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I’ve frequently blogged about the stresses and strains of academics. How much they are asked to do and how little time they have. This reference was sent to me and it highlights the changes in academia that have been and what can possible be. My question is, who is to support this structural adjustment and how?

The job I’m currently in I believe I can support academics in the structural adjustment. Not just as individuals but through strong, transparent governance structures. It’s early days so I may be completely wrong, but I do know they are amazing people and I have skills and knowledge that might help. Of course, I could be deluded, but I’m going to give it a very good go.

And thank you to all the people who send me links and articles. I don’t always get a chance to say thank you so here it is. Please keep them coming. All pieces of information help me understand more and find different and more useful solutions to what I think we can all agree is a very complicated problem.

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 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!

Today I held a sharing session for academics to come and share their teaching experiences online. Unfortunately it was not as well attended as I was hoping. On the upside, through the sharing we’ve found a technical glitch that we can now fix before the students undertake the quiz, so bonus!

What is clear though, is that time poor academics can’t innovate, improve, share, be collegiate, support one another while management continue to add to the workload. On one hand we are asking academics to innovate to engage and retain students, on the other we are asking them to publish or perish. They cannot do both. We are talking about a wonderful and amazing group of individuals who are torn in two.

Anyway, with the people I had today I asked, how do we spread the information to others? How do we spread the news? How do we find time to share knowledge and ideas? A web site? A newsletter? More sharing sessions? One on one?

The answer, in hindsight, is not surprising. The information needs to come at a time when it’s needed in a way it’s needed. Academics need to be able to go to someone when they have the innovative idea, put it out there, ask how it can be done, and be shown then and there how to do. On demand sharing.

This is expensive. It requires one contact point to know all the matters going on in the faculty and then be able to instantly share. Ideally they would know the whole university. I think the university is trying to do this with a central service area, but this has been less than successful to date. Why? Because of trust. People will share and seek support from people they trust. Diane talks to me often on the matter of trust, and today it came home more than ever. We spread the news through those we trust. Now, if only I could put that into a work plan……

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?

With all advances in the use of technology there is a lag between what users want and need and what the infrastructure of the organisation can provide. The lag between technology advances and legislation change is even greater.

It dawned on me yesterday that these lags are now combining forces to create an unworkable world. The systemic technology issues I am encountering are on the rise simply because I’m starting to move from planning with academics to implementation. What I find most interesting (and I’ve posted about this before) is that we are asking all people to be all things to fix these issues. We are asking the educational designers to fix the ICT when really it’s a university wide infrastructure issue. For this project, the increased uptake and application of the online environment in education, there really should have been a technology auditor existing structures, identification of what is likely to be required, 3, 5 and 10 years out, and the. A road map developed of how to make that happen including expected budget allocation. But because there wasn’t an IT infrastructure person in the room, this never came up.

In education we spend too long asking teachers/academics to fulfill every organisational role. Would we ever ask a heart surgeon to conduct brain surgery?

Anyway, why did I call this chicken and egg? Because there is no point in asking academic to make greater use of the online environment if we haven’t first built a stable, effective and useable environment for them to use. They are trying to make the chicken when there has been no egg. (I personally believe the egg came first because reptiles have eggs and they were around before birds. That’s my logic and I’m sticking with it!)

So, please, someone tell me where I can buy an egg?

Christmas is done so I’ve moved onto the husband’s birthday (He’s a January child…..*sigh*) anyway, I was researching for his present on Google with no success and then I thought I’d try twitter to see if I could find a link to the type of present I want to buy him. (This is not as complicated a present as it sounds, I just need to know if I can buy it…..). On twitter I fell over something completely random which I’m yet to fully read, but so far, it’s got some really cool stuff!

When I set up this blog I talked about how lucky I am to have this job. It is the bringing together of all my passions, and experiences into one productive and creative position! I have to say though, the serendipitous nature of the events that are occurring with this job make me think that fate might be real. It is seriously starting to feel like all the choices I’ve made in the jobs I’ve had have been working towards where I am today.

I am in a job I love, learning about stuff I’m passionate about, working out cunning plans, achieving positive, tangible outcomes and now, social media is working to show me more avenues to explore. Seriously, does employment ever get better than this? Hmmm….maybe if I was actually teaching. I still miss teaching students.

I’m laughing as I read that last paragraph. Even when I’m happiest I still have to whine. For those of you that know me – that’s no surprise!

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