Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Ch-ch-ch-ch-change management

Exciting, isn't it. At my place, there's always something being fiddled with, usually by an incompetent executive on an £100,000+ salary intent on putting 'change management expertise' on their VCs so they can inflict more of the same Year Zero nonsense on any institution stupid enough to hire them.

For instance: we now have two timetables: year long modules and single semester modules. They start at different times of the year and finish at different times of the year. Assessments differ too. The idea is that students (already reduced) workload is spread out more. The result is that they're always writing assignments and we're marking all the time we're teaching. The two systems have different teaching patterns, so it's hard to know from one week to the next what you're doing, where and when.

The real reasons are to cut down on contact time, staff and rooms. And it works: attendance is massively down.

Needless to say, the genius who thought this up departed shortly afterwards to spread the magic. So I read this article by Jonathan Wolff with a considerable degree of recognition.

 Ignore everything. If it actually needs to be done you'll be reminded, and then do it immediately. But mostly, someone wants you to fill in a form because they have a form to fill in themselves, and by the time they have processed all the responses the person who ordered the whole thing has moved on, passed on, or forgotten.
Change is so important that a few years ago my university brought in a change management strategy. The main message was that before you change you must consult. Very good. And so, I asked, why wasn't I consulted on this policy? That held it up for a day or two. Not sure, though, that anyone has remembered to use it since. 
We have achieved – in one way at least – something like Trotsky's vision of world communism: permanent revolution.
Why do we have to keep changing? Obviously because we are not teaching properly. Or researching the right things. Or bringing in enough cash from business or alumni. Or embedding ourselves deeply enough into the community. Or exchanging knowledge with the right partners. Or having sufficient impact. Or widening participation. Or ensuring that every student has the right visa. By way of penance we need to run round and round with bits of paper in our hands, and then fire off lots of emails. 
Here's a cautionary tale.Last year, Middlesex University, in the face of an international outcry, decided to close its philosophy department. Why? One of the arguments was that philosophy was funded in band D – getting the lowest government subsidy – and so it made more sense for the university to switch to taking more social science students who were funded at a higher rate in band C.
As a bit of proactive management, it seems to make financial sense. Except, as I noted at the time, this reasoning depends on the future resembling the past. Rather a rash assumption. It appears the coalition government has decided to withdraw all funding from most band C and D courses. Now, if the reason why band C received higher funding was that the courses are more expensive to teach, Middlesex made a spectacular miscalculation. 
If the background environment keeps changing, you cannot predict the consequences of your actions. What looks like a smart move one year may leave you smarting the next. What do you do? Masterful inactivity, of course. It has two advantages. First, it doesn't waste your time. Second, if you cannot sensibly plan on other grounds, you should at least make sure that what you do is sound in intellectual, scholarly and pedagogical terms. 
I really need to send this to all my managers.


Benjamin. said...

Aye, lower attendances lead to non-existent debate in lectures therefore a once stimulating experience has become a distant memory. The Year Long module I'm currently doing, I actually like because basically it doesn't take half as much effort to do British Sign Language presentations as it does thesis, reports and essays- but that's not the point, I'm not learning anything I didn't know already.

What's the solution, Vole? Go back to the 8 modular system or continue to make this current one a success by encouraging more participation? Perhaps become more strident with attendance figures-
'80 per cent or less is a fail, Mr Shiteforbrains'
'Sorry, I didn't know dude'.

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't you be on evision checking 'your' module, not on blogger?

The Plashing Vole said...

Good point. Nice sarcastic use of ' '. I do the thinking, you did the typing.

The Plashing Vole said...

Anyway, I was taking to heart the advice about 'masterly inactivity'.