Assembling the heterogeneous elements for (digital) learning

Category: asciliteMentor

Further reflection on creating innovative, good quality L&T

During 2007 I’m participating in the ASCILITE mentoring program. My mentor and I have been using a discussion on this blog as part of that process. This post is a continuation of a discussion started on an earlier blog post. In particular, I’m going to pick up and reflect upon some of Kathleen’s comments.

Some disclaimers

This type of medium is particular problematic for this type of conversation. So a few disclaimers are probably due.

  • The vast majority of my personal experience has been at CQU. Much of what I say/claim can only be said to apply to that context and obviously has been tremendously influenced by that context.
  • Some of the language used may seem to be very certain of itself. I’m no where near that certain. If I included all the uncertainty I felt with appropriate language these posts would be much longer. All of this is part of a process of reflection and all very uncertain.
  • As with many discussions like this I think some points of disagreement can be traced back to a differences in the definitions and understandings applied to certain terms.

Why/How so clear?

Kathleen asked

I am interested that you are able to be so clear about your orientation/s; for myself I now think of these as a repertoire of approaches, one or more of which may need to be deployed “professionallyâ€? depending on the AD work to be done, regardless of one’s personal inclinations.

I agree, that most of the approaches Land describes do need to be employed at certain times. I’ve used each of the approaches at various times. To me this is the epitome of the “vigilant opportunist”. With my particular brand of opportunism including heavy doses of reflective practitioner and interpretive-hermeneutic.

When I say “I am somewhat less favourably included” towards some approaches I’m suggesting that I don’t see them as a useful way of approaching the overall problem. Generally, this is because the understanding of the context (a strong tendency to anarchy) and my beliefs about encouraging adoption of innovations lead me to believe that each of these orientations have significant flaws. Flaws that mean that the orientations are not useful as an overall umbrella approach.

I summarised some of those flaws in the original post.

What do you plan to do?

Some really good questions drive this section. It’s also been a problem I’ve been pondering for some time. I’m hoping that at some stage over the next couple of months to be working on some presentations and papers that explain it in more detail. The following is a rough first crack.

To set the context, Kathleen said

I think it’s important to clarify what you plan to do in a way that is ‘out there’, i.e. generally (a) understandable to and (b) agreed upon by your clients/ staff / sponsors / stakeholders – what is it that you’re aiming to solve or support, in a prioritised, observable way? Further how will you and they know when you’ve got there, and whether it was a path that you’d take again or recommend that others take?

Before getting to that, I’ll start with a response to these comments

Although you’ve given short shrift to the compelling power of an evidence-based approach to L&T, does this mean you don’t think research evidence matters generally in directing educational change or that you have other less formal ways that you use to reach decisions about what your unit will do?

The description Land (2001) gives of the researcher orientation is

Sees most effective way of inÂ?fluencing colleagues’ practice as being through presentation of compelling educational research evidence

I believe educational research is important for informing what is done and for understanding what has worked elsewhere and why. But I believe that the presentation of compelling educational research evidence is a very poor way of influencing colleague’s practice.

Which probably brings us to what I see as the ultimate aim of a group like CD&DU, to encourage and enable colleague’s to adopt L&T approaches that demonstrate appropriate qualities.

A favourite maxim I use is

It’s not how bad you start, it’s how quickly you get better

I see “creating” innovative, good quality education as an approach to enabling and encouraging staff to “get better”. Getting better is a process of adopting changes, often very small, to previous practice.

It’s this task which is a wicked design problem which, at least to me, is intimately tied with the local institutional context. Which brings us to the belief that the most effective way to encourage and enable change is to engage with the local context in all its diversity and uniqueness.

Which brings us to ateleological design (Introna, 1995) which I’ve banged on about previously. I’m also going to bring in the Trigwell “model of teaching” I’ve used previously.

Trigwell’s Model of University Teaching.

I’ll try to answer the questions about how I believe we might work using the attributes of an ateleological design process identified by Introna (1995)

  1. What is the ultimate purpose?
    To achieve a sense of wholeness/harmony. In this context, the aim is to create in the academics a sense of rightness around L&T. Not a goal I think that can be achieved in any university I’m aware of, but its an aim.

    What does this mean really? Even I think it all sounds a bit “hippie”. For me, the wholeness/harmony can be said to be a characteristic of the T&L context shown in Trigwell’s model of university teaching. Why? Well, if the T&L context isn’t good, then chances of encouraging change in teacher’s thinking, planning and strategies, just ain’t gonna happen.

    Some examples, if the T&L context includes: an over-spending on corporate systems and processes at the expense of T&L systems and processes; a need to cut staff; senior staff indicating that research and innovation around T&L is not valued and is in fact actively discouraged; huge increases in the complexity and expectations of teaching without subsequent increases in support, processes and infrastructure etc. Then encouraging change is going to be “pushing it up a hill”.

    Now a group like CD&DU can’t hope to change many of those factors. But it can do some things to encourage wholeness/harmony and not do others that break it.

  2. What are the intermediate goals?
    Maintaining a sense of equilibrium/homeostasis between the system and the external world. To some extent this is reducing the sense of change for change sake but maintaining a system that responds.

    Most Australian academics are now more than familiar with the idea that the context within which universities find themselves is forever changing and that if universities don’t change, they are liable to cease to exist. This is usually an argument for the latest, greatest massive change that the university requires to “make it competitive”.

    Massive change is bad. It screws with the wholeness and harmony of the T&L context. While massive change is going on the chances of encouraging change in teachers thinking, planning and strategies is just not going to happen. Massive change like this comes in many flavours. Restructuring of organisational units is a favourite. As is moving to a new version of software (Blackboard 6.3 to 7.3) or to new software (Blackboard to Moodle).

    Such massive change is a bit like the descriptions of the effect of the erruption of Krakatoa on the local ecosystems described in the Wikipedia page on homeostasis. Massive change destroys all the complexity and interconnectedness of the ecosystem and forces it to start from scratch. While the ecosystem is recovering from that disaster the focus on improving learning and teaching can’t be great.

  3. The design focus?
    The focus is on the process used to achieve the goals and purpose. Not on a specific task or purpose, but on a process.

    A good example of what is meant here is this page on “responding to a draft”. It talks about the task being not to grade a final report, essay or thesis but to work with the students on the draft, help them with the process not grade the product.

    Focus on the process to get better, rather than on the product – Blackboard, Peopelsoft, Sakai, Moodle.

    The quote below from Lord John Brown is also tightly connected with this focus on process, not product.

  4. Who is doing the design?
    Everyone. Some connections with Land’s interpretive-hermeutic and reflective practitioner. Not a particular group, but where possible as many people as possible have some influence over the direction. An approach that bypasses more of the centralised governance type approaches and focuses on the enabling the frontline folk.

    The core strategic advantage and the most expensive resource which universities have at their disposal are the staff. Rough figures indicate that around 90% of a universities annual costs are staff salaries. But most design and management is focused on “controlling” them, especially the few bad apples. Teleological design, by its nature, limits the ability to design to a small few.

    The aim in ateleological design is to allow as many people as possible to design. To allow them to do their own thing with a minimum of interference of judgement. To let a 1000 flowers bloom. Celebrate the diversity.

    A concrete example of this around e-learning are the “real course sites” in Webfuse. The idea was that there was a “default course site” put in place to serve the needs of the organisation. But there was an area, essentially empty, in which academics could do their own thing, if they wised. We never supported this as much as we should’ve, but we really couldn’t. But that approach allows some interesting things to develop which can then feed back into the default.

  5. The scope of the design?
    Where possible attempting to focus on the whole. Not on a particular part of the problem.

    Too many of the problems within organisations come about because different, small parts of the organisation focus on their little patch. So an information system to manage the approval of new course proposals (including synopses and learning outcomes) doesn’t share the information with anything else.

  6. The design process?
    A focus on local adaptation, reflection and learning. A strong focus on the local needs and making small changes based on what has been learned.

    Sticking with homeostasis and decentralised design the design process becomes local adaptation. What does person X need. Solve that problem with a small solution. Don’t get hung up on trying to abstract it out and apply it to everyone. If the small change is done well it might be applicable to others, but they get to choose, they are co-designers.

    Small change is also important as it doesn’t cause great interruptions in the L&T context and contributes to wholeness and harmony by people seeing that the process is solving their problems. This creates trust.

    For a short period of time we achieve this sort of process (to a limited extent) within the Faculty of Informatics and Communication (which no longer exists because of a massive change). Here are a couple of quotes illustrating the trust that can develop

    ..the precedent of other IT systems made available in Infocom (…) suggests that it
    would be extremely user friendly for people with very limited computer

    my positive experience with other Infocom systems gives me confidence that OASIS
    would be no different. The systems team have a very good track record that inspires

  7. The problem to be faced?
    Traditional design has to deal with complexity and conflict (due by having to make sure people move towards the chosen purpose). Ateleological design’s problem is time. It can be seen as to slow.

    At this stage, I think Introna missed out on one of the problems of ateleological design – loss of control. Ateleological design means that management has to let go of the control, of their perceived right to make big, far-reaching decisions and instead focus on the process. Here’s a quote from Lord John Brown, the then Group CEO of BP, illustrating part of the problem.

    Giving up the illusion that you can predict the future is a very liberating moment. All you can do is give yourself the capacity to respond . . . the creation of that capacity is the purpose of strategy

    If you take a complexity/chaos view of organisations you also know that small changes in a complex system can have incredibly far-reaching impacts. So I’m not sure that the “time” problem is such a a big problem for ateleological design.

  8. Design management?
    Is, as much as possible, decentralised. Again moving it out to the frontline.
  9. Design control?
    Via a range of rules and regulators, not in line with a master plan.
  10. What does that actually mean? Still working on that to some extent. More to come.

    The previous post summarises it this way

    1. Start with what the institution currently has/does
    2. Work closely with the staff and students to become aware of the issues they are facing.
    3. Tweak the current systems to address those issues without major overall changes
    4. Return to step 2

    Extremes considered harmful

    This is not to indicate that ateleological design is the only approach required. Any extreme can be harmful. Certainly in the Australian university context and the governments tendency to control (and other reasons) you can’t do without some asepects of telological design.

    The problem, IMHO, at the moment is that most universities are leaning much to far towards the teleological end. Especially in a context like L&T which is very definitely a wicked design problem.

Thoughts on Carrick Awards Forum

This is a work in progress

A couple of weeks ago I attended the 2007 Carrick Awards Forum at RMIT on behalf of CQU. The main aims in attending, at least from my perspective, included getting a better “feel for Carrick” and forming some ideas about how CQU can be more successful in having staff receive these rewards.

In summary, the main points I took away included:

  • The vast majority of the award winners won because of their internal drive and motivation to be good teachers. Most had been doing what they were doing for years.
  • They generally had only limited assistance from the university teaching and learning support structures (much of the total support they did receive came in the form of assistance in writing the Carrick nomination).
  • A number of the presenters told stories about how they had to actively ignore, bypass or battle existing university policy, structures or technology.
  • None of the work I saw was based on any brand new insight into learning and teaching. All of it was based on well-known principles.
  • However, all those well-known principles were made truly effective through how the individual award winners adopted and adapted the principles to suit their own context and, often, their own unique personalities.

What follows are some thoughts on short and mid/long term strategies, which might be useful for CQU. Some are specific strategies for CD&DU.

First, a disclaimer, I believe this is an example of a wicked design problem (Rittel and Webber, 1973). There is no one silver bullet, or even a small number. There are no objective or definitive measures to determine if one approach is “best”, or often even better than others. Any change, no matter how small, is going to have effects. Some of these will create entirely unexpected results, either positive or negative.

Short term

Set the bar high

Where applicable (i.e. probably not early career), only staff who can demonstrate a consistent, on-going interest in good learning and teaching should be considered and generally only if there is something unique which sets them off.

The same perhaps should be applied to the CQU L&T awards. If it becomes that case that anyone can get one, it would soon tarnish the image.

Consider the impact of CQU’s context

All of the presenters I saw (maybe there were some I didn’t see that were different) at the Carrick awards forum were teaching in a context that applied at CQU in the early 90s. There was generally a single academic or a small team. These people had essentially total responsibility for a course, or small sequence of courses, for a consistent time period. They had problems to solve and the time and responsibility to solve them.

This is, in my experience over the last 5 year not the context many CQU academics find themselves in. A huge number of factors significantly restrict the innovation (and the quality) which a proportion of CQU coordinators can undertake. These factors include: ESOS requirements that all international students meet face-to-face (somewhat lifted in recent times), the majority of students being the direct responsibility of a number of other staff (the last course I taught had 250+ students, I was directly teaching 8), the need to coordinate upwards of 20 other staff, many of those staff being casual tutors paid according to traditional expectations and little or not ability to change this model, and perhaps the most important the sheer complexity of delivering these courses being extremely difficulty and making individuals and the organization significantly risk adverse in terms of changing models.

These and many other factors make it incredibly difficult for a significant proportion of CQU staff to do anything like the approaches shown at the Carrick awards forum.

There are other universities with similar contexts and issues. The apparent absence of any of their staff as Carrick award winners seems to indicate that CQU isn’t the only university having trouble dealing with these issues.

Some of the tactics which might alleviate some of these factors include

  • The existence of a process that allows the proposal, implementation and evaluation of significant innovations in large, complex courses involving the AICs.
  • Different models of ownership of courses and involvement of all teaching staff associated with courses in development, delivery and evaluation.

Examine the Bulmer Fellowship

Dr Michael Bulmer, a statistician from UQ, announced he’d received a Carrick associate fellowship to look at automated assessment of reflective journals. Essentially, approaches to allow students in large classes to maintain individual reflective journals that would enable academic staff to keep on eye on the student without the need for large amounts of manual marking. One of the solutions to this problem is the use of textual analysis software like Leximancer.

This has interesting connections with the BAM project which is slowly increasing in use at CQU (use in the 2nd half of 2007 may reach 3 or 4 courses).

Long Term

For ideas around what can be done long term I’m going to fall back onto the Trigwell model (2001) shown below.

Trigwell's Model of University Teaching

If our aim is to improve the strategies teachers’ are using and hence the quality of the learning and teaching then we have to implement strategies that encourage the improvement of the context, teachers’ thinking and their planning.

Teaching/Learning Context

There are broad range of fundamental holes, inefficiencies, problems and scope for improvement within the teaching/learning context. Some of these are long term issues specific to teaching and learning, some are more recent and have more to do with the University and its general direction.

Some initial, far from exhaustive thoughts on potential actions follow. Obviously what is on the list is limited by my current time and my current problems/issues. Will work on this list over time.

  • ITD, DTLS and the faculties need to work more collaboratively and effectively on a range of projects targeted at specific academic needs.
    e.g. making the course profile process simpler and more efficient, marking copy detection for plagiarism easier etc.
  • Change to the learning context not based in a demonstrable, direct need of academics or students need to be minimised.
    e.g. dropping both Webfuse and Blackboard and adopting Moodle could not be demonstrated as in response to a direct need for academics and staff. It would be for perceived needs of the “organisation”.

Teacher’s thinking

  • Targeted invitations to Carrick award winners to specific CoPs.
    Based on the assumption that you can only change practice by addressing the teachers conception of their identity. Bring in award winners which match the “identity” of various groups. Aim to maximise the homphily of the award winner and the CoP
  • DTLS/Faculty fellowships
    Implement short-term fellowships which bring faculty folk down to DTLS for specific (usually faculty-based) projects. The aim being to develop more connections between DTLS and the faculties.
  • What are they thinking?
    Perform research into what faculty are thinking now. What are their problems? Use this to inform changes to the teaching/learning context. Use it as a basis for longitudinal research to measure over time what is done.

Teachers’ planning

  • Reworked REACT process that encourages the use of a CoP based approach for the planning/design of a course.
    i.e. rather than have academics plan out a course by themselves, with little or no interaction with others. Modify the REACT process to act as a CoP based approach to course design. It might work something like this

    • Identify a collection of 6-12 academics from diverse disciplines and background who are developing a course for offering in a given term.
    • Combine them with selection of learning designers, various technical people (e.g. video production/streaming) and perhaps the odd invited guest
    • There would a fixed sequence of gatherings (perhaps half days) at which the CoP would share insights and plans.
      The sequence might be based around the ADDIE process or something similar.

    This, would hopefully, open up the diversity of input the teacher receives during the planning process for a course, establish connections across disciplines, and potentially provide a more cost effective approach to learning design than the traditional one (designer) on one (course) approach

Helping create innovative, good quality learning and teaching

In an earlier post I drew on a “model of teaching” from Trigwell (2001). The model is shown below

Trigwell's model of teaching

Sadly, because of the “streaming” way I tend to write these blog posts, I titled that post “A model for evaluating teaching”, this title did not match the intent of the post.

This post is intended to revisit the purpose of that post and build on it using insights gained from the comment made on that original post.

Purpose of the two posts

I’m currently responsible for a group that is charged with helping academic staff improve the quality of learning and teaching at CQU.

I’m trying to get a handle on how we should go about doing this.

My attraction to Trigwell’s model is that matches nicely with my own beliefs which might be summarised as creating a teaching/learning context which positively influences the thinking of academics and enables them to effectively translate that into planning, strategies and student experience.

I’m actually, to a large extent, not at all interested in evaluating teaching. I tend to like the phrase, “It’s not how bad you start, it’s how quickly you get better”.

My Orientiation

The comment on the original post by Kathleen Gray pointed to a paper by Ray Land (2001), the abstract for which is

This article explores the notions of change that seem to underpin the ways in which academic developers practice within speciŽ c organizational contexts and cultures. Drawing on a two-year empirical study across UK institutions it links concepts of change to the different ‘orientations’ that developers consider appropriate to their strategic terrain. It provides an opportunity for colleagues to examine their own concepts of change and a conceptual tool for auditing the extent to which the approaches adopted in our Units and Centres might appropriately address the cultures and needs of our organizations.

Land (2001) identifies 12 orientations (not claimed to be exhaustive) for academic development practice. I feel a resonance with the following

  • Romantic (ecological humanist)
    My romantic notion is that staff want to be effective in their T&L, it’s just other contextual factors that get in the way. Fix those and some good things will happen.
  • Vigilant opportunist
    At least to the extent that I try and take advantage of opportunities that help support the above point.
  • Reflective practitioner
    A key plank in an effective teaching/learning context, at least for me, is a culture that requires or strongly encourages critical reflection amongst colleagues (it’s not how bad you start, it’s how quickly you get better). The REACT project is all about this.
  • Internal consultant
    By the nature of CQU’s structure our group will need to act somewhat along these lines. Though I hope we will not stop at an advisory capacity but take a more active role, not in the direct teaching process but in terms of creating that contet.
  • Interpretive-hermeneutic
    I’m a strong believe in diversity of views. Mainly because it is through the unique combination of those views and abilities that really interesting innovation arises.

What I reject and why

The orientations to which I am somewhat less favourably inclined include

  • Managerial
    I’ve argued in a number of places (paper, presentation and various posts on this blog) why I think this approach is incredibly problematic for a university context, especially at this point in time. Since this approach generally involves a small number of people, with limited perspective and rationality (we all have limited rationality) it results in a limited solution.
  • Political strategist
    Within a university, or any organisation, to some extent you cannot get things done unless you play the political game. However, just at CQU I’ve seen too many examples of folk for whom the political game is the be all and end all. Those folk, in my experience, are poison for the organisation.
  • Researcher
    Land’s characterisation of this group is that they present compelling educational research evidence as the most effective way of influencing colleagues’ practice. How naive can you get? The questionable assumptions behind this approach include finding research that is beyond question, matches the research prejudices of the academic audience, effective bridges the research/practice relevance gap and talks effectively to the unique features and problems of the local learning and teaching context. Personally, I’m a great believe in Rogers’ diffusion theory in terms of how people choose to adopt innovations. I even co-authored a paper applying diffusion theory to choosing innovations.
  • Professional competence
    Who seeks to ensure staff have a baseline competence. Again diffusion theory and academic freedom enters the picture. Academic staff won’t engage effectively in that sort of training, especially if divorced from a purpose they find meaningful, at least that’s my belief.
  • Modeller-broker
    Getting academic staff to adopt good practice because they are shown it. Observability is one of the characteristics which Rogers’ indicates can improve the likelihood of adoption. But it is fairly minor when compared to relative advantage, complexity and compatibility. There’s also the question of how similar the identity/context/nature of the modeller and the observer. The more difference, the less likely is adoption.
  • Discipline-specific
    The problem here is the lack of diversity. Most discipline people tend to think alike. Effective collaboration of diverse folk offers a much better long term quality of outcome.

Other factors

Land (2001) also talks about the understanding of the context, the nature of the organisation, the university. Land (2001) identifies 6 cultures: anarchic, collegial, enterprise, hierarchical, managerial and political.

I believe there are aspects of all 6, but that the presence of all 6, especially when combined with a range of uncertain, rapidly changing external factors, contributes to an overall tendency towards anarchy.

Land then goes on to present a range of different understandings/approaches to change. Again many of these apply – I even mention diffusion theory which is one – but I lean towards “uncertainty, non-linearity and chaotic theories of change”.

Returning to the original problem

So then, how does a group helping learning and teaching operate. Some initial thoughts:

  • It’s more than what the students want.
    A lot of emphasis within the Australian university context understanding what students want from learning and teaching. First, there’s a lot of literature in a number of design fields that indicate the folly of resting too much on what users want. They generally don’t even know and what they do know is generally limited to their past experience with no appreciation for what might be possible.

    More importantly, knowing what students want is relatively easy compared to how you get academics to make use of this information to improve the student experience. Typically there will be a range of factors in the learning/teaching context that get in the way.

    Once you know what the students want (even though its questionable) you need to look at how you change the learning/teaching context to make it possible, even desirable for academics to change their thinking, planning and strategies to enable these to be implemented.

  • Knowing the current state of affairs
    You can’t improve the current teaching/learning context unless you know what the current state is. This is incredibly difficult. There is no one objective teaching/learning context. Different academic staff will perceive it in different ways. Certainly a tutor in a large course will perceive it differently to the Vice-Chancellor.


Keith Trigwell, Judging University Teaching, The International Journal for Academic Development, 6(1): 65-73

Land, R. (2001). “Agency, context and change in academic development.â€? The International Journal for Academic Development. 6(1): 4-20

Governance, e-learning and learning design

One of the challenges facing CQU and in particular “my group” is the question of governance around e-learning (the use of ICTs to support/enhance learning and teaching) and learning design. The essential problem, from my perspective, is that there are limited resources how and who makes the decisions about how those resources are used.

While we’re struggling with e-learning and learning design “governance” CQU’s Information Technology Division is also seeking to recast its governance structures.

The aim of this post is to force me to reflect on what I think and generate some perspectives and ideas. I think it’s turned into a disconnected diatribe against the current dominant model – not sure that’s all that useful.

What is governance?

Previously I’ve drawn on the Wikipedia definition. Which includes statements such as

Governance (in business) is the action of developing and managing consistent, cohesive policies, processes and decision rights for a given area of responsibility.

and defines the aims of corporate governance as

  • align the actions of the individual parts of an organisation toward aggregate mutual benefit
  • provide the means by which each individual part of the organisation can trust that the other parts each make their contribution to the mutual benefit of the organisation and that none gain unfairly at the expense of others
  • provide a means by which information can quickly flow between the various stakeholders to ensure that the changing nature of both the stakeholder needs and desires and the environment in which the organisation operates get effectively factored into decision processes

Looking a bit further the Wikipedia entry on Information Technology Governance quotes the Australian Standard for Corporate Governance of ICT which defines IT governance as

The system by which the current and future use of ICT is directed and controlled. It involves evaluating and directing the plans for the use of ICT to support the organisation and monitoring this use to achieve plans. It includes the strategy and policies for using ICT within an organisation.

My main problem with traditional governance

My main problem is that traditional governance as practiced by most organisations is at the extreme teleological end of the spectrum. It is plan driven. It is based on the assumption that a small group of people can go away and analyse the situation and develop plans and goals for the rest of the organisation.

Introna (1996) posits that there are three necessary conditions that must hold in order for this approach to work

  1. The system’s behaviour must be relatively stable and predictable.
  2. The designer(s) is/are able to manipulate the system’s behaviour directly.
  3. The designer(s) is/are able to determine accurately the goals or criteria for success.

I challenge anyone to claim that these three conditions apply in universities, particularly those in the Australian context. I challenge anyone to claim that these three conditions apply to e-learning – helping academics (Can you successfully manipulate their behaviour?) use ICTs (Are ICTs stable and predictable? Is how ICTs are used in learning and teaching stable and predictable?).

Kezar (2001) says

The unique characteristics of higher education are in conflict with the assumptions of teleological models, which assume a clear vision, unambiguous plans, a decision-making chain of command, clear delegation of responsibility, decisions based on facts and rationality.

Does somebody know of any university that has those features?

If not, it begs the question why universities, and more importantly, governments and their “functionaries” require the adoption of teleological approaches to governance, strategic planning, quality etc.

The alternatives

It’s not as if I have some brilliant insight that no-one else knows about. A lot of people have been talking about this issue and providing alternatives to traditional teleological approach. This includes, but I’m betting is not limited to,

  • The information systems research literature in the 90s (Baskerville et al, 1992; Introna, 1996)
  • The consulting companies in the late 90s and early 2000s (Voloudakis, 2005)
    It is interesting that Voloudakis (2005), after banging on about the need for the ateleological “adaptive organisation” then proceeds to trumpet his consulting group’s 6 domains to take an adaptive approach to strategy which, at least to me, appear to be fairly standard components of any teleological approach to governance. Much of the later recommendations in the article appear to be minor tweaks to traditional governance approaches rather than a recognition that there is a need for a major paradigm shift. There’s a whole other post about how wrong this article goes once the author stops quoting other folk.
  • Universities and e-learning (Kezar, 2001; Voloudakis, 2005; Wise and Quealy, 2006a; Wise and Quealy, 2006b)
  • Land (2001) provides an overview of numerous different conceptualisations of universities which demonstrates that the traditional teleological (Land uses the term Managerial) approach is only one of numerous approaches.

After her review of literature around change management at universities Kezar (2001) identifies these research-based principles for change

  • Promote organisational self-discovery
  • Focus on adaptability
  • Construct opportunities for interaction
  • Strive to create homeostasis
  • Combine teleological with social-cognition, cultural and political strategies

Voloudakis (2005) offers a range of quotes from other folk and his own comments about the nature of alternate approaches

Whatever it is called, the essential message is that organizations need to rethink how they plan for the future. They need to focus on their strengths and build capabilities to rapidly adapt to changes in customer demand, market dynamics, shifting technology, and other unforeseen events.

Becoming an adaptive enterprise means abandoning our management habits of prediction and control and developing instead the capacity to respond to change.

A sense-and-respond organization does not attempt to predict future demand for its offerings. Instead, it identifies changing customer needs and new business challenges as they happen, responding to them quickly and appropriately.

Daniel J. Forno, Vice President, IBM Global Services, who described this change as “Sense and Respond vs. Plan, Make, and Sell.”9 Forno noted that in this model, effective tactics in essence become the strategy. Organizations focus their strategic thinking on how to most effectively respond to anything the market throws their way, rather than planning for one or more specific scenarios.

Lord John Browne, Group Chief Executive of BP, offers yet another perspective: “Giving up the illusion that you can predict the future is a very liberating moment. All you can do is give yourself the capacity to respond . . . the creation of that capacity is the purpose of strategy.”

Separation of what and how

Traditionally IT governance structures seek to firmly define the separation of responsibility for answering the following two questions

  1. What needs to be done?
    In the old model this question must be answered by the business, and in particular senior management.
  2. How should it be done?
    The aim of IT governance is to ensure that it is only the central IT division that makes this decision. i.e. what technology should be used to achieve the “what”?

That made sense “back in the day” when technologies were inflexible, complicated and expensive. In those days it required specialist skills to achieve outcomes with technology. Skills a normal person simply didn’t have. A bit like the role of scribes in the very early days of writing.

Increasingly information technology, most recently in the form of Web 2.0/social software is becoming incredibly more simple to use and more powerful. It means that you don’t need the same skill level as previously required. In some cases you don’t need to be an IT person to construct something useful.

In this environment, the separation of what and how becomes a barrier that slows down response. It is slower because the people who have the need have to climb the governance ladder, at each stage attempting to explain why their “how” is important enough for the people who can decide the “what” to take an interest. Climbing that ladder takes time.

Even you climb the ladder you have the Chinese whispers problem where the original intent is lost due to errors that accumulate as the description moves further and further away from the original source of the need for the “what”.

How teleological limits innovation

Again from Voloudakis (2005)

“Most institutions use IT planning as an exercise in developing infrastructure to accomplish simple extrapolations of current practices. Rather than enabling a new future, they extrapolate more efficient versions of current practices into the future, five years at a time.

The rationality of the people involved in planning is influenced by the past experience and knowledge. In traditional governance structures it’s senior executive and the IT division. Senior executive are traditionally a long way from existing practice in learning and teaching at universities and generally struggle to handle their own email inbox without outside assistance (though that is reducing).

The IT division folk, who tend to get continually crucified about how much IT is costing the organisation, bring a continual focus on being cheaper in terms of their bottom line budget cost. The negative impact that the IT divisions cost savings may have on the overall bottom line of the organisation is never captured by current financial practices.


Baskerville, R. J. Travis, D. Truex. (1992). Systems without method: the impact of new technologies on information systems development projects. The Impact of Computer Supported Technologies on Information Systems Development. K. E. Kendall. Amsterdam, North-Holland: 241-251

Introna, L. (1996). “Notes on ateleological information systems development.” Information Technology & People. 9(4): 20-39

Kezar, A. (2001). “Understanding and Facilitating Organizational Change in the 21st Century: Recent Research and Conceptulizations.” ASHE-ERIC Higher Education Report 28(4).

Land, R. (2001). “Agency, context and change in academic development.” The International Journal for Academic Development. 6(1): 4-20

Voloudakis, J. (2005). “Hitting a moving target: IT strategy in a real-time world.” EDUCAUSE Review 40(2): 44-55

Wise, L. and J. Quealy. (2006). “LMS Governance Project Report

Wise, L. and J. Quealy. (2006). “At the limits of social constructivism: Moving beyond LMS to re-integrate scholarship“. Proceedings of the 23rd Annual ASCILITE Conference

Carrick success – a pleasant surprise and now the fun begins

I received notice today from Penny de Byl that an application for a Carrick Institute competitive grant had been successful.

Under the title “The seamless integration of Web3D technologies with university curricula to engage the changing student cohort” the project involves teams from both USQ and CQU draw on technical expertise of a USQ research group to integrate the use of 3D virtual worlds into learning.

So now that the surprise and joy at being successful has passed the question turns to actually doing the work and hopefully not making too many mistakes.

Next week, as chance would have it, I’ll be attending a Carrick function so I hope to start the process of picking the brains of previous recipients about the mistakes to avoid and the good practices to follow.

Any suggestions?

I think it will be especially interesting that this proposal will be inter-organisational. Everything I “know” from the information systems literature is that inter-organisational projects are that much harder to do successfully.

University learning and teaching publications – rankings and RQF

I’ve been somewhat pre-occupied this week with producing a presentation that will form the basis for a submission to ASCILITE’2007.

The submission, going under the working title “The teleological reason why ICT limits choice for university learners and learning”, will appear on my website later tomorrow – eventually including video.

The paper seeks to directly address the conference theme, the explanation of which suggests that “the informed use of ICT by institutions and their teachers supports flexibility and choice in what is to be learned, how it is learned, when it is learned and how it will be assessed”.

The paper will argue that, due to the characteristics of the design process used by universities to implement ICTs the exact opposite is the most likely outcome. Choice and flexibility will be reduced.

But that’s not what this is about.

One of the reasons we’re working on the paper is that it’s been suggested that it would be good for the unit if “we’re seen at ASCILITE”. The suggestion is that it will raise our profile within the profession through publication.

The problem I’m grappling with at the moment is that there is only so much research and publication the unit can produce. With the advent of the RQF it is increasingly important that we target the “good” outlets. So what are the good outlets?

Journal Rankings

My original discipline is information systems. As a field IS has shown quite an interest in ranking journals as is seen by a Google search.

It doesn’t appear that the education related fields have the same history. My understanding of the RQF that such tiered ranking of publication outputs is one of the metrics being used.

The closest I’ve been able to find are some rankings for computer education at Monash. I believe the University of Newcastle may have a project looking at developing rankings.

I couldn’t find anything via Google. So I wonder what the progress is.

Moving beyond

RQF will making journal rankings important. But it is far from the only measure. Some of it comes back to the community. Even with my limited coverage of this field I’m aware of the following communities: HERDSA, ASCILITE, ODLAA, CADAD, ACODE, Educause.

What are the most effective communities for raising your profile within the educational technology and/or learning design etc communities?

A model for evaluating teaching – a useful lens?

As part of CQU’s moves around improving its evaluation of good teaching I was sent a paper by Keith Trigwell (2001), “Judging university teaching”.

From that paper comes the following “model of teaching (or a framework for judging teaching)”

Trigwell's model of teaching

My interest in this model is the assistance it can provide in thinking about how a group charged with helping academics design, develop and delivery quality learning can understand and go about it’s task. This is a problem I face in my new job.

I think it also offers a useful framework for thinking about literature that may help such a task. Also in framing the research and evaluation tasks which such a group might do to help achieve its goals.

Time to think more deeply about this and whether or not it is really useful, comes later. Time now to write down some of the initial ideas the model has generated, before they’re lost due to the fallibility of an aging memory.

The initial ideas include the following (some expanded below):

  • Research reinforcing the primacy of the academics’ influence of the student experience
    A colleague has already done some surveys around online learning in which one of the questions really reinforced this view. An area for more research and literature review.
  • It’s more than what the student wants.
  • Knowing the current state of affairs.
  • The fine line between manipulation and assistance.
  • Investigating the model, fleshing it out in more detail.

All of this is framed around trying to understand the problem

How can you effectively and efficiently bring about change for the better in university learning and teaching?

It’s more than what the student wants

While it is important to understand what the student is experiencing and the preferences, desires etc of the student body. This, by itself, is not sufficient to make any meaningful change.

There needs to be an emphasis on how to communicate this knowledge to the teaching staff. Thought needs to be given about how the knowledge of the students’ preferences and experience can be appropriately harnessed/disseminated to change the teaching and learning context and the thinking, planning and strategies of the teaching staff.

If you don’t change these, then the student experience won’t change to any significant level. – there’s a question to be researched.

Knowing the current state of affairs

A group that is attempting to improve (i.e. change) the learning and teaching practices of an organisation and its members (leaving aside, for the moment, questions about the ethics and desirability of such a group thinking it can, or even should, improve/change such things) really should have a good handle on the current state of affairs.

In talking about “good teachers” Trigwell (2001) says that they “recognize the importance of context, and adapt their teaching accordingly; they know how to modify their strategies according to the particular students, subject matter, and learning environment.”

Obviously, at least for me, the same applies for the group trying to improve learning and teaching. It needs to know the current state of affairs with respect to teachers’ strategies, planning, and thinking, as well as the teaching and learning context.

The institution’s teaching and learning context implies both internally and externally to the institution. So knowledge of technology, government and other external influences on the practice of learning and teaching is needed. As is knowledge about the institution. Most importantly, perhaps, is that this needs to be based on the perceptions of the teaching staff. Whether or not senior management believe something may be beside the point in terms of influencing student learning.

The line between manipulation and assistance

It is possible that some of the above can be seen as a framework for understanding how to manipulate academics to achieve the goals of the few. You could certainly use this approach for that. I would hope that’s not what we’ll do, but it is a fine line between descriptive and normative development.

Fleshing out the model

As I look more at the model, a few questions appear.

Why are the arrows to the outer “skins” apparently one way?

Why is there only one arrow to the teaching and learning context? It’s as if the student influences and is influenced by all the four outer skins. But Teacher’s thinking has a much more limited influence.


Keith Trigwell, Judging University Teaching, The International Journal for Academic Development, 6(1):65-73

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