Understanding why we do what we do

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.

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