Nov 032017

No Contest co-founder Tierney Wisniewski has written a beautifully conceived and composed Master’s Thesis. Here’s the abstract. [I’ve added some paragraphing for ease of online reading, because abstracts by requirement are very, very fat.]

Self-determination theory (SDT) is a well-established theory of motivation that posits that we grow optimally to the degree to which our contexts afford us autonomy support, the collective term for the ways in which others afford us opportunities to satisfy our basic psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, and competence. Although Ryan and Niemiec (2009) suggest that self-determination theory can be “critical and liberating,” I trouble their assertion, making use of literature on student voice, student-faculty learning partnerships, and radical collegiality, and propose that redefining the student role is an essential form of autonomy support if we wish to follow through on SDT’s liberating possibilities.

To that end, I undertook a narrative inquiry into five students’ experiences of transformation through role redefinition in a set of non-traditional university courses.

Participants described their experiences and relationships with peers and instructors before, during, and after this set of courses. A thematic analysis revealed that students experienced their post-secondary courses as largely controlling, with concomitant negative effects on their engagement and well-being, while they experienced these non-traditional courses as highly autonomy-supportive, with concomitant positive effects.

Analysis also revealed that students underwent two transformative processes: an incremental process of integration and a more epochal process of role redefinition. This latter process in particular was fostered through persistent messages that students’ educations belonged to them, through de-emphasis on the instructor-student hierarchy, and through being supported through their struggles with transformation.

Once students redefined their roles, they took more responsibility for their peers’ well-being, offered them autonomy support, and engaged more agentically in other courses by expressing themselves more, taking more risks, and even standing up to and defying miseducative instructors on their own and their peers’ behalves.

They came to perceive themselves as agents of change not only in their institutions, but also in other arenas, following through on the critical and liberating potential of SDT that Ryan and Niemiec had envisioned. This study has broad implications for how educators engage with students and how our institutions are structured, as well as how SDT research is conducted, if we wish to capitalize on this potential.

You can read the whole thing.

I am so very proud of you, dear friend.

Dec 202013

It’s hard for me to re-read KPMG‘s October report “BC Junior Mining at a Crossroads,” commissioned by the BC Securities Commission, without feeling not just loss but what will be lost. The report’s findings echo the lamentations of my friends and former colleagues who run or rely on public companies in the natural resources sector: This is the worst downturn ever; there is almost no money to be had; the senior mining firms have abandoned the junior companies, as have younger investors.


The report’s language is succinct:

– Less money is currently being put into exploration or the necessary studies needed to move a project forward (for financing or development). Much of the funding raised is survival capital, i.e., being used to keep the company operational until such times as the market returns.

– As stock prices have dropped significantly and the market appetite for Juniors has lessened, it has become increasingly difficult and less attractive to raise funds through public offerings. The dilution factor is a major concern of most of the Juniors, as they do not see the upside of
significant dilution of ownership.

– There was some sentiment amongst the Juniors that until the Seniors show consecutive quarters of profits without further write-downs of “toxic” assets on their balance sheets, junior mining company projects will not be of interest to the Seniors. Until stock prices rise and investment returns to the Seniors, Juniors will continue to have a problem raising money.

– The competition for investment capital has become more intense, and Juniors stand to be less competitive than many sectors because of their risky nature and the longer term required for return on investment, if any.

– As a result, many Juniors have chosen to go into a survival mode instead, until the markets become more favourable and interested in mineral exploration investments. However survival is still not cheap. Maintaining a listing and other administrative requirements can cost from $75,000 to $150,000 per year, depending on the circumstances of the company. Many Juniors only have $100,000 in cash available and will only be able to survive another year or so.

When these Juniors disappear, their management, geologists, geophysicists, and technicians will need to find new lines of work. So will their corporate communications and investor relations officers.

Indeed, these latter are often the first to go when funding’s gone. At least these people, though, have skills and experience that transfer relatively easily across sectors of service and commerce – from retail to not-for profits, from education to government – and across lines on a map.

Whither the geophysicists and their high-end colleagues?

I don’t fear for their economic survival; they are super-smart and resilient folk; they will make it, somehow, but elsewhere, away from Canada’s once exalted mining industry. My fear is that they won’t come back when the Junior market does, however many years that this will take.

And then who will mentor BCIT’s newly minted geotechnicians and UBC’s young geologists, guiding them in the field, fostering their laboratory acumen, keeping them safe, and supporting them with continual education and feedback? How will this new generation fare when their mentors are elsewhere?

(photo of Granville Street, Vancouver, by Bob Basil)

Jul 162013

My posts below summarize and respond to the superb presentation given by Erin Dick at the International Association of Business Communicators World Conference in Manhattan last month.

To be honest, I had intended on *missing* this presentation, believing there was little for me to learn on the topic. In a spasm of self-awareness, though, I understood that my reluctance to go was based on arrogance – and arrogance means that I had grown too comfortable with my ways. I wondered, too, why I seemed afraid to subject myself to new insights on a theme so dear to my heart.

Fear can lead to poor mental hygiene.

I forced myself to attend by making a promise to do so to my friend Sarah Jackson, a fearless young journalist who herself will become a wonderful mentor one day. I am glad I went. I learned a ton – and found I have lots to work on.


When I was contemplating running for Chair of my department a number of years ago, I consulted my mentor at KwantlenDavid Wiens, asking him whether I’d be any good at this position. “You would,” he said.

I asked him why, expecting him to pay homage to my brilliant analytical and people skills.

“You like to work hard,” he said, and left it at that.

It was the best thing he could have said. David was a really good mentor.


Reposted from basil.CA

Jul 122013

The relationship between a mentor and a mentee need not be a friendly one.

During the discussion portion of Erin Dick’s IABC presentation on mentorship, I stood up and briefly described my own experience being mentored, as a writer and editor, by Jay Rosen and the late Paul Kurtz. Only after sitting down did I realize I had never spoken in public before about the aggressive and often unpleasantly challenging manner in which these two charismatic and relentless geniuses had addressed me back in the day. (Jay was my editor at SUNY/Buffalo’s student newspaper The Spectrum; Paul owned Prometheus Books Inc. and ran Free Inquiry magazine.) Neither passed out compliments – *ever*, to my memory; both passed along opportunities, though, to people who could put smart words on a page.

A mentor sees in her or his mentee a devotion that is shared – or that could be – to a craft, a topic, or to an art. (It is almost never a shared devotion to a person.)

Jay and Paul saw that I was devoted to the published page as much as they were, and that I could help put smart words there. That’s why they mentored me. They weren’t looking for friends.

I believe they saw I responded to antagonism by working harder, so hectoring and prodding – and pencil-throwing, from Paul – were what I got. And they received my best work. We had successful relationships, in other words, but not friendship.


I acknowledged to my IABC colleagues – who were, to a person, cheery and friendly – that the form of mentoring I had received was perhaps old-fashioned and also that it was not a form I have been able to, or even would want to, practice myself. I am much more low key than my mentors were, and I never hector or embarrass people. That said, my own students / mentees all know where my chief devotion as a teacher in a classroom and as an editor with a deadline lies: words on the page.

Friendship, if it happens, happens elsewhere, and later. I’m indifferent to that here and now.

Jul 062013


In her IABC presentation Erin Dyck described four myths regarding mentorship:

  1. Mentorship is top-down. One’s placement in an organizational hierarchy does not, in fact, determine the kind of wisdom and experience one can give another colleague.
  2. Mentors should be from your own chosen profession. Many skills and insights are portable from one sector to another, especially those involving communication like conflict resolution and situation analysis.
  3. Mentorship should follow a clearly defined process with clear goals. It is outmoded today even to have a career goal that is wholly defined; technology and political economies are transforming both our options and our wishes. Mentorship should be improvisatory.
  4. Mentors and mentees should be close geographically. That this need not be true is a straightforward point but one worthwhile to mention nonetheless, especially when one hears (as one does too often) that the “best” communication is “face to face.” There is no “best” medium.

At the IABC presentation I got up and suggested that there be a fifth myth added to the list: The relationship between a mentor and a mentee needs to be a friendly one.  I will post more on this myth soon.


Jun 262013

Erin Dick gave a superb talk, and then led an illuminating discussion, on the topic of “mentorship” today, the last day of the IABC’s world conference. Inspired by the speaker and my discussion attendees, I will be posting on this topic – an emotional one for me – over the course of the next few days. This quote from Erin Dick really resonated with all of us:

Be the master of the job before you, a student of the job above you, and a teacher of the job below you.