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Monthly Archives: February 2014

This week I had a meeting in Melbourne where I was privileged to see great brains in action. There was a concept that the Dean outlined and then over the course of a few hours, the meat was put on the bones until something very real (and totally awesome I think!) was crated.

During this process and more so, once it was complete, we began reflecting. Why do we have the courses we offer? Are they the courses we should offer? What is it that students really want? What should they really be getting?

This thought process ties in with the ‘at elbow’ work I do with individual academics. They are being asked to become more flexible and engaging and sometimes without understanding why. It’s easy to give the party line of greater engagement leads to better learning outcomes leading to better retention which is better for everyone, students and university alike. But why would one academic change their approach if their approach works? Well, the question then becomes how do we know something works?

Currently the performance framework for academics is, from my governance background and business planning and strategy development work, counter productive. A large percentage of their teaching success is based on the popularity contest of the student satisfaction surveys. This is skewed as they are not compulsory to complete and so will often be completed only by those people who are unhappy with the unit. It also encourages behaviour from academics to pander to weak students so as to keep satisfaction up. We are undermining the whole point of rigorous higher education. But then, you see, I do some googling (not nearly sophisticated enough to call it research) and then I find Chapter Three of this report. That then leads to me to the AUSSE site. And I find that lots of people are thinking about how we measure engagement, how we respond to that measurement, and well, understanding why we do what we do.

Chapter Three (Alexandra Radloff & Hamish Coates) states that we need to measure not just student satisfaction to understand why we do what we do and why we change, but their engagement. A happy student is not enough. “..learning is formative and the effects are for life, while¬†consumer happiness and satisfaction are ephemeral in any domain.” I need to work out how to support the academics I work with to measure engagement, so they can understand why change is needed, or more fundamentally, to determine IF change is needed at all. It is important for me to understand why I do what I do – that is to help understanding in others, not force them to ‘flip’ for no reason at all.

Okay – I know that the heading of this post shows my age, and that some people have never seen a typing pool, but I really think it needs to come back. Well, not it, we don’t have type writers anymore, but the principle.

On Friday my boss was asked to do some budget stuff. She’s an expert wordsmith. She’s a lawyer by training and she is brilliant and problem resolution and scenario analysis. She is not what you would call a numbers person. And yet, to complete the task she’s been given, there needs to be budget work. I offered to take it on because (as you can tell) words are not really my thing and I’m not great at scenario analysis. We complement each other that way. But the question is, why do we ask people to do things they aren’t trained, experienced in?

A more real application is in my role where I’m teaching academics how to use editing software to get their lectures organised for online presentation. I’m coming to the conclusion we need an ‘editing pool’. We are wasting in opportunity cost the time the academics are spending to edit.

But, on the other hand, by editing their lectures, they actually have to listen to what they have produced. They have to think about their style and approach. They are learning about what they do as a teacher. And this is valuable.

So maybe it is worth teaching everyone a little bit about every skill so that they can gain a fuller picture of the world they live and work in? Moving from having a typing pool to people doing their own document development meant they could better visualise what the final version would be. They could alter their language as they edited their own material and refine their work to produce a higher quality product. (Yes, okay, not always…..but stay with the vision). But having a typing pool meant that people didn’t have to learn skill of typing, they could do what they were best at. They could perform to their competitive advantage. I think I’m stepping into the conversation that we are becoming a population of generalists, which is starting to step into the PhD planning of mine. I love that my job is directly linked to my interests. It’s true, do what you love and you never work a day in your life.

This brings me back to the beginning. I like budgets. I think they are an interesting problem. More to the point, I’ve done them in the past and even have some training. It’s insane to expect my boss to do the budget. It’s sensible to ask me. I think the question I have, is it insane to ask academics to learn how to use editing software?

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