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With the disruption to delivery models, timetables, and staff and student expectations in the last 18 months some institutions are struggling to maintain their faculty’s motivation and commitment. Some are wrestling with changing notions of autonomy and accountability.

With the disruption of delivery models, timetables, and staff and student expectations in the last 18 months, some institutions are struggling to maintain their faculty’s motivation and commitment. Universities are struggling to balance the need to provide their academic staff with more autonomy while ensuring they remain accountable.

Some academic staff still hark after the glorious days of academic self-management. The danger is that it doesn't take much for that 'autonomy' to be abused; The elderly professor earning the salaries of three junior colleagues, applying fruitlessly for funds for arcane and irrelevant research, with no PhD supervision duties and no teaching, is not as rare as we like to imagine. Such individuals demonstrate to newer faculty that they can achieve career advancement by being selfish. This breeds a culture in which those with a relatively light workloads do their best to appear overburdened in order to defer requests from others to 'pitch-in'. Most of us can identify such individuals.

The balance between academic autonomy and accountability defines the character of an institution from a faculty perspective. Autonomy and accountability are reflected in large part by how an organisation articulates leadership and management, two concepts that are frequently conflated inappropriately.

Leadership is about enabling with vision, providing clarity of purpose, illuminating the path ahead. This means communicating a clearly defined future state; a vision. Leadership does not require seniority. We often look to colleagues that we know to be skilled and confer the mantel of leadership on them. You can develop leadership skills, but usually within a specific context. A leader in one organisation at one time does not always adapt well to a different context. Some prove adaptable, but not all. Leadership is about empowering others to be more autonomous.

Management is quite different. Management is about implementing, maintaining, and curating structural processes within a given context. Everyone self-manages by this definition (calendar management, time-booking, etc). Beyond self-management, most organisations create tiers of managers to maintain policies and practices, to fulfil something externally imposed whatever legislative regulations or quality standards. Management is ensuring accountability.

We require leaders to trust the people they have responsibility for. Leaders need to provide supportive autonomy. Managers do not have to trust their people because they have tools to track them. They have instruments for accountability. It has been said that leaders make sure that the right things are done, managers make sure that things are done in the right way. 

Autonomy and accountability are two sides of the same coin. While some institutions have released faculty to get their own courses onto the institutional virtual learning environment, others had more structured approaches. In both cases, many have been unprepared for what changing models of delivery mean for accountability. Student complaints have surprised some institutions, mostly about the inaccessibility of faculty in the digital context. Students expectations need careful management. This does not need more systems to monitor faculty-student interactions, or appointing more people to watch people, and people to watch the watchers. It requires that new social-digital contracts be negotiated among all the participants and stakeholders in the University ecosystem.

Universities face challenges with some students and faculty struggling to adjust to the demands of balancing workload and practices of supporting flexible online provision. Going 'back to normal' for some will simply not be possible. This is a time when leaders and managers need to work together.

Managers need to hold the freeloader Professor and the 'too busy' junior colleague to account. Leaders need to define the future state of Universities in a language that faculty and students can make sense of. Together, they need to define, negotiate, explore and define new concepts of accountability and autonomy.

 

 

 

 

Photo by kerry rawlinson on Unsplash

Originally Posted to LinkedIn on Thursday 2nd April.

SoleModelRoles
SOLE Model - changing nature of spaces

 

Change is often difficult. Actors who were adored as Vaudeville artists, glamorous or heroic, sounded unconsciously like clowns on the radio or looked clumsy and inarticulate on television. Many fell by the wayside, drifting into obscurity.

Does the current global shift into supporting learners online mean the end of some academic careers? Probably. Some will decide for themselves that they do not want to perform on this new stage, they will miss the smell of musty stage curtains and the face paint, the fever of anticipation, of adulation. There are many who will miss the lack of personal presence of their students enough to think it's a profession they no longer feel a part of. We, as leaders in tertiary education, whether as team leaders, Heads of Departments, Deans, Pro-Vice Chancellors, Proctors and others, need to understand this.

It is not just about 'shifting your content online', move your weekly lecture into a recorded version of the same or set yourself up with webinar software and substitute your seminar. The change that is being asked of many of our academic colleagues is profound. Most can transition into online delivery, and some will excel at it. Others will not. Both will need support. I want to suggest I may have a tool to help leaders talk through some of the challenges of changing roles with faculty.

A learning model: visualisation

Some years ago, 2011 to be precise, I produced a poster for a conference that mapped roles against a working learning model I had developed over the previous five years. The Student-Owned Learning Engagement model, SOLE for short (with apologies to Professor Sugata Mitra), is designed for course designers to map out their courses to ensure the curriculum is balanced, well-constructed and aligned. It also represents, I believe, an accurate picture of all of the facets of learning that a student should experience for that rounded education we purport to offer. Written on the assumption that courses reflect well-crafted intended learning outcomes across multiple domains of learning, the SOLE Model comes with an open Excel toolkit to support that process. The poster was a visual mapping of the SOLE Model against online and face-to-face spaces (and associated technologies), and the different student support roles that were required.

The details of the SOLE Model are available elsewhere, so I do not think it necessary to unpack it here. Suffice it to say, there are none elements that students need to have addressed in any course design, to varying degrees depending on discipline and level, but all are required. These are illustrated here;

SOLEmodelElements
SOLE Model - simple representation of the nine elements

Different spaces, different solutions

Traditional campus-based teaching has undergone a quiet revolution in recent years. Libraries have been at the forefront of developing social spaces, community forums, shared-working clusters, study pods and any manner of imaginative configurations. These designs have been a response to the belief that students want, and expect, to learn socially. Alongside this, there has been a steady number of lecture theatre refits that see u-shaped, parliamentary style, seating configurations rather than straight theatre styles. Seminars rooms are more likely to have reconfigurable desks, chairs on wheels, and writable walls. This has been in the belief that students learn better in cooperation with others rather than being 'lectured at'. My visualisation against the SOLE Model was about identifying the different types of spaces that support different forms of learning. It was designed to stimulate conversation at my institution about a ‘learning spaces’ strategy. Illustrated below, you can see that I used the SOLE Model to structure this classification of spaces. It is in no way presented as a 'complete' list of anything. It is merely a starting point.

SoleModelRoles
SOLE Model - changing nature of spaces

Different roles

What is significant is that in thinking about the changing nature of learning spaces in the face-to-face world and the online environment, seen through the prism of the SOLE Model, it also became apparent that the same thing could be done with respect to those that support learners. Again, the SOLE Model was used to articulate a range of 'traditional' academic roles in their face-to-face context, mapped against each element of the Model, and this was then extended to the online world.

SoleModelSpaces
Visualisation of the SOLE model mapped to faculty roles

 

I would hope that some fairly apparent conclusions can be drawn from this exercise. The first is that in many institutions, the academic role is incredibly diverse. An individual academic may be course material author, lecturer, seminar lead, supervisor, pastoral carer, coach, marker and personal tutor. In other institutions some of these roles are subdivided and delegated, academics concern themselves primarily to inform-connect-engage, leaving others to assess-feedback. Yet others have groups of staff who support students to collaborate-contextualise-personalise and reflect.

The second thing that becomes evident is that the transition from any face-to-face role into its online substitute (and I carefully avoid the word ‘equivalent’ here) requires a whole range of particular skills to be developed. Going from producing your own in-class PowerPoints with no real concern about the ownership of images grabbed from Google to being a digital curator is for most a steep learning curve. There is no direct equivalency between running a face-to-face seminar from moderating a discussion forum, or between running an in-class role-play scenario and attempting to do the same online over the course of a week.

Yes, they are both teaching. There are still learners, and there is an established curriculum. But there is no smell of the musty curtains or the face paint. There is no bustling of the audience or the adrenalin rush when the lights go up. We, as academic developers, are not just helping people to ‘get their courses online’, we are helping them to redefine what it means to be a contemporary, agile, flexible and multifaceted academic.

If I see another VC or Pro-VC demand that their faculty, ‘just adjust’ and ‘get their courses online’, heckling from above, I am likely, Lord help me, lose it and storm the Royal Box.

I've been looking recently at a range of new builds in Universities and colleges in the UK and have been struck by the relative lack of any learning theory behind the designs. Beyond, that is, the Vice-Chancellor's evident pride at being able to point to the new coffee franchise and padded benches and say wisely "students' like to learn in these informal spaces you know". Today, ahead of some planned workshops in July, I published a short working paper entitled “Re-visioning Learning Spaces: Evolving faculty roles and emerging learning spaces“.

The paper recognises that new build and refurbishments of educational spaces can be significant financial commitments and often represent ‘flagship’ investments for many universities. It questions whether they are really supporting effective learning. This paper advocates that truly effective spaces need to be more closely associated with the particular learning contexts one is seeking to enrich. Re-visioning our learning spaces requires universities to create and engage with a conceptual model of the learner and faculty, to develop not just new spaces but support for new roles within those spaces. The SOLE model is presented as a conceptual framework through which new spaces and new faculty roles are considered.

Paper can be downloaded at Academia.edu or direct from BPP University College pages (ISBN – 9781 4453 5457 6 / Publication Date: May 2013)
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