The answer to this question is a lot. It’s been a long year and it’s only the end of January. The academics have had major system reforms, major changes to generic skills for students (theoretically requiring major reforms of educational objectives in units), minor alterations to what units are being delivered when and where (including overseas) and of course being told they should be on leave because the leave balance for the university is too big. All in all, less than ideal.
Most interestingly is the insanity of the gap that exists between central services and education providers. I suggested a while ago that people who work in central should come and teach sometime and that people who teach should go and work in central. Seriously. We need to do something. The chasm that currently exists much be bridged in some way otherwise we will not exist in years to come.
Students are about to receive a substantially lower quality product than they did last semester for their unit outline. In the days where they can easily go elsewhere and possibly for cheaper, we can’t make anything bad in relation to the student experience. I printed one that I’d written today and couldn’t read the assessment clearly to explain it to someone else. I wrote it and yet I still couldn’t read it! (Yes, there is a line in here about my bad writing, but it was more to do with the small font, poor formatting, inability to retain dot point as a format and clutter text that pre-populates and has little to do with the detail of the assessment item.)
Now for something to go so wrong takes a lot of effort by a lot of people. It is fundamentally a good idea that is trying to be introduced but poor planning, execution, lack of consultation, lack of consideration of end users, lack of willingness of end users for yet more change and general change fatigue has led to the situation we have. And what is that exactly? A bunch of hard working academics trying to do the best they can for their students in an environment that seems to want them to fail. On the other hand we have a bunch of hard working central people doing the best they can to meet the expectations that have been made of them by management in a context vacuum.
How do we fix this? Fill the context vacuum. Get everyone to realise that change takes time, communication, consultation, patience and understanding. Making a decision once and waving your hand in the air to ‘make it so’ does not ‘make it so’. It makes people disenfranchised and in the end it makes your good people leave. Please, can we have the conversation about how to make sure this never happens again?
I care a lot about language. I understand how the right word at the right time can be powerful. Right now, I’ve spent one week drafting a letter including seeking feedback from people wiser than me. The choice of words is almost painful. It’s painful because the letter content makes me consider and reflect on who I am in the workplace and what I try to achieve. But it’s also painful because I’m responding to inaccuracies.
People have put into writing things that are just plain wrong. I’ve spent a week thinking and crafting a response to a letter it feels like someone spent two seconds on.
It is the semantics of it all that make me so sad. The whole situation arises because no one has taken time the understand the meaning of our words. I believe their words are inaccurate. Today, I will send my words and they will judge them. My greatest fear is that at the end of all this, there will still be no meaning.
Very smart, capable, aware people this week have been reduced to frustrated, desperate, luddites. It’s time to enter grades into the learning management system (LMS) and it has been painful….
People keep asking why can’t the academics just know what to do, after all grades happen twice a year and they do this all the time so why don’t they just know how it works? Well, because it changes. First of all, upgrades and bug fixes mean that the LMS operates slightly differently each time. Also, there are at least 15 different reasons why something may not work so just because you know why your site total didn’t add up last time, the reason it doesn’t add up this time is completely different.
Academics by their profession are creative, challenging thinkers. They are not intrinsically technology literate and logical problem solvers. Of course this is a massive generalisation (I don’t support the information technology academics at all with the LMS!). But on the whole, the academics I’ve supported are qualitative researchers and creative, innovative teachers. Stepping through technology that is counterintuitive is not really their thing.
So to those people who keep asking why can’t academics just get it right? I say, because they are trying very hard to get everything else right, the LMS just doesn’t rate. Perhaps the question we should be asking, is how do we better support academics and their relationship with the LMS so that they don’t finish grade weeks feeling stupid and useless? Just my two cents worth.
I was told today that I didn’t get a job that I had gone for as there was someone with more experience. I like that. I like that I got beaten because there were so many strong candidates that I wasn’t good enough. It’s much better than not getting a job because you weren’t good enough to get it in your own right.
I’m also glad that the person who got the job is so experienced. It was an education role and we need good educators. We need strong people in these roles because universities are not full of strong educators. They have good educators, but they aren’t full of them. Interestingly, I’m not sure they should be.
Surely universities should be ‘full’ of researchers. Isn’t that the point of universities? Or should they be full of administrators? After all universities are now a business and should be run like one. Or should they actually be full of educators as universities are the producing the future inputs to production for the economy? Wouldn’t we prefer graduates who have been trained by the best? Or would we prefer graduates who have had access to the best researcher in the field? Is it possible to have both?
Hmmmmm I need to think more about how I can improve the world for academics so they can be both. How can I use my experience (which is less than someone else’s!) to support academics who want to be educators become so, or who are okay educators to become better? Hmmmmm time to rethink the approach in my current – especially as I’m going to be there longer than expected!
I was lucky enough to present with my colleague Shane at Moodleposium yesterday. When we were planning for the session he and I agreed that we wanted some knowledge from the attendees as well as sharing our experiences. As such, ewe asked a posit-it note question and got the answers into categories that we then shared. The question was, “Badges’ role in pedagogy is…”. What we got was:
Carrot concepts as the majority: “Encouragement” “gamification as open incentive” “encouraging excellence and participation” “reward, initiative for learning, significance of badges” “Recognition” Incentive” “Reward for effort and recognition of work completed” “motivation recognition”.
The next sort of category turned out to relate to retention type approaches: “Better learning?” social constructivist – fostering collective interest in learning” “motivation increase desire to learn and achieve” “it helps make scaffolding explicit” “verified competition” student tracking progress” “help you to know where your level is as a learner”
Then there were some ideas that didn’t really fit in to a set theme: “life of badges without e-portfolio” “to recognise skills that are not 100% part of the university curriculum BUT have value for other societal functions” “recognition of prior learning”
So what do Shane and I do with this feedback now? Well in relation to the bolt on modules that have been developed we can place their purpose more clearly within the carrot framework and think harder about the retention aspects. Providing students with instant knowledge of where they are at in their learning is key to the success of the modules, but is one aspect I’ve not put enough thought into. We also haven’t promoted the use of the modules to academics for uptake by students, but this feedback provides a strong basis to develop that communique from. I feel like I’ve let a good project slide a little because of time. Having this feedback helps provide incentive to pick it up again. Now to see what else I can let slide!
Solutions are sometimes so simple. Today my boss and I solved what can only be described as five months of pain, hurt disillusionment and despair with a simple analogy of an ice cream shop. I described to him what was going on felt like I was the kid with the parent being told “we are going to the ice cream shop”, “we’re really going this time”, “okay – this time we’re going to the ice cream shop”. Instead, I would prefer if I was told that we weren’t going to the ice cream shop at all rather than be told we were, only to never arrive. The next words out of his mouth made me feel the happiest in the workplace I have in the last five months! He said:
Mel, we are never going to the ice cream shop
With those words went all my stress, worry and concerns. I let go of what I’d been holding onto and I was then able to engage in a positive way to move forward. The most amazing thing of all this of course is that this afternoon in a completely different meeting, with a wonderful group of academics, we were talking about issues and solutions. I was then able to discuss solutions with them with the mind set of no ice cream shop. That meant I could see options like the candy, pie, and chocolate shop instead (or even the fruit shop at a push). Now I know there is no ice cream, I don’t want it. I just want everything else!
Throughout my working life I have changed jobs on average every 18 months. My dad is concerned by this as he comes from the generation of having a job for life. I’m concerned about it because it makes me reflect on my attributes in the workplace. Why do I change jobs? What motivates me? Well, sometimes I change because I get tapped on the shoulder for a really cool job. Happened a bit in the public service but not so much now. Mostly though I change jobs because I get tired of banging my head against the wall. But what if I worked with the wall instead?
What if I could assess the wall, consider it, identify points of weakness and then slowly chip away. What if over time I could coax, coerce, convince that wall to go away? Now, that would be very cool.
So what attributes in the workplace do I need to make that happen? The greatest is probably patience I’m thinking. For those of you who know me, you know that’s a big ask. But I have been on a path of self improvement lately, maybe I could have another a go at attacking this wall. Alternatively maybe I should just go.