Before The Mongolia Project
A selection of personal and peer-reviewed highlights are noted below. In considering the unfolding continuity of my professional life’s journey these are some of the more important keystones. Rendering my contributions in reverse order opens up a narrative space for the telling of a parallel story, that of why each completed work has mattered to me.
What follows is actually a list of beginnings, each project being summative (in terms of what was accomplished) and formative in terms of what could now be considered reasonable, possible and of genuine interest to do next.
Whilst there may be some methodological ‘issues’ with constructing such retrospective continuities (see Boyer, Pacal, and James V. Wertsch, eds. 2009. Memory in Mind and Culture. New York: Cambridge University Press), ‘continuity’ in terms of a portfolio career makes sense to me.
My earlier work was primarily concerned with teaching and learning. Subsequent studies have involved extensive out-in-the-field ethnographic practice and research. This has meant going to, and working with, real people in places where they live and work. For my own research efforts, I have seldom relied solely on what can already be found in research publications and books.
Each project, in one way or another, has involved an innovative use of information and communication technologies (ICTs) although I do not go into specific technical detail (considered in some scholarly circles important) here. Many of the completed projects noted also represent a knowledge management innovation for the Australian Commonwealth Government or other public sector agency.
As a collection of successfully completed projects, they now stand as testimony of an increasing capacity to manage formative research. In terms of time and effort, the considerable personal investment I made in these previous program and project implementation initiatives serves me well as I continue to engage with international, collaborative and now also multi-lingual and inter-cultural projects aligned with my current interests.
Earlier research-based publications
- Australian Art Museums and Public Galleries Directory 1990. Catherine Pleteshner and Ann Verbeek for the Art Museums Association of Australia and the National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University, Clayton Victoria.
This was the first directory of major city and regional art museums and galleries across Australia to be researched and published. It included comprehensive information about location, curatorial staff and more importantly, about particular museum and gallery art object collections at the time.
This directory along with the Periodicals Access Network (PAN) (see below) were the first two publications to be published by the newly-established National Centre for Australian Studies (NCAS) where I was a Research Fellow. Both research-based publications were launched by the NCAS at the Centre’s official opening ceremony at Monash University by the (then) 21st Governor General of Australia, Sir William Hayden, with whom I was also given the opportunity and great privilege to briefly discuss my steerage, along with some of the complexities encountered, of these two projects.
- The Periodicals Access Network (PAN): a directory of overseas periodicals held by environmentally and socially concerned organisations and individuals in the Melbourne metropolitan area. 1990 Frank Fisher and Catherine Pleteshner. Clayton, Victoria: National Centre for Australian Studies, Monash University, the Lance Reichstein Charitable Foundation, the Victorian Association for Environmental Education and Monash University’s Graduate School of Environmental Science .
Underpinning both research projects and the published artefacts that arose from them, was the idea of bringing people and organizations who would otherwise be working in relative isolation together. This was 1990. Information and communication technologies had yet to permeate research activities, and so The Periodicals Access Network (PAN) involved a different kind of social innovation. The now growing number of Environmental scientists in universities, along with those in a multiplicity of small non-profit organizations associated with the Victorian Association for Environmental Education each held smaller collections of academic research journals to which they subscribed.
The vision for this social constructionist project led by Hungarian-born Frank Fisher (1943-2012) was to bring together these smaller holdings of expensive journals into the one distributed collection. It was all about the sharing of research information. The PAN project as conceived came to fruition. Australian taxpayer-funded resources were shared and new collaborative working relationships between the individual academics who stepped forward and others involved in environmental education emerged.
Professor Frank Fisher (Australia’s Inaugural Environmental Educator of the Year) continued to make his considerable contribution as environmental educator, academic and theorist, electrical engineer, social constructionist until his passing in 2012. Frank’s capacity to facilitate deep social learning where environmental issues are concerned echoes on as his legacy to others to this day. I had already completed a Higher Diploma of Teaching in Environmental Science, a grounding in the multi-disciplinary discourse. This familiarity was supported by already established contacts in the environmental conservation sector. Such a breadth of robust relationships with others was essential to bringing together the Periodical Access Network.
My friendship and collaboration with Frank on all sorts of matters including health-related consumer advocacy issues, continued until his passing in 2012. We all have mentors. Frank was one of mine.
My own ongoing higher education (from the outset) has been more about the people and the process than acquiring the certification per se. Take for example the completion of a Higher Diploma of Teaching Environmental Science degree. Along with a dozen or so other students, from an initial intake of thirty one, we were the first intake and cohort of students to graduate from this University of Melbourne then ground-breaking four year inter-disciplinary course. What a milestone for everyone involved that was!
The course was innovative. We studied physics, chemistry, biology, geography as well as economics and sociology. Whilst Rusden College would soon follow, in the late 1970s, this course was groundbreaking, the first of its kind. Mind you, it was also a bit of an intellectual stretch to get our young minds across all that, but those of us who stuck with it, did. We studied, worked together and helped each other out as a team for four wonderful years, collecting and writing up all manner of data: biological oxygen demand (BOD) along with repeated surveys of people and what they thought. We drank coffee, discussed important matters, and at The Prince Alfred Hotel in Grattan Street Carlton we also found the time to play billiards. We had our own small piece of turf, a laboratory on the 4th floor of the Science Education Building near Swanston Street in Carlton Melbourne. It was from this home base that on a daily basis, together or alone, we ventured forth.
- In addition to coursework, we were immersed in extensive field work. Intended to survey and collect data from the Mallacoota Inlet twin lake estuarine environment on Victoria’s coastline near the border with New South Wales, it ended up being much more. After years of collecting and analysing all manner of data related to the impact of human beings on such an estuarine environment, our collaboratively written environmentally green-covered and bound large thesis-report, was the first such environmental impact study of its kind to be completed by a group of students in the State of Victoria. See Mallacoota: an environmental planning approach (1979) Melbourne State College, Carlton Australia.
Whilst such environmental impact statements are now mandatory, a socio-political situation that brings with it a host of issues of a different kind, who could have guessed that such an evidence-based study could have been assembled in those very early days of Australia’s conservation of the environment movement? Location-based data collection by students continued in subsequent years (cf. a longitudinal study). Of this outcome we will always be proud.
It was during this sustained engagement with collecting data over time, that I was first introduced to systems thinking, an ongoing process-oriented view of the world and a key frame of analysis through which I continue to view the flow of my own work to this day. It was here that I also learnt what it means to really engage with others as a team. Up in the lab, tutors and students alike, lived in each other’s pockets as one week flowed into the next. This went on for four very interesting and hard working years, so high was the visibility of what we were doing, so high were the resource-intensive institutional outcomes-for-investment stakes.
These first experiences of higher education were pivotal in shaping my expectations of how rewarding a university education could really be, and what genuine involvement by academic staff and adequate resourcing could do. It was also my induction into team-based working relations—at least thirty contact hours of every semester week, often it was much more. Innovation requires problem solving and (re)negotiation and this important change management process, if is is to be done competently, respectfully and well, always takes time. The notion of teamwork can be bandied around as a means of getting more out of people for less. However, when working relationships across a particular project-based work cluster are genuinely reciprocal, then extraordinary things can be achieved, and this is what actually happened here.
With Tony Stutterd and Bill Stringer I studied the art of teaching, and how to do it very well. These two teaching methodology experts have left their midas touch on many other people, of whom I am but one. In 1960, Bill was in the first group to enter the new University of Melbourne Geography course. He had been my Geography teacher for my entire six years of secondary schooling. When I began my university studies, Bill not only continued to be my teacher, but he also commenced his four-year tenure (1974-1977) as The Chief Examiner for Matriculation/Higher School Certificate Geography, the final year in Australia’s secondary school system. Geography has been a major part of his life for his whole career in schools, higher degree study and teacher education. To this day, through peer development organisations such as the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria (Australia) he continues to make a contribution. And so, with such preparation, it was inevitable that my first major would be in Geography.
It was through studying with these wonderful people that my now lifelong preoccupation with the participatory culture of doing, teaching and learning was born. In regard to the importance of their influence on my view of the world and what is possible, there is no doubt. As the social reverberations of their own accumulated efforts become more apparent, this Artefacts entry is but one short narrative intended to further distribute this otherwise undocumented effect.
Encouraged and inspired by the sustained efforts of these others, such mentors and friends encountered early in one’s intellectual life have inevitably set that what can be accomplished over one’s own lifetime bar quite high. These personally rewarding experiences set both the precedent and the trajectory for what was to follow: the collaborative and practice-based lens through which my own particular series of projects would progressively unfold.
In my own journey from one project to the next, at times overlapping and for a while in tandem, I have worked within (in academic terms) a succession of ‘affinity groups’: people who share similar goals and interests. Although it must be noted here that differing interpretations of shared or common interest may not have always easily meshed. Henry Jenkins et al. (2006) and their white paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: media education for the 21st Century describe in detail the potential of such a participatory culture for civic engagement, particularly through the use of ICTs such as the Internet. (Old school) educators and policy-makers are now faced with a plethora of issues and challenges associated with the governance of participatory practices, contributions to educational environments, and the increasing decentralisation of knowledge that is inherent in such online educational spaces. Here I cannot help but pose the following question to readers of my blog: Isn’t the educational space to which Jenkins (2006) is referring, in fact quite similar to the one we have right here?
Civics education research and development, an interactive multimedia CD rom
- Australia: Reflections on a Republic (interactive multi-media CD) for the 1994 Beanland Lecture delivered at Victoria University (Melbourne) by Sir Zelman Cowen the 19th Governor-General of Australia. ISBN 1 86272 480 6.
My roles in this Victoria University initiative led by Dean Laureate and Professor of History Robert Pascoe were twofold: computer graphic user interface (GUI) designer and production manager. This was the first interactive educational multimedia CD designed for computer-aided learning to be produced by the University. Its production was fraught with a myriad of obstacles, most of which were resolved with capacity building and hands-on training.
In terms of content, relevant historical and other related events could be brought to life and examined through this single resource. The Australian Constitution, The Turnbull Report as well as speeches by Sir Zelman Cowen, the Opposition Leader John Howard, and then Prime Minister Paul Keating’s address to the House of Representatives on the republic were some of the resources included. Public opinion polls on the topic, video, film footage, diagrams, documents were all interwoven, and became available to high school and university students through this one study aid.
Moreover, after an introduction, and encouragement from Rob Pascoe to step forward, I had the privilege to sit for a short while with the Honourable Sir Zelman Cowen in conversation, and to discuss one or two aspects of my work on his CD. How about that? To have had the opportunity in one’s lifetime to chat informally about one’s own creative work with not just one, but two Australian Governor Generals is good fortune indeed. Some would consider such exchanges with our nation’s learned statesmen de rigueur, however I certainly do not.
Computer-assisted language learning, a journal article for other teachers
- Interactive Multimedia and Computer Aided Language Learning: the development and use of an educational CDrom for the English as a Second Language (ESL) classroom. Catherine Pleteshner and Steve Manteit Fine Print: The Journal for Adult Literacy (Special Edition: Literacy and Information Technology) June 1996. Vol 18 No 2 pp30-33.
This article introduced the roles and processes involved in developing interactive, multimedia courseware. Benefits as a flexible resource for literacy teachers, and learners of English as a second language, are presented and discussed. Computers were only just beginning to be introduced into language-learning classrooms, and portable devices were limited to mobile (and not yet very smart) phones.
Computer-based training, graphic user interface (GUI) evaluation research
- Evaluation of the User Interface Design (for the Melbourne Metropolitan Transport Business Unit) of the Public Transport Corporation’s (PTC) Computer-based Training Modules. June 1995. Catherine Pleteshner for the BIT Specialists, Victoria University (Melbourne).
The aim of this public sector evaluation was to determine which elements of the graphic user interface were a potential source of end-user performance problems, and to recommend explicit solutions to improve the design where such modifications were within the organisation’s control.
Capacity building of graduate student research
- Report to the School of Graduate Studies Academic Program Committee: Proposed Skills Development Program for Postgraduates: Take a Step Ahead (1996) University of Melbourne. Perhaps the title of this School of Graduate Studies formative research project based on qualitative key informant research and surveys is sufficient explanation in itself?
Introducing computers into clinical practice
- Cook A, Schattner, P and Pleteshner C. 1999 The Experiences of One Division Group of GPs in Introducing computers into clinical practice. Australian Family Physician 29(9): 971-5
Teaching Australian family doctors how to use the Internet
- Schattner, P. Pleteshner, C. and Mathews, M. 2000. From Chaos to Clarity: teaching general practitioners (family doctors) to use the Internet for clinical purposes: a guide for Divisions of general Practice. Monash Division of General Practice (Moorabbin).
Evaluating the national GP IT Officers program, a big report (summative)
- An evaluation of the GPCG Divisions of General Practice I.T. Officer Program (1999-2001) : final report (2001). Peter Schattner and Catherine Pleteshner. Monash University. Department of General Practice General Practice Computing Group (GPCG Australia) and the Australian Commonwealth Government Department of Health and Ageing.
This was a critical examination of the role and effectiveness of Divisions in providing IT support to General Practitioners (GPs) and recommendations were made for future IT-targeted funding for Divisions.
I look back on my extraordinarily productive research collaboration with Associate Clinical Professor Peter Schattner during the Australian Divisions of General Practice era of my working life, with a profoundly deep sense of personal as well as professional satisfaction. It was such an exciting, rewarding and it must be noted, incredibly busy time. With our complimentary skill sets we really did make such a good team!
The following artefacts are some of the other keystones our university-based health informatics research team developed for Australian general practice, the Victorian State Government and the Australian Commonwealth Government along the way. I mention only the projects in which I had a leadership role or in which I was genuinely and actively involved.
A major health Informatics evaluation, a big report and recommendations (formative)
- An Evaluation of the Clinicians Health Channel (2000-2003). 2004. Final Report to the Office of the Chief Clinical Advisor, Department of Human Services Victorian State Government. The Health Informatics Research Group (The University of Melbourne).
A selection of conference papers, health informatics research
- The Clinicians Health Channel and Evidence-based Health Care: Is Computer Use Changing the Way We Work? Catherine Pleteshner. National Health Informatics and RACGP Conference Proceedings 2003 Darling Harbour, Sydney.
- Clinical Information Resource Use: Understanding the Problem is the Solution Elizabeth Deveny, Siaw-Teng Liaw and Catherine Pleteshner. National Health Informatics and RACGP Conference 2003 Darling Harbour, Sydney
- Computer Use by General Practitioners during Consultations Derrick Bui, Chris Pearce, Elizabeth Deveny, Siaw Teng Liaw and Catherine Pleteshner. National Health Informatics and RACGP Conference 2003 Darling Harbour, Sydney
- Peer, Paper or Online Clinical Guidelines? The Question is the Answer Siaw-Teng Liaw, Catherine Pleteshner, Elizabeth Deveny, Marilys Guillemin; Dianne Mulcahy and Michael Arnold. National Health Informatics Conference Proceedings 2004 Brisbane, Qld.
GP computer security principles and standards, a research and development project
- The General Practice Computing Group (GPCG) computer security project: final report (2004) Peter Schattner and Catherine Pleteshner. Monash University. Department of General Practice; The University of Melbourne Department of Rural Health; Monash Division of General Practice Ltd.; the General Practice Computing Group (Australia); and the Australian Commonwealth Government Department of Health and Ageing.
This project involved developing a computer security self-assessment guide and check-list for general practitioners. The project leader was my esteemed colleague Peter Schattner. This particular research collaboration was the culmination of nearly a decade of evidence-based general practice (family doctor) sector research that we had started in the mid-1990s. In designing original gounded-in-ethnographic-fieldwork in order to identify the ways in which doctors across Australia were (or were not) using computers for clinical purposes or to manage their practices (as businesses), we eventually developed a set of general practice-specific data security principles and standards.
Endorsed by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) these data security principles and standards are now mandatory for the accreditation of all general practices in Australia, and its twenty thousand or so Commonwealth-funded doctors. See: RACGP Standards for General Practices (4th edition). As a consequence of the formative contribution to General Practice informatics research, I was an accredited foundation member of The Australasian College of Health Informatics (ACHI) for the many years I worked in the sector.
Submission to the Australian Senate Committee
- Using qualitative research methods, providing evidence-based data for the Submission from the General Practice Computing Group (GPCG) to the Senate Committee on Medicare. 2005
Peakbody professional development, conceptual framework for national IM capacity building
- Capacity-building facilitator at the Division of General Practice Regional Health Information Management Officers (RHIMO) Network National Forum in conjunction with the Australian Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care. Canberra, March 2007.
In addition to the ongoing qualitative research with family doctors and their practice staff related to how they were using ICTs for clinical and practice management purposes, it emerged that I could also continue to assist in the professional development of our nationwide network of Division of GP staff, so that we were better placed to build the information management (IM) capacity of Australian general practices in our respective geographically-bounded regions. Over my years in this sector, I had not only organised professional ICT development for doctors in my regions (Monash and ACT), but had also developed and delivered a range of ICT professional workshops for Division of GP staff at regional, state and national benchmarking conferences.
With online computer infrastructure, including connectivity with the Australia Commonwealth’s public sector Medibank, there emerged a growing role for e-Heath in the primary health and acute care sectors, as well as between these two. There was was now an increasing demand for better access to, and use of (de-identified) general practice primary care data. The progressive adoption of computerised recall and reminder systems by general practice was also underway at the time. This change to routine clinical treatment and practice management was creating a paradigm shift in Australian general practice: as a health care sector, it was moving away from episodic care and embarking on the transition towards the more complex delivery of planned care for Australian citizens.
There were about 24,000 registered GPs in Australia in the mid-1990s. When I took up my position with Peter Schattner as the first GP Division ICT Officer (Monash), there were less than 15 percent of these family doctors across Australia using computers for clinical purposes during their consultations with patients. Computers were just starting to be used to manage practices, but mostly only by the solo and two GP’s receptionist out front. Qualified practice nurses were a luxury, and practice managers were very far and few between.
Less than a decade later, along with the accompanying widespread corporatisation of general practice, nearly all Australian doctors, their practice nurses, their practice managers and other staff were using installed practice-wide ICT systems. Every GP now had a computer in their consultation room. As a sector, people had begun using clinical as well as practice management software for a myriad of clinical purposes and other functions. The transformation of the GP primary care sector during such a short time was, if nothing else, quite remarkable.
Additional knowledge and IM skills of staff within Divisions of General Practice as well as family doctors, nurses and managers were now needed to facilitate this ongoing change. The Commonwealth Government looked towards a Canadian Government capacity building model as a means of framing the next phase of building IM capacity across the primary care sector in Australia. The increased uptake, and now use of a range of information and communication technologies, continued to underpin this transition. However the next phase of improving IM capacity in the sector required family doctors and their staff to not only know how to use the ICTs now installed, but to also know how to collect and interpret the growing amount of data they now had stored in their systems. The purpose of the whole exercise was to collect evidence-based and epidemiological data for the purposes of improving public health care.
Which brings me to my next (momentary) claim to fame and last formative contribution to the GP primary care sector before I set my sights on working overseas. As my swan song, I schematically reconfigured the existing Canadian Government’s IM (information management) capacity building model so that it was more suited to our Australian general practice/Commonwealth Government organisational setting and (now) established strategies for implementing sector wide change.
Under the auspices of the Australian Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care (DHAC), it was at this Forum that I first presented and explained the overarching schema to all Division of General Practice Regional Health Information Management Officers, of which I was also one (representing the Australian Capital Territory, ACT). Nominated senior DHAC staff were present too. Facilitating change collaboratively from within? or something like that … The schema I designed was subsequently adopted and endorsed as the basis of the Australian Commonwealth Government’s GP Divisions Information Management Maturity Framework (IMMF), through which additional publicly-funded resources would flow, be managed and reported in terms of progress being made towards certain objectives in 2007-2008.
- Whilst based in Australia’s political capital city Canberra for two years, I also completed the formal training and certification necessary (at the invitation of the Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care) to become an accredited practitioner (assessed by examination) of the internationally recognised Prince2 methodology of managing, controlling and organising public sector projects.
Developed by the UK Government’s Office of Government Commerce (OGC), this management methodology is still one of the de facto project management standards for public sector projects in Australia, the UK, Canada and elsewhere.
- This additional professional development, along with a previously completed Graduate Diploma in Educational Administration (1989) specialising in organisational development from the University of Melbourne’s Hawthorn Institute of Education, held me in good stead to do this kind of national organisational development and Australian Commonwealth Government public sector program implementation work.
Echo of a past life, first sighting of international research
- Guidelines for Computer Security in General Practice Peter Schattner, Catherine Pleteshner, Heinz Bhend and Johan Brouns Informatics in Primary Care, 15, no. 2 (2007): 73-82.
In focussing on the human-computer interaction aspects of how family doctors and their practice staff were using computers, the standards of practice and measures to ensure protection of patient data adopted by Australian general practitioners continue to be integrated into the development of similar standards in countries other than Australia. Reference to our qualitative research into the human-computer interaction aspect of general practice continues its echo in the citations of other author-researchers. However, the integrity, merit or lasting impact of our (now) earlier human-computer interaction research with Australian family doctors is now for our peers and others to decide.
Peter has become a life long friend as well as esteemed colleague. He continues to make his considerable contribution to the training of family doctors at Monash University. As International Convenor of The Informatics Working Party of The World Organisation of Family Doctors (WONCA) he now also coordinates its world-wide informatics initiatives and research. Professor Michael Kidd who led the Australian General Practice Computing Group (GPCG) Program, within which my own work was situated, is now the peer-elected President of WONCA (2013). Their mission is to improve the quality of life of the peoples of the world through defining and promoting its values, including respect for universal human rights and including gender equity, and by fostering high standards of care in general practice/family medicine.’ Family doctors, on a day to day basis, deal with the suffering of others. Who could argue with the ongoing humanitarian and compassionate merits of this?
Other Accredited Certification
- There are two more educational artefacts I would like to briefly mention that inform what I do. The first is a University of Cambridge, Certificate in Teaching English as a Foreign Language (1994), the completion of which has provided, in addition to internationally recognised certification, a range of additional language tools and insights from which to draw.
- The other is that of a Bachelor of Education (Music) from the University of Melbourne completed some time ago now (1988). Here, I played and studied Indonesian Gamelan, discovered Japanese Kabuki Dance Drama and tried to play Chopin.
I embarked on the first decade of my working life as the founding principal of a small private music school in the countryside, The Bellingen Community Music Education Centre. The picturesque township of Bellingen, well known for it famous artists, media personalities, writers and musicians through their work, is located on the lush sub-tropical mid-North Coast of the Australian State of New South Wales.
I look back on this time as the community’s local piano teacher with a deep sense of attachment, not only for the many creative children I taught, but also for the close (creatively individualistic) friends I still have there now. Within CPinMongolia.com postings, readers will find references to how music as subject, object and performance continues to play an unbounded, imperfect and exploratory role in my life to this day.
Some people who integrate Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, or another ethical conduct schema, into their professional life’s journey draw inspiration for their daily work from the concept of ‘an accumulation of merit.’
Although it is generally difficult, if nigh impossible, to measure the outcomes or to evaluate the longer-term implications of seemingly purposeful efforts towards this goal, what differentiates these practitioners-in-training is the concurrent attempt to manifest the other important concept in this dyad, that of ‘for the benefit of others.’
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