Thursday, December 18, 2008

All the best for Christmas

I am conscious that I have slipped up on my commitment ( to myself ) to post on a weekly basis - but the last fortnight has been two weeks from hell, from a workload point of view. Anyway, I am through that now (sort of) and about to take a break. I will be in territory which is seriously challenged from a broadband perspective, so I am not sure when I will next post, although I have a feeling I will be doing a lot of thinking that I would like to share.
I have enjoyed the dialogue on this site - thankyou to those who have shared your views. Next year I will focus on broadening my contacts and participating in discussion on some of the blogs I have been following with interest.
Meanwhile, have a happy Christmas and a relaxing break.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Academic workloads - a few truths and a plea !

I have been dwelling on the analysis of our Work Environment Survey over the last week or so, and in particular that complex issue of workloads. Many Otago Polytechnic staff perceive their workloads as too high and unsustainable, and academic staff report the most dissatisfaction. And of the academic staff the more experienced and higher skilled staff - our principal lecturers - are the least satisfied. Now, I accept we have a major issue here, but it is very complex, to say the least. I have to confess to being somewhat at a loss to know how we can actually deal with this issue, but paradoxically the solutions are obvious!

So, at the risk of incurring some wrath, I would like to put some "truths" on the table:

Truth No 1: the obvious solution - hire more people to do the work we currently do - is simply not affordable. It would be affordable if we had an average EFTS:FTE ratio of 19/20:1, rather than the 14/15:1 we have now. This is about having more students in each class, but if we cannot achieve that we have to do other things - so some more "truths" follow.

Truth No 2: the second obvious solution to too much work is to remove work from the task list. For academics this includes:
- have fewer assessments. One of our Schools comes close to one assessment per course. Most have three/four per course and some have double that and more. But I constantly have discussions about this with academics who think reduced assessment activity is not possible and quality will suffer. This is not necessarily so at all, and even if having one assessment goes too far in some cases, two could work instead of three, three instead of four etc.
- don't spend unnecessary time in the classroom - ensure your time is very well used. And if I am not being too provocative: if you spend more than 10% of the time in class talking to powerpoints or OHTs you are wasting your time and that of the students. Unless of course they cannot read for themselves!

Truth No 3: work gets done faster and to a higher level of quality if we know what we are doing, i.e. if we are highly skilled - and as teachers, this means highly skilled as teachers, not just highly skilled in our discipline or vocation. Two skills in particular are needed: assessment design and course design. Now these are complex matters, but I fear that too many academics believe the contrary. As an interesting aside, try talking to our learning support specialists, who will tell you that a significant number of students present for help because they cannot understand the assessment task they have been set. And it is not because they are stupid, it is because the assessment is poorly specified.
The same is often true of course design - with courses focussed on content rather than the most effective learning strategies.
But a problem I see only too frequently - academics who will not take the time out to "sharpen their axe" ie to acquire the skills that will make their future workload so much easier.

Truth No 4: we each control the key resource which makes our workload sustainable or not - our time:
- we have to prioritise our work
- we have to manage the time we do have
- we choose to embrace options to reduce work or not
- we choose to build our skills, or not, when it is obvious we need more
- we choose to use technology which helps our efficiency - or not

Truth No 5: we all end up with a disproportionate amount of extra work if not everyone in our team pulls their weight. I have observed over the years that one negative person in a team of 10, or one who does not do their fair share, increases the workload of the others by a multiple of that 10%. And certainly leaves the entire team dispirited and feeling badly overworked.

Now I could come up with some other "truths", but these five will do for now. This is NOT "blame the victim". Rather, it is a "truth" (darn - that's the sixth one) that the victim has to be part of the cure. Nor do I resile from the fact that there are and always will be solutions to heavy workloads at the organisational level: streamlined processes, removal of unnecessary compliance and so on. But the organisational "cures" by themselves will simply not make enough of a difference. So, how do we bring about the changes in individual behavior? I am looking for wisdom on this one, so please - help!!

Friday, November 14, 2008

More on funding!

I have had quite a bit of feedback about the recent ODT article - all positive at this point, and some genuine enquiry as to what exactly is going on with tertiary funding. Actually, I tell a fib - one lot of feedback wasn't so complementary - that which came from TEC itself!

Now, it is understandable that TEC is sensitive to criticism about the funding of the sector - afterall, government votes the funding and they merely administer it. And they tell me they have set out to administer funding in a fair and transparent way. So, there are two issues for us to think about: is there enough money to fund an effective, high quality tertiary sector? Is the money that has been allocated to the sector wisely distributed?

Let's look at the adequacy question first of all. My view is a resounding "NO" - the sector suffers from systemic underfunding, and cannot even sustain its core business of teaching and learning, let alone meet a host of other objectives which government has set for us. How do I know this? Simply because there is hard (2007) data now available that shows that on average polytechnics lose money on core business - an average loss of nearly 9% in 2007, although I understand that one or two institutions may have managed a very small surplus. Overall, several institutions did return a small surplus in 2007, but this was a result of things like one off grants, interest earned on retained earnings and cafetaria profits! Bring on the polytechnic weekly cake stall! Actually, if every staff member at Otago Polytechnic baked a cake every week and assuming we could sell all of them we would get a surplus of $200,000 for the year!!

But I digress! No institutions in the polytechnic sector in 2007 actually came within a bulls roar of a surplus of 3% -5%, which the wise men in TAMU constantly cite as our target. Now, it is possible that EVERY polytechnic in the country is extremely inefficient, and that is the reason for the deficits. This is, of course, the view which pervades TEC, but it is simply not credible. Most institutions have been reviewing every activity and pruning costs and laying off staff for nearly 5 years now. And every year costs increase at a rate in excess of the inflation adjustments which government reluctantly grants us, enforcing "productivity " gains as a matter of routine management.

So, the evidence speaks for itself, and has done so for several years. Indeed, just over three years ago the then Minister of Tertiary Education ( or was it the Associate Minister of Education - Tertiary) Mallard called together the CEOs and Council Chairs of the sector to acknowledge that the sector was in some considerable difficulty, to urge us not to take precipitate action ( aka laying off staff) and to announce that Government was setting up a significant fund to help polytechnics through problems he recognised as not of our making. These were problems such as low class sizes and the costs of delivery to regional communities. The fund was the now infamous "Quality Reinvestment Fund".

Less than a year later the then CEO of TEC, Janice Shiner, assured the CEOs in the sector that "once we have right sized you, we will fund you properly" - and went on to clarify that "properly" meant being funded for a surplus. Well, we have all been "right sized" - that is what the "investing in a plan" process is all about. But alas, the funding cupboard is bare, the deficits pile up and the polytechnic infrastructure continues to deteriorate.

I think this bit of potted history is important, because it reminds us that our funding problems have been acknowledged in the recent past. It is also inconvenient, because someone forgot to budget the resources to fix the problems. And none of the underlying problems have gone away. Class sizes in polytechnics generally remain below the optimum, and our regional populations have continued to live in the regions! Jolly unreasonable of them don't you think.

But has TEC done a good job in administering the funding system? Actually, no! First of all, TEC has vigorously held to the view that " there is plenty of money in the sector" and all that needed to happen was for this to be redistributed. Those who had too much would get less, and those who were short on funds would get more. This has not proven to be the case at all. What's more TEC has continued to advise government that there was plenty of money overall, thereby undermining the case for improved funding. It is true that TEC did persuade government to increase funding to the sector this year by some $20m - gratefully received, but short of the mark.

Actually, it is not a huge amount of extra funding that is required - about $40m/$50m pa ( an increase of around 7%/8%) will do the trick. Is this reasonable to expect? Yes, in my view, and especially if we consider that Labour was prepared to increase student support funding by $200m pa, and National is on record to increase research funding to universities by over $300m pa.

We should also highlight that TEC has managed to waste a fair bit of precious funding as well. The central bureacracy has increased exponentially, and whilst the basic investment planning/management process is sound, the stakeholder management process is not. There is literally an army of bureacrats roaming the country with a mission to improve the relationships amongst all of the players in the sector. And micro management is alive and well. It is difficult to get an accurate handle on what money could transfer from the TEC bureacracy to direct funding of provision, but $15m pa will not be far off the mark - about a third of what is needed to fix the sector!

Well, this may read like a bit of a whinge - apologies if that is so. However, funding IS the big issue. If we cannot convince our owners - government- to get the funding right we will never realise the enormous potential our sector has. So, join me - lobby a politician or two, and ensure a few concerned citizens understand the situation polytechnics are in!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Tertiary Policies - who is promising what?

I have been asked if I would offer some views on the tertiary education policies of the various political parties, and I am happy to do so -especially those that relate to polytechnics.
First up, I have to say that across the board the thinking about tertiary education by our politicians is underwhelming, to say the least! What we do not have is any party advocating for New Zealand to have a genuinely world class tertiary system, although all are prepared to go along with that rhetoric. There is some advocacy for boosting the university sector through more research funding - National has just announced an intent to redirect tax write offs for research of $315m into the direct funding of science and research in universities. If I was charitable I would say they have not even given polytechnics a moment's thought, but more likely is that they simply do not understand what we do in these areas. We as a sector must shoulder some of the responsibility for that. However, let's look at some specific key issues.
- will stick with the course they have already set for the polytechnic sector, believing that the so called "reforms" have been successful and are supported. They have not and are not! There was initially significant support because the intent was honourable and it appeared that the concerns of the sector had been taken on board. The reality is that the single most important issue - proper funding of the sector - has not been addressed and most institutions face a bleak future of operating on a shoe string with poor quality infrastructure (appalling infrastructure by international standards!) . What's more, the reforms have not delivered a high trust and low compliance cost regime at all - the opposite is the case.
-are promising to reduce the TEC bureacracy, which will be a good thing. Hopefully the first to go will be the stakeholder engagement function and the resources being wasted there being redirected into direct funding of the regional facilitation process. National is also promising a simpler accountability system, but the policy is short on detail, which is where the devil always lies.This system will include publishing more information about institutional performance eg completion and retention rates. Personally I am relaxed about this. Indeed, I would rather see information about educational performance being used to judge institutional success rather than solely financial perfomance as is the case now.Finally, National has a strong commitment to see more young people go into training and will fund free education for 16/17 year olds with a non school provider if this is a better option for the student. This is a good policy in my view, and better than Labour's Schools Plus, which is about keeping kids in schools even if school is nor the right place for them to learn! Both parties seem keen to fund new trades infrastructure in schools, which is a good thing if there is no trade training infrastructure in a region, but which could seriously undermine polytechnic viability if duplicate facilities are established. Neither party appears to have examined the possible consequences of their schools interface policies on the polytechnic sector.
Maori Party:
- understandably is committed to seeing a better set of outcomes for Maori, and that is a good thing. Hopefully they will be in a position to influence better resourcing of Maori educational initiatives in our institutions.The Maori Party also supports the extension of the salary supplement currently enjoyed only by university staff to include polytechnic staff. This is again great to see, as is their belief that more funding per EFTS is necessary for the polytechnic sector. The Maori Party is the only party to recognise explicitly that our sector is not adequately funded. There is hope yet!!
Green Party:
- is generally supportive of improving the sector, but is also generally supportive of what we have now. The only standout for me in terms of their stance is that public education should be prioritised ahead of PTEs. Of course, that is one of the downsides of National's approach - more support for PTEs based on their deeply held views that competition is always good and that it is perfectly sensible to fund other businesses to compete with your own!!
Other parties:
- not worth commenting on in my view, because none have given any indication that they have an agenda for tertiary that would be a "must have" as part of a coalition deal.

To finish, this election will not be won or lost on tertiary education, and all of the policies put forward really are bland at this stage - which is to be expected. What must happen is that the incoming minister, whoever that is, needs to be well briefed on our sector needs and issues. Otago Polytechnic will be providing just such a briefing, and I will cover off the issues in a future posting.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Back from Shanghai

Certainly an interesting time in Shanghai! Robin and I were well looked after by staff from Shanghai University of Engineering Science, and it was great to have participated in their 30th Anniversary celebrations. The University is proud of the cooperative education focus of its curriculum, and it was clear that they very much want to be known for a "practical" curriculum - so my address was well targetted.

I signed a Memorandum of Understanding with SUES to enable our CAPL project to proceed. This project will be a challenge for both ourselves and the Chinese, because the whole concept of recognising prior experiential learning is not currently part of the way the Chinese see tertiary education. On the other hand, experiential learning is precisely the direction they want to take, so the challenges are worth tackling.
We were really impressed with the level of resources that SUES enjoys, and they are but one of eight universities being invested in on the same site. And "invested in " is the operative phrase - unlike here in New Zealand where our government is hell bent on seeing how little they can get away with in terms of spending on the polytechnic sector. Actually, the lack of investment in polytechnics in NZ is a disgrace, and by international comparison a sick joke! We have a government which urges us to increase export earnings through tertiary education, and has a stated vision of building a world class polytechnic sector - but these really are just hollow words, especially so when one realises that funding in real terms for 2009 is a reduction on 2008.

Shanghai itself is certainly a city of contrasts - rich and poor, old and new - both ways of life as well as buildings and transport. What stood out, though, was that people were very friendly - everywhere - and more often than not had a smile on their faces. In spite of the congestion, the smog and for many the poverty. Perhaps it has something to do with choosing to see the glass as half full, rather than half empty!

I also came away reflecting on what a "cotton wool" society we have become in NZ - manifested in our present day attitudes to health and safety. This appreciation was brought about through experiencing the utter chaos ( from a visitor's perspective) on the roads and footpaths - but especially the latter. Here, bicycles, motorbikes/scooters and pedestrians intermingled with gay abandon, but I did not once hear the screech of tyres nor witness a close call. I also climbed a 1000 year old tower, and was free to do so without signs screaming at me about the dangers - which were pretty obvious.

And talking about the contrast of old and new - one of the thrills of the visit was riding the Maglev, the very high speed electric train from the city to the airport. We reached the phenomenol speed of 431kmph, in almost total silence. And when we passed the train coming the other way it was but a blurr and a whoosh, in a split second. Now, for a long time petrol head ,believe me this was just great!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Inspiring Capability

I will be in China late this week and early next, as the guest of Shanghai University of Engineering Science, which is a university with which we are currently developing what we hope will be a mutually beneficial relationship. The project is exciting to say the least - a recognition of prior learning project which will involve assessing experienced Chinese managers against our Bachelor of Applied Management degree, and with the added bonus that it is funded by NZ Trade and Enterprise. As part of the visit I have been asked to speak at the" Fourth International President’s Forum on Education ", on the theme " How to Cultivate Talents With Innovative Spirit and Practical Ability ". So, I have chosen to talk about Otago Polytechnic's focus on developing capability - or should I say "Inspiring Capability" !
As I prepared the speech, most of which follows, I realised that we have not actually described "capability" in a public way for ourselves - although it was discussed at Academic Board last year. So, hopefully my address will have the added value as a reference point for ourselves here at home! Here it is:

"Today I would like to make the focus of my address the development of learner capability, which is the approach to cultivating practical ability which we have adopted at Otago Polytechnic. By learner capability, I mean the development of the power of our learners to perform. This, to us, is what practical ability really means – more than acquiring skills or being able to demonstrate skills. Capable people are those who can take effective action in whatever context they are operating, whether that be in their personal lives, at work or in their community.

At Otago Polytechnic we have set out to develop and implement programmes of learning which have the explicit purpose of building the capability of our learners, and in turn the capability of the communities which we serve - captured in our our mission "Inspiring Capability". We do this through a focus on practical learning, and a single-mindedness in applying theory to practice, supported by “real world” experiences.

What then does capability mean for us at Otago Polytechnic?

We see capable people as those who are confident that they can perform, who can explain what they are about and who have truly learned how to learn. Capable practitioners, which we are preparing our learners to be, not only have specialised knowledge and skill (which is so often what university and polytechnic programmes are confined to developing) but also have a range of personal qualities that enable them to be effective, that enable them to perform. For us, capable practitioners not only have the technical/specialist skills and knowledge required for their chosen trade/professional/vocational area but also they:
Ø are effective communicators of ideas and information, both verbally and in writing
Ø are self aware and self critical. They can take into account their feelings and intuition and reflect on their values.
Ø are prepared to learn and adapt. They can participate effectively in and manage change.
Ø use initiative. They are self starters and can work independently. They can set achievable and relevant goals.
Ø listen to and work effectively with others. They can work in teams, respecting and valuing the contributions of others.
Ø assess the effectiveness of their actions and learn from their experiences. They are reflective.
Ø are critical of and creative in their thinking and actions. They are open to new ways of thinking and acting.
Ø have respect and concern for others. They value diversity.
Ø accept responsibility for their actions. They are willingly accountable for their performance

These personal qualities are an integral part of what capability is, yet they can easily be forgotten when programmes and courses of learning are developed, and, if not acknowledged at best they become part of the informal/hidden curriculum. But if we genuinely want to develop capability in our learners we must be purposeful about building into our programmes explicit opportunities for learners to acquire or enhance these personal skills and abilities. This means designing both appropriate learning experiences and assessment tasks. It also means having a teaching and learning culture that supports the development of learner capability and that will allow learners to exercise control, to experiment and to take risks. This is the approach we are encouraging at Otago Polytechnic.

To be more specific:

If our learners are to leave us as capable graduates who accept responsibility, who are self starters and who have learned how to learn, our programmes must provide them with opportunities to be more responsible and accountable for their own learning. The more demanding and complex the situation within which the learner is actively responsible and accountable the more confident and capable the learner can become.

If our graduates are to be able to work effectively with others and to work in teams, then they must also learn with others and in teams. This means setting team goals and objectives, undertaking peer evaluation and being accountable as a team.

If our graduates are to be socially responsible practitioners then we must provide them with opportunities to explore the relevance of their studies to themselves and to society. At Otago Polytechnic we have adopted for all programmes the theme of sustainable practice as a vehicle for consideration of issues of social responsibility.

If our graduates are to be self aware, self critical and reflective they must as learners have the opportunity within their programmes to acquire the enabling skills and to put them into practice. This means acknowledging the validity of and providing opportunities for self assessment, and providing a safe environment in which learners can be themselves.

Thus, there are significant implications for programme design and delivery if we are to develop learner capability. We need to guard against courses being too tightly structured, over-packed with content and over-taught. These are what militate against capability. Learning must not become just a set of learning tasks. We must be concerned with process at least as much as with content, if not more so. Because capability is developed as much by how people learn as by what they learn. This implies less formal teaching, especially passive didactic strategies, and more learner managed learning, including negotiated contracts of learning and learning in teams.

A key challenge when designing programmes which enable capability development is to provide for the assessment of personal skills and abilities, as well as of subject knowledge and technical skills. Assessment is a powerful force in determining learner behaviour, so in a capability curriculum it is essential to reward the development of the personal qualities I have identified. And this, too is about both what is assessed e.g. critical thinking, reflective capacity, team work, goal setting; and how e.g. self and peer assessment, team assessment.

In summary, students will develop capability if they are required to be capable in their learning and, in particular, if they have experience of being responsible and accountable for their own learning – as individuals and in association with others. Our curriculum challenge is to embed such experiences within programmes, not for them to be an added extra or left to chance.

If we are to develop learners as capable practitioners then there are some challenges for the learners themselves. They must be prepared to take an active part in planning and organising their learning, to monitor their own progress against agreed criteria, to provide evidence of achievement against intended outcomes and to do the above individually and collaboratively.

Finally, there are also significant challenges for teachers if they are to participate effectively in a capability curriculum. They need to create the opportunities for students to plan, organise and evaluate their own learning, and need to shift the emphasis of their personal role from that of being the key content expert to one of providing guidance to learners on appropriate resources and expertise, to enable students to draw on expertise across traditional boundaries (subject, departmental/programme area, institutional) as is relevant to their goals, to offer dialogue and critical support and to stimulate reflection on learning processes and progress towards goals. Thus, teachers need to become more of a coach and less a font of knowledge, more of a guide and less of a lecturer. "

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Bitter sweet

Another week almost gone, and what a bitter sweet week it has been. I arrived back from leave very refreshed indeed, and as an added bonus Dunedin was having a warm spell with temperatures not that far off those on the Gold Coast. Come Thursday, mind you, and Dunedin did what only Dunedin can and temperatures plummetted. I lit the fire !!

The week started in the best possible way with the Prime Minister visiting us to announce $12.5m of capital funding as our share of a new $20m design school to be built as a joint venture between Otago Polytechnic and the University of Otago. This funding is a real vote of confidence by government for the work being done in design education at Otago Polytechnic, and caps several million dollars of other capital funding which we have received for design education over the last four years. We have a vision for Dunedin as a world class centre for design, the pursuit of which is being passionately led by Alistair Regan, our Group Manager for Creative Technologies, and Head of Design. We have had fantastic support from our local design related industries for the new design school, and now we must rise to the challenge of really connecting our educational resources with our businesses to build capability for our region. But this is the kind of challenge we should be rising to, rather than that of trying to keep our doors open on Monday mornings - but more about that later.

Also significant about the design school project is the fact that it is a collaboration with the University. Our relationship with the University is excellent, and I believe our commitment to share this new facility is unique in the NZ tertiary scene. But it is also so sensible - the two institutions will each have their own space in the new building, but we will also have common space, thereby avoiding duplicative investment in expensive technology. And by working together we will harness the Polytechnic's applied teaching with the University's research expertise in the interests of our stakeholders.

But this wonderful start to the week soon turned to custard as I turned my attention to what is without doubt the worst part of my job: announcing a surplus staffing review for our School of Art. What made this particularly difficult is the fact that it is almost a year to the week that I initiated the last review of this School, which saw the loss of four staff. Worse, in the light of that review the Art staff have done a fantastic job in redeveloping their whole undergraduate curriculum, including a new diploma programme, and the new wing for the School is progressing ahead of schedule. It is heartbreaking to cut across once again the growing optimism in the School. And again, today, I have initiated a staffing review for Student Services, an area we have been steadily building as we strive to provide our students with better support services and a more satisfying and successful experience. But we cannot afford to maintain the service levels we desire.

So why are these reviews happening? Simply because we are struggling to place the Polytechnic on a sustainable financial footing. We run a very lean operation, as I am sure all staff will agree, but we simply do not have the resources to maintain the current levels of activity and the current educational infrastructure. And this is because we are inadequately funded, as are most poytechnics in the sector. Unfortunately, this is an inconvenient truth for both our owners ( government) and TEC who are charged with managing the sector on behalf of our owners. Actually, we are our owners - we the public of New Zealand, and in Otago we the citizens of this region. Why is it that we do not stand up and insist that our key community assets be adequately funded and maintained?

And something else worthy of reflecting on: apparently the country can afford to introduce a universal student allowance at an eventual cost of $200m pa, but cannot afford the approximately $50m pa it would take to place every polytechnic on a sustainable financial footing. I do not want to begrudge future students receiving assistance with the costs of their education, but many New Zealanders can afford to support their children. I am one of those, and I am happy to be doing so. I was not expecting my children to be educated entirely on the tax payer, but I guess I should just relax and enjoy it! But I would rather have seen some of that $200m paying for world class polytechnics in which my children could be educated. Surely $150m would go along way towards achieving the objectives of a universal student allowance, with the other $50m used to fund the systm adequately? Rather than the disgrace we have for a polytechnic system at the moment - antiquated plant and equipment, poor building stock and inadequate technology characterise the system in which we expect future generations to be educated. How sensible is that?

Enough! I feel my blood pressure rising and sense a rant coming on. So I will finish on a sweet note. Wednesday saw the launch of the "Tertiary Precinct Development Plan" - a plan to improve progressively that part of the city in which we operate: improved transport, better public facilities, improved housing and a cleaner and more sustainable environment. This plan is the result of several years of collaborative effort by the DCC, Otago Polytechnic and the University of Otago, and is born from our collective determination to ensure that Dunedin continues to be New Zealand's tertiary education capital! I am looking forward to ensuring that we at Otago Polytechnic do our bit to bring the plan to life.

Tomorrow the week finishes for me on a high note: a visioning day for our School of Applied Business. I am really looking forward to this, and to what I am sure will be a veritable feast of ideas to establish our business school as a jewel in the OP crown!

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Open air, sun and OER

It has been a few days since my last posting, but I have been preoccupied with sun , sand and surf at Broadbeach on the Gold Coast. Not to mention a run and cycle everyday, and two novels under my belt. How do you get paid for this ....... ALL the time!

I mentioned last post that I would write a little more about Otago Polytechnic's Open Education Resource initiative. Well on the way to implementation is the " International Centre for Open Education "- due to "go live" officially in May 2009, although lot's will be happening between now and then. First of all we have to form a charitable entity to house this new not -for -profit Centre, because we will be relying on grants and member fees to ensure the financial sustainability of the venture. We already have approx $70k pa pledged for the first 3 years, so there are certainly people out there who believe this is a timely initiative.

What will the new Centre set out to achieve? We hope that the Centre will be a true catalyst for mainstreaming institutional involvement in the OER movement, which we believe has much to offer the institutions which participate, their staff and our communities. The Centre will:
-provide advice and support to educational practitioners, policy makers, decision makers and institutions to implement OER
-facilitate research, dissemination and sharing of knowledge and experiences regarding the sustainable implementation of OER
-provide financial assistance for collaborative projects working on the design, development and delivery of education materials
-initiate activities that build capacity amongst educators in the design, development and use of open education resources.
I am confident that this initiative will provide real leadership both in New Zealand and internationally for collaborative educational activities. There is so much scope for reduced costs for institutions and reduced workloads for staff if we are willing to give away some of the " noone does it better than us" attitude and to share our expertise. And one of the services that the new Centre will offer is a guarantee of quality assurance around the projects sponsored by the Centre.
One of the things tertiary institutions will have to take on board is that if we embrace OER we have to develop new business models - and especially so if our owners continue to underfund us. I must admit that it took me some effort to get into the headspace that giving things away might be good for business, and not just good for learners. And this comes from someone who has spent over 4 years trying to establish a long term financial sustainability for Otago Polytechnic - a sustainability that does not destroy the essence of who we are. But that is another story!
Well, gotta go and take on some more relaxation.
ps Someone asked in an earlier comment why we were establishing an international centre? My response - why not! It is just as easy to collaborate internationally as it is to do so within an institution. But that does not mean we will not be doing our utmost to encourage OP staff to see the benefits that OER can bring for them. Watch this space! On the other hand, OER will have its application internationally, and an international focus will help with funding - we hope!

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

RSS Feed

Well, I have followed all the instuctions and in theory we now have RSS feed set up. Does it work? If not someone better pop over and give me a face to face tutorial!! First attempt saw me subscribe to my own blog!!!!! At least I know I have a reputable reader!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Part 2: the role of IT service departments

Here is the second part of that address to the IT conference. What is not in the address but what I did say at the time is that I believe that teaching institutions like Otago Polytechnic should also be work experience/cooperative education sites in their own right. This would mean that all of our staff would have a direct role to play in teaching and learning. After all, we have some top notch so called "general staff" in our service areas, some with more practical experience than some of our teaching staff! We should be using this expertise more often. Then we could, perhaps, abolish that unfortunate distinction we make between "academics" and "others"!! Or is that too radical?

"It is important to understand the context which has shaped my views on IT, one which 4 years ago had the IT department at Otago Polytechnic focused on the cost effective delivery of a “safe” range of IT services, often better able to tell our staff what they could not do, rather than what they could, or perhaps even should, try.

This was not at all an unreasonable position for our IT team to take: the Polytechnic had been through a financial crisis and IT was a cost – a huge cost – which needed to be contained. But to do this was to waste the considerable IT talent which resided in our staff, and was also a contradiction: we taught IT, did that very well indeed (and still do), inspired others to see the value which creative and future focused IT could add to any business - and yet did not live this belief in our own organisation. And can I say, I believe that this is important: a tertiary organisation that preaches best practice in its training and education programmes should be walking the talk throughout its own business, whether that be best practice IT, HR, accounting, business administration or sustainable business practice. The institution should be a learning resource in its own right!

Today, we have a future focused IT team which is overseeing our investment in IT, and which has goals to (and I quote from our IT Strategic Framework):
· position our graduates at the forefront of IT application in their chosen discipline and work practice
· facilitate teaching and learning unbounded by time and place
· maintain cutting edge IT infrastructure to enhance the effectiveness of teaching and learning and
· enhance the effectiveness and productivity of our staff, and of our planning and decision making.

A key element of this transformation in the role and focus of our IT department was our recognition that IT is of the utmost strategic importance to the success of our organisation and as a consequence that IT should hold a place in its own right at our executive table. I have no doubts at all that we sent a powerful message to both our IT staff and the organisation as a whole when we promoted our IT Manager to Chief Information Officer and a seat at the Leadership table.

So, what is all of this really saying? Simply that an IT Department in our view is not a mere service department, not merely a supplier and fixer of hardware or installer of software or a designer of systems. It is an integral element of our educational endeavours, at the same time part of educational strategy, an enabler of that strategy, and a partner in the delivery of that strategy. And especially so if you see the future of tertiary teaching and learning as we do at Otago Polytechnic.

If the future is to be one of networked learning – learners networked with learners, and institutions with institutions then we must have reliable access to the enabling technology. IT departments will be very much demand driven, responding to customers who are less concerned about issues of security and more about functionality. Our work places and learning places must perform to the standards which our students (and staff) come to expect. So, the technical demands which currently put pressure on our services will be ever present. But the future as I see it will have IT service departments as an integral part of teaching and learning:

Training and developing staff and students; building capability to use the technology and to get the best out of technology
Contributing expertise and specialist knowledge to the teaching function through teaching assignments
Receiving, absorbing and embracing the developments which our academic staff make through research and scholarship.

Operating as a cooperative education worksite, offering opportunities and supporting students to gain practical experience
Innovating and researching, and publishing and presenting their experiences

Are we trying to make our service personnel academics? No, not at all. Rather, we want them to be genuine partners in our business – teaching and learning.
And to finish let me quote again from our strategic framework for IT. Our priorities include the establishment of a wireless campus, strengthen mobile learning and maintenance of appropriate hardware, software and systems – as you would expect, but also include, and I quote:
-ensure our students are IT savvy users actively using and seeking new and emerging technologies
-Nurture a culture of staff with a “thirst” for IT technology which enhance their personal effectiveness and productivity
-Foster a culture of staff who use and seek new and emerging technologies to position their discipline at the forefront of curriculum development, delivery and research
-Introduce provocative new software and software tools which challenge traditional ways of learning

These are not the usual priorities of an IT service department, but then the future is not business as usual. "

Reflections on the future and the role of IT service departments

Yesterday I had the privilege of opening the 26th IT Conference for polytechnic and university IT service departments. My brief was to share my views on the future of tertiary education in NZ and the role of IT service departments in contributing to organisational strategy. It was a really interesting topic to prepare for, and I got a lot out of an indepth reflection on just where our ISS fitted into th OP picture and what it could /should do.

I have cut and pasted some extracts from that address about the future as I see it. I will share my perspectives on the role of IT service departments in the next post:

"I would like to talk about three aspects of the future as I see it : blended delivery, collaborative provision and open educational resources.

From a technology perspective the future is here now, and will merely be characterised by more, more sophisticated and more persuasive communication technologies, with more and more people capable and willing to use them. The challenge for educationalists is not to focus on the specifics of technology but how to use that technology wisely and effectively in the interest of enhanced outcomes for learners. And such outcomes may come in the form of more accessible learning, more relevant learning or more “useful” learning.

Neither our tertiary institutions nor the vast majority of our teachers have yet to appreciate let alone embrace fully what this future of learning is likely to be: a paradigm shift! A paradigm shift from supply driven learning (our knowledge, our place, our time, our resources) to demand driven learning (learner constructed knowledge with learning occurring when and where the learner prefers); from taught learning to flexible learning; from single institutions to networks, from formal learning to informal learning.

Many tertiary institutions, including Otago Polytechnic, have embraced blended learning, or flexible learning, as an underpinning educational delivery strategy, and I have no doubts that this is our future. The blend is currently and inevitably dominated by on-line learning and video conferencing, but now enhanced by mobile learning which will undoubtedly grow in importance. Also in the learning blend will increasingly be the use of social networking tools which open up powerful new ways for learners to communicate and interact as an integral part of their learning.

We have embraced blended learning primarily to improve access and to respond to the demands of growing markets which cannot easily access traditional face to face learning.

And what are these markets? We still have the traditional distance market i.e. people who live in rural areas or who have work lives or personal circumstances that prevent participation in face to face education. E’learning in all of its forms offers a vastly enhanced learning experience over traditional paper based distance learning (although there is still room for this option), an enhancement primarily through greater interactivity and connectivity with “teachers” and other learners.

But this traditional market is not a good enough reason to adopt a blended learning strategy. Rather, two other trends are making their presence felt. The first is workplace learning. More and more people want to learn in their workplaces – on-the-job/in-the-job learning – or from their workplaces. And we are not just talking about narrowly focused skills training to meet current employer needs. We are also talking about the acquisition of qualifications which are traditionally gained through attendance at tertiary institutions. Remember, work places more often have the technology, especially broadband, which individuals may be lacking at home. Also, more and more employers recognise that supporting staff in their educational development is good for business.

But the third market for blended learning is that wave of learners coming through our system who have only ever known a world with the internet – the so called millennium generation. I do not need to labour the point, as we all know that our kids are more likely to be IT savvy than not. For today’s generation of primary and high school students connectivity is a given, social networking is a norm and instant access to information an expectation. Some of you will be aware that progressive preschools are now using the internet, digital cameras and blogging as an integral part of early childhood education. It will only be a short 15 years before these children are our students, and what else will they have learned on the way that we do not currently envisage?

Is anyone in any doubt at all that what we teach and how we teach it in tertiary institutions must and will change? I see a future, not too far away, which will see the most important role of the academic as a designer of learning, and the facilitator of learning journeys – increasingly personalised to the individual learner. We will need more academics with high end educational capability than we do high end discipline capability – as we see a world where subject/discipline expertise is no longer confined within institutional boundaries. If I am not being too provocative, does every polytechnic business school require its own legal experts, economists, strategic management specialists? And we can ask the same question of most qualification areas, and especially as we focus on more specialist knowledge and experience.

And we will need more genuine facilitators of learning – staff who have the skills to guide learners as they tap into the vast range of resources available to them, including expertise which they currently do not access.

So, blended learning, enabled by communication technology is a future which will expand exponentially.

So, too, is collaborative provision of that blended learning. I believe we are on the cusp of a new approach to how we organise the provision of tertiary education – one which will see institutions collaborate in not only the development of educational programmes but in their delivery. I have just alluded to this with my question about whether or not every institution will need to hire its own discipline experts in every area of specialisation. The question will be, are we willing to sacrifice the sacred cow of institutional autonomy and embrace a collaborative delivery model? We have the means, but do we have the will? And this is irrespective of the current regulatory context in which TEC is urging and government is expecting more collaborative behaviour. We also have one of the most basic of reasons to collaborate – to save costs in a world where we can never expect our institutions to be adequately funded.

So, I do see a future where institutions increasingly collaborate in the interests of learner access and organisational sustainability – collaborations which include shared services, co-ownership of qualifications, collaborative development of programmes and co-delivery of programmes. We have the technology and are facing an increasing market of learners who are willing and able to embrace blended learning options. We can share our discipline specialists as well as our support personnel. Learners in Dunedin can be taught by teachers in Tauranga and counselled by counsellors in Greymouth. This future is here now in a limited way. Otago Polytechnic is currently engaged in a co-delivery pilot with five other institutions. It is not easy, it is a paradigm shift, but in my view it is the future. Will we embrace it?

And this brings me to the third element of the future as I see it – open educational resources. MIT foreshadowed that future some years ago when it put all of its course materials on line – with restrictions on use by other providers, but none the less a good start. Of course, the internet is open, and innovative teachers are already constructing programmes around the information and tools which are freely available. The future , however, is the purposeful sharing by tertiary teachers and institutions of learning resources, assessment instruments, courses and even whole programmes. We already have wiki books, I Tunes U and many institutions making podcasts freely available from their websites. We also have the likes of wiki educator through which teachers can collaborate on line in the development of resources and courses. The potential here is huge, but it will require institutions to shift deeply entrenched attitudes to IP and copyright. At Otago Polytechnic we have taken this leap and adopted a Creative Commons attribution licence as our default position, and we will be anchoring and coordinating an International Centre for Open Educational Resources to facilitate collaborative developments. This future is a must for a small country like New Zealand."

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

e fest and an ethical dilemma

Here I am pecking away in a somewhat sumptuous room at Sky City hotel in Auckland – assured that the organisers of this year’s e fest have negotiated a great room rate. I sure hope so!
Anyway, I came to e fest to co-present with my TANZ colleagues Pamela Simpson and Keith Tyler Smith on the experiences of TANZ with collaboration in the ITP sector, and e learning collaborations in particular. My part was to talk about why TANZ has been so successful ( relatively speaking) with its collaborative activity, and where we saw things developing in the future. Pamela provided the background to the TANZ collaboration, and Keith outlined our current project which is a pilot in co-delivery of the NZ Dip Bus through our “My Learn” interface.
I was a bit disappointed with our presentation, which was conducted as a plenary session, because it did not spark the dialogue I was hoping for. Of course, it could have been that we were down right boring and the conference attendees were anxious to move on to the next session!
After the presentation I spent some time “networking” ( the real reason we come to conferences, of course) and it turned out that there was some interest in what we had to say. Or were people merely being polite? I was asked if my notes could be distributed, but these were a barely legible scrawl penned during my nearly three hour journey from Dunedin to Auckland – with lots of thought, of course! I must say, I would rather have stepped off the plane in Rarotonga or Melbourne or anywhere else other than Auckland that a three hour journey can get you to. Have you ever reflected on how Air New Zealand scales down the size of the plane so that any sector you choose to fly takes at least an hour. I am sure there is a strong economic justification for this, but how I long for a Lear jet service!
But I digress. I resolved to post my notes on this blog ( cleaned up a little) and to email the link to those who were interested in the TANZ experiences. First of all, I backgrounded where TANZ had been and where it was going – pretty much what I wrote about in my last blog posting. In short, TANZ is moving from a project oriented approach to collaboration to one which will embrace shared services, a common programme portfolio, co-development of programmes and co-teaching/co-delivery. Of course, this will not happen over night, and not without a lot of energy, focus and compromise. More importantly, it will not happen if we do not get a high level of buy in from our respective staff. That is the essential difference from our project driven approach, whereby projects could sit alongside our core business, rather than being an integral part of how we operate.
I then outlined why TANZ has been so successful (relatively speaking) with our collaborative efforts to date. Collaboration is simply not easy – it costs in terms of time, energy and resources. In my view our success can be attributed to:
-shared values. Whilst each TANZ organisation has its own organisational culture we all believe that we will all be better off from collaboration rather than competition .And so will learners! Some ITPs just do not see it this way!
-a willingness to give up some institutional autonomy, and to compromise on our preferred ways of doing some things. Our academic harmonisation project is an example of this, and a specific instance is our approach to recognising prior learning. At Otago Polytechnic we are prepared to accept that someone could have learned all that we have to teach in a particular vocational area through their various life and work experiences. Others do not currently accept our view and place limits on the proportion of a qualification that can be gained through RPL processes. In a collaborative model we will find common ground, which means someone has agreed to give up their position. Not easy!
-an openness and transparency about what we are each doing and what we are planning on doing. This means sharing our organisational strategy – not a smart thing to do if you are competing.!
- and this means that there must be a very high level of trust –trust that information shared will not be misused.
-a willingness to share. The TANZ creed is “ what is mine is yours, and what is yours is mine”. We willingly hand over our programmes, courses and resources to our collaborative partners. The benefits are obvious.

There is a point to all of this, of course ie our policy makers need to take on board that we are not going to create a “network of provision” over night. Collaboration is not a quick route to some efficiency nirvana. The chance of some mega sector collaboration are about zero. What we need is a policy and funding framework that supports multiple collaborations like TANZ, and which facilitates the sharing of what such collaborations learn, and the benefits which accrue.

My final points were about the future of TANZ in a world characterised by more and more e learning – whether that be through pure on line learning approaches, or those involving various delivery blends. Currently we have a policy nonsense in my view – one which seeks to restrict e learning to regional delivery. The simple truth is that ITPs are not permitted to enrol learners for on line delivery if they are not resident in the particular ITP’s region. Surely this misses the point about the value which on line learning can bring to tertiary education? I ask how a learner’s choice to enrol with a provider in another region is any different from that same learner packing his/her bags and moving to another region to study?
Putting aside whether or not the policy makes sense, it is none the less TEC policy. The TANZ approach is not to compete with each other and to work within policy where we can. To that end we are evolving a shared delivery model whereby we agree either to support a partner institution delivering in our respective regions because that makes sense eg if total volumes of learners are low, so it is efficient for there to be only one provider; or to share the enrolment. Our model is based on sharing revenues according to the value which different players add to the delivery value chain. This chain has three broad components: teaching (approx 60% of value), enrolment and admin ( approx 20%) and learner support ( approx 20%). An approach like this allows for two or even three providers to be involved, and to be rewarded for their particular contribution. Of course, where the e learning market is of sufficient volume our TANZ protocols may well see each partner delivering exclusively in their own region.
There is much food for thought here for our policy makers to contemplate, which brings me to my final point – about how policy is formulated. Right now we have officials in the central agencies devising policy and putting it out to the sector for feedback. Unfortunately that approach inevitably comes with a high level of central agency ownership of what they have developed, with a reluctance to change. How good would it be if we developed policy collaboratively? This would require quite different ways of working than we have now, but worth a try I believe.

Enough of e fest – time for the ethical dilemma. At Otago Polytechnic we have a requirement that our lecturers get feedback on their teaching from students each year. Ours is a development focused model, which leaves the lecturer in charge of the feedback data. Our belief is that our staff are professionals and they will take on board “negative “ feedback, and act to improve their practice where it is apparently wanting. I like this model!
Our process is centrally supported ie we use standard on line feedback questions which are automatically summarised and analysed . Staff are guaranteed confidentiality. But recently the administrator of our on line service came across feedback that was dreadful to say the least – a lecturer with poor skills but apparently terrible attitudes to learners. He raised the case with his manager, taking care not to reveal any details which would identify the lecturer. The manager has discussed the situation in principle with me. Hopefully the dilemma is apparent. Should any action be taken? Two principles are in conflict – the rights of the lecturer versus the rights of our learners. It is probable that the lecturer is doing harm to the classes he/she is responsible for! The case has exposed a flaw in our model, and I am inclined to adjust our policy to allow action to be taken – not retrospectively of course. I am interested in hearing what others think about this one.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Refreshed and ready ...

A week is a long time in politics, as Winston and Helen will certainly testify, And so it can be in education! Last week just seemed frenetic, but when I look back I am not sure why. Anyway, I managed to rest up on the weekend with my family at our house in Cromwell. We just love it there, and most reluctantly headed for home on Sunday afternoon. I have added a photo showing the view from our deck (taken 2 weeks ago - no snow this weekend) - it is a staggeringly beautiful place! More important, it is an easy place to unwind - a jog around the lake shore, a cycle into Cromwell ( 8 kilometres each way) and dinner at the Bannockburn pub ( our kids' favouite eating place). Even managed to lay some cobblestones - therapeutic to say the least, although a tad hard on the back!

So another week about to unfold, starting with our annual spring breakfast. I really do enjoy cooking for our staff, and I know the rest of our Leadership Team do as well. There was a good turn out and I hope staff enjoyed the opportunity to forget about the pressures we work under - even for an hour or so.

I spent a couple of days last week at a TANZ meeting in Whangarei, mostly discussing where to next with our TANZ collaboration. If you have not heard about TANZ, it is a collaboration of like thinking polytechnics committed to collaborative rather than competitive action. There are six polyechnics involved: Otago Polytechnic, NMIT, CPIT, NorthTec, UCol and EIT. Anyway, we came along way towards agreeing a vision for our future - one that will involve co-development and co-ownership of programmes and will evolve into co-delivery as well. This is a significant advance in thinking about the future of TANZ, which up until now has been a collaboration around discrete projects - mostly programme developments, but also the academic harmonisation project. With this latter project we are working towards common academic processes and a common set of academic regulations.

I am personally looking forward to co-delivery, because I can see some really good benefits for all if we go down this track, especially for learners. However, co-delivery will require all players to move to a blended learning model of delivery for the programmes to be co -taught. The challenge will be not to confine ourselves just to e learning, but to use the full set of options. All of the TANZ partners are advancing down the blended learning pathway, so some coordination of development will be called for.

Interestingly, the topic of "digital literacy" also came up in our TANZ discussions - it seems we are all concerned about the issue I raised in my last posting. NorthTec have resolved to set minimum standards for digital literacy, which will initially be a requirement for all new staff, and will serve as a signal and guide to existing staff. These standards are still under development and will probably be available in a couple of weeks. I must say that I rather like the approach! By the way, I did appreciate the comments from Sarah and Leigh on this topic. I agree with Sarah that we do need to focus on more than just using internet tools and technologies per se. Rather, we need to use them appropriately; and to heed Leigh's warning that this will take some time - no quick fixes here>

I did not achieve my self imposed target of posting an audio clip, but will try harder this week!


Monday, August 25, 2008

Thanks, and some brief reflections on digital literacy.

Many thanks to all of you who have responded to my first posting - I appreciate the interest, advice and encouragement. I had good intent to learn how to post an audio clip on the weekend, but I ended up sleeping most of it away! Anyway, I did manage to change the date and time showing on the blog, and have set myself the target of my first audio posting by the end of the week.

I did do a bit of thinking about "digital literacy", though - or was that a dream? As I thought about the many things I don't know/cannot do I wondered where I sat on that continuum from "some of my best friends have computers" to " there's not much I cannot do with a laptop and a PDA". I recognise I have lots to learn, but I am aware that we have staff at OP who know very little - one I heard about apparently does not know what is going on around the place because he never reads his email - is just not comfortable with the technology!

A further prompt to my thinking came from my 10 year old who certainly does sit towards the right hand end of that continuum, and is mostly self taught. She will be at polytech/university in seven short years, and I wonder what she will find when she arrives? Hopefully not lecturers standing in front of classes with little desks all in a row, telling her all they know! Hopefully she will be using the technologies she is comfortable with, and partnering with her teachers in pusuit of what ever capabilities she wants to develop.

But deep down I fear she may be disappointed, depending on what she chooses to study. Which leads me to ask: is it time that we required all of our staff to be digitally fluent? Is it not a core competency that educators are skilled in and comfortable with using commonly embraced digital technologies, and that includes social networking technologies? Can we really afford to accommodate modern day luddites? Personally I think not. What's more, I think it is a professional responsibility these days for teachers to be digitally literate. And managers! But what does being digitally literate really mean, and what is the best way forward for us to encourage and support our work force?

Thursday, August 21, 2008

First Post!!

Well here we are - my first "real" blog post! Real in that this is the first post I have initiated, as distinct from the odd reply I have made to postings on other blog's that I monitor.
I have had good intent to set up my own blog for quite some time. In fact, I did make a start 20 months ago one night in Stockholm when I had nothing to do. Alas, that blog lies somewhere in the ether bereft of postings as I procrastinated month after month in actually writing something. But therein lies a lesson. I have long held the view that blogging is a potentially good thing, but it does require quite a commitment of time, especially for a 10/15 words a minute hunt and peck man like myself. Why was I not forced to learn to touch type at school - in the same way as rote learning of the times tables still leaves me today largely liberated from the need to carry a calculator!!!
So why start now? Well, why not? Actually, the simple reason is the dogged prompting by Sarah Stewart and her very helpful advice. Even then, I missed my self imposed deadline by over a week, but now that I am started I hope to build some momentum and to maintain a regular presence.
But why have I set up this blog? Well, as I have said at the start of the blog I am keen to get some dialogue going about aspects of teaching and learning and in particular what we are doing and trying to achieve at Otago Polytechnic. I hope, too, that this blog will be another form of accountability for the decisions I make and the directions in which I encourage the Polytechnic to go - either personally or as a member of our leadership team.
Also, I see enormous educational potential through blogging, informed by the efforts being made by several Otago Polytechnic staff. What better way to develop an understanding of that potential than to engage with the process yourself. I also see the potential of blogging to enhance management and leadership, which is one of my real passions, standing alongside my passion for education. I do intend to muse somewhat about management and leadership in future postings.
OK, that is it for now - having explained why I am here and what I hope to achieve. "See" you soon.