Early thoughts on the new year and the new job

Some time off doing too little and eating too much allows me to stumble out of 2016 into a new year and a new job. Still at USQ, but I’m leaving the School of Teacher Education & Early Childhood and joining the Advancement of Learning and Teaching (ALT) – not sure if it’s a unit, department, office etc. Yes, for the second time I’m leaving the land of the faculty-based academic and venturing into the wilds of central learning and teaching.  I’ll leave reflection on the wisdom of that move to another post.

Today is my first day as part of a group with responsibility for “educational excellence and innovation” (EEI). Quoting from the position description I applied for, this group is

dedicated to improving students’ learning experiences by promoting academic development and learning, reward and recognition of good teaching, scholarly of learning and teaching and educational leadership development

ALT is the result of a recent organisational restructure, which means that both ALT and EEI are at some level figuring out how and what they should be doing. Given previous findings that 70% of centres like ALT are less than three years old (Challis, Holt & Palmer, 2009), it’s fairly important we develop some good answers. The following is the first step in thinking about how we might develop such answers.

Vision Deployment Matrix (VDM)

Late last year I did attend a leadership and strategic planning session organised for folk within the broader division to which ALT belongs. The session was run by Neil Carrington and was well worth it (not something that can always be said about such sessions). One of the tools/ways of thinking mentioned in the session was Kim’s Vision Deployment Matrix (VDM). While I have my reservations about aspects of the matrix, it does appear to provide a useful way to develop some shared understanding of why, how and what a group might be doing. The following is an attempt to make explicit some thinking about how it might be employed by EEI and as part of that dig a bit deeper into VDM.

The following table is one representation of the matrix. What isn’t captured by the table is the idea of increasing leverage and the idea that the “ability to influence the future increases as we move from the level of events to vision” (Kim). i.e. responding to event is not as likely to impact the future as re-thinking the mental models underpinning what is being done/seen. (Due to experience, I struggle a little with the idea of “vision” having an impact)

Level of perspective (Action mode) Desired future reality Current reality Gaps, open issues & questions Action steps Indicators of progress Timeline
Vision (Generative)
Mental models (Reflective)
Systemic structures (creative)
Patterns (Adaptive)
Events (Reactive)

The task set for EEI is difficult. I see the potential value of the VDM as a tool for mapping out what is being done at the moment at the moment, surfacing some of the limitations, and identifying tasks to do.  Kim provides a couple of “pocket guides” (shifting from a reactive to a generative orientation, and crossing the chasm from reality to vision) to how this might be done.

The idea is that you start with the vision you’d like to create and work down getting each to align. My first problem with VDM was the chicken and egg problem. VDM suggests that once you have your vision, you can then look for the beliefs and assumptions embedded within that vision and required to achieve it. My problem is that those formulating the vision have a range of mental models that influence the formulation of the vision.

Since I’m new to the role and the group has recently been restructured I see value in ignoring the vision and instead starting with the immediate reality and questions such as

  1. What are the events we should be involved with this year?
  2. What are the observable patterns arising from/contributing to those events?
  3. What are the systemic structures that we have (or don’t have) that support and produces these patterns/events?
  4. What are the mental models that underpin those structures?

Working through this with the group and then sharing this more broadly would appear to help those involved work towards a vision and what is needed to achieve it.

An example

So translating the abstract potential into reality, needs to be doable and I initially struggled with what I might use as an example. A sign of difficulties for the VDM? It won’t be easy, but in this case I think it’s my inexperience in the role.  Parts of the following are based on brief conversations last year and may have no connection to institutional reality at all.

Event: Contact a new casual teaching staff member and pass along pointers about where they can find out more about teaching at the institution.

Patterns: This might/should help the new staff member figure out how to teach, reduce any uncertainty they have. It might increase use of those services.  There’s liable to be a fairly short time frame between appointment and when they need to perform the task (sometimes it’s a negative time frame). This task will peak at certain times (just before start of teaching semester perhaps).

Systemic structures:  At the moment, the identity of new casual teaching staff members is done via an email from HR to another member of staff. This person then sends out a standard email.  The list of new staff members doesn’t always capture prior teaching roles. Starting to reveal some holes here.

Mental models:  There’s a growing recognition of the importance and value of casual teaching staff, but at the same time a recognition of the growing complexity of the role and how limited prior support might have been.  Casual staff members have limited time (Do their contracts fund training?). An email with links is a useful practice.

What next?

I think there might be some value here, especially if done by the group and beyond in an on-going, iterative and open method. Some next potential steps

  1. Identify a list of potential events that the group is involved with in coming months.
  2. Become more familiar with the current espoused visions and plans for the institution and and broader groups.
  3. Revisit the relevant literature for visions, mental models, systems, and events.
  4. Personally try out a few more examples using the VDM
  5. Share the approach with others and learn.
  6. Figure out how and if this should become something we focus time on.

References

Challis, D., Holt, D., & Palmer, S. (2009). Teaching and learning centres : towards maturation Teaching and learning centres : towards maturation. Higher Education Research & Development, 28(4), 37–41. http://doi.org/10.1080/07294360903067021

Kim, Daniel H. “Vision Deployment Matrix I.” Systems Thinker 6.1 (1995).

2 Replies to “Early thoughts on the new year and the new job”

  1. Thanks for this very interesting post. Still reading you! Congrats as well on the new job and the move to Reclaim Hosting. All best wishes for 2017 and beyond.

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