Is our Education System in Crisis?

Tony Bates – gave us an interesting presentation on Sunday evening – Managing Technology to Transform Teaching – http://change.mooc.ca/archive/11/10_17_newsletter.htm – which many of us who work in HE as teachers or as managers of technology could relate to. Tony asked us a lot of questions and provided us with access to his recent book, where even more questions are raised. But a key question in his presentation was:

“Can universities or colleges change from within, or do we need new institutions for 21st century learning?”

Three of my ChangeMooc colleagues (see below) have responded to this on their blogs (and maybe others too that I haven’t yet become aware of)

As you would expect, they each have a slightly different perspective on how Tony Bates’ question should be answered – actually it’s two questions in one.

So I thought I would add my own perspective and respond to the first part of the question– Can universities or colleges change from within – based on my own ‘personal’ experience, so probably not very objective.

My experience is that change has to be from within and without. From without, because sometimes people get very comfortable in their ‘teaching/learning’ ruts and they need a ‘bolt from the blue’ to get them to at least question what they are doing. My experience in the UK has been that these ‘bolts from the blue’ often come from the government and associated agencies – with their grand and usually highly stress-inducing schemes, which are rarely properly funded or alternatively wastefully throw money away. But sometimes they are needed – as in the case of institutions that are failing their student.

Occasionally these ”bolts from the blue’ can come from ‘closer to home’, such as when a new Principal takes over your institution and decides to ‘sweep with a new broom’. Sometimes the new broom is needed – sometimes it’s just plain meddling.

So that is change from without – it has its positives and negatives.

However, anyone who is a parent knows that change from within can be suggested, encouraged, facilitated – but not forced, unless you are a parent dictator or want a revolution on your hands! A child/learner/employee may not want to change and can be resistant to change. I have had a lot of experience of resistance to the use of new technologies for teaching or anything else. So it is crucial that we can facilitate change from within – mainly by empowering people and inspiring them with a powerful and shared vision. Ultimately each person has to adopt the change for him/herself, but with the right leader and the right leadership style – and for me that is not a hierarchical style unless it is a crisis situation in which in case it might be needed/justified, such as in failing systems. But outside of a crisis situation ‘Distributed Leadership’ might be a better model, although other models might also be considered, such as ‘Servant Leadership’.

Here is  ‘true’ story of a crisis situation to illustrate what I mean.

College X was a failing institution. Teaching was poor, staff morale was low, student retention was very poor, recruitment was poor – basically everything was poor. This was an institution that had no vision, no leadership and little possibility of change. The new principal, however, understood that in a crisis clear leadership, clear vision and commitment to change is needed. On his first day in the job he gathered all the staff together and asked for their commitment to change. He said he had noted that the institution was in need of decoration – the walls were bare and in poor repair. The staff could show their commitment to change by bringing an unwanted picture from home and mounting it on a particularly unsightly length of wall. There were 300 members of staff in the institution, so by the next week he would measure their level of commitment to change by the number of pictures on the wall. On the following Monday there were many more than 300. The crisis was on the way to being over – he had won commitment to change – and it was owned by individual members of staff. Change would not be easy but it had had been facilitated to be more from within than without.

But this story begs the question of whether we think our education system is in crisis or not. If not, then change will be slower, but will move forwards at a measured pace. Academics are academics because they question and evaluate how they should behave/teach in their specific contexts.  If change is to be from within, then they will change, when and if they feel the need to or they feel the situation needs it. There are many pockets of excellent teaching practices that make innovative and creative use of advancing technologies, but also many excellent teachers who as yet are not using these technologies.

So I think the answer to the second part of the question –  do we need new institutions for 21st century learning?”  – depends on whether we think our education system, whatever context we are in, is in crisis.

Final Thought – is it not so much about technology or pedagogy as about change management?

Postscript – Some more blog posts relating to this topic

Sui Fai John Mak

http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/change11-what-sort-of-changes-are-required-in-our-education-system/

http://suifaijohnmak.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/change11-on-educational-leadership/

Jeffrey Keefer

http://silenceandvoice.com/2011/10/18/managing-technology-in-higher-education-a-discussion-undiscussed-change11/

Jaap

http://connectiv.wordpress.com/about/

PPS – see links below for responses from Tony Bates

http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/10/21/change-11-week-6-managing-technology-the-discussion-so-far/

http://www.tonybates.ca/2011/10/23/change-11-week-6-managing-technology-final-thoughts-and-closing/

5 thoughts on “Is our Education System in Crisis?

  1. brainysmurf1234 October 20, 2011 / 4:05 pm

    Thanks for this, Jenny. The example you gave so clearly illustrated a premise shared with me a decade ago: only one thing needs to change (and then it triggers the rest). If people couldn’t drum up the interest or effort to even hang an unwanted picture on the wall, how would they ever find the strength for bigger or broader change? By finding success in the decoration process, I trust they were inspired to keep making little ripples of change that permeated the organization.

    Can’t find the source of this at the moment but someone wiser than I said that adoption of technology is limited by the culture of collaboration within an organization. To answer your final question, I believe that the sexiest, coolest, most functional platform for sharing in the world won’t be adopted if people don’t really want to share in the first place. Getting them from knowledge hoarding to knowledge sharing is a huge change management problem to overcome.

  2. jennymackness October 21, 2011 / 11:22 am

    @brainysmurf – thanks for your comment. Yes the College ultimately became very successful. I completely agree with your sentiments about changing culture. Jenny

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