Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse…

Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse while all the others were making ships. -Charles Simic, poet (b. 1938)

The idea of world’s best practice may at times provide a glut of ships-in-a-bottle. By the time I finish my ship, the oversupply makes it redundant. The way this seems to manifest in higher education is that by the time we follow a ‘world’ trend, the practice or initiative is no longer so highly regarded and the field has moved on to some different, more improved practice of focus.

However, maybe we need students who think ‘there are a lot of ships being built. Do we need another ship, or do we need something to help the ships out when they get in trouble?’

When students embark on the voyage of research, they may need to learn this through safe and common strategies with lots of structure and guidance (as per Prescribed Research Level 1 in the RSD: However, do we also provide for students to think outside the ‘bottle’, or to imagine a different inside? (This is more akin to the RSD’s Level 4 Self-actuated Research or Level 5 Open Research).

Do we provide a range of active learning experiences where there are both safe and sure processes learned, as well as risk taking and adventuring?

The Levels on the RSD describe ‘extent of student autonomy in research’. Which of the five levels do you think is useful to begin with students in your context?

“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.”

When Duke Ellington, the great jazz pianist, composer, and conductor (1899-1974) said:

“I don’t need time. What I need is a deadline.”

I think that he was onto something that we can learn from in formal education.

I have run a lot of workshops for academic staff and professional staff on the six facets of the Research Skill Development framework (RSD: in Australia and overseas, and I have looked at a lot of assessments across a number of universities. One stand out feature is that the facet of the RSD ‘Organise and Manage’ is typically under taught, under-developed and under assessed, resulting in minimised feedback for students to improve this complex set of skills.

Yet, without the ability to organise information in discipline appropriate ways, it is very difficult for students to do high level qualitative or quantitative analysis. Likewise, without the ability to manage resources, deadlines and sometimes teams, it is difficult to produce conceptually powerful work.

I have found quotes by famous people that connect to each of the other facets, but this Ellington quote is one of the few I have found that connects well to organise and manage. Interesting for me, then is that the current single-word descriptor of the affective (emotional and motivational) side of this facet is:


The Duke lead a rather large “team” of musicians with strong individual differences to produce great, harmonious music at the forefront of his field. His craving for a timeline is indicative of someone who yearns to wreak order on the choas of individual brilliance, pulling it all together harmoniously. Organisation and management then for the Duke served creativity, rather than restricting it.

I wonder if we can learn the Duke’s lesson in formal education, where the teaching, learning and assessment of organising and managing enable students to see the harmonies of data and in their teams, and so to engage in highly creative work that is scholarly in nature.

Do you have any good quotes around ‘organise and manage’? It would be great to build up the stockpile for these.

Do you agree or disagree that ‘organise and manage’ is under-done in formal education? Please add your ideas on this.

See another take on this facet at