Update & Objections

Josie over at EdTechUk mentioned something the other day about this whole promoting / supporting / commentary that got me thinking:

“Perhaps we can use this current moment of galvanisation to begin to come up with a coherent community response to the spectre of administrative misunderstanding and censorship.”

Well, a ‘whole community’ response might be a bit difficult, but that’s not to say that individual exponents of weblogs, wikis, webfeeds, open source CMSs and alike couldn’t be better equipped with a set of objections & rebuttals. It would be equally nice to have a set of possibilities of the kind Anne (I think) came up with the other day, but let’s start with the mean & nasty stuff… helps to be balanced… and besides I (and many others) have been writing about possibilities for a fair bit now.

In relation to my job, after some further communication it now seems like I may be able to continue to pursue this area as part of my ‘professional research interest’, which is great if a little unwieldy (as each project I enter into is now going to have to have research / publication outcomes, gulp), but the objection to promotion and support within the University remains the same. This time it’s not down to my ‘commentary’ on the issue or even policy and procedure (which encourages me to think that the implied threat to prohibit my right of expression may not be carried through) but rather that:

-As any projects will be supported ‘only by me’ (i.e. I hold the keys) are not feasible as I may get sick / move off.

-I can only do this with a handful of academics so a. This won’t be scalable, b. Other academics may perceive this as favouritism (as I can’t support this with everyone) & c. This may set up unreasonable expectations of level of support.

-In order for any such exploration and use to take place it would need to happen with clearly established needs, supporting resources, $$$s and people available.

So, forgetting about the ‘policy’ argument (i.e taking it as said that a University should have policy which doesn’t dictate ‘You will use x CMS’) and taking it as granted that I have the right, nay obligation, to speak freely in this area. How can I tackle these areas?

For me it basically boils down to one simple objection, you can’t do anything as central support without full implementation / provision for everyone which, regardless of the technology or processes, leads to a far simpler question, “How can am academic institution be centrally responsible, sustainable and at the same time supportive of innovation?”. I’d argue that while a central body (providing, for example, support, training, consultation etc. ) needs to coordinate and facilitate the provision and use of central systems (such as a CMS), at the same time they should focus on facilitating, through support, the decentralised development of practices which can then inform the centralised operations.

That this support needs to be so clearly couched in institutional processes or heavy duty research projects, however, would seem to be contradictory to the more action-researched, experimental and often serendipitously led nature of innovative projects, especially when related to new technologies which, as Rob Reynolds pointed out very well in his broadcast (link may break – 3 Nov 04 archive) on this issue, we don’t really have any idea about.

I think that you cannot really argue against innovation on the basis of sustainability or even scalability and that the type of managerialism that seeks to control, measure and define these kind of practices is highly counter productive. I think that you can allow space, support, time and the opportunity to mess up while at the same time providing solid centralized sustainable and reportable systems. In fact, I think you should.

What do other people reckon? Is this a reasonable response to this kind of objection or am I off target? I’m also not very well-versed in the field of management / innovation etc. (what, you couldn’t tell ;o) so any papers, resources in this area are v. much appreciated!)

What kind of objections have you faced or can you envisage around institutionally supporting these technologies? How do ya reckon we can shoot ’em down?

Perhaps we could put together a pretty nifty, inter-blog set of issues & possible solutions…

8 replies on “Update & Objections”

  1. Just a commercial firm for comparison:

    Google allows their employees to have 20% of their work hours (not their spare time) devoted to any research which the employees deem fit and may benefit Google. This 1 day a week does not need to be reported in their normal reporting channel.

    If a commercial organisation can do this, it will be very depressing to see higher education institutions (with an explicit charge to innovate) cannot take a matching policy to Google.

  2. The model I have used successfully is to separate the “sandbox” from the “production” stuff. Nobody wants to be tinkering with the Institutional CMS when trying new stuff. That should go into a safe sandbox. Stuff that works, percolates its way to the surface, where it is skimmed/filtered/documented and migrated to Production.

    That gives lots of room for experimentation with no expectation of institutional support, while pollinating the institutional production resources with the cream of the experimental crops…

  3. You and D’Arcy Norman are hitting the nail on the head, according to what I know about Project Management and Innovation. Quality of production (let’s argue for a nano-second that education is Production) requires conformance to known processes. But profitibility (let’s argue etc that education is a business) requires innovation, hence experimentation, hence occassionally screwing up. Engineering and technological practices know this and have an on-core (specified) vs off-core (sandbox) viewpoint. Strategic decisions should wisely dictate how much resource goes off-core – it is entirely open to an organisation to be Production-only although it then must feed off the innovation of others. You can and should manage activities in the innovation sandbox, but the metrics and tools are of necessity different from quality monitoring in the production side.

  4. Wow, Albert, I am luckier than Google… I have the privilige and support to spend at least 40% of my time (I never calculated nor does anyone else, but i know it is more than 20) doing R&D… but this is very rare in higher education where it seems the percentage barely hovers at 0.

  5. James – good to say hello again. I’m just tuning in to this latest twist regarding the recent predicament of yours courtesy of your employer. My, what a sign of the times – sad, so sad…

    The imperative for universities to grow up and learn how to learn has really never been more urgent. I truely wonder if they are capable of doing it though, now that the corporate/managerial hold has become so strong…

    But, to learning… and your question: “How can an academic institution be centrally responsible, sustainable and at the same time supportive of innovation?” You are spot-on in asking this; and it is incumbent on an institution which is intent on medium to long term survival to find a workable balance of this sort.

    My own work in recent years has addressed issues of this sort, and I spent a number of years working to ‘instiutionalise action research approaches’ and figure out how to deal with all the internal contradictions that that implies. Ironically, it is publications from your university in the late 19980s and early 1990s that do much to explain such issues. And, I can add, the ‘research output’ is now starting to flow. One example is the following abstract from the 2003 HERDSA conference:

    Coaching the transition to flexible learning:
    re-thinking instructional design

    Abstract: This paper reviews the experiences of an educational development project devised to support teaching staff responsible for curriculum redesign during the transition to a successful technology-facilitated off-campus study program. The approach adopted a just-in-time (JIT) coaching model rather than a just-in-case (JIC) training model for educational support. Structured and semi-structured discussions with individuals and the entire staff cohort were used to catalyse and sustain the redesign and rethinking process. Repeatedly collecting and responding to student feedback within any given course enabled a rapid and focussed approach to redesign and redevelopment. Up to 3 or 4 iterations of course development informed in this way were required to finalise course transformation. Team and peer-group approaches to course redevelopment may help diminish the initial high level of dependency on external educational development support.

    More substantive international publications on the leadership angle and on the nature of the action research process are in press. Let me know if you want to discuss further.

    Hang in there with your current ‘debate’ – it takes more than a push for a well-balanced individual to fall over…

  6. James’ institution seem a tad more flexible but I daresay there’s a number of people wondering why the only way space for such innovation can be found is via the language of spin and obfuscation. The comments to James’ article add further value to an already interesting nascent case study.

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