chapters one of my EdD students has been working on.
So many of my deadlines and targets (at work at least) relate to those of other people –they are not so stand-alone or individualistic as my running totals or blog posts. So targets and deadlines are one way to try and ensure that work gets done. But what unites both personal and professional targets is that they are an attempt to exert a measure of control over a messy reality. Perhaps it’s the realisation that the ice we are skating over is always of variable and unpredictable thickness that makes planning and targets setting so seductive. They give an illusion of control (and may aid productivity) but they will always be subject to (at best) considered revision and (at worst) total destruction).

Personal and Professional Blog 16th November 2014

The gap since the last blog of 29th October 2014 results from having been away on a combined ForAge business meeting and conference about later life learning in Lisbon and Porto as well as a range of other commitments and involvements. These included attending Brian Findsen’s ‘farewell’ lecture in in Leicester on the 31st October (Learning in later life: Concepts, examples and issues). I have also had Badging Project catch up meetings and the associated work as we head towards the launch of the first five badged open courses. I’ve also been involved in discussions about the new Open University module (‘Ageing societies’); attended a Student Research Project (SRPP) panel meeting and a UCU exec meeting to discuss the industrial action in relation to pensions. I also sang in a thoroughly enjoyable OU Choir concert which included a piece by Randall Thompson based on seven poems by Robert Frost (‘Frostiana’). I’ve even managed to keep up with my running. I managed to do a 10k run in Lisbon and another one in Porto which took me out to the mouth of the River Douro.
While I was attending the meeting and conference in Portugal, I posted to Twitter, so if you want to have a look at some of the things that went on you can go to @JonEmHughes. I also (with Josie Tetley) live-tweeted from the Seminar organised by the Open University and the Centre for Policy on Ageing on #cabsdementia.

In the last blog I went on about some of my reservation about the lack of ethics in relation to research into later life learning. I’m afraid that found cause for the same reservations about come of the presentation from the Porto conference. Some were excellent but these tended not be (with a couple of exceptions) the one that were based on UK practice or on disciplines like psychiatry from that approaches informed by educational gerontology.

This reinforced the feeling I shared in the last blog that I think there is a need for an ethical code for research and work with older adults and learners so that researchers must abandon a starting point that assumes that older people or older learners will have particular needs simply as a consequence of chronological age. Not to do this simply creates another instance of old ageism and stereotyping rather than creating a research space in which an already prevalent ageism can be countered.
This means that there needs to be a fundamental ethic of exposing age-related discrimination with a view to showing what is valued and transforming for people across the life course.
At the dementia seminar it was interesting to hear Sheila Peace mention that the Academy of Social Sciences is asking learned societies to work together on such a framework.
While I was in Lisbon I drafted a blog. This noted that ForAge is a Grundtvig Multi-lateral Partnership which aims to capture all the work done under the Grundtvig programme over the years. I heard someone suggest that there have been around 1000 such projects. The aim was to make sure that the learning from these projects was placed on the ForAge database. AEA has taken on responsibility for developing both the database and the associated website (www.foragenetwork.eu/). Forage currently includes 15 partners but work has been hampered by the fact that a former partner who designed the website has had to withdraw after being found to be eligible as a partner.
AEA will have a continuing role in relation to ForAge. In the short time remaining before the project finishes AEA will be working hard to add more projects to the database. Thereafter AEA is committed to maintaining the database. Potentially this could provide a crucial role for AEA. The database itself has the potential to be a really useful resource to mine in a scholarly way to illuminate the ethical issues in relation to older learners and to help understand what works and why. The database has, I believe, the potential to enable scholars to take a critical interest in later life learning (and ageing in general) is perceived and acted on in Europe.

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To further this critical interest, AEA plans to hold regular AEA-ForAge conferences as well as sustaining the database. One possible focus would be to develop something around memory and well-being. While in Portugal, I was struck by how often you end up talking to people you have not met before about memories. For example, I shared memories of my first day at school; I tried to recall the name of a Charles Darwin biographer (Jim Moore) and talked to someone who is writing a biography of Victorian mountaineer, Lizzy Leblond. I hope that the work that has gone into the ForAge project will also be kept in people’s memories through the work of AEA.

Personal and Professional Blog 29th October 2014

The two week gap since this last blog (14th October 2014) is a result of having been away on a conference organised by the ELOA (Education and Learning of Older Adults) Network which is part of ESREA (European Society for Research into the Education of Adults).
While I was attending this conference (in Malta) I posted to Facebook and Twitter, so if you want to have a look at some of the things that went on you can go to @JonEmHughes or Jonathan Hughes (on Facebook).

Association for Education and Ageing (AEA) members were well represented in Malta; AEA had its own parallel session which ioncluded four papers by AEA members (Keith Percy, Anne Jamieson, Trish Hafford-Letchfield, Jane Watts and me). In a different session AEA member Jo Walker gave a fascinating paper about spirituality which concluded with her circulating a postcard of a Carravagio painting that hangs in the Oratory of St John’s Cathedral in Valletta. (I have tweeted this).

There are two wonderful Carravagio painintngs in the cathedral that face each other from opposite ends of the room. The more famous is The Beheading of John the Baptist, which is the only painting signed by Carravagio (he uses the ‘blood’ running across the floor from the just-severed head).

The other I found more moving. It’s a picture of St Jerome writing. Sitting at his desk, his cardinal’s hat hangs on the wall behind him. His red robes have been loosened to show a lean but clearly older body. His face is browner and emphasises that this is not a picture of someone in their youth. Yet St Jerome is still active, he is busy writing into a book. St Jerome translated the bible into Latin, but I don’t think that this is what he is doing here as there is just one volume. I couldn’t help wondering whether we are supposed to think that he is writing one of his many letters.
Be that as it may he is clearly intellectually engaged. However, on his desk are three objects, a skull, a stone and a crucifix. These all have symbolic importance. The skull is a reminder of mortality, the crucifix of his faith and the stone, that he also is a material object and part of the world.
I’ve gone on about this at some length because it struck me is Malta that there was a disjunction between the way that we see St Jerome in this picture and that way that some researchers see older people. The image of St Jerome should be a reminder that we may have something to learn from people who have lived longer. In contrast I think that some of the papers presented in Malta assumed that older people are lacking and need to be helped to do better by younger people.
This led me to raise the question, Should younger people research into older people? Feminism has helped question whether men should conduct research into women and question should be raised if White people research Black people ethnicity. One of the other papers (presented by Brian Findsen) pointed out that research related to Maori in Aotearoa/New Zealand is controlled by Maoris. so is all these field it is simply not acceptable for people to research into ‘other’ people; at the very least those who are the objects of research have to become participant ’subjects’ and invite the otherwise dominant group to share joint research enterprise.
I appreciate that ageing is, in some ways, different from gender and ethnicity. After all, we are all ageing and we will all, if we live long enough, grow old. But I don’t think this justifies a binary of young/old. Assuming a category of ‘old person’ and then researching ‘into’ them or setting up interventions or programmes without engaging in ‘authentic dialogue’ (another term used in Malta) around needs and desires is just not acceptable.
So, I think we need an ethical code for research and work with older adults and learners which specifically addresses whether the issues are different for older and younger researchers.
I’m not sure.
I generally think that age by itself is rarely a key feature. If this is true then the need to research with older people (rather than into older people) should apply to all researchers and practitioners regardless of age; as other dynamic like class, ethnicity and gender will also come into play.
What’s probably more important is that researchers (of whatever age) must abandon a starting point that assumes that older people or older learners will have particular needs simply as a consequence of chronological age. Not to do this simply creates another instance of old ageism and stereotyping rather than creating a research space in which an already prevalent ageism can be countered.
This means that there needs to be a fundamental ethic of exposing age-related discrimination with a view to showing what is valued and transforming for people across the life course.
This would help recognise that advanced age does bring with it particular lifecourse issues. In a key note presentation Malcom Johnson used the idea of ‘finitude’, the realisation that there is not much time left and that to make sense of this a form of learning that can be called spiritual is needed.
However, even here I would argue that this sort of spiritual awareness or literacy needs to be developed throughout life. None of us actually know how much time we have left and responses to the issues we need to face in late life need to be worked out earlier.
I also couldn’t help wondering about the implications for AEA. Perhaps we should look to position ourselves to suggest (through our networks) who might act as a ‘critical friend’; commenting on research proposals and developing partnerships between researchers and older people. We might also want to think about how spiritual literacy could be promoted.

Personal and Professional Blog 14th October 2014

Last week I attended a meeting my union (UCU) had organised to set out wy we need to vote for strike action to protect our pensions. I already know that the plan involved higher contributions for a far less attractive scheme but I had not realised how bad the news was – basically the University Superannuation Scheme (USS) has been hi-jacked by its own board who seem hell-bent on converting it into a glorified saving scheme. This does not stop them paying themselves high fees and anything that’s left might get paid out as a pension. This makes it impossible for people with many working years left to plan provision for their retirement. This is in contrast to the current (Defined benefits scheme) which does mean that people’s pensions are predictable).
I was so incensed by this that I made sure that all my colleagues in CICP were aware of this threat to their pension income.
The following day I travelled to Sheffield to meet with two colleagues. The three of us are planning to co-edit a book looking at the process of marketisation in higher education. It is unlikely that there will ever be a fully-fledged market in higher education but the process of marketisation (becoming more like a market) does seem to be stratifying universities and has major implications for widening participation.
The two meetings seemed to be linked. The proposed pension changes and the marketisation focus of the proposed book both show what the direction of travel is in the higher education sector. The process of marketisation is supposed to make higher education more efficient but does always make it more equitable. I think that what is happening in relation to the USS pension scheme, which applies to people working in institutions that were universities before 1992, is another example of market forces being allowed to play the central role. It also means that in comparison with public sector schemes funded by the Treasury (like the Teachers’ Pension Scheme), the USS will be inferior.
Markets are subject to market failures. In relation to these proposed changes, a possible market failure could be that it will make it harder to recruit to pre-1992 universities. They may be tempted to offer alternative arrangements to ‘star performers’, leaving the vast majority of staff with inadequate and unpredictable pensions.
This blog is slightly delayed because Anita and I spent the weekend near Pembridge, Herefordshire in a ‘pod’. (I’ve posted pictures on Twitter and Facebook). This is basically like an upturned wooden boat hull. As they are equipped with heating and lighted they are quite cosy. We spent two misty, autumnal days exploring the Black and White Villages of Herefordshire, a really nice break.