Today is my research day. It’s 10:37 and I’ve been doing my paid work for the last three hours. No research yet!
The reason is because I have three weeks leave (sweet freedom) at the end of today and all the things I didn’t get done that I needed to get done are getting done this morning instead of research. That’s okay. I have three weeks for driving and thinking about research so this should work out.
What is interesting is when I left yesterday not one, but five people said “don’t think about us at all while you’re gone”. It’s interesting because that’s never happened to me in a workplace before. Admittedly I’ve not had a holiday exceeding one week since 2002, so maybe this is what people say. Or maybe, it’s because I became frazzled this week. Everything started to get to me and I became awful to work with. (I know I did!) So maybe they are saying “please have a nice break away from everything that makes you frazzled and return inspired and rejuvenated ready for more”. I’d like to think that’s what they’re saying because I really love working with these incredible people.
An example of how amazing these people are happened yesterday, my last day in the office. People came together in a room and shared who they were and how we can all work together for a better outcome. This group wasn’t told to come together. It’s not a structured event. It started with people saying “we should share what we’re saying with others” so they did. We now have marketing and teaching and learning coming together towards a common goal. We’re still shaping that goal, but it’s coming. We’re doing it without management saying we should. We’re doing it without a designated leader (although the ‘facilitator’ yesterday was great). We’re doing because we all know it will work best for us all and for students. I got so excited I actually bounced up and down in my chair when I was talking……yes, that happened…..
So, while I am frazzled and have never looked forward to freedom more than I do today, I am in awe of the people coming together. I am in awe that people want to try despite the constant obstacles and road blocks. I am in awe that in one hour we built a nice bridge we all want to cross. More importantly, I’m in awe that it all started with two people thinking they should share with others. Change will not happen through decree or policy or rules, it will happen through people sharing. Thank you Lauren and Suzette for sharing.
Talking to an academic this week he remarked it’s been a while since I blogged. I thought that was weird until I realised I’d been blogging on my PhD site and not this one. Funny how my brain just assumed I’d blogged therefore I’d shared, but I’d been sharing in a different place. So I’ve been cheating on this blog with another. Sorry about that.
It’s been a busy time with my new job. In fact I now have three new jobs. Turns out that the senior project officer role has sufficient cross over with other positions it means I can do three jobs in the time I have for one. Needless to say – interesting times.
What does amaze me, as always, is the people I work with. They are amazing. The willingness to go above and beyond, the generosity to share ideas and debate concepts to find the best solution, the desire to come together as a team to identify goals and ways to work towards them, and then faculty members who are keen to be supported in new ways even if it does encroach on their already precious time. Seriously incredible and inspiring place to work.
There are some down sides. The first is still the lack of operational technology. I think I’ve thrashed this horse past death so I’m not going into it again here, I’m just going to say – we can’t utilise more technology in the learning space without having technology that works. Simple enough I think and yet epic fail after epic fail. Sigh……
The other aspect is how a few people in the workplace can have a massive impact, and not in a useful way. The only way I will succeed in any three of the jobs I have is through open, transparent service delivery. As such I share information constantly, seek input into all aspects of my work, liaise with central staff and academics and regularly check with senior management I’m still on the right path. I’m finding some resistance in some quarters to this approach of work. While it wouldn’t normally be an issue their actions are now impacting on the goodwill I’m trying to establish. I assume they don’t share the service delivery focus management is seeking and/or have a focus on something else – perhaps their next promotion or perhaps a sideline project they prefer, I”m not sure and perhaps I should ask. This is leading to an outcome where our service delivery team has the appearance to outside of being inconsistent. This is not a good outcome for the University.
If we can’t come together on a shared direction in relation to how we support academics and faculties, we aren’t actually working in the way our customers expect. Academics are the lifeblood of the University. They service the students who decide whether to stay or go, whether to recommend us as a place of study, they can vote with their feet. The front line for these students are the academics. In central, our job is to support these academics to do the best they can to attract and retain students so we can all continue to get paid. For my way of thinking, this is an easy equation. Why is it so hard to achieve?
This was a big week. Not just in events or workload (although it was) but also ideas. Quality is not black and white, it is full of subtleties and nuances all depending on your world perspective. This was my realisation this week (bit slow on the uptake sometimes).
I have created an email list of more than 100 people to help implementation. I did this because I believe that success in quality will come from the ground up. I have this belief because my world view is based on the assumption of perverse incentives. Currently the incentives for the university are not on quality courses but on research and financial aspects. This doesn’t mean the university is not interested in course quality, it just has incentives schemes encouraging different business needs. So, my chances of improving course quality comes from two possible positions:
- Change the incentives (yes, well, Buckley’s and none there I’m afraid)
- Provide intrinsic incentives for academics to come together on course quality
Number two is possible as academics already want to provide quality education (on the whole). The question is how to create an environment where this is possible for them to do and they are not coming up against barriers all the time.
All this leads me to my email list. Today it is an email list, I’m hoping tomorrow it will be a network of motivated, supported individuals working towards quality course outcomes for students. I want to understand the world through their eyes and enable them to meet their objectives. Now, if only I could change the extrinsic incentives I might be onto something!
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?
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.
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!
I’m not sure, and I think someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but I seem to recall it was Ronald Reagan who said “It’s the economy, stupid” (yes I’m too lazy this morning to google it….). Reagan’s point from my perspective, was that it was so blindingly obvious that the financial situation matters that it was worth calling people stupid if they weren’t understanding it. Basically, it meant that people who didn’t get it, would say they did, just to not get called stupid.
Yesterday afternoon I was struck that in my workplace it’s about incentives. Some wonderful people in my workplace are being told they aren’t good enough because they haven’t met the perverse markers in the performance structure because they publish in books not journals, or the edit journals and books instead of authoring or they contribute actively to the community around them with their research instead of the formalised educational structures. They are also innovative teachers. So, they are basically being punished for not being in an ivory tower and being innovative teachers.
People talk about incentives for workforces all the time, and yet, they do not understand the behaviour it engenders. They are stupid pretending to understand so as not to be left out. But seriously, when effective staff members start to leave in droves, all I can say is, “It’s the incentives, stupid.”