The 2019 Election: Campaign and Predictions

This post has only one merit: I’ll consult it on Thursday (or Wednesday evening) to see where I was wrong in my expectations.

Major themes of the election campaign

The 2019 campaign has been weird in many ways. First of all, the electoral campaign began de facto with the agreement over the 2019 budget. That is nearly six months of campaigning. The government tried to use the time to create a political momentum by entering agreements over health care, transport and infrastructure, immigration and, finally, early retirement. None of this yielded any benefits in opinion polls for the government side.

Second, the Social Democrats have played a game of reversing nearly all of its policies from the Thorning era and delaying policy announcements on controversial issues until after the election. The Social Democrats under Mette Frederiksen have designed themselves as the party of the Male Danish Blue-Collar Industrial Worker of the 1960s, but it is really hard to see how the party will meet the challenges of the 2020s.

Third, judging from analyses of voter movements, the Social Democrats appear to have taken over the role of the transit terminal of Danish politics. SD attracts voters from the Liberals and the Danish People’s Party, while losing voters to the other “Red” parties.

Fourth, during May the Liberals have been busy reversing their economic policies of the 2015-2019 term. Somehow voters are to believe that both Social Democrats and Liberals are completely transformed parties.

Fifth, the campaign was hijacked in the early stages by an excentric (to say the least) xenophobe, bringing immigration and integration back on the political agenda. Or maybe not: Perhaps the correct analysis is that some 10-20% of the electorate are highly motivated by anti-immigration and -integration policies, while the remaining 80-90% have other concerns.

Finally, it has been very hard to see how the parties have adressed health care and climate, which were on top of voters’ agenda, in the campaign.

Which results should we expect on Wednesday?

The easy one: The five parties of the Red bloc (Social Democrats, the Red-Green Alliance, the Socialist People’s Party, the Social Liberals and the Alternative) should win a majority of the votes and seats. I would expect the votes to be divided 50/50 between the Social Democrats and the other four parties.

The almost-as-easy one: The Danish People’s Party will suffer heavy losses and perhaps see its worst result since 2001. Nobody expected this six months ago.

The difficult one: Will Hard Line and New Bourgeois cancel each other out, leaving both parties below the 2% threshold, or will one or both parties enter parliament? Similarly, will the Christian Democrats benefit from voter disaffection with the Liberals and win a constituency seat in Western Jutland? We could have three new right-wing parties represented in parliament – or no new parties.

The others: Light losses for the Liberals, wins for the Conservatives, the Socialist Peoples’ Party and the Social Liberals and losses for Liberal Alliance and the Alternative.

Which government will we get?

Good question. The money are on Mette Frederiksen as the next prime minister. The Social Democrats want a single-party minority government, but the other “Red” parties will want to control the SD one way or the other – either by entering a formal coalition or by some kind of cooperation agreement.

The 2019 General Election – First Impressions

When Prime Minister Lars Løkke Rasmussen called a general election for June 5, it marked the end of an unusual parliamentary term and the election looks set to be equally unusual.

First, the 2015 election saw the Danish People’s Party win an exceptional 21,1 % of the vote while the Liberal Party (Venstre) suffered a significant loss of votes compared to the 2011 election: 19,5 %, down from 26,2 % in 2011.

Second, despite the loss, the Liberals were able to form a one-party minority government which was the weakest in terms of direct parliamentary support since Poul Hartling’s 1973-1975 government. The Løkke Rasmussen II government was also the first one-party government since Anker Jørgensen’s last Social Democratic government which was in office 1981-1982.

Third, Løkke expanded his government in December 2016 by including the two small centre-right parties, Liberal Alliance and the Conservative People’s Party (Konservative Folkeparti) following a very complicated negotiating process leading up to the agreement between the three parties and the Danish People’s Party on the 2017 budget. This was the first time since the formation of the Social Democratic – Liberal government in 1978 that a Danish prime minister expanded the government during an electoral term.

Generally, the 2015-2019 term has been characterized by conflicts between the Løkke Rasmussen governments on the one hand and the Danish People’s Party (Dansk Folkeparti) with the governments trying to accomodate DPP demands for tighter immigration policies while (unsuccessfully) trying to pass tax cuts for high-income earners. The DPP has been engaged in a sort of indirect warfare against the Liberals with the smaller Liberal Alliance being the object of most of the direct attacks. The effect has been to make the centre-right “Blue” bloc look unstable and inconsistent.

In the final months of the parliamentary term, the government has tried to regain control of the political agenda by entering agreements with the DPP including continued tightenings of immigration and integration policies, a reform of the organisation of the public health care system, investments in road transport and finally an early retirement agreement. The latter even has the potential of undermining central Social Democratic electoral promises of easing early access to the old-age pension system for manual workers as the Social Liberal Party (Radikale Venstre) joined the four centre-right parties in the agreement.

None of this has had any effect in reviving the government’s fortunes in opinion polls. In fact, the last six months has seen a collapse in DPP support with the party now polling 12-15 % of the vote and with the Liberal Alliance also facing major losses in the election. To add insult to injury, the centre-right is experiencing a major fragmentation on the extreme right with two new anti-immigration parties, the New Bourgeois (Nye Borgerlige) and Hard Line (Stram Kurs) competing with the Liberals and DPP for the xenophobic vote. In the unlikely event of a centre-right win, Lars Løkke Rasmussen would have to navigate between parties setting up ultimate demands on immigration policy – many of which would put Danish participation in the EU and international agreements in jeopardy – and economic policy. A party set up by maverick businessman Klaus Riskjær Petersen has only added to the confusion.

Meanwhile, the centre-left is also characterised by disagreements between the parties. The Social Democrats under Mette Frederiksen who took over as party leader immediately after the 2015 election has put a major effort into reversing the party’s policies on immigration and economic policy in an attempt to attract traditional blue-collar voters from the DPP.

While the strategy, which has also included attempts to create an alternative bloc consisting of Social Democrats, the DPP and the Socialist People’s Party (SF) to exclude the Social Liberals and the Red-Green Alliance (Enhedslisten) from any influence on immigration and integration policy, has stabilised Social Democratic support, it has at the same time strained the relationships between the five parties in the “Red” bloc with the Social Liberals, the Red-Greens and the green Alternative Party (Alternativet) declaring that Mette Frederiksen could not automatically count on their support in the formation of an new government after the election.

Polling trends on the centre-left point to a complicated picture with the Social Democrats gaining votes from the DPP but looking set to only marginally improve its overall performance from the 2015 election. At the same time, the Social Liberals, the Red-Greens and the Socialist People’s Party, which all call for more liberal immigration and integration policies, look set to gain votes. The overall picture thus is one of polarisation on the “value politics” or GAL-TAN scale while both blocs suffer from internal conflicts over economic and tax policies. At the same time polls consistently point to a clear victory for the “Red” bloc.

Note: Political scientist Erik Gahner Larsen calculates a tracker of political polls and also a projection based on active polls. When reading individual polls, one should note that there are significant house effects on Danish polls while the existence of three new parties make calculations and predictions difficult.

OEB 2016: Smart Universities

The topic for the “smart universities”* panel might seem a bit distant from social work but the presentations were interesting in themselves and at the same time raised some issues which could be relevant for future developments in education. Here I’ll base my post on the presentations by Dorthe Lund of DTU, Denmark, and Maarten van Steen, University of Twente – Twente incidentally has a BA programme in public administration which has some parallels with the professional BA offered by UC Lillebælt.

One point of departure was the design of “smart” campusses, defined as environments where academic staff and students had access to the infrastructure of the campus and were able to pull data about the use of various kinds of infrastructure from different kinds of data gathering devices, like eg. “smart” lampposts or sensors placed in libraries or similar kinds of semi-public environments. This gave students access to data which would allow them to search for patterns in everyday behaviour and develop solutions which could be appliced in practice. As Dorthe Lund noted, the introduction of a “smart” campus also meant that teachers and students had to find ways to collaborate with janitorial and administrative staff in the design and implementation of projects.

Two general points were relevant to both presentations.

The first relates to the physical settings of education: Here both DTU and UoT had worked with designing specialised workshop-areas on campus as a supplement to (or even a replacement of) more traditional classrooms. This would allow groups of students to collaborate on the development and design of different types of projects. We should also note that even if “campus” has become a popular term for any kind of location with academic and educational facilities, Twente is more like the traditional US (or Oxbridge) type of campus with a mix of (student) housing, leisure activities and academic facilities.

The second obviously relates to privacy and the integrity of data collected on the smart campusses. Here universities and other HE institutions have to balance the possiblities of surveillance technology with the legal and ethical issues raised by mass surveillance. At the OEB 2015 Cory Doctorow adressed some of these issues and his speech is still available on YouTube.

*I’m a bit allergic to “smart” as a buzzword, hence the quotation marks

OEB 2016: Limitless Learning

Limitless learning was the general topic of one of the planary debates which opened Friday’s sessions.

Among other things, Alec Couros notes the expansion of the types of sources available in what he called the network/teacher diagram. The insight that knowledge is now available in many more formats obviously makes the task of teachers more complex but learners/students also face a more complicated world.

On the positive side, some creative students (in all ages) are able to use the internet actively no only by searching for and applying existing knowledge but also by presenting problems and asking for help or guidance. In this way, a service like YouTube has developed into a huge, sprawling repository of learning objects and this has happend without anyone ever designing YouTube as such. On the negative side, the development of the net also has created a number of problems, including the supply of all kinds of false information, and the abuse of individuals’ digital identities (Couros gave some chilling examples by presenting his fakes digital dobbelgangers). Finally, Couros also raised the question of the future availability of the free internet as an issue.

Diana Laurillard took a slighly different perspective to the debate by discussing the various roles and activities involved in learning. One point related to the topic of e-learning is the relative importance of acquiring knowledge vs. inquiring, discussing and applying knowledge. Teachers will have very different roles in these four types of learning, but e-learning platforms and the design of courses will have to take the possiblities for interaction between teachers and students and between students themselves into account. Laurillard also pointed out the MOOCs could only partially realise the potentials of e-learning as they lacked the element of individualisation which students at the basic or bachelor level need. In this way MOOCs in their original form could be a useful tool for learners in mid-career, but they wouldn’t supplant more traditional forms of contact between students and between students and teachers, at least not without a serious loss of quality in education.

A second point raised by Laurillard was that the drivers of digital learning – both in form of technological developments and actors pushing for e-learning – might be strong but that they in general were badly aligned with the different needs and behaviours of learners.

Due to a conflict of schedules I had to leave before Mark Surman of the Mozilla Foundation had finished his contribution but I noted some important points in his speech: The internet and digitalisation hasn’t overcome traditional social cleavages – there is still a massive difference between younger and older people when it came to the use of digital technology, variations in educational background and income still play a crucial role in acces to and use of the digital world and finally he, like Alec Cuoros, was worried about the tendency toward centralisation of services on the internet.

OEB 2016: Gilly Salmon and “Carpe Diem”

At OEB 2014 I attended a workshop on Transferring face-to-face courses to online courses which included an introduction to what is known as storyboarding courses. The main idea is to make a fairly detailed plan for the sequence and content of student activities in the classroom as well as outside in order to create a logically coherent structure which will lead the students to the designed outcome of the course or module. Storyboarding differs from traditional course planning in that courses are planned backwards – teachers are required to consider if and how any given learning activity contributes to the learning goals. “Carpe Diem”, which was developed by Gilly Salmon, expands storyboarding by making a framework for groups of teachers or instructors for how to run the design process. Basically a “Carpe Diem” process is performed as a two-day intensive workshop beginning with a course blueprint and then adding storyboarding, the development of prototypes for course activities (especially those run outside of the classroom), a reality check with external participants reviewing the storyboard and the prototypes and finally a process of reviewing and adjustment.

If I go back to the 2014 workshop, I and a collegue who also participated in that workshop agreed that storyboarding would be relevant to implement in the revision of our distance programme but we failed to put this into practice. One obvious answer could be that our department hadn’t thought of making this an embedded practice in the review of course modules, so a “Carpe Diem” process for the Social Work programme might be the solution to the problem with introducing storyboarding.

Some sceptical perspectives on the “Carpe Diem” framwork could point to the fact that it is intrinsically linked with the learning goal-orientede way of running higher education. The storyboarding may on the one hand expand the domain of learning from the classroom to everything students do related to a specific course or programme while on the other hand limiting learning to a pre-set list of goals. The room for activities that are not initiated, controlled and assessed by a teacher may be so limited that students will learn how to encounter the unexpected and use their own curiosity in a learning process. In this way, the higher education institution and the formal education system takes – or at least aims to take – total control of students’ learning.

Another, very practical, issue might be that teachers are working on a number of course modules at the same time which may make it hard to run “Carpe Diems” on more that two or three course modules on the same time while planning also has to take the distributon of the work load of individual teachers into account. Similarly, the successful implementation of the “Carpe Diem” plan relies on the scheduling staff (and software) to respect the sequencing included in the plan.

OEB 2016: Opening Plenary

For obvious reasons, the opening plenary with Andreas Schleicher of the OECD, Tricia Wang and Roger Schank concentrated on the marco perspective on educational policy.

To make a very crude summary, Schleicher represented the OECD standpoint that macroeconomic policies were useless in combatting social inequality while the pace of the technological evolution meant that large groups of the workforce – both in the developed world and the emerging economies – were being left behind as the digital economy is becoming the economy . The OECD’s solution to the problem is – as everyone who has followed the educational policy debate for the last couple of decades will already know – the introduction of lifelong learning, adapted to the demands of employers but with individual workers responsible for choosing the right education and training. The employer-oriented perspective also meant that Schleicher put the emphasis on skills rather than qualifications. (Here we might ask if skills and qualifications have been defined in a correct and useful way at all or if skills-oriented education is simply the latest in a series of policy buzzwords hitting the educational sector).

If I use OEB16’s official theme of owning education as a point of departure, we may ask who is to control access and delivery of education -during childhood and youth as well as during adulthood – as well as the relevance of different types of education if the educational sector is to be reoriented according to the OECD’s principles. I would argue that a picture emerges of governments and businesses controlling access and determing the relevance of specific programmes and courses with the responsibility of choosing the right programmes and courses being placed on the individual.

This also means that educational institutions are being faced with a dilemma: On the one hand governments and businesses demand narrowly skills-based lines of education which can be evaluated according to standardised tests and other criteria. On the other hand individualisation means that educational institutions are supposed to deliver products in the form of teaching, courses and programmes adapted to the needs and demands of individual students. This dilemma goes all the way down the educational sector right to the individual teacher or instructor.

Tricia Wang used the issue of automated learning and the application of algorithms in decision-making processes as her point of departure. Again a very crude summary, but a main point in her speech was that algorithms are only as good as the design and the data which go in to the computation. (Another aspect of this is that “big data” are never a given, unbiased set of information). AI and machine learning which do not take into account that humans are inherently biased – and even more importantly – that some positions hold a social and political privilege will only maintain or even deepen social inequalities and conflicts. This means that education will have to work actively with the development of empathy and the ability to identify different perspectives on any given issue, be it (seemingly) technical or political. On this point, I imagine that Wang and Scleicher would actually agree, even if the OECD point of view does not accept the effects of issues such as class or ethnicity in an economic context.

Roger Schanck’s rather rambling contribution was a bit hard to recapitulate but I suppose that a major theme was questioning the role of formal education and educational institutions in learning. The argument that “college is dead” may seem rather outlandish at a time when the wage premium in the US of a college degree is as high as it has ever been. Schanck may be right in thinking that the business model of US colleges is no longer sustainable as fees has exploded during the last decades limiting the value of thhe premium for individual graduates.

Pre-Conference Workshop: Creating a New Mobile User Experience

Choosing a pre-conference workshop for OEB 2016 presented me with some problems. Unlike earlier years I felt that the workshops available were either too techical for my needs and abilities, too close to what I could learn by working with one of our own experts on learning technology at UC Lillebælt or repeating themes I had learned about during OEB 2014 and 2015 or similar national conferences.

In the end I decided to select a workshop presented by the UK Open University about the design and implementation of a new LMS environment where one of the specifications had been the integration of mobile and desktop access to courses. I was a bit unsure, though, about the content and the actual audience the OU had had in mind: The workshop could be aimed at developers, managers and project leaders (those who order bew or updated LMEs) or teachers and students using the environment on a day-to-day basis. Ideally, all these parties are necessary participants in the successful development of something so complicated as an LMS – and it is easy to imagine a successful workshop based on the participation and contributions of people representing all three sides, but confusion about the target audience may have held prospective participants away.

Another, less legitimate, factor limiting participation may have been that the workshop was provided free of charge. I imagine that if OEB participants had had to defend spending € 50-100 on a workshop to their employer, the number of no-shows would have been considerably smaller. This may seem strange but the explanation had a certain economic logic to it.

The workshop itself could be described as a mixed experience. I could imagine the set-up would work not just well but very well if the workshop leaders were given the task of running a similar workshop for, say, employees and students at a university which wanted to update its LMS. The presenters also did a very good job in making us consider some (three hours only allowed us the scratch the surface) of the complexities in designing a good user experience and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that students at the OU evaluate the UX of the new LMS in positive terms. So in terms of the pedagogical level, I will give the presenters very high marks.

That said, I lacked information about the outcome of the process which led to the update of the OU’s LMS: What would my UX be if I enrolled in a course or a programme at the OU? The process must have led to some insights which could be transferred to other HE institutions. I could also argue that the model presented by the OU is applicable to many major development projects – in fact we teach our students at the Social Work programme in Odense and Vejle some of the same tools for developing social work initiatives. So what were the factors that are specifically relevant for working on LMSes aimed at the mobile emvironment compared to LMSes in general or other development projects? I am still unsure about that.

So to sum up: After the workshop, I am convinced that we use the right didactic tools at the School of Social Work when we teach students about how to develop a programme, but I failed to gain new knowledge about the specific demands LMSes have to meet in the age of the mobile/desktop mix.