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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?

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I did a quick re-read of this blog site this morning and realised that it is starting to become a real collection of brain stuff for me. Wait – that sounded better in my brain….

This site is building quite nicely into a collection of resources and analysis that I see value in for the future for me. (That’s better!)

Last night though, I was reminded that the best resource I have are the smart people in my life. Iain and Katie and I got together and had a brain storm about what we would like to do to address some of the disconnects in high schools in relation to technology. We have together developed a cunning plan. It is a plan that I would never have been able to think up by myself. I needed others.

I’ve talked a lot about this in relation to my current job. I need others to identify and develop solutions for the academics I’m trying to support. All cunning plans need conspirators.

Last night I spoke to Katie and Iain about choosing complementary conspirators. I think they thought I was being a little crazy. But I’ve been involved in a few plans (most of them not that cunning, but, they were plans) that have gone terribly south all because I chose crappy conspirators. I chose people (or people chose me on rare occasions where someone thought I would be useful!) who I thought would be great, but when it came to going over the top of the trench to meet the challenge, they had to suddenly be elsewhere. That left me alone at the top watching the gun fire reign down.

My husband says I try to help people too much. I think he’s right. I do try. I don’t always succeed and that annoys me. I don’t take to failure too well. The cunning plan in motion is ambitious and tries to help all high school students in the ACT. My husband is right – I try too much. This time there is no try, thanks to Yoda there is only do or do not. Iain, Katie – stuff it – let’s do it!

I’m having the most amazing experience in this job. I am doing work that brings together all the skills and knowledge that I love to use (whether they are useful or not is debatable!) including working with a broad range of people who have creative ideas. But that’s not what’s most amazing. What’s really amazing is the ability to let go of order.

By my nature I like ducks in rows, I like plans, I like procedures, I like everything to match. By the nature of this job there are too many different ducks, swans, ibis and a couple of flamingos. The plans last about two days at the most and nothing can match. For example, last Thursday I had a day planned which started with a meeting. At that meeting the Dean said “That’s what we can try – make it happen by 4 pm this afternoon and we can all test it to see if it works. Okay?” So, there goes the day. But then, the magic happened.

Not being uptight and resistant to the change a whole bunch of people came together last Thursday to make something happen. We all strove towards a goal by letting go of everything we all had planned and the shared success was exhilarating. We also found a solution for a delivery issue we were facing which means I could then finally get onto paper some structure about distance education that I’d been thinking about for a while.

So, by letting go and I actually got to do what I really like and that was to develop a concept for how lecturers can use SKYPE in delivery for distance. It also highlighted the issue we have delivering under the ESOS requirements where 75% of contact hours has to be face to face for international students as SKYPE doesn’t count as face to face. Of course, in today’s world the definition of face to face is complicated. But I think that’s another post.

The upshot is, last Thursday was a changing point for me. I couldn’t see it at the time, but I can now. I can see how chaos is positive. I can see how me not constraining others or situations leads to magic. I can see how I can be a better employee by letting go. Not a bad conclusion to reach, just wish it had happened 20 years ago!

Yesterday I was working on presenting a Word document into Powtoon to demonstrate to academics different media in presenting information. Basically I’m trying to model the type of actions the project I’m working on is trying to bring about.

Anyway, I start by putting the same text of the document into the multimedia. I get to ‘slide’ 4 and am completely struggling. Why am I struggling? What is the mental barrier? Why isn’t this doing what I want it to do?

I go for a walk, get some water. and think.

Then, it happens. That moment where it all comes together. Oh! It’s different! Different media means different delivery. Don’t cut and paste from the document, think about the message in the document and then present it in the multimedia format!

Then it all falls into place. The message is the same – combine your delivery styles, don’t just use the same approach all the time, but it’s told in two very different ways. This of course has flow on effects for my thinking. We are asking academics to adopt new delivery techniques but have we told them that this means thinking about their message in a different way? Do we need to or will they just know? How do we scaffold this so that they can do it? I work with ICT a lot and it took me a while to do the brain shift (and I’ve done it before!!!). How do we best support people for whom this is a whole new experience?

Seriously – the more I think about this, the more I can see opportunities to support staff. But how do I do that with just me? Hmmm….to find out what I can leverage where!

I was talking to a really amazing brain today (well all right, it was in the form of a wonderful academic who is seriously overworked but let’s not get into details) and it showed me something I hadn’t seen before. It was about how people think. She spoke about how creativity and ability to think outside the usual context are linked. She also spoke about a whole range of other things I’m not going to pretend to understand. I did say the brain was amazing.

Anyway, what does this have to do with anything? It has to do with why we teach. We teach for all sorts of reasons and purposes. As my father always says, people go to work for all sorts of reasons and it’s very rarely about the work. What this means is I’m asking the wrong question. I need to start asking why academics should want to teach and how can I support that to happen? I shouldn’t be thinking about why they come to work. That shouldn’t shape what I do. I need to think creatively about context and how that varies from academic to academic and how I shape their context to achieve organisational outcomes.

The brain also said you can teach people to think creatively. It’s about pushing the brain into the creative space and out of the comfort zone. It’s about driving home a different way. My job is to work out how to entice the brains I work with into a different zone. Any ideas?

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